Back Up Your Work

So, a couple of weeks ago my laptop died. Sure, that happens, right?

Buuuut I didn’t back up a single thing. So when my laptop died it took all of my writing – all the poetry, all the chapters, all the bad fanfic that I loved anyway – screaming into the void with it.

So. Go back up your stuff. Back it up right now.

Seriously.

 

sousveillance

Sousveillance: We Watch the Watchmen

Everybody knows what surveillance is: it’s the closed circuit cameras in every store; it’s the security agencies archiving years’ worth of emails and web searches; it’s the Big Brother type of always-on recording of our daily lives by authorities from above. In fact, the term surveillance comes from a French term meaning “to watch from above.”

SousVeillance

The dangers and fears about surveillance are well known, so I am only going to cover them briefly. The technology that exists today allows governments to monitor the activities and behaviors of citizens in several ways: through the collection of personal information; intercepting postal and digital transactions; and the use video cameras.

When agents of the state can access the private interactions of citizens, so the theory goes, those citizens will start to police themselves; falling into line and being more obedient. Privacy is put at risk since no one can hide: Big Brother can see us wherever we are. The totalitarian state wins by seeing all dissent and being able to stamp it out in real time, before it becomes a problem.

But the same technology that allows the state and its authorities to watch its citizens, allows citizens to watch back. Smartphones capable of recording and uploading video are everywhere. This is a fact of life in 2014. Those cameras are only going to get more numerous as wearable computer becomes more common. It seems that we are creating a society of transparency, rather than a dystopian panopticon.

Sousveillance, then, is watching from below. When regular people observe and record the events of their lives and of their interactions with the state, the power dynamic of the interaction changes radically. The beauty of sousveillance is that it offers a credible threat of exposure to those misusing power.
If it is possible to film everyone all the time, chances are you are going to get caught in your wrongdoing, whether or not you have any power. The very possibility is going to be enough to dissuade some wrongdoers. So, instead of hiding from Big Brother, everyone gets to see everything: in a society of sousveillance no one hides.

This change in the dynamic of power can be seen in a recent case of alleged police brutality in Denver. David Flores was beaten by police because they suspected him of hiding drugs in his mouth, inside a white sock. When his pregnant girlfriend screamed at them to stop she was beaten as well.
A bystander, Levi Frasier, filmed the interaction on his Samsung tablet until he was noticed by the police. One of the officers shouted, “Camera!” and came over to Frasier demanding the tablet. When he returned it, the video had been deleted. Luckily, the video was already saved to cloud storage and Frasier was able to retrieve it later.

The official police story of this interaction goes like this: Flores was assisted out of his car, but then fell. He was punched repeatedly in the face to keep him from choking on the sock, and he was later taken to hospital. His wife was tripped because she might have been about to kick the officers. The Denver police refuse to comment on the video unless Frasier files a formal complaint. If not for this footage, it would have been the police officers’ word against Frasier and Flores. Now it is easy to prove to a skeptical public when the police and any other state agents have overstepped their bounds.

People in Canada and the United States have the right to film the actions of the police. In 2013 the United States’ courts and the President of the United States each affirmed that American citizens have the right to film any interactions with the state. In Canada courts have held that citizens have the right to film police interactions. While there is no specific Canadian law enshrining this right, there is also no law prohibiting citizens from doing so.

For sousveillance to work as intended it is important for there to be some system set up to protect concerned citizens from the state and corporate interests. The American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon has recently taken a step in that direction, launching its Mobile Justice App at the beginning of November.

The Mobile Justice App is based on a similar one released by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2012 – Stop and Frisk Watch. The new app is designed to record footage of police interactions and upload the data straight to the ACLU for review. Thus, there is no need to worry about seizure of recording devices by the police.
According to the ACLU website the app has four main features: record, witness, report, and know your rights. First, ‘Record’ allows you to record interactions with the police. ‘Witness’ alerts nearby mobile users that you have been stopped by the police and suggests they might want to record for you. ‘Report’ allows you to transmit a written account to the ACLU alongside your video. Finally, Know your Rights provides an overview of your rights when interacting with police officers.

