Friday, February 11, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

When I was in daily contact with skaters, I learned this term for improvised structures. Videos of ramshackle tricks had me reaching reflexively to call my insurance agent (a fine sport and supportive of all things skate) in the same way that Viet Nam vets flinched at sudden, loud noises.

Living in an 1890 house is an exercise in keeping the ramshackle at bay, but the concept is a fruitful one. I don’t do structures that are likely to disassemble themselves when someone’s using them, but it’s fun and often successful to improvise a set-up with not exactly perfect elements that happen to be lying around.

Sketching in a scheme is an elegant way to stay abreast of the constant, subtle changes in the way we use the property. The French and Italian words for furniture translate as “movables”, and there are now only two dormant items in the house: a sofa and a glass-front bookcase.

The easier it is to move things around, that faster the interior can respond to new demands. Legally obtained sixteen-quart dairy crates (the square ones) are the key to the system. The more I use them to solve problems, the faster, easier, and more profitable it is to manage the household. Working with a collection of identical cubes lets me do ramshackle without the arrangement looking that way.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Literal Mind

If you want to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, here’s what they looked like, a pretty good argument for conserving teak forests.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Kirkman Principle

Photo courtesy Flickr

For a few months in 1974, I studied film with a newly-retired Navy combat photographer, who told the class he had seven purple hearts. One day, Tom commented that if someone zings out a critique that one has not requested, one has a duty to ignore it, because there’s a hidden agenda.

This simple rule of thumb has saved me thousands of dollars.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Back to the Farm

In the early Eighties, refugees from southeast Asia rented quarters down the street. Every square inch of their back yard grew something to eat, and I received some gentle chiding for “wasting” the bank in front of the house.

Wilderness concerns aside, those neighbors set me dreaming about farming the Hill, and as often happens, when I Googled recently in search of a modern-day sharecropper, I found a promising gardener in hours.

I’ve been told that the word “dwell” means to garden, and that the significant advances in agriculture have historically emerged from cities, not the countryside. True or not, it’s heartening to find that what was called “guerilla gardening” in New York in 1973 is now SOP in Seattle in 2011.

Whatever the issues, I’ll never quibble with lettuce fresh off the stem.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Blues

Photo courtesy Flickr

Two senior civilian employees of the military, one with the Corps of Engineers and the other with the Public Health Service (yes, it’s military) have shared their concerns about social media over the last year. The technical parts of today’s post are lifted from a recent Pentagon security bulletin. I hope I can translate it into plain English and that my casual familiarity with the technology does not mislead anyone. In the meantime, here’s some material about making it real. The security concerns are not just about an individual: the Pentagon mentions security concerns about family members.

I grew up with a bossy Siamese cat named Rose. Rosie did not like being confined to the basement when the family was away during the day, and she would hide when it was time for my mother to leave for work. Rosie favored the linen cupboard. Her twitching tail inevitably dangled from the middle of a stack of towels, making short work of hide and seek.

At an academic conference about society and technology last year in Portland, I hesitantly brought up Internet security, mentioning that the subject might be an unhealthy one and that in my limited reading, I had run across a Canadian source who maintained that “You cannot be too paranoid.” The author recommended multiple layers of anonymizing technology for anyone who surfs and mentioned that terror organizations recruit from the Internet.

The man who brought the first mainframe computer to that campus in 1965 immediately reinforced my concerns. The final session of the conference, which was attended by a major figure in computer security, ended with the simple exhortation to reset one’s search engine after every time on line. As the immortal H. Allen Smith, humorist to the real Mad men, observed, “God never told nobody to be stupid.”

Here’s what I make of that Pentagon memo on Geotags and Social Networking:

A 2009 issue of Wired tells of a man who experimentally traced a woman he saw taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. He knew that the embedded geodata in the phone would let him place the user on a map if she uploaded an image to Flickr. He went home, searched the Flickr map, identified the woman he had seen, and found photos of her apartment interior, including “a filthy living room”. So, he saw, he stalked, he located, he cased the place, and he criticized her housekeeping.

By taking and posting a photo, you reveal the exact location and time of its site and of the visual information in the image, such as a license plate.

Geotagging photos, video, websites, and SMS messages (I’m not familiar with all of these technologies) add a ten-digit grid coordinate to everything you post on the Internet. The tags are automatically embedded in pictures taken with smartphones. Images posted to photo sharing sites can be tagged with location, but it is not an automatic function.

[Global positioning technology was developed during the Cold War to improve the marksmanship of intercontinental ballistic missiles. It is essentially a hunting technology that places each of us in somebody’s crosshairs.]

Study the manual of your digital camera to understand how to turn off GPS functions. Even without a GPS function, you can tag a location on your photo on a photo sharing site. Tagging photos with an exact location on the Internet allows random people to track an individual’s location and correlate it with other information.

Location-based social networking capitalizes on a user’s desire to broadcast their geographic location, and the applications focus on “checking in” to earn rewards. THE POPULARITY OF THESE APPLICATIONS IS CHANGING THE WAY WE AS A DIGITAL CULTURE VIEW SECURITY AND PRIVACY ON AN INDIVIDUAL LEVEL AND ARE CREATING OPSEC CONCERNS FOR THE ARMY.

The service foursquare allows someone who is not a friend on the service to track your whereabouts through Facebook. This service has over four million users. At the time of this memo, unless disabled, Facebook automatically reveals location when a user posts from a mobile application for iPhone, Android, and Gowalla users can post photos and submit tips at various locations. Scavenger allows companies, schools, and organizations to build challenges inside its platform that encourage users to earn benefits by participating.

Location-based social networking applications allow strangers to track your movements every day. If they watch someone long enough they will know exactly when and where to find that person on any given day, allowing them to determine where someone lives and works. [To the best of my limited knowledge, these factors are the same as those considered by hunters. The counter-move is to behave less predictably and vary one’s route.]

The Army recommends avoiding geotags on photo sharing applications. ONCE A GEOTAG IS OUT THERE, IT’S OUT OF THE USER’S HANDS. If you use a location-based social networking site, be aware of the default settings for the services and devices they use.

The memo describes managing privacy and security as a full-time job, and it does seem to be true that digital housekeeping is displacing physical housekeeping, whatever the meat equivalent for furniture might be.

-30- More after the jump.