Sunday, August 24, 2014

Citizen Power - Part I: using our cell cameras for safety and freedom

If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions! Here is my own latest example:

“Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”

This technology, which would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P), even when the cell system is down, would seem to be the obvious backup mode that we all might rely upon, in emergencies. Indeed, failure of cell service badly exacerbated the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Fukushima. I have been hectoring folks about this since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society, and in annual speeches/consultations with various agencies and companies, back east, ever since.

ua93-terror Indeed, it was access to communications that enabled New Yorkers to show the incredible citizen resilience that Rebecca Solnit portrays so well in her book A Paradise Made in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Communications enabled the brave passengers of flight UA 93 to “win” the War on Terror, the very day that it began.

A few years after brainstorming with some engineers at Qualcomm, I learned that company was charging ahead with LTE direct, installing it in their chip sets, whether or not AT&T and Verizon decided to activate it. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.

When it is fully operational, the benefits will become apparent. A more robust, resilient and agile civilization will be more ready for anything that might come.

== Phones and Protest ==

Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. There will be tussles over the details for years, as discussed here. And here.

EFF-CELL-PHONE-GUIDE-PROTESTThose tussles could be hazardous! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guide to using cell phones if you are going to a protest or other zone of potentially tense interaction with police.

Good, practical advice. I have long urge folks to join EFF as one of their dozen or so "proxy power associations." I do not always agree with them! But that doesn't matter as much as ensuring that they -- and the ACLU, etc -- remain out there and untrammeled.

For more on your right and duty to join orgs that give your voice see: Proxy Power...

== What worries me most? ==

There are moves afoot to require that cell phone manufacturers include "kill switches" so that phones can be remotely turned off. Ostensibly, this aims to enable you to render your stolen phone useless to any thieves, thus securing your private data and eliminating much of the incentive to steal phones, in the first place.  

Behind the scenes, however, are Security Concerns, e.g. that cell phones make excellent remote triggers for terror bombs.  Or that terrorists can use phones to coordinate an attack in real time. In both cases - and some other hypotheticals I am not at liberty to divulge - the State will be better able to serve and protect us, if it can shut down  service in an area....

...and if that does not give you a creepy feeling, there is something wrong with you.  As legitimate as that necessity might seem, it is countered by our own need and right to stay connected, during a crisis, and to use our tools to perform citizen-level accountability!

In fact, it is easy to imagine a negotiated solution... a win-win that could help the Protector Caste without leaving us citizens reduced to impotence, to the level of bleating sheep, bereft of tools exactly when we need them most. I have long pointed out that access to communications was the trait them empowered New Yorkers and the brave volunteers on flight UA93, in contrast to the disastrous consequences of communications breakdown, after Katrina and Fukushima.

 Certainly the cell-phone's camera functions... and the ability to upload images to safety at trusted cloud sites... should be safeguarded from any and all kill switches. (Indeed, these are things you don't mind a thief doing, with your stolen phone!  You might get it back!)

Or else (and I recommend this highly) you should go all retro.  Buy and maintain several cheap, old fashioned digital cameras.  Keep them around.  Just in case.


Continue to Part II: Those Cop Cameras


Jumper said...

My cheap cam is splendidly old-school. A one inch lens. Even the crappy little microphone built in is just a cut above in quality over the normal crapola. Does short video. Oh, and takes great shots in reasonably hi-def. In addition I got my phone where it can record audio any time. I'm set. I advise everyone to get where you can do it on a moment's notice.

rdbrown said...

Will they interoperate with the The Serval Project (WiFi mesh networking on phones)?

locumranch said...

"In the primitive days before cellphones, the USA & other large nation states utilized a defunct one-way technology called 'RADIO' to inform & control the public in emergency situations. This was also called the 'Emergency Broadcast System' by some.

