Friday, February 23, 2007

more on backscatter

New York Times on the launch of backscatter at Sky Harbor (need site registration and allow cookies):

I went through one of the puff machines they mention in the article at the San Francisco airport last Fall, which was interesting. I'm not interested in volunteering for backscatter.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Backscatter X-rays

Our romantically named Sky Harbor airport has been promising to pilot new back-scatter x-ray technology (labelled "the virtual strip-search" by the ACLU) at security checkpoints. The roll-out has been delayed for a while, but it looks like it's back on track and will be operational this weekend.
The Arizona Republic Story:
I've only had the chance to glance quickly at the many responses to the article linked on the website above, but they seem to run the usual gamut of "it's about time, we need to be safe," to "I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry," to "it's a neo-con plot!!" (these are paraphrases, of course).

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center)'s page on backscatter technology:

And the TSA's (Transportation Security Administration) page on privacy and backscatter:

Remarkable difference in the level of detail available in the images between the EPIC article (drawing on older reports, presumably) and how the TSA supposedly have tweaked it to reduce the invasion of privacy (down to chalk outlines). One wonders that, given that they're actually doing this, will it actually detect anything useful, and will it detect anything that couldn't be detected by other less intrusive means? It seems to be a solution looking for a problem, another technophilic fix to the problem of security (see David Lyons' Surveillance After September 11; Blackwell).

There's been some concern by the ACLU and others about the fate of these images (who has access, can they be stored, could they end up on the Internet, etc.) According to the TSA (FWIW)--see above link and their link to their FAQ on privacy, scroll to the bottom for backscatter: --

"Images will not be printed, stored or transmitted
To further enhance privacy, when the Transportation Security Officer has resolved any anomaly, the image is erased from the screen. The capability of printing, storing or transmitting the image is not available to the Transportation Security Officer operating the system."

Note that this doesn't say that these images can't be printed, stored, or transmitted, just that the Officer monitoring them can't do this. And note also that the image is erased (passive voice; by whom?) "from the screen." Is it erased from the computer itself? Pick pick pick.

[EDIT: one last thing, almost all of this debate is framed in terms of privacy--which seems obvious since we're talking about taking x-rays of people which see through their clothes. But, again following some of David Lyons' thinking about surveillance, we also need to think this through in terms of other issues, like dignity (a human right according to the UN), and this whole thing certainly seems undignified.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Just became an affiliate faculty member of the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, a unit run out of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of ASU down in Tempe. Seems an interesting group of folks, lots of potential for collaboration at some point. I'll be presenting a brown-bag lecture down there later this Spring just as a means of introduction. CSPO is also affiliated with the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, and nanotech has been a long-time interest of mine (though I've never had the opportunity to write about it yet).

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Just ran my first 5K in donkey’s years. After the half marathon the 3.1 miles should be a piece of cake, but a 5K is more about strength and speed than endurance. Anyway the run kinda sucked (well, my run did, the entire event—The Year of the Boar 5K Run and Wok—was a convivial and efficient, though relatively small, affair). Not sure what went wrong. First mile was fast-ish (7:16, which is fast for me these days), but hit something like a bloodsugar drop on the second mile and lost energy (hit mile 2 in 15 minutes, so not too much slower), which led to general nausea in the third mile (fun, eh?). So I ended up with a 24:00 5K and still managed to win my age group (!). Which goes to show both that it pays to be over 40 and also how small an event this was.

Now, 24 minutes is a pretty decent time. But I’m also realizing as I do more of these events that my only yardstick of success for distance running—and hence my real competition—is what I did when I was 18. I know, I know: competing with oneself is such a cliché. But I also have this nagging feeling that I can actually beat him (that is, me, or the 18-year old me): I’m handling distances much more easily than I did when I was younger. I should point out that when I was 18, I wasn’t that great a runner and never made varsity in either track or cross-country, so it’s not like I’m setting the bar all that high here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New books

Looks like I need to find a new phrase to begin my blog posts :)

Two new books:
David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford)
Manuel DeLanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (Continuum).

The latter has me wondering about what seems to be a sudden recent interest in Deleuze's (and D&G's) notion of assemblage. I have a vested interest in this, of course, having written a chapter in Charles Stivale's Gilles Deleuze, Key Concepts book on Assemblage and using it in my own work on technology (first in Exploring Technology and Social Space, and then more extensively in Jennifer and my Culture and Technology: A Primer). But there's not only DeLanda's new book and essay ("Deleuzian Social Ontology and Assemblage Theory" in Fuglsang and Sorensen's Deleuze and the Social) and his previous book, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, but three separate essays on assemblage in last year's Theory, Culture and Society's mammoth special issue on Problematizing Global Knowledge. Also the term comes up in the title of Ong & Collier's edited collection, Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (Blackwell), though it's really not developed at all in the collected itself.

Anyway, I'm interested to read at least the first couple chapters of DeLanda's book, his explication of assemblage. I'm more wary of the latter chapters applying the theory to society and social problems, especially after the entry in The Pinocchio Theory blog on the book and an excellent but as yet unpublished essay by Steven D. Brown on Deleuze and social science which I just got the chance to read.