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Archive for August, 2008

Watch the Watcher

August 20th, 2008 No comments

I have been fascinated by the idea that I am being watched by surveillance cameras since they started to become more common in the 1980s. In 1989 I wrote a play that explored a vision of the future. It was rejected for a Canada Council Grant because it was too much like the novel 1984 by George Orwell. The play contained an act that featured a lonely young man and opened with him watching television alone because his roommate had gone on a date. Read the play excerpt here.

Many of the technologies I envisioned in the play have become ubiquitous in our lives. I wrote about ATM machines, the internet and e-books, but the focus was surveillance and government control. Now I read articles that confirm my fears that every moment we are in a public place, we are on camera (example). Is this something to fear or does it contribute to public security? The example article quotes Norman Siegel, who recommends that everyone carry their own camera with them so they can record their version of any event they witness. This is good advice, but sometimes events happen so fast or unexpectedly that the video camera is still in the case when the action occurs.

The idea of mounting a video camera on my motorcycle did not arise from the idea of documenting civil rights violations, or even motor vehicle traffic law breakers, although that’s not a bad idea . . . my idea came from wanting to share the experience of riding a motorcycle. When I am riding, I am part of the environment in a way that never occurs when I am sealed in the box of a car or van. With only two small patches of rubber on the road — it’s as close as I can get to flying.

Even though I know each time I go to the bank, shop, drive or even walk down the street, I may be on  video and might be on the internet. I know that there is not enough manpower to monitor every video stream; so there must be years of video stored on hard drives that has never been viewed. There are very intelligent software filters and programs that match facial features or license plates to database records, used by large organizations and governments, so humans only become involved if there is an alert. Video is often used after the fact to try to identify perpetrators or get-away vehicles. I try to be nondescript in public and pass under the radar by looking completely non-threatening. Invisible = average height, middle-aged woman.

As part of my camera research I have been looking at the possibility of using a surveillance camera for the always-on option on my bike. The cameras are small, high-quality, durable and stream directly through an ethernet cable to a computer or the internet. There is a lot of money spent on the development of these cameras and so they come in many shapes and sizes. Some manufacturers even make ones with a built-in windshield wiper, de-mister and/or heater! Some are really high quality and I will do another post on camera choices soon.  I already plan to bring a computer and I wanted to stream on to the internet, so this could give the process a jump start. This system example I got from Gary looks like it is used by plumbers to examine pipe insides. The notebook runs on Vista, but I will try to make it work in Linux too.

Notebook Inspection Cam

Carrying my notebook with me everywhere I go would be a good thing as I really do use it, when I bring it along. I need bags on my bike so I can carry it securely and not have to strip everything off every time I stop. I am working on it.

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Another connection with surveillance technology is my interest in highway-cams. On my tour, I plan to identify hiway cams and video them as they are capturing me. I talk about the artistic influences that inspired me to do this here. The ideal outcome will be if I can have a collaborator saving the highway-cam stream on their computer so that I can use the video record in a documentary.

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There are also threats to privacy in the proliferation of spyware. A description of what these programs can do is found here on a site that sells software designed to assist network administrators to monitor computer use. Downloaded spyware can track every keystroke you make, where you go on the internet, what pages are viewed, for how long and what you are clicking on. Then, the program will send all of this information back to over your internet connection to the company or individual who invaded your computer. Computers running Windows are most vulnerable to this type of background program and regular use of Spybot and Ad-Aware are recommended to all of my Windows computer clients. Just to demonstrate how devious these programs can be, a recent invasion of spyware was caused by a company masquerading as Ad-Aware. Please ignore all other sites and download only from Lavasoft.

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Life-Cycle Responsibility

August 9th, 2008 No comments

Time is slipping away so fast with so many details to take care of to realize the Live More Lightly Project. One of the reasons this project is so complex is that I have taken life-cycle responsibility for the product that I am producing. The product in this case is a multi-media book, but the principals apply to anything produced. In this post, I will refer to the concept of the universal product as a “widget”. The recent rush to re-cycle widgets properly is to be applauded, but the idea of considering the environmental impact of every aspect of producing and maintaining the product is often overlooked.

My particular widget, the “Live More Lightly Songbook and Workshop Guide” will be printed using the most environmentally friendly processes available. The included disk will have to be made from virgin plastic, so the choice will be based on price, although I plan to choose a company that uses environmentally sound practices when they can. This is the point where many producers believe they have done enough, but I continue to examine my practices: can I live more lightly?