The app is free, and an iPhone version is to be released in early 2015. As of yet there is not a Canadian equivalent to Mobile Justice, and since the app comes from the Oregon branch of the ACLU, the information is regarding rights in the state of Oregon. Yet, this type of application shows that omnipresent cameras need not lead to an Orwellian panopticon.

It is not surprising that police officers are opposed to citizens being armed with cameras. Or maybe it is: always-on recording helps the police as well. When officers are equipped with body cameras and dashboard cameras, complaints against them drop off precipitously. Police are less likely to engage in improper behaviour, but citizens are also less likely to make unfounded complaints against officers.

For the better part of a century, science fiction authors have warned us about a future where the government is always watching. But advances in video recording and wearable computing have made cameras cheap and widely available to regular people. We may not need to worry so much about Big Brother watching; if we are careful and vigilant, we can usher in an age of transparency where we watch back.

Flash Friday at Neil’s

Andra wiped crumbs from one of the humanoid tables with a wadded up cloth. Nothing ever quite came clean here. She would have liked to run a power washer over the whole place, but getting clearance to use that much water here on the moon would be ruinously expensive and require any number of sexual favours to minor bureaucrats. Behind her Andra could hear the antique neon sign that hung buzzily over the entrance to Neil’s. The Neil A. Armstrong Lunar Outpost sat like a small group of grimy bubbles in the regolith of Shackleton Crater, the domed public areas on top and the living spaces and supplies warehoused deep underground. Once the jewel in the crown of human achievement, it was now a grimy third-rate truck stop and supply depot.

Through the meteor-etched hemisphere of the dome, Andra could vaguely see a dozen or so battered planet-hoppers, an official Earth supply freighter, and several swanky transports belonging to the private mining concerns with bases on the dark side of the moon. The earth was doing its rising majestically over the horizon thing, but Andra had seen it a thousand times.

One thousand four hundred and twenty-two times, she thought and then sighed. She had a good memory for things like that

Mr. Hosk, the proprietor, squelched too loudly for Andra’s liking. She frowned again and ran a hand over her bald head. Hosk was mixing drinks behind the bar. He stretched a tentacle to pluck a bottle from the top shelf, and Andra narrowed her eyes at him. Hosk claimed that the appendage was analogous to an arm, but Andra had been in his office at the back of the restaurant and seen the lewd holoposters he had tacked to his wall. The activities depicted in the posters made her suspect that it was an entirely different sort of appendage. One that broke any number of health regulations.

A couple of lurid pink Skrlj hissed and grunted at one of the non-humanoid tables. The Skrlj were lizard-like and sported a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. An image of a Skrlj paying its bill popped into Andra’s head. She scooped up the bill pad and headed over to their table.  She nodded at both Skrlj and made to walk away again. An image of an assortment of alien species came into her head. Then the image of a small birdlike creature, which indicated a question.

“Do we get a many aliens around here?” Andra repeated (just to make sure). “Not really, we don’t get many non-humans this close in, mostly miner forty-niners and the odd alien who dreams of retiring to the exotic paradise he’s seen in all the Earth tourism ads.”

It was always odd to have the Skrlj project images into her head, but at least this way she didn’t have to worry about mangling their language and starting an interstellar war. The Earth Federalists had put a diplomatic mission in a nearby dome, just in case. Andra wasn’t really worried though; a seasoned smuggled had said that the most volatile and easily offended species rarely made it into space at all. They generally put themselves out of the galaxy’s misery in predictable planet wide blood baths.

A stylised image of a blue-sanded beach covered with Skrlj basking in the sun popped into Andra’s head. She smiled widely.

“A nice day to you too,” She answered.

Something Better Than Flash Friday…

Yeah, I know. Sh!t happens though, dunnit? But today only, you can read a real author! Read it and miss Omni magazine. Miss it really hard. That is, if you’re old like me.