This so-called 'EBS' allowed the central authority to protect vulnerable members of society from adverse consequence by commanding them to 'Remain Calm', 'Stay Inside', 'Evacuate' and 'Duck & Cover' in a situationally appropriate manner and, although this unidirectional technique was very effective at maintaining public order, some believed two-way communication to be more desirable, leading directly to the adoption of a digital P2P model that allowed for two-way communication.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a huge mistake as the P2P model encouraged certain narcissistic tendencies endemic in modern society, leading to a generation of people who (1) placed their unique personal interests above the greater interests of society, (2) refused to do as they were told in an emergency situation and (3) made escalating demands upon a disintegrating social safety net onto the point of total collapse, causing the further destabilization and eventual collapse of a poorly structured social order".

Excerpted from 'The Collapse of Western Society: 2020 to 2026'


locumranch said...

Continuation of last thread:

As Jumper's 'Hyperreal' link and David's closing comments demonstrate, it is possible to assume (imagine) a practically infinite series of almost 'real' and almost 'countable' infinitesimals between any two limiting integers in the manner of a transfinite set but this assumption, by virtue of being non-empiric, does not necessarily make it so, illustrating the problematic nature of all integers, whatever we choose to call them, as all (integers, numbers, etc) are all UNREAL in the sense that they are abstract philosophical representations even though they (we tell ourselves) ALMOST approximate, or NEARLY correspond to, the concrete reality that we use them to represent.


Paul451 said...

From the last thread:

Re: Golden Ratio
"What is coincidence, though, is that this is also the approximate ratio of a kilometer to a mile. Does anyone else feel like that should be significant somehow?"

Does that mean that converting imperial to metric is inherently "beautiful"? :)

"Approximately 0.618, and its reciprical is approximately 1.618, which is not coincidence, but rather the whole point."

I did not know that.

So the Golden Ratio is defined by 1/R = R+1?

Which gives R^2 + R - R = 0.

Which gives R = 1/2 * (sqrt(5) - 1) = 0.618... and 1/R = 2 / (sqrt(5) - 1) = 1.618... Neat.


David Brin said...

Paul451, I think you meant R^2 + R -1 =0

Tony Fisk said...

Meanwhile I think locum is making a bid for Ruler of the Universe.

Who can tell? Who can tell?

Paul451 said...

"I think you meant R^2 + R -1 =0"

Oops, yep. Calculated right, copied wrong.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct (..) would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P). If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.

Are you sure it does what you think it does? What I read is a device can communicate with other devices close by. There is no network or mesh communication capability, although it is conceivable there could be, although it would be very inefficient as there is no routing, just store and forward, which will flood the system. Despite the high minded service suggestions, this looks more like a local eCommerce capability - as depicted in "Minority Report".

Communication is always going to help both sides - aggressors as well as victims. The kill switch is an obvious solution for heavy handed authorities, much like the increasing use of SWAT teams. How long before the authorities use directed EMP to break electronic devices? "So sorry that your right to record needs an operational device..."

Tom Crowl said...

RE Kill switches on cell phones:

You've pointed out the dilemma...

There can be some very legitimate and useful reasons for some central authority to be able to shut them down remotely (terrorism, theft)...

But there's a flip side whereby an "authority" could inhibit legitimate protest or coverage.

Hence serious thought is needed.

I'd suggest the same dilemma exists with transaction networks.

There may be good reasons to "shut down" an individual's or a group's transaction capability... (wouldn't it be nice to be able to shut down the ability of ISIS to transact)...

But there may be other occasions where that's problematic (what if Iceland was entirely shut from global financial networks because it defied repayment demands?... or peaceful political dissidents were literally starved by being unable to transact because of their views.

As these global networks become more formalized attention is merited... because we're likely to be stuck with them for a very long time.

Orcinus said...


Have you seen this new product? How does this fit into this issue?

Alfred Differ said...

As I remember it, the rationals are countably infinite just like the integers. One can write a map that relates all rationals to distinct integers and this is the measure used to decide the sets are the same size. The density of the rationals doesn't really matter.

