Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Big Bang Data at Somerset House in London, other exhibitions and interviews, and 5 million + cats!

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

I Know Where Your Cat Lives will be featured at the new exhibition, Big Bang Data, opening today at Somerset House in London. This is a traveling exhibition curated by Olga Subirós and José Luis de Vicente.

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Emails, selfies, shopping transactions, Google searches, dating profiles: every day we’re producing data in huge quantities. Our online activity, alongside that of businesses and governments, has led to a massive explosion – a ‘Big Bang’ – of data.

This radical shift in the volume, variety and speed of data being produced, combined with new techniques for storage, access, and analysis, is what defines the proliferation of data. It is radically reshaping our world and is set to revolutionise everything we do.

Data today gives us new ways of doing things: from scientific research to business strategy, politics to social interaction, our new data-driven society that has the potential to be more fair, stable, and efficient and yet it also created a tools for unprecedented mass surveillance and commodification. Data access and usage rights, along with the value they comprise, are at the heart of many concerns.

Big Bang Data explores the issues surrounding the datafication of our world through the work of artists, designers, journalists and visionaries. As the data explosion accelerates, we ask if we really understand our relationship with data, and explore the meaning and implications of data for our future.

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The exhibition, which runs Dec 3, 2015—Feb 28, 2016, includes over 50 works by artists, designers and innovators, comprising also a number of authors I’ve long admired like:
Brendan Dawes, Charles Joseph Minard, David McCandless, Ellie Harrison, Eric Fischer, Erica Scourti, Eva and Franco Mattes, Fight for the Future and Demand Progress, Florence Nightingale, Forensic Architecture, Future Cities Catapult, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Horst Ademeit, IF, Ingo Günther, Ingrid Burrington and Dan Williams, Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths, ITO World, Jaime Serra, James Bridle, John Snow, Jonathan Harris, Jonathan Minard, Julian Oliver, Julie Freeman, Kamel Makhloufi, Kiln, Laura Poitras, Lev Manovich and Moritz Stefaner, Lisa Jevbratt, Lise Autogena and Josh Portway, mySociety, Nesta, Nicholas Felton, Open Knowledge, OpenCorporates, Owen Mundy, Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico, Philipp Adrian, Rafael Lozano Hemmer, Ryoji Ikeda, Safecast, Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi, Tekja, TeleGeography, The Guardian, The Long Now Foundation, Thomson and Craighead, Timo Arnall, Umbrellium, William Elford, and Zach Blas

Some press is emerging already and I’ll add more images as the show opens:

Meanwhile time for a…

2015 Update on IKWYCL

Just over a year ago I launched I Know Where Your Cat Lives and it immediately went viral. I’m gracious for all the positive attention the project has received, and even more so for the reach it generated. In addition to a notable influence on research and dialogue around metadata security, the impact for individuals has been significant. Over 25% of owners of cat photos from the original sample have removed or increased privacy on their images and, even more noteworthy, nearly 60% of users have chosen to leave their photos public but have manually removed their location data from the images they shared, underlining the importance of this project to experts in the field, as well as everyone who uses social media.

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Since then I’ve found time to evaluate the project’s impact and begin to work on the conclusion. The site I shared was only a prototype, containing just one million images from the at least 15 million tagged with #cat on social media. Thanks to everyone at FSU’s Research Computing Center, and to support from Dr. Ostrander at the FSU Office of Research, I’ve made great progress in collecting and visualizing the millions of images that users have unknowingly uploaded with geolocation data. With this exhibition at Somerset House I’m uploading another large dataset to bring the total number of cats to just under 5.4 million!

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The final project will include expanding the data set to run in real time, as well as a mobile app called “Like Tinder for Cats,” and a book project which contextualizes and documents the research, the technology I developed, and most importantly, the impact of this ephemeral web-based work on industry, academia, and culture. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to work with my longtime colleague and amazing writer, Shana Berger, on the writing for the project, the first essay of which is currently under review.