They’re Made of Meat – Terry Bisson

Either way, you can also enjoy this nearly complete archive of scanned issues of Omni mag.

Marvel at these awesome covers:

I miss Omni magazine                   

Just the right mix of futurism, science fiction, paranormal, and wickedly arty art. The perfect thing to nourish growing nerdlets in the bad old days before the interwebs.

My Other Time Machine is a DeLorean: Doctor Who/Back to the Future Mashups are the Best Thing Ever

I Only Use It for Short Trips

In a move calculated to send Who fans into apocalyptic nerdgasms, the stars of Doctor Who arrived at the New York screening of the seventh season premier in the second most famous time machine – the DeLorean.

Photo Jill Pantozzi; themarysue.com
Photo Jill Pantozzi; themarysue.com

See the full photo set here. OMG, right?

This was totally out of the blue. It’s not as if geeks everywhere were fantasizing about seeing a scene like this, for instance:

via DanoKano’s DeviartArt

Or as if nitpickers ever noticed any similarities between two characters, like this:

via CeeNot’s DeviantArt

Or ever wondered if various sets of time travelers might meet, like this:

from theothermike’s DeviantArt via liveforfilms.com

Squeee! Er, I mean, one hopes the season premier is as good as the publicity above implies. If the writers are half as clever as the marketing people, then we’re in for a real treat this season…

Also this:

Great Pilgrim!

Flash Friday: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something…Crappy?

This is an old bit of something that I used to really like. But now, not so much. I’ve re-purposed it here, but I’m not sure it’s worth saving. It’s meant to be part of a story about forgetting. One of those ‘in the horrible future’ deals where remembering has been hoarded up by a privileged elite. Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds.

Grassland and Sky - grassland and lush trees photo  1024*768 NO.29 Wallpaper

CHRONOLOGUE

The sky was robin’s egg blue and crystal clear.

It always was.  

Gammage blinked in the bright morning light. The birds must have been singing in the trees that flashed by the car windows, but Gammage couldn’t hear them. The windows were rolled up, and all he could hear was the sound of the engine, the road underneath, his parents laughing in the front seat. Gammage could see his mother’s face, her blond hair tucked behind her ear. The yellow dappled leaf-light crawled over his mother’s face. She turned and smiled at him, but even smiling, his mother looked sad and serious.  

Gammage’s father laughed louder. He couldn’t see his father from the back seat but Gammage imagined him as he always was – eyes crinkled, mouth open in a wide smile. His father was always smiling; nothing much seemed to bother him. 

There must have been a song on the radio, but Gammage couldn’t make it out. There was a sudden calm and quiet in the car, and then the noise and the chaos.  The brakes screeched, the car swerved, and turned over and over and over.  

Then, there was only the terror and the darkness.  

Gammage sat up in bed, eyes wide. He wrapped his arms around himself.  It hadn’t really ended that way; in darkness and silence.  Gammage had not lost consciousness when his parents’ car had rolled, and smashed headlong into a tree. He’d been awake the whole time, his parents dying or dead in the front seat, for two whole days before he was found. He had been three years old.

 * * * * *

When Gammage arrived that morning on the 11th floor, his cube-mate, Darryl, was already there.

Their latest victim had arrived. She stood, not ten feet away, unaware of his presence. She was dressed sensibly in a black pant suit, hems turned up at the ankle, and shoes that looked like something out of the boys formal section at Sears.

She looks almost dapper, Gammage thought, raising an eyebrow.

The blond tips of her hair curled in on the right side of her face, but out on the left side. There was a slight awkwardness in her thin frame that gave him the odd sense he was looking at a teenage boy.

Darryl was chatting her up, but then that was his role here: make her feel comfortable. Make sure she didn’t bolt. Darryl was leaning back in his chair, one hand in his pants pocket, the other waving around his face. He was regaling her with the details of the newly installed lighting system.