That doesn't work for irrationals, of course. There is no such map, thus it is the irrationals that make the reals larger.

Maps are what matter when it comes to counting. Start with integers and the meaning of 'countably infinite' which translates roughly as David described in the last thread. Any two integers can act as bounds on a finite set of integers for which all elements can be listed. In the limit that the bounds expand beyond any integers we might choose, the nature of the set does not change.

The non-negative integers are actually enough for all this since one can set one of the bounds to zero and work with only one that is flexible. The map between integers and non-negative integers is easy enough.

Alfred Differ said...

Back to the thread....

In the REALLY primitive days we used amateur radio and the hams self-organized to help with public safety. Those organizations have not gone away and the equipment is much, much better today. I keep my amateur radio license active and have learned the basics for how to help when the time arises. I encourage others to do it too. It's not that hard to do. Just look around at some of the personalized license plates and you'll see some of the people who have bothered to try.

David Brin said...

Alfred there is an organization of Hams dedicated to preparedness. They work closely with us CERTS/

Alfred Differ said...

Yup. I'm aware of them. I've helped out occasionally, but some of them are far more into keeping up their skills than I am. My plan in an emergency is to power up my equipment (yes... I keep enough batteries around to ensure I can) and then do as I'm told when I check in. I have my handheld (low power) and my car's system (higher power), so I can be mobile two different ways.

I used to help out with a team who did amateur level high-power rocketry. That involved weekend trips to the Nevada desert. There are certain safety risks even when things go as planned, so we practiced and acted upon what we learned. A big part of the safety plan involved communication with our team members who were on foot looking for lost equipment since all sorts of things can happen. Things did too and I got to help save a couple of us from hypothermia.

It doesn't take a lot of effort or money to get and maintain equipment, so anyone wanting to go a step beyond their cell phone range can. Practice occasionally and it might matter someday.

David Brin said...

Kewl Alfred! The rest of you... consider doing CERT training with your local fire department!

LarryHart said...


"Approximately 0.618, and its reciprical is approximately 1.618, which is not coincidence, but rather the whole point."

I did not know that.

So the Golden Ratio is defined by 1/R = R+1?

Yes, that is the definition. There are other ways of putting it, but they all work out to the same thing.

The way I first heard it described was in geometric rather than numerical terms. Consider a rectangle whose small side and long side are in a ratio of R to each other (the golden ratio). If you start from one small side and move along the long side until you've defined a square, and slice that square off of the rectangle, the remaining rectangle is similar (same ratio) to the original.

Mathematically, that means the short side is to the long side as the difference of the two is to the (original) short side.

R is to 1 as 1-R is to R

Which works out to the same result that your equation does: R^^2 + R - 1 = 0

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Meanwhile I think locum is making a bid for Ruler of the Universe.

More accurately, for critic of the universe. Or court jester, perhaps?

Who can tell? Who can tell?

That would make a good campaign slogan for the postion. Or as good a campaign slogan as any, at least.

Alfred Differ said...

Everyone self-elects to be a critic of human language. That's the way it is supposed to work. Locumranch's objections just show him to be a defender of tradition. 8)

LarryHart said...

@Alfred Differ,

Me, I can't stand "irregardless" or "I could care less." But I reluctantly admit that I know what people mean when they use either of them.

LarryHart said...

continuing on language...

I will (rightly) criticize incorrect language when it purposely hides meaning or when it confuses the listener so that communication is not achieved. But criticism of phrases that all concerned understand perfectly well seems like a pointless concern.

I was the son and the grandson of English teachers. I learned correct language at my parents' and grandparents' knees, so when I was in school, I never had to study the rules of grammar. If it "sounded correct" to me, it probably was.

I suspect that when people get bent out of shape out of proportion over certain violations of language rules, they're trying to prevent the language from leaving their personal comfort zone in that sense. I understand the urge, but again, believe it to be a pointless battle.

Tony Fisk said...

@LarryHart: No familiarity with Hitch-hiker's?

