Faine Opines

Southeast Asia, liberation technology, drones, and pontification

Tag: technology

DIY Drones and the FAA’s Drone Registration Plan

battle drone

The FAA has decided that drone registration may be its best bet for making sure drones don’t become a national nuisance after the Christmas gift-buying rush. But will it really work? And does it take into account DIY drones? I’m skeptical. You can read my take at Slate. 

A Major Problem With the FAA Plan to Register All Drones – Slate

“It’s all the drone world can talk about: The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday that all drones—not just those used for commercial purposes—would soon have to be registered, with the hope of providing a way to link badly behaved drones to their pilots. The new system, FAA representatives (optimistically) said, is hoped to be in placed by mid-December, to anticipate the hordes of underage children and overconfident dads expected to get drones for Christmas. There are lots of potential problems with this plan, which other experts have admirably described. But I want to focus on one particular obstacle. What should the FAA do about registering DIY drones—the flying objects that people make in their garages, instead of running out and buying?”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Drone Mapping a Mental Hospital with the DJI Phantom 3 Professional

Medfield Mental Hospital from the air.

Medfield Mental Hospital from the air.

I recently bought a Phantom 3 Professional, operating under the logic that it costs $1200 and is therefore much more economical than a hexacopter. Myself and my partner, Daniel, are working on developing expertise in 3D mapping with a UAV, and I’d been looking for a new model capable of waypoint navigation and shooting high-quality, undistorted still images. My Phantom 2 still worked great, but it wasn’t great for mapping – built to use a fish-eye lens GoPro camera, and unable to carry out waypoint navigation without extra, expensive parts.

I was really sold on buying a Phantom 3 Pro after I visited the DroneDeploy offices in San Francisco and watched a demo of their waypoint navigation software, which is paired with their cloud computing processing. You fire up your mobile phone or tablet, sync it with the Phantom 3, then draw a box around the area you want to map. The software calculates how many times the Phantom will need to cross the area, the altitude of the area, and how many pictures are required, then you press a button. The Phantom proceeds to launch itself and carry out its work without your input, though you can always call it back from the controller. Simplicity. I like it.

So, I bought a Phantom 3 Pro—  and since I live in the giant no-fly-zone otherwise known as Washington DC, I had it shipped to Daniel in Boston where I regularly visit him. On my last visit in early September, we decided to test out DroneDeploy and the Phantom 3 by using it to map the abandoned Medfield State Hospital  in Medfield, Massachusetts, which I’d found out about on Atlas Obscura. (Scenes from “Shutter Island” were filmed there). Unlike most creepy, abandoned mental hospitals, this one had been opened to the community for use as a park, while the town decides how best to redevelop it. It’s a sprawling complex with red brick architecture and lush greenery around it in summer, with the Charles River bending towards one corner.

My new Phantom 3, configured to run DroneDeploy off my Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet.

My new Phantom 3, configured to run DroneDeploy off my Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet.

We parked across the street and walked in, and identified a parking lot where we could easily launch the drone from a flat location. DroneDeploy synced up easily enough with my Phantom 3, and I chose to map about half of the area, going conservative for a fist-time experiment. I pressed the button. It worked great: the Phantom efficiently flew off in the designated pattern, in  neater lines then I could manage myself.  It retuned to home in about 15 minutes, and landed itself, albeit with more force then I’d like. I may, in the future, switch back on manual control of the Phantom as it comes in to land after a DroneDeploy mission, as I prefer to catch it rather than landing it.

Since DroneDeploy missions currently can’t be flown with the camera at an oblique angle, I manually shot my own oblique imagery, with the Phantom 3 camera set to shoot images every five seconds. I flew reverse transects from the DroneDeploy pattern, and – following advice from DJI’s Eric Cheng – flew the drone in large, slow circles over the area I want to map. I probably should have worked with alternating the altitude more, but I was pleased enough with the images I was able to collect. The Phantom 3 handles even more smoothly than the Phantom 2, and shoots beautifully crisp still images with its 12-megapixel camera, without the distortion that used to annoy me with the GoPro.

We used both DroneDeploy’s processing tool and Agisoft Photoscan 3D to process the final imagery. Daniel has a great summary of the pros and cons of each over at his blog, so I won’t recap them – but in summary, DroneDeploy was a lot faster, while Agisoft PhotoScan had higher quality results but took a longer time and required much more processing power, and also required us to manually fill in some holes in the mesh.

