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Silenced, screening + panel discussion @ #Transmediale #tm15

People in the film

  • James Spione, director of the film Silenced
  • Jesselyn Radack, former senior National Security Agency attorney leaked emails to expose cover-ups in relation to John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," an American citizen who was captured in Afghanistan. She now legally represents whistleblowers and works to educate the public about how whistleblowers are intimidated and suppressed.
  • Thomas Drake (Twitter), formerly worked for the NSA, exposed NSA abuses of surveillance after 9/11.
  • John Kiriakou, formerly Chief of CIA Counterterrorism in Pakistan, responsible for the capture of Abu Zubaydah, author of Reluctant Spy  
  • Edward Snowden 

People on the panel


  • Chelsea Manning leaked classified information to WikiLeaks The material included videos of the July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike, and the 2009 Granai airstrike in Afghanistan; 250,000U.S. diplomatic cables; and 500,000 Army reports that came to be known as theIraq War logs and Afghan War logs. 
  • Barret Brown, linked to Anonymous 
  • Jeffrey Sterling, former CIA officer 
  • Thinthread 
  • Dan Ellsberg is an activist and former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers. 
  • Human Rights Watch 
  • Amnesty International  
  • Espionnage Act 
  • FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act  
  • The 4th Amendment, prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure 
  • CIPA hearing, Classified Informations Procedure Act 
  • Rule 4 allows the government to have an in-camera discussion with the judge without the defendant or his counsel getting any information about what is said
  • Phil Zimmermann, safe encryption for the masses

Further Reading


Mariusz Cieśla gave many useful guidelines for proactive design, including pitfalls to avoid and cations around privacy. He emphasized solving problems for people as they appear not before or after, as relevant experiences are the most magical. He urged designers to solve user problems first, and sell stuff second, warning that many companies now are overly focused on how beacon technology and proactive design can exploit users for commerce, which risks turning users away from these experiences altogether. Indoor positioning is going to be a major key in the future of proactive design.

Mariusz emphasized the need to create dialog and value choice in proactive services because wrong assumptions are the bane of design. Don’t forget to let users tell you what they want or prefer. Mariusz recommended that everyone in your company should spend some time working in customer service, to be in intimate contact with the users.

Make sure that your proactive service is friendly, but not overly-intrusive. Your proactive design should not feel like an overly-attached creepy stalker. He warned against the pitfalls of “smart” defaults and generally being smarter than the user. Mariusz highlighted the need for one person to own the entire development process so that the back ends and front ends have the same goals.

Companies mentioned

Lifetramp (Mariusz's company)
Buddy media
Google Now
Delta Airlines
Bodymedia (part of Jawbone)
apple store iOS app
google glass

People quoted
Tony Costa, people expect proactive design.
Paul Graham, Live in the future and build what’s missing.


Adaptive design is a new paradigm which has already begun to tremendously affect how we build services and applications. As the world has filled with sensors (and will continue to do so), technology has become capable of building a much greater understanding of context. Our understanding of context has expanded beyond time, place, and situation to include human emotional state and individual personality. Our understanding of what can be used as a "sensor" to gather data about this context is expanding from GPS and accelerometers to email accounts interlinked to social networks and credit card data.

Some of the Twittering attendees of the conference were irritated that the focus of the talk was not privacy. In fact, Avi made a statement at the beginning of the talk that privacy is a big issue in relation to this topic, but that he was not going to touch upon it today. The tension between convenience and privacy right now seems to be won by convenience most of the time. I'd like to think that this could change, but I don't see any evidence of it.

Apps Mentioned

Google Now
Daily Dress

Estimote beacons
Broadcom indoor positioning chip
Sensegon Persona-based advertising

People Quoted

Mark Weiser—ubiquitous computing
Yoram M Kalman--HCI Markers, Use observation of user behavior to diagnose illness or special needs.

Jens Martin Skibstedt explains that everyone understands that cars are killing us and that bikes are much, much better, but still people prefer to drive. Skibstedt looked at cars and bicycles from a design and lifestyle perspective to try to understand what cars have that bikes lack. Basically, cars make it possible for people to make a more nuanced statement about themselves than a bicycle does. A car has an identity. Bicycles communicate less about who you are. A car, made of hundreds of little components and pieces, is understood as a single object, while bicycles show their parts and even brand the parts independently one from another.

He showed one really great slide depicting a grid of cars all photographed from the same angle and all painted white. I would never be able to tell the name of even two bicycles standing side by side or explain what they mean as status or design objects. But every one of the white cars was both recognizable and full of meaning and connections.

Skibsedt set out to design bicycles which would overcome these shortcomings. The company is called Biomega (watch out, the website makes noise). Here's a picture of one the bikes they designed.

Notes from the talk:

We have known that cities and cars are incompatible since the 1950s. Our cities were not designed for the quantity of cars that we have in them and urban traffic will triple in the next 50 years.