“The idea is to pipe in natural light using fibre optics. It’s a hybrid system that uses regular fluorescent bulbs to make up for the times when its cloudy. Or at night of course. There’s a dimmer switch connected to a sensor. When the level of natural light falls below a certain level, the fluorescents ramp up to make up the difference.”

Gammage wasn’t interested. He’d heard all about the lights during their installation.

She ought to bolt, Gammage thought, but Darryl was skilled at what he did, he had been doing it longer than any of them. She stayed uncomfortably put. Gammage wished he could say something intelligent to this lovely skittish specimen, something witty but nothing like that came into his head. So instead he said what he always said.

“Excuse me, er. Hi. I’m Gammage.”

She turned and held out her hand to him.

“Nice to meet you Mr. Gammage, I’m Angelike Jones.”

“Ms. Jones, Welcome to the Ministry of Chronology. You’re a civil servant now.”

Every Tuesday Needs Some Retro Futurism…

I’ve always been a sucker for retro futurism. You know: flying cars, raygun gothic architecture (the kind featured in Futurama, and Disney’s Meet the Robinsons), shiny robots. Who doesn’t love that? I clicked over to Retropolis to check out their selection of retro-futuristic wares. The “Tell it to my Giant Robot” T-shirt has been on my wish list for a long time.

Detailed Image

Apparently it’s been longer than I thought! A lot longer. Not only is there a shop full of T-shirts, art prints and posters, but also lavishly illustrated, interactive, steampunk-y stories! Very cool! They are like high-rent Choose Your Own Adventures for the devoted retronaut. Definitely worth an afternoon when you’re supposed to be finishing those reports. Go check them out here: Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual.

They also have customizable business cards! You know you want to hand these out:

Monorail Business Card

Sweet huh? Go spend an afternoon in Retropolis. You sooo won’t regret it. It’s the best thing ever.!

 

Chronologue: Original Short Fiction

Yeah, I know I’m bent. Enjoy:

Chronologue

Students straggled into the lecture hall. The space was a bit cramped considering the size of the class, and the walls were generously scuffed around the bottom. There was a window high up at the back of the room that never seemed to let in more than a perfunctory amount of light. Professor Zeno opened his lecture notes. He usually did not need to look at them, but he kept them there just in case. He cleared his throat and began:

“I’d like to remind you all that your essays on Chronological Ethics are due today, and to please leave them on the front table on your way out.

“To recap last week’s lecture, we experience time in one direction only, in a steadily moving present, fresh from a fixed past and into an uncertain future. This is generally taken as representing reality, but it’s not clear that this perception is true in any sense. However, since we humans cannot experience the dimension of time in any other direction, it is pragmatic to take our perception and run with it. Especially when logging your field hours in a non-native time location.

“If you consult your syllabus you’ll see that today’s topic is Determining Your Time Location. While state-of-the-art time travel is often accurate within a decade or two of the target time location, locating oneself in history can be more difficult than it would appear. A good Chronologue can assess a time location in under 5 minutes experienced time.

“As a novice Chronologue, your main concern on the ground is orienting yourself in the time stream, in relation to your point of origin. If you are on solid ground and not inside the sun, nor floating in space where the Earth might have been if you’d arrived three months ago, then the space aspect has taken care of itself. So-called ‘prehistory’ is a popular destination but orienting yourself against long homogeneous stretches of slow time presents its own special set of problems which are better addressed in a separate lecture.”

Professor Zeno looked around the spacious lecture hall. Students listened half-heartedly, or pretended to take notes while covertly playing solitaire on their tablets. He sighed, and wondered when this institution had become little more than a degree factory, handing out credentials to any warm body whose cheque cleared. He pushed on though, there was always one student who cared about the subject as much as he did, and that one student made it worth showing up each day.

“The obvious solution is to ask someone what year it is. But there are a handful of decades and locations where this enquiry would get you arrested, or interred in a sanatorium, while failing to elicit an answer. We have learned through painful experience that this is the method of last resort for an unprepared Chronologue.