Here is the final, orthorectified map. DroneDeploy’s ability to quickly orthorectify 2D maps using cloud processing is definitely handy. In the 3D model, DroneDeploy was not able to incorporate our oblique imagery successfully, although we’ve been in touch about the problem, and they’ve told us it will be fixed. There’s two other problems with DroneDeploy as of this writing: it only works with Android phones and tablets, and it requires either Wifi access or mobile data to function.

Both features are in the works, but keep this in mind if you want to experiment with it.In Agisoft Photoscan, which did use our oblique imagery, the sides of the model weren’t as detailed as we’d like – though, some of this is to be expected when mapping an entire complex of buildings.  We could probably fix this by taking the time to shoot oblique imagery around each individual building, but this would take quite a bit of extra time and battery power. (I’d like to try it anyway).

The Drone Deploy model:

Medfield State Hospital
by mountainherder
on Sketchfab

The Agisoft Photoscan model:

Medfield State Hospital – PhotoScan
by mountainherder
on Sketchfab

Overall, I’m very pleased with the Phantom 3 Professional as an inexpensive mapping tool, and I’m excited to see what we can come up with next.  I’m also interested in doing more work with DroneDeploy – and I eagerly await the release of the off-line version, which should make it a much more viable tool for field work. What else could we map in the area around Boston?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Drones and Aerial Observation: our primer for New America is finished!

drones drones drones

 

We’ve finally done it: the “Drones and Aerial Observation” primer I’ve been working on for New America with support from the Omidyar Network and Humanity United has been released into the wild.  Ever wondered how drones can help with peaceful endeavors, from disaster response, to conservation, to archaeology? We have you covered.

With this book,  I’m of the mind that myself, my colleague Konstantin Kakaes, and the drone experts who contributed chapters have created an overview of drone technology accessible to people who don’t already know what a “gimbal” is. (Yes, I am aware that is a funny word).

We hope the book will encourage people to start thinking of drones as a tech they can practically use for their own field endeavors. While drones certainly look complicated when you first encounter them – at least, that’s how I felt about them – it’s a tech that’s remarkably accessible to people who don’t have aeronautical engineering PHDs.

You can download the whole shebang as a PDF,  or you can also download individual chapters. Share it, print it out, tell your friends, tell us what you think, tell your friends what you think.

On my end, I wrote chapters 4 and 5: “How to Make Maps with Drones” and “Mapping in Practice.”  Writing these chapters was a real crash-course in drone mapping for me, and I’m grateful to come out the other side alive and with a better sense of what’s required to carry out mapping projects. I hope I can pass that on to you. I’m also planning to get my own mapping drone in the very near future so I can start carrying out some of this work myself.

I also wrote Chapter 9, which is a case study of the world’s largest archaeological drone mapping project, carried out by the Ministry of Culture in Peru. They were incredibly hospitable to me,  and I had a great time watching the researchers deal with the quotidian, difficult, occasionally terrifying realities of making maps with drones in remote and difficult areas. Many thanks to Aldo Watanave and Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo Butters for taking me along for the ride. A Slate piece about this work is impending as well.

To celebrate the release of the book on July 22nd, we held a “Drones and Aerial Observation” symposium at our Washington DC offices. The half-day event featured a lot of great thinkers and practitioners on UAV technology, and from my admittedly biased perspective, I thought it went very well. You can see videos and slideshows of the panel discussions at this link. 

I’d love to hear what you think about the primer, so feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook, or maybe even email. More drone-related writing and research coming up: watch this space!

dji S1000 pisaq BW

My favorite photo from my distinctly drone-focused trip to Peru.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

How Drones can Protect Indigenous Land Rights – Latest for Slate

The countryside in Flores. Which is not Borneo, but I like the picture.

The countryside in Flores. Which is not Borneo, but I like the picture.

Drones to the Rescue: how unmanned aerial vehicles can help indigenous people protect their land – Slate 

My latest on Future Tense, documenting how inexpensive UAVs can help indigenous people (and other people without much access to resources) document where they live and what they own. From an interview with Irendra Radjawali, a fascinating Indonesian geographer who begun pioneering this kind of work with the Dayaks of Borneo, with some inroads into Papua and Bali. It’s really cool stuff.

