Surveillance Fatigue

On my way home from Wal-Mart this week, I realized that I don’t see the security cameras anymore. They are still there but now they’re background noise. There are more oppressive cameras at the self-checkout lanes but I even fail to notice the giant monitors.

Camera surveillance is just one way that my privacy can be invaded. Earlier, my awareness of privacy was much more acute. I would use the Tor browser when visiting websites. I would monitor where I go on the open internet. I reflected on how my search queries might be analyzed and would self-censor before blogging anything too controversial. I used the privacy aware search engine DuckDuckGo. I would talk to friends about privacy. I even spent a semester studying privacy in an independent study with a privacy researcher at IUPUI.

In my trajectory on privacy, my alert level has gradually lessened. I’ve reached the point that I don’t notice obvious surveillance. However, I have some habits that stuck. I still use DuckDuckGo. I read privacy statements and TOS. I avoid my Gmail account. (However, now I’m bending on the convenience of using the Gmail address for login credentials. Three steps forward; two steps back.)

So that’s the point: I took my high level of awareness and have dropped off. I still have a few habits that have survived. But I reached a level of surveillance fatigue and I’ve lost my zeal for privacy. My behavior has changed but not by much.

The problem with surveillance fatigue is that when future technology changes require me to upgrade my vigilance, I won’t. I will recall the amount of effort it took previously and feel the new effort is too much work. I’ll reject small changes that objectively aren’t very burdensome. In effect, I overshot the balance point. I know there are things I can do to improve my privacy but I don’t do them. I’m complacent about the issue. My experience at a high alert has inoculated me from becoming more careful again.

Facebook and other surveillance services bank on this effect. They creep into newer and newer privacy assaults yet people ignore the danger. Users’ initial alarm has drifted into impotence. The surveillance continues to spread without adequate push-back.

COVID enabled strong actions at first, but now the memory of their consequences inoculates people from taking any action. If mask wearing is a habit, it could persist. Because avoiding bars and sit-down restaurants its easy, I won’t think about them when deciding what to have for dinner.

People’s threshold of willingness has drooped and they’ve fallen into the fatigue trap. They won’t take small but effective changes because they get conflated with the big changes that were hard.

Surveillance fatigue is an example of a common pattern in human behavior. A flurry of activity can respond to an emergent situation. However, the responses will gradually fall off. Unless the effective steps become a habit, privacy will continue to erode. Unless the balance point is reached with COVID precautions, it will continue to spread.

Review: Playtime (1967)

The 1967 film, Playtime, directed by the French director Jacques Tati, was a project that was burdened by Tati’s grandiose vision for the film. He went over-budget with a tardy production schedule. This comic movie uses ludicrous situations that put the characters off-balance to create goofy humor. Without an overarching plot, Playtime is a sequence of scenes that don’t flow logically. They’re each silly and have unexpected turns.

One message of the film is that people are absurd. Early, the movie shows the main character trying to set up a meeting with a businessman. Eventually, he gets sidetracked by an industrial exhibition. After that phase of the action finished, much of the movie takes place at the grand opening of a nightclub with many silly mishaps. The humor in the movie is often visual. The dialog is primarily French with sub-titles but some speakers use German or English.

A theme of the movie is that glass can be a barrier and transparent at the same time. Seeing through glass walls leaves one isolated as an observer unable to participate in events that are so close. A door can be invisible until someone passes through it. At the nightclub, eventually a glass door was just a golden handle held by a doorman. Although a guest shattered the door, the greeter was acting as if the glass was still present. The glass shards were swept away but “the show must go on” so the door was simulated for the guests.

One segment in the film showed some apartments that were designed like department store windows. The rooms were on ground level with a fishbowl wall of glass giving full view into the residents’ lives. In one apartment, I was reminded of family Super8 movies showing travels and family reunions. The host tried to set up a screen to share travels but was rebuffed when the guest left suddenly.