“It is always best to research your era of choice thoroughly before engaging with direct contact. You will have a good sense of the sensory clues you’ll need to orient yourself properly. It will also allow you to select a suit of clothes that is nicely inconspicuous. It is vitally important that you don’t interfere with the progression of history, or pollute the timeline with anachronisms. You are there to observe and record, not interfere. Let me reiterate that any interference, even if you think it is trivial, can disrupt the time stream. What we think of as the present could be irreparably altered.”

Professor Zeno spoke quietly in the windowless basement room. The handful of students listened intently, trying to memorise every word: they didn’t dare take notes.

“So again, orienting yourself in time. In the early 2010s, as an example, the presence of abundant plastic gives you a window of about one hundred years. Plastics became prevalent in the early 1900s and fell out of regular use by 2020 as petroleum reserves dwindled. Presence of wristwatches puts you no earlier than the 1920’s, a digital watch makes it no earlier than 1970 and no later than 2015 when most people switched back to analogue watches or to handheld devices, which only incidentally told the time.”

Professor Zeno tucked her hair behind her ear and addressed her open-air seminar. It was a beautiful spring day, and the fresh air kept the mind sharp.  

“What are some other sensory clues that would help you assess your time location?”

The students raised their hands and called out their answers as she pointed to each one in turn.

“Presence of motorised vehicles?”

“Seeing animals with a known extinction date?”

“Zippers?”

“The main language, and the variety of it?”

“Visible religious symbols?”

“Favoured companion animals? If any?”

Professor Zeno put his hands together, smiled, and nodded. The tiny seminar room was comfortably full. Thousands more students watched at home.

“Yes. All possible clues. For your assignment this week I want you to think about the time location that you have chosen for your final project. I hope you’ve all picked one by now. Then I want you to research that period and present the sensory cues you would use to assess your location. Start with broad clues, that place you by century, and work to items or customs that would place you by decade or by year, if possible.”

The empty room was lit by a makeshift candle – just a wick set in a tin can of rendered pig fat. Zeno finished writing and closed his notebook. He hoped that one day, someone might read it.

More Knerdy Knits for the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Summer holidays are just about halfway over. Stores have all their backpacks, and lunch bags, and stationary back out on the shelves. We’ve even had a few cool nights. All this, and the fact that my kids are driving me crazy (*drive* me crazy? I’m close enough to walk) has turned my mind to thinking about back to school. I don’t knit that fast, so anything I started now might be done in time for it to get chilly. Here’s a few of the best I found:

From Purl’s Patterns: The knitted Thinking Cap. If you like zombies, or if you just want to show off all that grey (pink?) matter, then this hat is for you. Pretty awesome huh? What nerdlet wouldn’t love to shamble around the schoolyard, arms extended, growling, “Braaiiinnnnsss! Braaiinnnsss!”?

From Anni Laine on Ravelry: Triforce handwarmers! Zelda has been popular in one iteration or other since I was a kid. Maybe your kids will like them enough that they won’t lose one the first time they were them.

For your young Time lord: the TARDIS hat courtesy of Randi Sanders, also at Ravelry.

They’re gloves. They’re mittens. They’re glittens! Triforce glittens! What more do you need to hear? These amazing wonders come again from Ravelry via Tara Yang. Starting to think you need a Ravelry account? Me too.

For your little Star wars fan: the R2D2 Beanie. Give Carissa Knits a break, and knit it yourself.

There you have it: geeky knitting for the little fanboys and -girls in your life. Because back to school is the best thing EVER.

 

 

Flash Friday with Apologies to Ray Bradbury.

I blame Deadmau5. For making this exist. Because then I had to tell my daughter that it was based on a story, who it was by, and what it was about.

Her: “Well, then what happens? To the kids?”

 Me: “Nothing. It’s a short story. It just ends.”

Her: “Oh.”

If you haven’t read The Veldt, you ought to do. Even if I think Ray Bradbury portrays all women as hysterical, simpering simulacra of actual female persons. 

