Controlled by the path of least resistance

Technological systems leave their mark on the way in which we live our lives. An obvious example is this fascinating nighttime photo of North and South Korea taken from the International Space Station. It’s obvious because the two countries are separated by access to the basic supply of electricity.

North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its capital city, Pyongyang, appears like a small island, despite a population of 3.26 million (as of 2008). The light emission from Pyongyang is equivalent to the smaller towns in South Korea.

Astronaut photograph ISS038-E-38300 was acquired on January 30, 2014, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 24 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center.

An even more brilliant (bad pun) illustration is the images of Berlin by night taken from the International Space Station. The photo, taken by Colonel Chris Hadfield, shows that the city still carries with it the heritage of the division. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and since then Berlin has been rapidly unifying and developing. Despite this, the East-West divide can be seen in the color of the street lights.

Colonel Chris Hadfield’s photograph of Berlin at night shows a divide between the whiter lights of former west Berlin and the yellower lights of the east. Photograph: Nasa

The technological systems follow the political and administrative lines of the past and cannot be removed as easily as the wall which divided them. The Guardian explains the different colors:

Daniela Augenstine, of the city’s street furniture department, says: “In the eastern part there are sodium-vapour lamps with a yellower colour. And in the western parts there are fluorescent lamps – mercury arc lamps and gas lamps – which all produce a whiter colour.” The western Federal Republic of Germany long favoured non-sodium lamps on the grounds of cost, maintenance and carbon emissions, she says.

These examples are of traces of systems that have failed (or are going to fail). They work on the principle that by controlling users with force they can maintain power. In the end, systems like these, will collapse because the effort of keeping control outstrips the ability to control. Real control is efficient when (1) the users internalize the surveillance/supervision (Foucault: Panopticon) AND (2) users believe that they are acting in their own convenience and desire.

What fascinates me with these examples is the way in which our technology use marks our surroundings. An obvious example of this is the desire path that line which appears in the snow or bare track in the grass that shows how the world is really used by people as opposed to the idea which the designer believed the technology would be used.

The difference between expected use and actual use. Technology use leaves its traces in our consumption and adaption to the technology upon which we rely. However, it works both ways. By controlling the technology we rely on, we the users, can be led to believe that we desire the features of control that are provided.

An example of this is the way in which the popularity of the iPhone is no way diminished by, from a usability point of view, android operating systems are infinitely more adaptable to different needs. Or the ways in which the collection of data from technology users is all but ignored by the users in their desire for convenience.

If the iTunes/iPhone is to be compared to a silo keeping its users locked in, then it can only succeeded if (1) the users can be convinced that they are happy with the surveillance/control (Foucault: Panopticon) AND (2) any other alternative would be less convenient. If (1) fails then users would happily jailbreak their devices (on a much larger scale than now) and if (2) fails then the system will eventually collapse under its own weight when users realize that life is better on the other side of the wall.

We will all be controlled by the path of least resistance.


Runes and churches from the RAÄ

Another selection of photographs from the Swedish National Heritage Board have gone online at Flickr Commons. The latest batch (20 images to begin with) are photographs of churches and ancient monuments and the Heritage Board hopes that these images will both be appreciated by the public and that the public will contribute with information about the images as well as tagging and commenting them.

How about a nice rune?

Runic inscription (U 308) on a rock at Ekeby, north-west of Skånela Church.

The inscription says: “Gunne had these runes carved to his memory, while he was alive. Torgöt carved these runes.” – is this the twitter of the past?

Commenting on their selection the National Heritage Board write on their blog:

We on the Flickr Commons team at the National Heritage Board think that these plain and sometimes even a bit anonymous pictures have  something to tell us about the Swedish Cultural Heritage – not in a glamorous or fanciful, but in an honest way. Some of the photographs are taken by scientists or devoted scholars with the purpose to document. Some of the photographers are unknown to us.

We hope these photos will raise an interest in Old Time Sweden with its people, churches and ancient monuments. Welcome to share a part of our Heritage!

Cool images of seeds and pollen

The Guardian maintains some pretty neat photo galleries – the photo below is from there. Actually I am pretty sure I saw someone like this at the bus stop yesterday!

These strange alien structures are among the seeds and pollen conserved at the Kew Millennium Seed Bank. Seeds from more than 10% of the world’s flowering plants – around 30,000 species – have been collected in the decade since the bank was established. Kew is celebrating this milestone with an exhibition Banking on Life (4 April – 13 September), and a book of electron micrographs The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers by Rob Kesseler and Madeline Harley (Papadakis, £35)

Acceptable sex for priests

This must have catholic priests sniggering in their vestries.