Tony Fisk said...

@LarryHart. Here is a website to *really* let your inner lexicographical raptor loose in.

Tony Fisk said...

David finished this piece with the obvious solution to kill switches.
I would also have to wonder, from prior experiences with such shackles, just how quickly a phone could be hacked.

Greg Egan gives a pretty gripping account of how this sort of electronic warfare might escalate between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and protestors in the first half of his novel 'Zendegi'. Mesh capable phones are employed about halfway through in response to the shutdown of comms towers.

David Brin said...

I too hate "I could care less" which mangles meaning.

OTOH I like neologisms that add useful meaning... like "OTOH!"

My generation contributed "No Way!"

Probably the only major cultural contribution of Gen-X was the decisive rebuttal: "Yes, way!'

LarryHart said...

I've been trying for years to remember what we used before Homer Simpson gave us "D'oh!".

Tony Fisk said...

I think Homer simply packaged an existing product.
I have vague childhood memories of a character in a mid-sixties UK comedy who used "D'oh!" a lot.

Tony Fisk said...

... Mr. Pastry is who I was thinking of. Late fifties slapstick comedy. Very popular in his day. Thought of him when I first heard Homer utter his trademark call.

Joel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

Off topic:

Only "accredited investors" can invest in startups - requiring $200k in income or $1 mil in net worth.

Is this the rich keeping themselves as gatekeepers of new technologies (and allowing who gets a chance for capital investment) - keeping out the middle class from the next generation of successful tech companies. Or is it protection from the regulators from the predators on Wall St (or boiler rooms)?

I think wealth is not an indication of knowledge. Like most accreditations, investors should take a test, similar to the various Series7 tests required by Wall St brokers.

Christian J. Schulte said...

Responding to Joel Greenwood:

The restriction to "accredited investors" applies only to private offerings, which are exempt from the various reporting requirements of public offerings. Anyone can invest in public offerings. (Of course, only the connected can get in on the ground floor of lucrative initial public offerings, but that's a practical, not a legal restriction.)

—Christian J. Schulte

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

I think Homer simply packaged an existing product.
I have vague childhood memories of a character in a mid-sixties UK comedy who used "D'oh!" a lot.

But I'm talking about common conversation. Here in the US anyway, "D'oh!" got into the common lexicon pretty quickly after Homer started using it. And it seems there is a real need for that exclamation quite often. But for the life of me, I can't recall what I would have said to express it before 1990.

Andy said...

Completely off topic, but there seems to be a lot of those on this post, so I'll go ahead.

Dr. Brin, you often mention we are in the 3rd phase of the civil war. The 1st phase was the Civil War itself but you never mention the other. What was the 2nd phase - the civil rights movement of the 60s?

Alfred Differ said...

Before D'oh I used Argh and Ack. I think D'oh works better, though, because of its connection to Homer. Use it and we say we are feeling a bit like him. 8)

Mathematicians have to adjust definitions in our language often enough we should be used to it. Their use of 'real' isn't quite what we mean, right? Think on it long enough and it should be obvious that mathematics is a language of its own, but happens to borrow words from other languages when those words come close. 'Infinity' is just one example. Try to pin down what they mean by 'curvature' in the differential geometry dialect and you're in for a treat. 8)

LarryHart said...

@Alfred Differ,

Remember the Star Trek:TNG episode called "Darmok", in which the Enterprise encountered a civilization that spoke entirely in allusions?

It made me realize that that's pretty much what we do too.

Joel said...

"Anyone can invest in public offerings. (Of course, only the connected can get in on the ground floor of lucrative initial public offerings, but that's a practical, not a legal restriction.)"

I'm pretty sure the acronym IPO (Initial public offering) is supposed to be ironic. Brokers only give access to their favorite clients (those who trade a lot). The rest of us (i.e. the public) are shut out in the cold.

The IPO is when the initial backers cash out, not necessarily the best time to buy in.

Alfred Differ said...