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I am writing the book using a computer that I built from mostly re-cycled parts and the notebook I bought to take on the tour was manufactured by AsusTek, a leader in re-use and re-cycling of its products. I am using Ubuntu Linux on both computers (the notebook came with Vista, so it is dual-boot) because I believe that open source software is more efficient and uses less resources. This is a statement I can’t provide academic proof for, but I know it saves my resources. With Windows and Mac computers I have to spend time working to be able to afford the product, then after spending considerable sums of money, I usually have to spend hours troubleshooting. With Linux, if you can get it to work — it is yours. I want to have good karma on this project and use legitimate software only. The software I am using in Ubuntu would take me months of work to afford because I do not want to be a software pirate.

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Portrait by Drockleberry

August 6th, 2008 No comments

Thanks for the great portrait of me — in a helmet!

I really am pleased.

Click to view drawing of Victoria.

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Hard Cases not included

August 2nd, 2008 No comments

My beautiful, big bike is 18 years old and accessories are not easy to find. I really need some hard luggage to do any serious touring. This fact has become very clear as I had to carry my gear in a bag all over the Folk Festival on Saturday. On Sunday my daughter arranged for me to stash my biking clothes backstage, so it wasn’t so bad. Now it is time to get serious about this issue. I must get custom bags.

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Right now I have a piece of local motorcycling history, Skookum bags made in Vancouver many years ago. They have a lot of good features, including a plastic cover in a velcro pocket on the bottom that covers the bags in the rain. They have been sturdy and durable, but I have to be careful to keep them off the pipes or they will get damaged by the heat. The biggest problem is lack of security as they really can’t be locked. I was inexperienced in the world of big bikes and touring when I bought this motorcycle, but now I would not buy any bike that does not already have suitable luggage. This has been a difficult and expensive addition to my wheels.

I am showing measurements now for potential replacement bags, so here is how much room my Skookum soft bags use. The tape measure is resting on the exhaust pipe and it is 16″ to the top of the seat.

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Stuffed full, they add 12″ to the width of the bike on each side and hard case mounts will increase the width. I am showing this detail because I know I can live with these bags and something this wide will not be a problem.

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Categories: 1990 Yamaha FJ 1200

Vancouver Folk Music Festival and the Canon A80

August 2nd, 2008 No comments

It has been raining in Vancouver now for a couple of days and I have been riding, because I put my van in the shop just as the clouds were gathering. As the rain pours down in a foreshadowing of the winter that will arrive all too soon, I think back to the clear skies and endless sun we enjoyed July 19 + 20th for the 31st annual Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

Despite my frustration with how slow everything is progressing with my project, I still dropped everything to go to the Folk Music Festival with my daughter and her friends. It is really hard for me to concentrate on spreadsheets when I know there is some fine music out on Jericho Beach.

This is also a story about cameras because I was left with my venerable aged Canon A80 to take to the Folk Fest and to the Javanese Shadow play. This is because I invested in the Canon S series as a suitable camera for my daughter and it is really too fragile. I ended up with her old S2 after the power supply blew out and I bought her an S3. I had my Canon A80 and had just bought some lenses for it when I got the S2 repaired and have been using it instead of the older A80. Alas, the S3 blew out it’s power supply and I returned the S2 to my daughter while it was in the shop. So, I was left with the A80, but I had lenses to try out.

My daughter was armed with the newly repaired Canon S3 and her friends are also photographers with very impressive looking cameras, the usual digital SLRs and even a medium format antique. There were a lot of really expensive cameras at the Festival and good photographers as can be viewed on flikr.

Medium format camera Digital SLR

My daughter looked at me quizzically as I started screwing plastic bits on to my camera. It’s not like my old Pentax K1000, bayonet mount, this is a procedure where parts have to be manipulated. “What’s that?”, she asked. Quick witted as ever, I looked at the part in my hand and carefully read the neat white letters printed on the side, “It’s a wide-angle lens, dear, I’m trying it out.” She replied definitively that I should take crowd shots.

Daughter photo

There was great music at the festival and it was an opportunity to spend time with my daughter and her friends. I had never spent so much time with non-musicians at a festival. Some of them went shopping, so I joined them, as I had never considered shopping at a festival. The wares were very unique, like the small fairy wings some of the girls were wearing. A lot of time was spent talking and enjoying the sun and fine food. Relaxing, socializing and hearing the music like a lounge band at a fine restaurant, this was a very enjoyable and perfectly valid festival experience … but, I was panicking inside because I was missing everything! I had to go and listen to some music without having to talk to anyone. We coordinated cell phones, so we could meet up again, and I went off by myself.

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