Mimesis and Violence

FB Spam?
June 30, 2009, 9:10 am
Filed under: Internet, Security, Technology, Uncategorized

I’m getting a lot of these lately. What I don’t understand is why these phishing messages are so unsophisticated. If these spammers are already attacking my social network, why they don’t send me more relevant spam with more relevant/convincing landing pages. Click through to see the actual messages.


Google Suggest
April 1, 2009, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Google, Internet, Judaism, Religion
Google Suggest

Is yahw

Codex in Crisis: Grafton@Google
February 15, 2009, 11:03 am
Filed under: Google, Internet, Princeton, Technology, Video

January 31, 2009, 5:19 pm
Filed under: Food, Google, Video

I enjoyed hosting Matt and Renato’s rant on American Baking. Considering going to Red Hook to see how it manifests.

Leica D-LUX 3
June 18, 2008, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Friends, Photography, Technology

Got my new Leica plaything in the mail Monday.

First impressions:

I was looking for a point-and-shoot with a nice lens and a fast enough shutter to catch friends off-guard and unposed. My other camera is a Nikon D50 which is real good at surprising friends and real bad at fitting in pockets. The D-LUX 3 has a surprisingly small body, a rather comforting heft, a super snappy shutter, and takes truly vivid pictures, but the protruding lens is suboptimal for pocket-fitting. In my first two Leica outings I found myself carrying the camera.

Other random thoughts: the D-LUX feels overly light sensitive to me. In auto mode with full light my pictures are often over exposed. The camera’s menu UI is clumsy and makes it hard to change settings on the fly. Leica is very clearly not a software shop. I really like the ability to quickly change aspect ratio with a little toggle on the lens and I wish more things were quickly manually settable like that. These are all basically minor complaints, though. It’s a wonderful little toy, feels great in my hands, and, even with my meager skill, takes damn pretty photos (see this Flickr set).

This is Pretty Cool
April 22, 2008, 8:10 am
Filed under: Computer Science, Internet, Photography, Technology

Someone at Yahoo! Research used Flickr tags and geotags to generate a map. I like.

See also: Other Yahoo TagMaps; VARY Image Search.

Phorming a Case for Privacy
April 3, 2008, 9:35 am
Filed under: Advertising, Internet, Law, Privacy, Rants, Technology

My buddy Harran [sic] and I were talking last week about this company Phorm and privacy online. Phor those of you who don’t know, Phorm’s business model is to make deals with various internet service providers to allow them to track everything you do online in order to show you targeted advertisements. To their modest credit Phorm claims that they do not actually keep records of what you do online, rather they continuously update a profile of your interests and associate that profile with a random number so that they “cannot know who you are.”

Check out the sweet slideshow where they make these specious claims here.

Harlan’s piece over at FTT makes some great points about how a sufficiently granular profile of a person is basically equivalent to storing all of that person’s history and about how similar Phorm’s records are to the dataset of search records AOL released to so much public shame. However, personally my initial reaction to Phorm was simply “this shouldn’t be happening dammit!” which is to say that the very act of tracking people on the Internet is repugnant and takes the people doing the tracking down steep and narrow roads that towards dank and dark places. Admit it – the very idea that there is a system that tracks what you’re up to online and doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of letting you do those things – you find that repugnant too.

Reexamining my initial repugnance to Phorm’s business the question arises: why is privacy important at all? Don’t we value transparency too?

Ed makes a compelling arguement that people actually don’t place a very large value on privacy and that consequently neither do web services. But I think most of us would agree that we value our privacy, or at least we care to guard against the worst violations of personal privacy and that in doing so we must guard against some more minor ones. But again, why do we care about privacy at all?

Despite how silly I found them on my first couple readings, Justice Blackmun’s often-mocked words in Roe v. Wade have been hitting home for me lately when I think about the value of privacy.

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the state.

Forget this crap about the mysteries of the universe and just concentrate on the heart of Blackmun’s point, which is that society at large often has values and conceptions of how people should act, but that individual’s values and actions often don’t match those standards, that only in certain very restricted instances is society justified in forcing individuals to comply to an external conception of how to behave, and, finally, that this idea of restricting societal coercion to the absolute minimum is essential to what makes an open society function.

The malleability of self-definition, the ability for a person to constantly redefine themselves and project different selves in different situations, is at the heart of our democratic value system and underlies concepts of equality and upward mobility. Without it we’d have no hands to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps with, so to speak. Without the ability to reinvent ourselves each of us would always be what we ever were, whether it’s the poor kid, the shy girl no one knew but everyone thought was weird, the stoner, the jock, the slacker, the nerd, the immigrant, etc. Society has no data for computing our orbit than other than our past acts and if they don’t know our (private) past acts then we are maximally free to reinvent ourselves, which is a good thing.

Projecting this argument onto the sphere of privacy it seems to me that we need to do a better job delineating those places in life where transparency is important (government, corporations) and those places where privacy reigns (individuals lives) and enforcing this higher value (the delineation of realms) in law.

Should I be denied a job I’m qualified for because online I’m an anti-war crusader (or Iraq hawk for that matter)? Clearly not. Should it matter that my senator watches porn? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that, while I am interested in breasts and I am interested in what my senator is up to, those interests shouldn’t collide except in very rare circumstances. But if my senator is watching child porn? Well then he’s breaking the law and also a very strong societal value around the protection of children and should clearly lose his job.

Technology, like government, walks a fine line between being truly supportive and being truly invasive. It is the great challenge of our age to see the relationship between the two and guide them both hand in hand into a pristine future of golden delicious promise and hope. (Yay, hope!) A future with form and substance but hopefully one without Phorm. Maybe we can?

See also: Harlan’s follow-up piece on Phorm.