The extra features of the disc emphasized the impracticality of Tati’s production of the film. Tati built a huge city-like sound stage of buildings and asphalt roadways for a modernist town. Tati had hoped other directors could use the same set. However, not long after the shooting was finished, the whole structure was destroyed. The commenters reported that on some days Tati would waste the day waiting for the sunlight and clouds to be just so. The cast might end up waiting and idle for much of a day.

The hapless architect was blamed for the mishaps at the not-quite-ready nightclub. The restaurant manager reports to him many flaws: The pickup window for the waiters was too small for serving plates; a bar that had ornamentation at the level of the bartender’s head; a tile in the newly finished dance floor stuck to a maître d’s shoe. One running gag was a waiter who tore his pants. As the evening progressed, that waiter waited outside and replaced defective shoes, a belt and tie that other waiters needed. Another ongoing joke showed that the chairs left deep crown-shaped creases on men’s suits. A sorry-looking baked fish was repeatedly seasoned with a flourish when staff passed by, but the fish was never eaten by anyone.

The action begins and ends with tourists traveling to an airport. The Eiffel Tower is shown in the distance to locate the action in Paris. The sets are constructed out of grays and blacks, straight lines and flat surfaces. It shows humans in a dehumanized setting. People don’t seem out of place, but nothing feels welcoming. The film is not showing a place where people would want to stay.

One strength of the show is how memorable it is. Even though is has primarily physical gags and silly situations, I can look back and see much of the movie in my memory. Rather than being based on a wide environment and varying settings, the film’s world was rigid and demanding. The world of Tati’s Playtime is strange and alien.

Review: The Man From Earth (2007)

The science fiction film by Jerome Bixby, The Man From Earth starts simply with some friend gathering at the cabin of John Oldman. (played by David Lee Smith) He’s preparing to move on, somewhat abruptly, and he has gathered them to say goodbye. After opening the night with some Johnny Walker, they have an extraordinary conversation as the evening develops. His cabin is on the edge of a wilderness. While not an unusual locale, the thoughtful discussion brings to mind John’s past years when he was divorced from human influences. The college professors and some students are relishing the friendship that they share.

As the story progresses into deeper history, John offers his friends a lot of trust. He tells them that in the past he would leave and not explain where he is going nor why. This time, John trusts his friends enough that he can candidly describe his past. These friends prove to the viewer that it’s worthwhile to share an engaging discussion.

John reviews his life forward from the simple culture of prehistoric man. As he saw the world expand, he reflects how he first saw mountains and then the ocean. He has met some extraordinary people through his life.

Jerome Bixby, the author of the screenplay was a successful science fiction writer. Among other credits, he wrote for the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone. This movie was brought to life by his son because Bixby died shortly after the screenplay was finished. According to the commentary, it was made on a limited budget, but I think it is still well made. One effect of that is that due to limited lighting, for some of the footage taken after sunset, the video is grainy.

The Man From Earth is the anti-thesis of an action movie. There aren’t special effects, stuntmen or violent conflicts. Instead, the film ends on a surprising note after John’s ideas are presented at a comfortable pace.

I enjoyed the film and have watched its several times. The situation seems organic and not hobbled with stereotypical characters that are simplistic and stilted.

Six Degrees of COVID-19

How many degrees of separation are you from COVID-19?

There are different ways to count degrees of separation–the number of relationships one person is away from another.

Generally, everyone is six degrees of separation from any other person. You can reach any person on earth by crossing six social connections. The game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon asks for an actor’s shortest path of costarring roles to reach Kevin Bacon.

There are also degrees of COVID-19 phenomena. They measure how many patients are different degrees of separation from you. In early January, most of the patients were 6 degrees of separation from me. As the pandemic continues, the world is shrinking. When did the degrees of COVID-19 change to 5 for most patients? As the pandemic spreads, that number will get smaller and smaller.

An interesting psychological transition must happen before a disease feels real and threatening. People could be three or four degrees of separation from many COVID-19 patients and not realize it. Cognitively, the number of cases in the US is just a big number without emotional impact. However, knowing your connection to those people might be more visceral.

