Archive for May, 2010

Confessions of a Spy Car Driver

Friday, May 28th, 2010

(or: Inadvertently Illegal Programming, A Primer)

Earlier this month, Google’s official engineering blog confessed that the company’s Street View cars and bikes have “inadvertently” gathered personal data in transit on unencrypted Wi-Fi networks for the past three years (see the post: Wi-Fi Data Collection).  As chronicled in major news stories in the past three weeks, Google’s actions are under scrutiny by government regulators everywhere (see links to news stories at the end of this post).

[One of Google’s Ominous-Looking Spy Cars
photo by byrion — click to enlarge]

This is a topic close to my heart because my research group has been conducting similar surveys of wireless signals for the past five years as part of a project funded by the US National Science Foundation.  Here’s a picture of our own slightly less obtrusive Wi-Fi sampling car in South Central Los Angeles in 2005.  (On second thought, we shouldn’t have chosen a black SUV.  Too scary.)

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Digital Research Methods: 23 Provocations

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

(or: Methods Quotes Without Any Context)

I recently participated in an invigorating conversation about the future of research methods and digital media.  As an experiment, instead of my usual note-taking at this event I wrote down complete quotations that I thought were interesting and compiled them into the list below.  As a form of note-taking it’s a little strange as it lacks all context–but still I enjoyed reading through these again after the event.  Maybe you will, too. I found that my notes ended up being a kind of list of provocations about research methods.  Thanks to those quoted for giving me permission to quote.


[Rainbow over Vierwaldstättersee;
photo by
silvertje on flickr, click to enlarge]

Our conversation was so successful it may have caused this rainbow outside the window of the room where we were meeting.  Before the provocations, two brief notes:

First, in case you like this sort of thing, I have also archived four more pages of interesting quotes about research methods by Einstein, Tarde,  Camus, Feyerabend, and people like that elsewhere on mismethodology.info (pardon the strange Drupal theme of that site — it needs UI work).  I may move some or all of these over there at some point.

Second, I’m using quotation marks here because I tried for accurate quotations and I checked with the people quoted after the fact, but indeed I could still have misquoted someone as I was trying to write this stuff down very fast.

My co-presenter at this event, Anne Helmond, also blogged about this in a more normal prose style.

And now, to the provocations!

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Smart Radios, Dumb Institutions

Friday, May 21st, 2010

(or: The Wonderful World of the Electromagnetic Spectrum)

(click to go to the podcast)

“It sounds like the most boring topic in existence…”  producer Dan Jones playfully used this quote (from me) to lead this week’s Radio Berkman podcast.  Our topic is the future of the electromagnetic spectrum.  David Weinberger skillfully interviews me about wireless.  As you may have noticed as you squint at this blog post on your smartphone, the future of the Internet is wireless.  My goal in the conversation was to try to talk about some of the most exciting and revolutionary ideas in wireless today without acronyms and jargon.  Hopefully I can prove it is not the most boring topic in existence.

Here’s a link to the audio (downloadable and playable from the browser): http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/6109 (~42 minutes)

Below I’ve typed up a summary of the big points in the podcast.

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What I learned from ROFLcon

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

(or: You’re Internet Famous, I’m Internet Serious)

O hai dear reader!

(The ROFLcon II official T-Shirt. Click to enlarge.)

At ROFLcon this year I had the honor and privilege of moderating the panel “And the Internet Swooped In.”  What a lineup!  I got to moderate the following Internet celebrities:

Mahir Cagri (of “I kiss you” fame) — the author of the most famous personal home page on the World Wide Web and perhaps the first individual to become “Internet Famous.” (The dancing baby and hamsterdance were not really people, after all.)  Mahir doesn’t speak English well, he speaks Turkish.  He appeared with his dodgy-looking manager.

David DeVore (Jr. and Sr.), of David After Dentist — one of the most popular home movies ever produced and one of the most popular videos on YouTube (58m views+).  David DeVore, Jr. is now 9 years old and I have never moderated a panel with a 9-year-old before.

Charlie Schmidt, creator of the original Keyboard Cat video.  He also created one of the most popular home movies of all time — but it was recorded in 1984 on videotape, then uploaded to YouTube and subsequently discovered by Brad O’Farrell, who turned the footage into the “Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat” meme.  There are now over 4,000 derivative “Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat” videos on YouTube.  (Brad was in the audience.)

(Click to enlarge. Photo by extraface on flickr)

With a Turkish-speaker, a 9-year-old, and no irony apparent anywhere on the panel, it was one of the most difficult moderation assignments I’ve ever been given. The video will be available in about a week so you can see for yourself how it went.  I loved it!  Until then, Alex Leavitt liveblogged my panel.  (Here is his summary:  http://roflcon.org/2010/05/04/liveblog-and-the-internet-swooped-in/ )

But beyond my panel, here’s my big list of…

What I Learned From ROFLcon

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