Lifestyle and design are hugely important to people, despite how frivolous we may think that is. All human societies have used design and lifestyle to express themselves. It's as close as we get to mating dances. It's all about how to get laid.

Cities are not only about life but also death. Air pollution kills more than malaria.Copenhagen sees the bicycle as a solution to this problem.

Steve jobs refered to the personal computer as a bicycle of the mind, referring to the fact that a human on a bike is one of the most efficient movers in the animal kingdom. Bikes are 40% faster than cars at peak hours in the city.

Why do cars still dominate most major cities?

Lifestyle and design. Prestige. Bikes can tell you something about a person (soccer mom, courier) but has nothing to do with brand, doesn't really express who you are. There are 30 kinds of 4x4, which are all functionally similar but they represent very different lifestyles. (Hummer vs Jeep vs Land Rover)

We need to have that for bikes. It's not about function, it's about design.

These are the four areas where bicycles need to be improved to compete with cars: Visibility, Drivability, Integration, and Durability.

Visibility: Bikes basically all look the same.

Driveability: Cars are easier to deal with, less fiddly. Less complicated for the user. You don't have to wrangle a U-lock before you can get into your car. Make bikes simpler and more drivable.

Integration: When you see a car it looks like one thing, but on the bike, you see many different things. Different brands on every component. It's a multiple object.

They took inspiration from the typical Copenhagen bike, nimbus motorcycle, mountain bikes, and principles from cars.

These principles can be used for any industrial design object.

We can also do this with busses and trains, communal transport. Think of the London bus, Paris metro entrances.

How do we build a mythology around bikes like we do around cars.

Michael Schindhelm used to manage Berlin's 150 million-euro Opera budget. Then he went to Dubai and led the cultural council there. I might read his book, Dubai High. Now he is in Hong Kong helping figure out what to do with this 40-hectar hunk of undeveloped land called West Kowloon.

I learned that opera has the biggest cultural budget in Berlin. I'm not surprised.

Schindhelm explained the context of Hong Kong a bit and told us about the project, then gave us the four things he learned from this experience. This talk was partly about the role of culture in urban planning, but also about how to play that role once you understand that it exists and is needed.

My favorite thing that Schindhelm articulated is the idea that it is a mistake for a city to try to build its cultural identity as an international hub. Go Local. Be true to the identity of the city you are. For new cultural developments, appreciate the local culture and talent. Use what is there. I think that this is true not only of big urban planning projects like the ones he works on, but for anything. I felt that Krakow was doing a good job at this. Portland, Oregon the same.

Consider scale thoughtfully. Don't start too big.

Adjust speed. Take your time. Culture takes time to grow. Think about the development of talent and culture and community before the development of buildings, which are fast and easy to build in comparison.

Go Public. Talk to the citizens. Consider the human dimension.

Schindhelm explained that architecture's impact on the culture of a city should not be underestimated. Architects were among the first designers to go global. The Sydney opera house (40 years old) and Bilbao's Guggenheim are examples of cities using architecture as a kind of branding tool. This is absolutely true. The second I see the Guggenheim building I think, "Bilbao."

Architecture is the tangible part of urban planning. Culture is more intangible. It's easy to build a museum. It's harder to figure out what to put in the museum.

Hong Kong has about 7 million people. It used to be predominantly Cantonese-speaking but more are more the city is becoming Mandarin speaking now. Half of HK is a special economic zone. The metro area has a population of 53 million. The city is economically mature and it's huge and growing. China is building a train network which will bring 40 million people a year to downtown Hong Kong. Yet Hong Kong lags far behind other cities culturally, meaning that it has fewer arts venues, museums, galleries, and artists than New York or Paris.

The city is dense and expensive, but there are 40 hectares of unbuilt land called West Kowloon. 3 billion dollars has been given to cultural development for West Kowloon. 40% of Kowloon will be a park. 40% of the 60% of the land which will be built up will be for museums and culture.

Schindhelm worked on the culture master plan with Rem Koohlhaas. As part of the project, they conducted interviews over many months with 40 people in the city to hear their concerns and ideas.

Originally the plan was about consuming culture, not creation. This evolved sot that studios and rehearsal spaces and schools were added to the plan.

They also looked to the local culture for inspiration. The local flavor. Every city started as a village. HK as well. There are 800-year-old walled villages within HK. The way these walled villages form part of the city served as an inspiration to their work. They also looked at the landscaping of the surrounding countryside and the vibrant street life is an essential part of this particular city.

Cantonese and Mandarin culture had to be considered. Cantonese opera (video link) is popular but underfunded, housed in crappy venues, and has not been modernized. One goal of the project is to change this.

80 public presentations of the proposal were done before the gov't made a decision. Now the master plan development is done and the first competitions have started to design the buildings. The Cantonese opera will be the first one built.

HK has more freedom of speech than the rest of China. The city wants to become the most important center of Chinese contemporary art. The museum's exhibit will be based on the collection of Uli Sigg, who is the biggest collector of contemporary Chinese art in the world. Herzog & de Meuron from Basil will design the museum.