Highlights from the last year

The IKWYCL prototype website has already received press in Motherboard/Vice Magazine, The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Atlantic, Wired Magazine, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. It has been featured in several international exhibitions including the Tempo Documentary Festival in Stockholm, Sweden, and numerous others like:

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I Know Where Your Cat Lives was nominated for a 2014 IDFA DocLab Award for Best Digital Storytelling at the International Documentary Film Association (IDFA) Festival. While ultimately the amazing Serial podcast took the prize, I was thrilled to be nominated among many great interactive documentary works including Miranda July’s conceptual app Somebody. Read more about IDFA DocLab in this review on We Make Money Not Art.

I was also excited to take part in the festival, not only as a presenter, but a mystery guest on the evening of my talk. Previously I had shared a selection of my Google searches with a team of experts who led a quiz style analysis of my search history, complete with an artist who did a rendering of what my family looked like according to my searches, and a chef who prepared food for the audience based on what my data revealed.

That same month found me giving a presentation on my work during the L2 Forum at the Morgan Library in New York City.

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While in NYC I also spoke at the LISA (Leaders in Software and Art) Salon at Postmasters Gallery

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In May 2015 it was featured among works by Trevor Paglen and Jason Salavon in the exhibition Art In The Age Of… Planetary Computation, at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam curated by Adam Kleinman. This was followed by an exhibit on interactive storytelling and the future of digital media at the Polish National Audiovisual Institute (NInA) in Warsaw curated by Anna Desponds.

Finally, I was very honored to be interviewed this summer for two separate European journalism projects around the cultural impact of technology.

Silvia Font published an extensive discussion which included many of my previous works for El Diario. The interview, Las fotos de tu gato en internet ponen en jaque tu privacidad (in Spanish), was part of a series that included interviews with Laura Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum.

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And, Charles-Henry Groult interviewed me for an ARTE web special about people shaping the culture and politics of the internet. The interview is in English but the interface elements are only in French and German

The dialog with these professionals was really gratifying. I’m so glad to have created something that is so thought-provoking, has proven impact, and yet is extremely fun to use. Thanks to everyone for the support :-)

Owen Mundy on Arte

Thinking Through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places

Monday, November 30th, 2015

I’m enjoying reading this new book which discusses three of my works (Give Me My Data, Camp La Jolla Military Park, and Keyword Intervention): Thinking Through Digital Media:Transnational Environments and Locative Places by Dale Hudson and Patricia R. Zimmermann (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

Give Me My Data offers users a tool to see, if not claim, their data under Facebook’s (frequently amended) privacy rights, which often make seeing one’s data impossible. In 2010, the new Facebook interface threatened to “erase” user data, so the app offered a way to save one’s data and “refill” one’s Facebook profile, which is also useful in cases of identity theft. Users select the data they would like to see and then choose a format in which to see it. Data can be imported into a document or spreadsheet or visualized as a graph or cloud. Users can speculate on how corporations automate their data: sorting it through different filters, running it through different programs, interpreting it for different reasons. The app allows users an opportunity to investigate the types and meanings of information about themselves available outside their control. They are prompted to reflect critically about data they freely and willingly give away to corporations and governments.
—Dale Hudson and Patricia R. Zimmermann

Thinking Through Digital Media Thinking Through Digital Media

“Owen Mundy just ruined the Internet” and the last days for the kickstarter

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

It has been an intense couple weeks since my last post. It turns out the internet loves cats even more than data, maps, and politics. So here is an update on many things “cat”…

Update on the project

I Know Where Your Cat Lives has received an overwhelmingly positive response from international press. Besides photos of cats on a world map, there are charts, an FAQ and (now) links to press on the website.

I have to admit I specifically picked cat photos as an accessible medium with which to explore the privacy issue. Still, I was astounded at just how much the internet responded. It’s not only cats, the issue was important for discussion, and I appreciated that as well as the thoughtful responses from everyone. Even the puns.


The privacy implications of cat pictures (4:24) MSNBC Interview with Ronan Farrow


Meet The Guy Who’s Putting Your Cat On The Map — To Prove A Point (2:12) Interview with National Public Radio’s All Things Considered

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“If you have posted a picture of your cat online, data analyst and artist Owen Mundy, and now, the rest of the world, knows where it lives. And, by that logic, he knows where you live, too. That should probably creep you out a little bit, and that’s really the point.”

