two things

This is a sketch of what could be a larger project about data and databases, knowledge production, and the electronic turn in social services. It’s inspired by Craig Willse’s 2016 book, “The Value of Homelessness: Managing Surplus Life in the United States”—specifically, the “Governing through Numbers” chapter.

At this point, there is only one modal. When you click the “First Name” input, you see part of an interview from the Signs for the Homeless project (link below). I’d like to create modals for every input box.

In disrupting the data field this way, the idea is to show how databases constrain the kinds of information we can know about a person. The resulting “statistical portraits,” to use Willse’s phrase, stand in for a population that doesn’t actually exist until the database brings it into being. This reality has important applications for how we use databases (and algorithms that rely on them) to create and inform policy.

packet sniffing

i did that. i’m going to do it some more. surya helped me come up with a somewhat structured plan of action that i’ll post about when i’m done.

for now, a collection of articles on stingrays. which, by the way, are creepy surveillance tools that act like cell towers so your cell phone routes its data through them. this creepiness is legal and certain kinds of resisting are illegal:

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.16.50 AM

radio brainstorming

i have a few ideas for a semester-long radio project, but at this point i’m leaning toward doing something with the subway wi-fi infrastructure.

transit wireless, a bai communications company, installs and manages mta wi-fi. here’s tw’s public-facing webpage.

by digging around there, i learned that these freaky dangling things i’ve been seeing more and more of are actually antennae. they make up something340px-Antennas_of_Distributed_Antenna_System_in_New_York_City_subway called a distributed antenna system, and my understanding is that they’re relatively new infrastructural inventions. i think they work like relays to bounce messages to each other in spaces where it’d otherwise be difficult to get a radio/wi-fi signal.

i downloaded some fcc documents about this stuff: ownership, regulations, etc. i’d be curious to get the fcc IDs of some of the devices.

this is the land of a thousand rabbit holes, dangerous territory for me. more updates as i learn more.

radio history & how mathematicians talk about communication

surya spent the last class giving us a quick and dirty overview of the history of radio and some technical fundamentals. key things:

  • WWII submarine communication, frequency jamming, and frequency hopping
  • relationship between frequency and bandwidth
  • claude shannon and information theory
  • wi-fi and packet types
  • management frames in general. probe request frames and beacon frames in particular.
  • OSI stack

i’m spending some time with claude shannon’s important paper, “a mathematical theory of communication”. i’m definitely not a math person, but i’m still finding the paper fascinating for the way it frames communication. for someone from a more art/lit theory-y background, talking about communication in this way is really new:

“Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages.”

um. wow. he gives us this wonderfully symmetrical diagram:

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 2.01.45 PM

but i think my favorite part is the way he defines these elements in words before representing them as mathematical entities that can be manipulated in/with equations. here’s how he breaks down the “information source” which produces a message that may be of various types:

  • sequence of letters (like a telegraph)
  • single function of time (like radio)
  • function of time and other variables (like b&w tv). this would look like “function f (x, y, t) of two space coordinates and time, the light intensity at point (x, y) and time t on a pickup tube plate”
  • 2+ functions of time (like multi-channel sound)
  • 2+ functions of time and 2+ functions of space (like color tv or tv with associated audio channel). this would look like f (x, y, t), g(x, y, t), h(x, y, t).

very cool.

our homework is to come up with some project ideas, check out radical software, spend some time with a raspberry pi, and play with surya and sam’s packet sniffing project, nsheyy.