I remember it. It meant more for me after my son's diagnosis with autism. Without trying to drag anyone down, I can honestly say that understanding language took on a very different priority for me after that. 8)

I can't recommend Hofstadter's most recent book enough for anyone interested in how languages actually work. The book helped me make some sense of what is going on in my son's head. I have Temple Grandin's work too, but a semi-scholarly approach helped me see language and the narratives we build in a VERY different way from what I used to believe. I came away with a view that language is our distributed knowledge encoding technique. It is the memory of the community.

Alex Tolley said...

To support Joel's comments, IPO should mean "It's Probably Overpriced". If it is a good price, you cannot get much, if any, of the offering. If it is overpriced, you can get as much as you want. For most private investors, it is better to invest in the 2ndry market.

Anonymous said...

Civil war = more phases.

phase 1 southern tories vs the Revolution.

2 1830s the south almost seceded... Jackson talked em out of it

3 1852- 1860 the real CW started with rampages across northern states by bands of irregular southern cavalry grabbing "fugitive slaves." "won" by the south...

4= the big battles. Blue Amerca triumphs.

5- reconstruction... the south won this phase, huge

6 . William Jennings Bryan's white-christian populism. Northern oligarchs won. (The one time the confederacy had some moral justification on their side.)

7 - civil rights, staring with desegregation of the military. won by Blue America.

8 - the Nixonian "flip" leadeds to today's full scale New Confederacy effort to finally destroy the United States of America.

David Brin said...

PS that anon was me on the road/////db

Andy said...

Huh, interesting... so we're in the *eighth* phase of the civil war! Thanks David

SteveO said...

Dr. Brin on phases...

You'll have to define "red" and "blue" in the context of the Civil War, since "red" today implies GOP, and they were the one phase 4.

If I can paraphrase to check, "blue" in this context is not Democrats but "liberals in the sense Adam Smith meant" which at that time included the GOP.

SteveO said...


The one that made me think about how we talk in stock phrases rather than individual sentences was part of the "Book of the New Sun" series by Gene Wolfe. There is a contest in a MASH unit of the far future to win the affection of a lady by telling the best story. Each story teller has something uniquely strange about them.

The one I am thinking of was an enemy soldier - one who from birth can only use phrases from their political book when speaking. The end point of it was that he could still tell a story even using just stock political phrases that might even have been subversive. (It was a genuinely brilliant bit of writing.)

I started listening to myself and others, and realized that the vast majority of what we say or write is actually stock phrases strung together.

Go back over the previous paragraph and see what I mean:

I started *listening to myself and others*, and realized that the *vast majority* of what we say or write is actually *stock phrases* *strung together.*

This completely discombobulated me for a long while - trying to avoid these phrases means that conveying meaning verbally or in print is a LOT more difficult. Kind of like how most (all?) stories must have tropes (or anti-tropes) to give readers a handle on which to hang the story.

Maybe this is particularly evident in English due to the massive vocabulary. I am only quasi-fluent in two other languages so I can't tell.

Doris said...

I have several friends and relatives who are hams, some as a hobby and some actively involved in emergency communications.

I recall a few other methods of communicating: CB radio, walkie-talkie, homing pigeon, message in a bottle ...

Jumper said...

It's also [[sqrt 5]-1]/2 and the convergent ratio of successive terms of the (any!) Fibonacci series.

Alex Tolley said...

@Stevo realized that the vast majority of what we say or write is actually stock phrases strung together.

I suggest this is exactly what one would expect. Stock phrases are easy to generate and understand, therefore reducing the communication cognitive load. They are similar the stereotyped signaling sequences of mating behavior in lower animals - a simple trigger releases each sequence. It is the unique sequences of words that takes effort to understand, and even there, we tend to predict what is being said and respond to our predictions.

Acacia H. said...

I was chatting with a friend online last night about Ferguson and said that I came out of the news on this with two thoughts - both of which are depressing.