I think this is going to be a particularly important usage of drones, and I hope to do more writing and research on that potential in the near future.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

3D Mapping with a Drone in Wildest Vermont

DCIM101GOPRO

If you know me at all, you’re probably aware that I write about and research the humanitarian uses of drones for a living. One aspect of today’s drone technology I find particularly interesting is how aerial imagery can be used to make 3D modeling, even with inexpensive consumer technology. I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time.

Well, I don’t currently have a UAV that I can program for autonomous flight, to create the pattern of transects that allow drone-shot images to overlap in an optimal way, so they can be stitched together to create maps and 3D models. I also don’t have a point and shoot camera, just a GoPro Hero 3+ with a fish-eye lens, which is rather less than optimal for mapping applications.

But as it turns out, with the help of the open source Visual SFM software, you can *still* get pretty good results. I was visiting my boyfriend Dan’s family in Southwestern Vermont last weekend, which is a really ideal place to mess around with drone mapping since there are very few people there to notice. My friend Matthew Schroyer of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists has been getting good 3D modeling results just by pulling out video imagery from drone videos shot by amateur pilots.

So, I figured I’d give it a go and see what we got. I flew my Phantom 2 over my boyfriend’s parent’s house in some approximation of a zig-zag pattern, with the GoPro 3 set to shoot an image every second – probably overkill, all things considered. I eyeballed the pattern, and since it was a bit of a windy day, it wasn’t as tight as I’d have liked it to have been.

With the initial fly-over done, we had a few hundred images that could be fed into Visual SFM, which Dan handled. Dan says the VisualSFM model used 378 photographs and took about 20 hours to render using his late-2013 Macbook Pro Retina laptop. That’s including the time required to render the image in MeshLab, which creates the mesh required for three-dimensional modeling and overlays the photographic texture on top of it. You can read about how you can use Visual SFM to crunch images over at the excellent Flight Riot.

Agisoft Photoscan performs all these functions inside of the same program, and is a more effective and powerful software, although unlike Visual SFM, it isn’t free. Dan ran the images through Agisoft Photoscan and added some still shots from a video we’d taken the day before, but it didn’t seem to make much of an improvement to capturing the backside of the house, which was quite fragmented. He ran it again with 75 photos, taking out the video stills, and got a better result with fewer artifacts.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 3.11.53 PM

Here’s the results with VisualSFM. You can manipulate the model we made with Visual SFM in Sketchfab at this link.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 3.05.41 PM

Here’s the first Agisoft Photoscan model.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 2.40.25 PM

And here’s the second Agisoft Photoscan model, with the Sketchfab link here.

The results obviously aren’t perfect, but considering how little effort or specialized equipment we used, I’m still impressed. I’m planning to have a good quality mapping UAV with a point and shoot camera and the ability to program transects up and running by July. I think that there’s some very interesting potential for story-telling and journalism with 3D modeling, and I want to figure out ways to experiment. Beyond that, it’s rather fantastic that I can use consumer-grade technology to made video-game like maps of the world around me.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

MakerFaire Day Two: Game of Drones, Flaming Octopi

dragon and ocotopus makerfaire

Flaming dragon AND octopus. As one does.

I spent most of this day at MakerFaire hanging out at the Game of Drones encampment, but got the chance to wander around the main show area again.

I left early in the morning, arriving from my place in Palo Alto around 8:15 AM, and quickly learned one useful MakerFaire trick: the Franklin Templeton Investments outlet in San Mateo was offering free parking to attendees, only about a ten minute walk from the event grounds.

You might want to remember that tip for next year. Why Templeton did this — I can’t answer that one, although it’s certainly not often that I harbor kind thoughts about a global investment firm.

Game of Drones kicked off another long day of vicious aerial robot battles, which were eternally well-attended. I think they’re really onto something here, judging by the rapt fascination of both kids and adults who showed up to watch the action and the well-delivered calling. I could see this being a highly amusing new road-show — like Robot Wars but a lot speedier.

The Barbie Dream Drone.

The Barbie Dream Drone.