Swedish priests are allowed to be married. Swedish women are also allowed to be ordained as priests. Therefore it is not strange for two priests to be in bed together and know each other in the biblical sense (ooh, that’s a bad pun). Apparently there are unacceptable sexual acts among priests.

The whole thing started when a priestly couple. To be clear: a husband and wife both priests. Anyway the priestly couple had a threesome together with a male acquaintance (not for the first time). The husband priest took pictures of the act with his mobile telephone. Reports are a bit hazy but the wife later attempted to delete the photographs and the husband lost it and started beating his wife. Naturally all this ended up with the police and the tabloids had a small snigger at the whole affair. Even for swedes this raised a few eyebrows. What can I say: Sex sells.

What makes the whole thing much more interesting is the response of a Swedish bishop (also a woman) who stated that the priests may be dismissed. What is queerer is that even the wife priest may face the same end or at least be given a warning. The dismissals are not only due to the wife beating but also are due to the threesome.

It appears that the the couples sex acts “exceed the boundaries for what may be accepted within marital relations” (my translation) The Swedish church does not have general rules for what priests may or may not do but they may not act in a way “that harms the reputation a priest should have. Also having something like group sex breaks the vow of sexual fidelity in marriage” (again my translation). Maybe they should write a manual of acceptable sexual acts.

I’m sure that the catholics are clucking sanctimoniously but let’s not forget the many, many, many sexual scandals they have caused. Isn’t it incredible? It does not matter which priests or which religion they are all really mad. Religion is not only a total waste of space it is also a harmful activity.

Copyright and non-essential parts of screendump

Karl at Cyberlaw reports of a recent interesting copyright case decided at the Swedish Court of Appeal (Svea Hovrätt).

The case (2008-07-01, FT 685-08) concerned the question whether a screendump of one web page (containing pictures) being displayed on another web page constitued a violation of copyright of the pictures.

The court found that, first of all, the pictures displayed on the webpage which was pictured and displayed on another web page were not protected under 1§ of the Swedish Copyright Act (English version Pdf) but under Photolaw 49 a§ Swedish Copyright Act.

This difference is a remnant of the time when photographs were not covered by Copyright law at all. Today photographs are covered by Copyright law but the length of protection differs from other typical works protected under copyright law.

Since the images were small and hardly distinguishable to the naked eye they made up an unessential part of the the exception in 20a§ is applicable. According to this exception there is no need for permission to use works which appear in the background or are an non-essential part of the picture.

Flickr Growth

Media Culpa is an interesting media blog which also includes following Flickr. Since I use Flickr in lectures I find this very helpful. Here is the latest on Flickr growth from Media Culpa.

On May 17, 2008, the 2,500,000,000th photo was uploaded to Flickr (photo here). If we look at previous milestones, it appears that the growth of Flickr could be slowing down. In November last year I wrote that the first billion photos took three and a half years while the second billion took three months. Now we can assume that it took six months to get the next half a billion photos.

I have compiled the graph below out of data directly from Flickr by checking a series of photos to find the date they were uploaded and hopefully they are correct. Regarding the growth, we know that much of the explosive increase during mid 2007 (from June and three months forward) was due to the migration of photos from Yahoo Photos. But despite the fact that Yahoo Photos supposedly had 2 billion photos, the figures suggest that far less than 1 billion were migrated into Flickr.

So, while I don’t have any official figures from Flickr, it does not seem that the organic growth is keeping the same pace as it did in the fall last year. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the development the coming six months for Flickr.

flickr photos

Footnote: The series of data I used was the following:

22-okt-04 1000000
20-apr-05 10000000
15-feb-06 100000000
22-sep-06 250000000
15-maj-07 500000000
19-jul-07 850000000
20-aug-07 1180000000
06-okt-07 1500000000
13-nov-07 2000000000
17-may-08 2500000000

Photography galleries

For some reason this week my online world has been heavy on some really cool photo galleries. Richard Ross has really creepy book on the way in which architecture can be used to control people The book Architecture of Authority is creepy not only because it shows your typical jail cells, detainment rooms and even images from Guantanamo – it’s creepy for the pictures of more ordinary locations like schools and offices. Check out the online exhibition here.

Photo: Richard Ross

A second online gallery is Mr Toledano’s Bankrupt is pictures taken of empty offices. Moving stuff with beauty to be found in the small things. Or as Toledano puts it: “everywhere I went I found signs of life, interrupted”

Photo: Mr Toledano

A third gallery is Joseph Holmes’ Workspace which as the title suggests is pictures of peoples workspaces – good voyeuristic stuff. Just the kind of photo essay I enjoy.