I’m sure that when people are one or two degrees of separation from COVID-19, the disease will seem to be an obvious threat. The degrees of separation for people who were hospitalized for COVID-19 will be higher, but could be more impactful for people who pooh-pooh the disease’s risks.

I hope that the more macabre statistic, the degrees of COVID-19 deaths will not get low. Leaders must not be heedless because the possibility is real. Decisive action can keep the Degrees of COVID-19 from drifting down further.

How many sick people are 3 or 4 degrees of separation from you is hard to gauge. It’s a crucial fact that is hidden by case counts.

COVID-19 might be a tsunami, but we can always move farther from the shore. Animations that show projections of how my degrees of COVID-19 are changing could be a meaningful display of how close the tsunami is to me.

Thesaurus > Dictionary

Some reference books are better than others. I like a good thesaurus better than a dictionary. A well-made thesaurus helps me boost my vocabulary.

I have a copy of Roget’s International Thesaurus. I also have a couple of dictionaries: Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and a Pocket Oxford Dictionary (The pocket Oxford also has sentimental value with a note “Given to me by Mrs. Ann Porter the nice woman who lives in the flat across the hall in England.” I was visiting my grandparents in London when she gave me the book.)

The Webster’s dictionary is the lesser of the three. Its definitions are merely satisfactory and I don’t expect greatness. I like the Oxford dictionary more. It’s succinct and I usually find something interesting when I open it randomly. It’s not the giant, full Oxford dictionary, but to call it “pocket” is a stretch. My bath robe might have a big enough pocket for it, but fitting it into a pants or shirt pocket is completely impossible.

The thesaurus is much more useful. Mine has two parts. The primary text is organized into topical areas, for example “496: Taste, Tastefulness,” “970: Uncertainty” and “487: Celebration.” Each category is broken into sub-categories of related synonyms. There’s always new phrases to find. “At sixes and sevens” under Uncertainty is a new phrase for me and I like the word “finesse” that I found under Taste.

Finesse is a comforting word. It reminds me of when my parents would play bridge. They would describe a certain situation in the game and call it a finesse. One hazard of a thesaurus is that, when I find a word I don’t know, I can embarrass myself by using it improperly. For example, if I write about a bridge game, first I need to learn what finesse means to a bridge player.

The second half of the thesaurus is a dictionary. Rather than having definitions, this section links to the relevant sub-part of different categories. This dictionary offers different senses of a word. “Worthless” points to categories containing “valueless,” “disadvantageous,” “paltry,” “unworthy,” and “terrible.”

I opened the thesaurus and the word “martyrize” popped up. I had never thought of what the verb form of martyr was. The word looks weird but makes sense. However, it’s not a word I’ll find in the novels I’m reading.

A thesaurus has better rabbit holes than a dictionary.


The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

The novel The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin has started me on a quest. I’ve reignited in my reading interest. More specifically, reading science fiction. I’m letting the Hugo and Nebula awards help me compose my reading list. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin won the 1970 Hugo and 1969 Nebula awards for best novel.

I obviously hate trees because I’m buying used copies of the books, rather than reading them on my kindle or other ebook format. I’ve found a convenient venue to locate used books at bookfinder.com.

The Left Hand of Darkness follows an envoy from Ekumen, Genly Ai. Ekumen is a federation of planets connected by near light-speed starships. However, relativity’s time dilation affects travel and trade. Ekumen has developed a long-term perspective because travelers will often return home decades after they left on a mission.

The people living on the aptly named planet Winter (also known as Gethen) are unique because of their fluid gender.  Every person can bear children as well as father them. However, most of the time the individuals are genderless. The effects of this on their culture is complex. On one hand, sexuality and nudity become much less sensitive a topic. Raising children is a more cooperative enterprise with more than the parents responsible. People are hospitable and welcome strangers. It’s challenging to know how to look at them from this more-or-less solid-gendered world. It’s easy for Ai to consider everyone a “he.” When he notices feminine qualities in individuals, he finds it disorienting.

