« December 2005 | Main | February 2007 »

December 2006 Archives

December 10, 2006


New York Times Magazine
Year in Ideas

[full text at nytimes.com]

Surveillance, from the French for ''watching over,'' refers to the monitoring of people by some higher authority -- the police, for instance. Now there's sousveillance, or ''watching from below.'' It refers to the reverse tactic: the monitoring of authorities (Tony Blair, for instance) by informal networks of regular people, equipped with little more than cellphone cameras, video blogs and the desire to remain vigilant against the excesses of the powers that be.

In a primitive form, sousveillance can be traced to 1991, when footage from a home video camera exposed the Los Angeles police officers who beat Rodney King. Today, with the spread of cheap, lightweight cameras and the rise of Web video sites like YouTube, sousveillance has proliferated. The Internet overflows with civilian footage of police abuse in Malaysia, gay-bashing in Latvia and union-busting in Zimbabwe. The Web site HollaBackNYC.com encourages women to post a photo of any man who tries to harass them.

A British newspaper even tried to harness the power of sousveillance to better cover the recent political campaign in Britain. Concerned that the Labor Party was insulating Blair from media coverage, The Guardian's Web site asked its readers for help in keeping track of him. ''Limited access means we need your help to keep up with Mr. Blair,'' the paper announced. ''So today we announce the Blair Watch Project, where we ask you to send us your photos of the P.M. on the campaign trail.''

December 11, 2006

The Ambient Walkman


The popularity of the iPod has given new urgency to an old criticism of the portable music player: namely, that it isolates the listener by tuning out the world around him. As one response to this problem, Noah Vawter, a graduate student at the M.I.T. Media Lab, has created a pair of headphones that tunes the listener back in.

The device, which Vawter calls Ambient Addition, consists of two headphones with transparent earpieces, each equipped with a microphone and a speaker. The microphones sample the background noise in the immediate vicinity — wind blowing through the trees, traffic, a cellphone conversation. Then, with the help of a small digital signal-processing chip, the headphones make music from these sounds. For instance, percussive sounds like footsteps and coughs are sequenced into a stuttering pattern, and all the noises are tuned so that they fuse into a coherent, slowly changing set of harmonies.

The overall effect is a bit like listening to U2 with the vocals removed. Vawter is working on a version of the device that would rearrange the noises around the user to approximate any given pop song.

About December 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Jascha Hoffman in December 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2005 is the previous archive.

February 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33