They had to cut the power to the house from the closest transformer box. It cut power to seven of the neighbours: they emerged from their houses frowning and blinking in the late evening light; so many little red ants on the hardbaked grass. The neighbours hadn’t seen the Hadley family for several weeks, but that was normal.

“I can barely keep track of where my own family is. You can’t expect me to keep track of the family next door.”

The Happylife Home’s Televised Answerator announced itself full and suggested calling later: George Hadley’s employer had given up leaving messages. Doctor McClean missed a dozen appointments before his secretary realised that enquiries ought to be made. He wasn’t picking up, but he was easy to track as his mobile phone transmitted his location every time it passed a receiving tower.

Public records showed five mobile devices inside the house, but the infrared cameras showed only two people. No one left the house without at least one connected device. Dr. McClean was in that particular house, and most likely all four of the Hadleys. But only two of them alive.

The Happylife house was supposed to call 911 automatically when something like this happened. But it hadn’t, indicating a pretty monumental failure in the safety system. The Dudley Do-Rights knocked loudly at the door for several minutes, before attempting to access the house’s central processor.  It was locked down tightly. The battery backup generally had eight good hours of life, so do-not-cross-tape was strung out festively around the yard and officers stationed to cautiously sip coffee and grouse about their bad luck.

“There are no criminal masterminds,” said one of the Dudley Do-Rights to the other, and downed the dregs of his coffee, even though it was burnt and bitter.

An hour and an hour and an hour, and the little buzzing house wound down, and slumped to a stop.  Without power, without the fail safes and backups, the house was just a box after all. Inside the box were three sets of bone-bare gnawed remains, and two very live children. The bodies were brought out into the evening and hastily identified using dental records uploaded to the police car’s computer. A fine mist began to fall and hissed threateningly on the still-hot pavement.

The two children, Peter and Wendy, were safely extracted at last. They were taken for evaluation to the local hospital, until someone could find identify and contact any remaining family.  They were by turns coldly clinical in their dealings with the staff, and utterly hysterical.  They screamed for the playroom, for the house to save them. They scratched and punched at the nurses, and ran for the elevator. It was during one of these turns that they were eventually sedated.

Two Dudley Do-Rights came to interview the children. The girl did nothing now but cry and scratch, and they mostly kept her sedated. But the boy, this Peter was a stone, and he sat the long afternoon grey in a blistered plastic chair beside the bed in his room. Peter stared out the window, his mouth set in a line and a furrow on his brow.

“I know you must be very upset ,” she began, “but we need you to tell us what happened in there. To your parents. And Doctor McClean.”

Peter sat silent and impenetrable.

“They tried to take the playroom away,” he said simply

“I see”, she said. She had suspected but was still surprised at his forthrightness.

“But you must have known that someone would notice? That the household credit would run out? That the power would go off?”

“The house was supposed to take care of us. It was supposed to take care of everything.”

“It was just a house, Peter. Just a house.”

Every Happylife home provided constant video surveillance, ostensibly for the busy parent to check on the children from work, or from the supermarket. Once the house’s main processor was extracted and the video record disgorged the Dudley Do-Rights had everything they needed to know. They didn’t need to ask anything more from Peter and Wendy, who were left to the tender mercies of the hospital’s psychiatric ward.

There was no other family to claim the two children. The nurse administrator crossed her arms sternly. Her voice was white and crisp, and she put her questions to the head of the Psychiatric ward directly.

“What do you intend to do with the Hadley children?”

“They’ll be kept here for the time being. The nation’s top psychiatric experts are here. But of course they can’t stay here indefinitely, and they are too young for prison.”

The nurse administrator shuddered. The thought of what those two angel-eyed children had done chilled the entire room. The department head continued.

“My staff is trying to secure places for them at a wilderness program for troubled youth. A few months roughing it in the woods will do them good.”

“And after that?”

“Peter and Wendy are wards of the state now. We’ve arranged for them to be sent to a lovely residential treatment centre here in the city. They’ll get the treatment they need.”