A true profusion of UAV makes and models competed in the action, but my favorite was definitely the Barbie Dream Drone, made by Edie Sellars. I think I need to make a My Little Pony themed model for next year.

reiner freeing barbie drone

The safety net proved to be the undoing of more drones today, although the pilots were getting better at avoiding it. On the plus side, the crowd goes nuts when a drone gets tangled in the netting. Also, turns out a PVC tube with a toy gripper claw operated by string works pretty well for getting the UAVs down.

game of drones victory 5

The organizers of MakerFaire seemed to agree about the event: Game of Drones scored an Editors Choice award, which was presented in a delightfully country-fair analogue little blue ribbon. I wish them all the best. And hope to get my filthy paws on one of their Sumo quad airframes soon.

bow before thy flaming octopus

Turns out El Pulpo Mecanico gives the occasional show, with bursts of superheated flame coordinated to blippy electronic music. If you can’t get to Burning Man and are in fact opposed to spending $500+ to hang out with your parents and their friends while they drop endless quantities of acid, the sculptures here at MakerFaire may represent your next best bet. The El Pulpo operators occasionally give the flames full blast without warning, scaring the hell out of the spectators milling around the area. It’s very, very fun to watch.

glassblowing makerfaire

Glassblowing, blacksmithing, jewelry and more by complements of The Crucible. I am fairly certain I’d end up covered in third degree burns if I tried to imitate my favorite Skryim character in real life, but I’m glad someone does it. They’ve got classes on offer if you want to take your faux video game skills into the real world, and make some sweet swords or something. Or spoons. You could also make spoons.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 10.20.42 PM

I managed to resist the urge to buy everything I wanted at MakerFaire, which would have been a hilariously expensive proposition, but this bronze giant squid necklace from Dragon’s Treasure was too awesome to resist. If you’re as fond of eccentric jewelry as me, you should check out their website immediately.

I was also very impressed by the biologically-friendly creations of Bug Under Glass, including beautiful butterfly wing jewelry. And framed beetles riding tiny bicycles, which is pretty much my idea of good home decor.

Here’s some more random-access images:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Why Having No Smartphone For a Month Was Awful or How I Outsourced My Brain

I am nothing with you.

I am nothing without you.

I have recently been re-reading the historian Barbara Tuchman, who back in 1986 posed this rather topical question: “Are we smarter than our technology?”

The eminent historian was worrying about teleprompters, at the time a still relatively new technology that some worried gave undue advantage to dim Ken dolls harboring aspirations of ultimate power and access to harems of emotionally unstable women. This would not do.

Tuchman called the humble teleprompter “a technological instrument developed to such wondrous perfection as to be actively harmful, because it can make a candidate for public office appear twice, no, 10 times, as intelligent as he really is and seemingly worthy to be entrusted with the complex and difficult decisions of national policy.”

She may have been right: more so, I suspect this worry applies somewhat disturbingly in the modern era to smart phones.

Perhaps most saliently, it applies to me and smart phones, something that was brought into stark focus after my Samsung Galaxy Note SIII was unceremoniously stolen in Saigon, an event that sounds like the sort of thing you’d warn your wide-eyed gap year student about before putting him on the plane to Djibouti.

You see, I didn’t just feel bad when I lost my phone. I felt considerably stupider — and not just because I’d been using it on a busy Saigon street in the first place. Here’s a brief look at why I felt this way.

Recent research and academic thought postulates that in the modern era, an intelligent person is not someone who can quickly recall copious quantities of information when called upon, the sort of skill that is widely applicable in both Jeopardy and in certain applications within the Supreme Court.

Instead, the supremely intelligent person of the 21st Century functions instead as a kind of brilliantly competent librarian, able to use the Internet to quickly summon up the entire human experience on a little glowing screen.

This modern genius can turn to the now-widely-accessible Internet to supplement their own knowledge, freeing them from the burden of retaining and memorizing scads of information. They need only a keyword to cogitate, and require only a well-appointed hive mind to draw conclusions, make references, and infer about their own situations.

That little jerk thought he was hot shit.

That little jerk thought he was hot shit.

The truly intelligent Millenial is thus an outsourcer par excellence. We have all somehow managed to become Encyclopedia Brown. In this, then, I am typical.

All who know me are aware I fall firmly into the category of people who have been rendered marginally intelligent largely by their mastery of glowing and increasingly tiny boxes: it has been so almost since I remember, as one of those loathsome Millenial whelps born into the Apple-and-learning-software zeitgeist.