The story describes three different nations. One, Karhide, is hierarchical and like a large confusing family. It is hierarchical and formal. The second, Orgoreyn, is bureaucratic. Its citizens deal with interminable paperwork and passport documents when they travel. However, the bureaucratic culture has work for everyone. The more feudal Karhidish society has strong bonds of mutual aid and generosity. The third culture, the Handarata, is mystical and has a subtle mythology. It is not explored as deeply as the others but seems very Zen-like with contradiction and paradox essential attitudes.

The language of the novel is very clear and descriptive. During a journey over a large glacier, the feelings of fatigue and the difficulty dealing with the murderous cold was striking. At one point, the novel made me actually jump with surprise and emotion. The book’s early chapters do not provide a linear story. Alternating chapters include information from Gethenian mythology and storytelling. This is helps the novel be a little more anthropological so that I had get a better feel for the world.

The Left Hand of Darkness reveals that my native assumptions about gender are not the only way to see things. The Hainish people share strong bonds. There are intrigues and power struggles that Ai has to navigate through. The title is misleading because the book isn’t about a struggle between darkness and light. Instead, it is a testament to endurance and the ability of people to form bonds of trust and honor.

Film Review: 12 Monkeys (1995)

Twelve Monkeys is a story about the world after a viral plague kills 6 billion people in 1996. The time travel story jumps between the 1990s before the pandemic and decades into the future. The future is run by strange scientists who hope to track down the virus’ origin. They send James Cole (Bruce Willis) back in time with a mission to gather information.

Another protagonist in the movie is the psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). She is interested in the history of people who present a Cassandra complex. The Cassandra myth describes someone who knows the future but cannot do anything to change it. She wrote a book documenting examples of such people appearing in the past.

She is unfazed when she meets Cole who has the same outlook. She believes that he is mentally ill and she first meets him in her psychiatric hospital in 1990. She tries to maintain a clinical and objective interest in Cole. Cole vanishes for several years after his first hospital stay. He meets her a few years later and he kidnaps her for several days. Much of the story takes place during that kidnapping as she learns more about Cole’s remarkable story.

The future scientists are interested in a mysterious Army of the Twelve Monkeys which their surveillance indicates is responsible for the virus’ release. The Army of the Twelve Monkeys was led by Jeffrey Goines, played by Brad Pitt. His wannabe insurgents appear to be central actors in the plague because Goines father is a biologist studying deadly viruses. However, the exact role of Goines’ team is unclear until the end of the film. Goines and Cole meet when he shows Cole around the psych ward in 1990.

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt provide excellent performances in the film. Willis portrays Cole as disoriented by time travel who does not know whether he is delusional or a “volunteer” traveling back in time on behalf of the scientists. He clearly demonstrates the sense of confusion and helplessness that his character experienced. Pitt portrays Goines as privileged, crazy and unpredictable with many goofy antics. Often institutionalized, Goines acts paranoid, manic and defiant. While in the hospital in 1990, he has a wild pillow escapade to help Cole escape. Goines has boundless energy and Pitt plays him very convincingly. Gradually Goines’ friends in the Army of the Twelve Monkeys realize he is unhinged and that his plans are going to end badly.

Changes at deviantart

I’ve been part of the deviantart.com community for a long time. My current username is about 7 years old but I’ve been there longer than that. The service is going through an evolution that I don’t welcome.

They’re replacing their default “green” user interface with a UI that the site owners call Eclipse. According to one user survey, over 95% of current users prefer the traditional design.

It appears their goal is to transition deviantart from being an artists’ social media into an art gallery. They emphasize presenting popular works in an easy-to-access form rather than helping a community thrive. Finding users that fit my style is becoming more difficult.

On my home page, a visitor sees some technical statistics first in bold letters. They aren’t a good measure of how I contribute to the site. I don’t want to stare at those statistics and feel less than.

It looks like their developers have optimized for a small number of use cases. My interactions with the site doesn’t fit those cases. Unfortunately, they may be emphasizing the use cases that create revenue, so my small footprint isn’t relevant.