The first? I wasn't surprised in the least to hear the reports that the police accused the victim of robbing a store. Nor did I doubt it at the least.

The second? I wasn't surprised in the least and believed nearly as quickly reports that repudiated the police reports and said the victim had paid for the cigarettes he'd purchased.

The police and media have managed to paint a picture of people who come up on the wrong end of the police as often being criminals. So much of society has come to believe reports saying "such-and-such is a criminal and has a record" even when these reports are faked by the police or some aspects of the news media.

However, I also have come to believe the police are corrupt and abuse their power most of the time. Thus my inner cynic didn't blink twice at learning the cops were trying to cover their asses and failing to do so effectively - in short, they were hoping the regular theme of "he was a perp and we apprehended him" would get the heat off them and turn it on the African American community.

(Third is this - I've not really viewed this as a black community being persecuted by cops. I've only read news articles rather than watch news clips of this. So to me, color never factored into this. It's just people vs. cops that happened in a third-world part of the United States which is outside my regular scope. And given I have grown increasingly insular and avoid going out more and more... and that I'm part of a growing trend of introversion and seclusion among some Americans... I have to wonder if I'm part of a larger picture in this regard.)

Getting back to Dr. Brin's point about using cell phones and the like to protect our safety and freedom? Yes. This is needed and cops need to wear those cameras as well and that data needs to be available to the public in a public database immediately upon an event happening and then locked down so it can't be changed. This is how we protect cops from this data being modified. And this is how we protect our citizens from abuses of power.

Rob H.

locumranch said...

Alfred and Steve0 hit the nail on the head when it comes to language, the problem being that mathematics is a language in and of itself and, as a language, it is bound by certain grammatical rules, and one of the most basic rules of mathematical 'grammar' is that you can neither multiple by infinity (nor divide by zero or infinity) without generating mathematical gobbledygook, so it is nonsensical (even if it is 'possible') to imagine multiple 'infinities' between any two integers, just as it is nonsensical to imagine multiples of 'zero' (perhaps an 'infinity' of zeroes) between those same two integers.

Hmmm ... I like the sound of that.

I'll think I call this groundbreaking principle the 'Countable Nullifier Set' (as opposed to an 'Uncountable Nullifier Set' ) so to mathematically prove that multiple 'Levels of Nothing' exist between any two arbitrary integers and, if my new theory earns (or fails to earn) me a Field Medal, perhaps Tom Lehrer will immortalise me in song as he did "Lobachevsky".

What am I saying?? I have forgotten that I already possess a countable infinity of Field Medals which I keep in an file cabinet between the integers of 0 and -1. Never mind.


A.F. Rey said...

Alfred and Steve0 hit the nail on the head when it comes to language, the problem being that mathematics is a language in and of itself and, as a language, it is bound by certain grammatical rules, and one of the most basic rules of mathematical 'grammar' is that you can neither multiple by infinity (nor divide by zero or infinity) without generating mathematical gobbledygook, so it is nonsensical (even if it is 'possible') to imagine multiple 'infinities' between any two integers, just as it is nonsensical to imagine multiples of 'zero' (perhaps an 'infinity' of zeroes) between those same two integers.

Lots of interesting-sounding words there, loch, but you're ignoring the very simple question that spawned the answer you cannot accept:

How many rational numbers are there between 1 and 2?

If you can logically answer that without resorting to something to do with an infinite number, then you will win the Field Medal (assuming you're still young enough :)).

locumranch said...

'How many rational numbers are there between 1 and 2?'

This is a meaningless question, AF, as meaningless as how many imaginary angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Numbers are fictitious in every sense of the word:
(1) They are non-material creations of the human intellect;
(2) They are accepted or assumed for the sake of convention; and
(3) They are 'false' in the sense that their presence is 'assumed'.

As immaterial abstractions, numbers possess little or no intrinsic meaning or significance beyond that which we attach to them.


David Brin said...

Geez, I wish Locum would read Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein. They really did go over this.

back home now... so ... onward!