If I buy into the logic promulgated by by both intelligent sounding editorial writers and Al Gore, then it stands to reason that I do not just feel smarter when I have got my smartphone with me at all times.

 I am smarter.

Yeah, it's probably not wise to wander around in this with a new phone.

Yeah, it’s probably not wise to wander around in this with a new phone.

AND THEN MY PHONE VANISHED INTO THE ETHER

When my smartphone was lost a few weeks ago in Vietnam, it was in a bizarre way akin to a amputation, or perhaps a memory-loss inducing brain injury.

When your phone goes missing in Saigon, there is jack-all you can do about it, as the cops have bigger things to worry about, and Vietnamese gangsters are capable of removing the SIM card and selling off a phone to a Laotian dirt farmer in the time it takes most of us to turn on our televisions. Recovery was not an option. Nor was buying another one in Asia, where they are quite expensive as compared to in the USA.

There was nothing for it: I was going to have to spend at least a month with a considerable chunk of my brain, in essence, missing. I had been suddenly kicked off the grid, and I suspected I would not much enjoy it.

This is OK I guess.

This is OK I guess.

PROFOUND EXPERIENCE FAILS ME

I did not anticipate enjoying it, but much of our culture would like me to believe that I would find it an enjoyable experience, sort of a delightful little vacation.

We live in an era in which going off the grid has become something of an act of remarkable nobility and bravery — and in which actually pulling such a thing off is becoming more and more difficult.

RV advertisements note that the purchase of their lumbering comfort-vehicles will help your kids reconnect with both nature and the manifold pleasures of hooking up a septic tank while your father shouts at you.

Office drones and executives alike brag to one another in the break-room about spending entire weekends without checking their Blackberry’s e-mail.

Ask me what I didn't do when my phone was missing!

Ask me what I didn’t do when my phone was missing!

Students idolize the smelly real-life protagonist of Jon Krakeur’s “Into the Wild,” who boldly went off the grid in the 1990s and delved into the wilderness alone, filled with the belief that “it is enough that I am surrounded with beauty.” (He was later found dead and emaciated in a sleeping bag in a bus, but we can handily forget that.)

There is a common theme to all these efforts to disconnect, to become unreachable: a search for the profound, a return to simpler times when man could know himself, could hear the thoughts rustling around inside his own head — a voice that crieth in the wilderness, or something like that.

It has become a part of our modern mythos that to disconnect from technology is more than a little akin to reaching out and touching the divine. It is this same impulse that provokes the occasional naysayer to speak out against efforts to connect the third world to the mainframe, claiming that giving the noble savage access to Apple’s App Store and the Daily Mail will render him disconnected and pathetic, just like us.

The reasoning goes that we’d all be better off if we were rolling around in fields of clover and living off of the land, or at least organic co-ops. But is this back-to-nature impulse really that good for us? Is this really that fun?

paradise-lost-milton

It’s a lot like this, not having a phone.

NO, IT’S NOT FUN IN THE SLIGHTEST, ACTUALLY

Allow me to quote Milton, who might have had a thing or two to say about the digital revolution if he was actually alive:  “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

I would apply this particular, profound Milton quote to the quotidian experience of waiting quietly in a car for someone to come back in from the store, for someone who has spent their entire life (somewhat) plagued with a rip-roaring case of ADHD.

That would be me.

The modern era is a remarkable balm for the ADHD afflicted and inventive: with the advent of smartphones, it is now almost impossible for us to ever experience boredom, which used to be our Kryptonite, our fateful heel.

One of the many delightful things one can buy in SkyMall.

One of the many delightful things one can buy in SkyMall.

Since I obtained a smartphone, I have looked up WWII facts while waiting to taxi off the runway at the New Orleans airport, live-Tweeted from a Cambodian bus, and drilled myself on Khmer words while waiting for interminable minutes in a ophthalmology waiting room: these were moments before my smartphone-d life that would have been spent either gazing out a window having neurotic and miserable thoughts, or reading the SkyMall magazine for the 12th-millionth time.

Instead, I am able to use this time learning things. I do not see this as a net loss. Further, I am accorded considerably last time to battle with my own neuroses, which I can only see as a net benefit.

So no: you can keep your quiet times of the soul. I much prefer to stave them off with mobile Chrome, the Kindle app, and a smidgen of Instagram.