Technically, the new interface has rough edges and performance problems. Although they’ve been beta testing Eclipse for over a year, there are still hiccups and delays. The thumbnails are bigger and a little slower. I’ve had some simple actions flagged as slow scripts by my browser.

Some people are likely to jump ship when a site changes. I’ll transition from being a multiple-visits-a-day user to a coming-when-I’m-bored user. I’ll just drift away and sadly, my friends on deviantart won’t be so important any more.

I haven’t seen reports of people finding alternatives. Tumblr, Instagram and perhaps flickr are obvious choices, but I haven’t searched for the best fit for me.

Lisa Notation

A really useful tool for technical support is to tell the user concisely where to look on the computer screen. Lisa notation is a simple way of doing that.

Lisa notation starts by dividing a rectangle such as the screen or a window into quarters and labeling the quarters A, B, C and D.

Lisa-Notation-A

And then, in each quadrant, divide it into 9 sections, numbered like the dial of a phone.

Lisa-Notation-B

Although that chart has a lot of clutter, it’s never needed in practice. You can estimate them automatically. Picking the quadrant is easy and then dividing it into 9ths uses a skill familiar to anyone who dials a phone.

With this technique, you can verbally point the person to the right part of the screen. Dividing the screen into 36 pieces this way is really easy. It’s something that can be understood instantly.

For example, if you’re helping someone with Microsoft Word, you could say ‘Click Draw at A-2 and then when it opens, near C-1 click Drawing Canvas.” Alternatively, helping someone with Firefox, you could say “select the item at C-3 that looks like books leaning on a bookshelf and then at Lisa A in the menu that comes up, click History.”

The last example shows that there can be a couple of variations. One is that you might only give the first letter if the area is small. Alternatively, you could just give a number “Lisa 5” to mean the center of the screen as if there were a 3 x 3 grid over the whole area.

The other thing to remark is that you would specify the location relative to the current area of interest instead of the full screen. For example in a dialog box, you would give the location relative to the dialog instead of the full screen. In a Windows “Save As” dialog, you could tell the user to “type the file name you want starting at the File Name edit box near C-5” regardless of where the dialog is on the screen.

Other situations that would really benefit from this notation are computer documentation and help files. When someone describes the steps to solve a problem, the directions would be much more precise and understandable if the writer would use Lisa notation. On the help page “how to send an email,” showing where would really help to someone inexperienced  Saying “Click in the subject line and type a subject” isn’t helpful enough. Someone that really needs it would appreciate the extra help.

Conversely, I might help someone on the phone, and I might not know exactly what their screen is showing. It could make the phone call go smoother if I would ask them to read to me what is near C-7.

Artists and art critics could use this notation quite effectively. What is supposed to be in the blank space of Mona Lisa’s B-6? It looks like da Vinci just got tired of working on the painting when he got there and quit.

Mona_Lisa_Leonardo_da_Vinci_smaller

 

RhymeZone: A Useful Site for Writers

A blue push pinI have needed a site to help with word choice in poetry. I found  https://www.rhymezone.com and use it frequently.

Although RhymeZone starts as a rhyming dictionary, it is much more. I actually use it as a thesaurus rather than a rhyming dictionary because it includes an index of synonyms and antonyms.

When you need them, it will find homophones and similar sounding words. The similar sounding word lists include a rating of the closeness of the similarity and the options’ popularity. It will also search for a word in the titles of Wikipedia articles. It has examples of words in the context of lyrics and poems. It also provides several definitions for a word.

One query I made showed that “harsh” has the same consonants as the surnames “Harsch,” “Hirsche” and “Horsch”. This is one example of how it is integrated with a table of surnames. For “book,” there are 46 different words with the same consonants including dictionary words, surnames and rare words.

There are many uses for the web site. It’s presented in a well made design that integrates its features conveniently. Their article RhymeZone Turns 20 (with updates aplenty) describes features of the site.

If you’re a writer, it definitely is worthwhile to add this site to your favorite bookmark list.