Priya Prakash, Changify (link is a video)

Priya Prakash used to be the design lead for the Asha device, which is a pretty cool little phone designed specifically for emerging markets. She has since left Nokia and is working on a project called Changify.

The basic idea of the project is... well, it was actually kind of complicated to understand. Neighborhood citizens use the app to take pictures of problems they see in the neighborhood (dog poop, vandalism, potholes, whatever) and discuss ideas for solutions with other regular citizens. When a solution is thought of, you can take that and create a project. Other people can like your project and contribute to it. Contributions can include money, time, space, materials, etc.

On top of that, local businesses and city councils are sold subscriptions to the service so that they can contribute money to these projects and participate in local loyalty advertising campaigns.

If you finish a project, you get points which can be used as money in the local businesses which participate.

Positioned in the same ecosystem as Kiva and Kickstarter and Indie go go

They hold events to teach people how to use the app, use a "community engagement toolkit" and put together neighborhood loyalty program around their points system with local businesses.

Goal:"Create better neighborhoods."

Inspiration for this project: Payday loans brokers The Brixton pound Victor Papanek--how to design for the real world Air BnB A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander and others talks about the city as a collection of patterns The Great Wall of China funded by lottery

This is the text of the talk I gave at the Beagle Symposium last summer.

It niggles

I listen to a lot of popular science podcasts and I read a lot of popular science books. Over the past few years, the free will topic has been popping up pretty regularly.

Being a successful human, I like the idea of free will because it means I can take credit for my successes and (more importantly) feel superior to people who fail to overcome similar or lesser handicaps and hurdles than I have.

Consequently, as I heard these stories about the mounting body of evidence against our traditional notion of free will, I mostly ignored it. It wasn't that I took a position on one side or the other, I just didn't think about it too hard. The topic kept coming back via this article or that radio show. Every one of these explained how the idea of free will was eroding and none were in defense of the idea. The free will question sat in the back of my mind stewing, until I read a short review somewhere of Sam Harris's book Free Will.

The review said two things about the book.
1. It is short.
2. It redefines how we think of free will.

"Great," I thought, "just what I need. A short book to help me redefine how I think of free will so that I can continue to believe that I have it."

Well, the book is short. And if "redefines how you think about free will," means "makes you face the fact that you seriously cannot defend its existence in any way," than the number two point is also true.

The Illusion of an Illusion

I am not going to try to convince you that free will doesn't exist. I am am going to tell you why it's not very important one way or another. I'm asking you to at least meet me at "what if free will did not exist." Still, I do think it is a good idea to quickly clarify what exactly we are talking about. Free will. The idea that at the precise moment where you do one thing or a different thing it would have been possible for you to do the thing that you did not do.

Serendipity's darling

The thing that really pissed me off about being forced to admit that free will is not real is that, frankly, I put a lot of energy into doing the right things. I make pro and con lists. I take time… but not too much time. Making good decisions is one of the main things I get paid to do at my job. I even give brilliant advice to help other people make their own excellent decisions. I love to make decisions! And I am really, really good at it.

If the real reason I am a successful maker of decisions is first that I am lucky to have been born with the right kind of brain for this activity and secondly that I've been pretty lucky in who and what I came into contact with when… if, at the core of it all, I am serendipity's darling, then I don't deserve any credit for all that agonizing hard work I do. I do it because I could not do differently. I'm no better than a person who goes through life making dumb choices or worse, a person who goes through life choosing not to make choices. I am just more or less fortunate.

No fair, right?! Luckily, it doesn't matter.


Effort is real. When you have a big decision to make, you still have to go through all the trouble. You just don't really decide whether you will or not. Either you are the kind of person at that moment who will make an effort or you are not. Maybe you are the kind of person who would prefer to be different than you are. If so, maybe you will become different because of the influences this desire brings into your life. Your success or failure to change is not your responsibility, but the effort you put into it is still effort.


Influence is real. Punishment & reward are still useful. If a society rewards what it values and punishes what it deems undesirable, isn't that enough? Is it so terrible to punish the action without despising the person?


Inspiration is real. What you do does matter. You just don't deserve any credit for it.

Personal responsibility

OMG! If all this is true, then personal responsibility as we know it is a hollow sham!

Correct. So what?

Personal responsibility, like many things which are not precisely real, can be felt deeply. This is good! This is one of the most fun and interesting parts of being a human: our ordinary schizophrenia. We know that it is impossible to truly communicate with one another, but we feel connection everywhere. We know that our individual lives are insignificant and ultimately without meaning, but we are filled with passion. Similarly, we know that we deserve no credit for our successes and no blame for our failures, but yet we strive and strive. This is the wonderful awful human condition.


Religion is not a prerequisite for a sense of morality and ethics. Free will is not a prerequisite for a sense of personal responsibility. A moral sense and a sense of personal responsibility are adaptations of the social animal. We need them because we need each other, not because there is a God and not because we have free will.

Free will doesn't exist. Who Cares?

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