I have at times enjoyed being disconnected, I will admit. It is easiest to enjoy such things when one is anticipating being cut off, and further, it is even easier when one is actually IN the wilderness, not when you’re still, on the surface of things, continuing to hang around suburbia and consume packaged food.

It is not quite enough to keep up all the trappings of modern society and computers and to just cut off a single, rather piddling aspect of life: for example, deciding heroically that one will forsake Facebook is probably not going to cut it. I want my repudiation of technology to be all or nothing.

I was off the grid for a bit over a week while trekking in India in 2010 and I recall that the experience was enjoyable, reliant as I was on conversation and books for entertainment: I mostly missed eating food that hadn’t originated in a can. And getting back to the Internet still felt as good — well, better — than that first civilized shower. Is this normal? It might be more so then we’ve been led to believe.

The allure of the Internet goes deep, deeper than many of us may wish to admit. Which leads me to my next point.

BUT WHY ARE YOU OK WITH RELYING SO MUCH ON A LITTLE MAGIC BOX?

Some, such as Nicholas Carr in his 2008 “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” admit that they are a little frightened by the prospect of our ever-increasing reliance upon artificial intelligence, with the substitution of smartphones for our own organic intellect.

What Would Socrates Do? (Complain).

What Would Socrates Do? (Complain).

Carr feels that the Internet lobby considers the “human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive” —  but then goes on to cite Socrates famous discomfort with the very invention of writing, which would allegedly cause them to be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.”

This gets at what I feel is the crux of the matter: we are deeply uncomfortable with these cognitive advances, but it is increasingly hard to formulate concrete reasons just why the very concept bothers us. Further, we have been complaining noisily about these cognitive advances since they began.

It is often merely neophobia: there are few arguments against this outsourcing of our minds, other than, I suppose, the reality that a person without a smartphone (such as myself) is suddenly rendered stupider.

It is also arguable that if the smartphone had not been invented, I would not have compensated with more inherent intellect. I firmly believe that I am more than myself when I have access to a smartphone or the Internet: I am cognitively enhanced.

It’s not just me who’s firmly embraced this shift from intrinsic intelligence to a reliance upon the hive mind.

Google is quite open about its ambition: founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wish to re-wire our brains by means of little glowing magic boxes, or at least provide the convenient apparatus by which we can outsource our inquiries.

Indeed, world IQs appear to be rising around the world something of a refutation to the idea that those hours I spend gazing intently on Wikipedia in the car are rendering me pallid and idiotic.

Researcher James R Flynn speculates that this world IQ rise might be because technology has taught us to view the world with analytical “scientific spectacles”: our glowing little boxes have, relatively painlessly, managed to teach us to the test.

I feel ya, you creep.

I feel ya, you creep.

Some observers, such as Clark and Chalmers in their deeply prescient 1998 “Extended Mind,” argue that the gap between external and internal reasoning is tenuous at best: the two finallt conclude our minds are singularly well adapted “for reaching out and making the world, including our machines, an extension of itself.”

By this logic, we are not denying our true natures by embracing technology’s effect on the human mind: we are instead following the natural tendencies of the human mind.

By this logic, further:  it is more unnatural to entirely repudiate technology then it is it to embrace it, as the natural consequence of a constantly-improving human intellect.

These are all lofty rationales for my distinct discomfort when something as seemingly unimportant as my smartphone went missing.

The reality is that I am willing to embrace my reliance upon a glowing box made by slave-labor in China to the fullest: because I am somewhat disgusted by the weak and wholly organic mind I am left with without it.

I may be in trouble if the universe ends and I am dropped into some sort of Cormac McCarthy dystopia: as things currently stand, and as the thrust of history indicates, I suspect I am instead batting for the right team.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Cambodian Government Hopes We Just Won’t Notice Sweeping Internet Cafe Circular

Want to visit an Internet cafe in downtown Phnom Penh? If the government has its way, that might not be an option for too much longer.

New circular 1815 has been put out by the Cambodian government that states that Internet cafes shouldn’t be allowed to operate within 500 meters of schools or educational institutions. Further, people under 18 won’t be allowed to use Internet cafes either, and no one will be allowed to play “all kinds of games.” Why?

Because Cambodians are apparently engaging in terrorism, economic crimes, and even looking at pornography with the benefit of the Internet. (And here I thought they were all just playing Facebook). You can read the circular in Khmer here.

OK. These directives sound simple enough, if rather insulting—until you take into account just how many schools there really are here in Phnom Penh.

874-map-internetbuffer_zoom

Image via LICADHO.

Human rights NGO LICADHO is on the case—and they’ve produced a rather damning map of Cambodian schools, with the requisite 500 meter No Internet Zone drawn around them. As you can see, that leaves essentially no room for Internet cafes to operate, and spells big trouble for the many already extant within the red-zones. Problem.

What would happen if an Internet cafe is caught within the red zone, or if a “crime” is committed on the premises? The circular, according to LICADHO, says the shop would be closed, all the equipment would be confiscated, and owners would face arrest. No big.

Furthermore, average Cambodian Internet users would suddenly find themselves with very limited access to information—likely the intended result of the circular.

“There is nowhere for the Internet cafes to go,” said Urban Voice Cambodia team member Nora Lindström at a mapping meeting last night of the new circular.

“That means only people who have personal computers can access the Internet, while people who are using Internet cafes will not be able to access the internet. This is a issue of freedom of expression, and freedom to access information.”

I’ve got to wonder how exactly this directive might apply to hotels and cafes that provide free computers for customers to use, although they’re not primarily “Internet cafes” as such. I have a rather sneaking suspicion that lucrative businesses that cater primarily to Internet-addicted foreigners would probably be able to get away with an exemption—or at least some healthy bribes.

Sure, it’s unclear exactly how much power a “circular” actually has to effect change here in Cambodia, or if this is likely to ever become law. But the fact it’s floating around at all is a disturbing indication that the Cambodian government is looking into restricting its relatively free Internet, following the deeply dubious lead of China, an influential friend to the Hun Sen regime.

Furthermore, they’re doing it in a way that’s downright condescending. Did they really think the pro-Internet freedom lobby would fail to notice and condemn this immediately?

Finally: even if this measure never becomes law, it’s enough of a Sword of Damocles over the heads of Internet cafe owners. It could easily be used as a rationale for unscrupulous sorts in the government to collect hefty bribes from owners if they want to continue operating. As we well know, that could get ugly.

How can we fight back?

At a mapping meeting last night in Phnom Penh, social-mapping group Urban Voice Cambodia offered one interesting solution: crowd-sourcing the locations of all the Internet cafes in Phnom Penh.

IMG_3546

No one knows exactly where these cafes are in relation to schools, and putting them down on paper could help alert the owners whose businesses are at risk of closure, or at least serious extortion.

Furthermore, this action would indicate to the government that Internet freedom supporters are absolutely paying attention—and a supposedly “sneaky” circular like the Internet Cafe rule is by no means going to go unnoticed.

“We want to crowd-source the location of all the Internet cafes in PP, because whether or not the government decides to implement this decree—which seems unimplementable—it does allow them threaten and intimidate owners of internet cafes to pay bribes to continue operating,” said Nora Lindström.

So if you’ve got any time this week and are an advocate of the free Internet in Cambodia, head to Urban Voice Cambodia and document your friendly neighborhood Internet cafe. You can submit a report here, and it’s a very easy process. Every little bit helps.

More insight from KhmerBird, VOA, and the Cambodia Daily at these links. 

Licadho’s report on the circular here.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

#Censorship Fail: Repressive Governments Are Scared of Social Media – UN Dispatch

Social media is incredibly scary to repressive governments because it is just about impossible to control. Many authoritarian governments even look to incredibly censored North Korea and Eritrea as role models, instead of cautionary tales. Although the US government has announced sanctions against countries that try to block Internet access, international disapproval is unlikely to sway these oppressors from their path – especially when a nation finds itself worried about popular revolution, ala Syria and Iran.

Here’s some recent example of governments’ attempts to block out the Internet – particularly in those countries where, to some extent, the proverbial cat is already out of the bag. (Once people have access to the Internet and some modicum of wealth, getting them to give it up is a lot harder – another reason North Korea and Eritrea present something of a perfect scenario to many dictatorial regimes).

Although these are disturbing cases of government repression in action, I also find these cases rather heartening – mainly because government attempts to prevent Internet access rarely last very long, or work particularly well. It’s also worth pointing out that stagnant development and heavy censorship have a nasty habit of going hand-in-hand.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

© 2017 Faine Opines

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

css.php