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“Using cat pictures — that essential building block of the Internet — and a supercomputer, a Florida State University professor has built a site that shows the locations of the cats (at least at some point in time, given their nature) and, presumably, of their owners.”

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“Attention all 4.9 million users of the #Catstagram hashtag: You’re being watched.”

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“I recognize that a single serving site like this should be easy to quit, but I’ve been refreshing for hours and looking at all the different cats of the world. Near, far, wherever they are, these cats just go on and on and on.”

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“If I put up a “cat” photo on Instagram, I am not just sharing a cat photo on Instagram. I am offering up data about my, and my cat’s, location. “I Know Where Your Cat Lives” is, as a title, meant to be vaguely threatening.”

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“Owen Mundy just ruined the Internet. What were once innocuous photos of grumpy cats, tired cats, and fat cats, have now become adorable symbols of just how little privacy we have online.”

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Some charts

Because, charts.

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Traffic and hosting

So far 19,169 cats have been removed from the map due to privacy settings on their photographs being increased. I think this is awesome. And, it is also the ironic part of this project in that its success is measured in increased privacy. Meaning, the more people who are convinced to manage their data better, the less cats I will be able to represent on the map!

Truthfully speaking, I don’t think I have to worry about running out of cats, since this is a small portion of the total one million. And, I figured out a clever way to show this progress as it unfolds:

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The bandwidth and computing resources consumed by this project have been crazy. Even with a very fast Amazon EC2 server (high I/O computing-intensive 4XL server with 16 virtual cpus and 30 GB RAM) I watched the CPU hover at 100% for the entire day of The New York Times article. And this is after I put many hours indexing the database columns and making the scripts efficient in other ways. All told my bill for “going viral” was $1,019.73 (the month of July 2014).

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I used a few different logging tools to monitor the status of the server. Here are some basic stats (from awstats installed on the server) from the three weeks since I launched the project. This is for the requests and bandwidth on the EC2 server only. It does not include the actual cat photos, only the website itself (html, css, json, php, etc):

  • 353,734 unique visits
  • 14,141,644 pages (total clicks on the site)
  • 16,786,127 requests (additional files)
  • 8846.24 GB bandwidth (again, only text files)

I also used CloudFlare CDN (thanks for the tip Tim Schwartz!) to cache the site files and cat photos and serve the data from various locations around the world. This helped with the speed and to decrease my costs. Since all requests are routed through their DNS I believe their stats are likely the most reliable. According to CloudFlare, they served:

  • 20,631,228 total requests (3,089,020 of which were served through CloudFlare’s cache)
  • 10.2 TB bandwidth!! (437.3 GB of this data (site files and cat photos were served by CloudFlare)

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The Kickstarter has <3 days left!

And great news, thanks to 123 backers, including a big push from the awesome folks at Ghostery and Domi Ventures, the Kickstarter will be funded! There’s still time however, to help contribute to the number of years I can keep the site live while getting fun rewards from the project like I Know Where Your Cat Lives themed beer koozies and plush fish-shaped catnip-laced cat toys, as well as a limited edition signed I Know Where Your Cat Lives archival ink jet print. The kickstarter closes on Sat, Aug 9 2014 11:49 AM EDT.

Thanks again to everyone who supported the project. It’s been fun.


Art and the Internet book published by Black Dog Publishing

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Here are some shots from the recently released Art and the Internet (Black Dog Publishing, London) with contributions from Joanne McNeil, Domenico Quaranta, and Nick Lambert. The book is a welcome update to writing on the subject and contains many well known works by artists I’ve admired for years. Nice to be included.

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Trust (Evidence Locker) (2004) Jill Magid. Essay by Joanne McNeil.

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Simple Net Art Diagram by MTAA (1997). Essay by Domenico Quaranta

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Colorflip.com (2008) by Rafaël Rozendaal

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Every Icon (1997) by John F Simon Jr

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Tommy Chat Just Emailed Me (2006) by Ryan Trecartin

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1:1 (1999-2002) by Lisa Jevbratt

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They Rule (2001) by Josh On

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My Generation (2010) by Eva and Franco Mattes

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Artist’s Statement No 45, 730,944: The Perfect Artistic Website (2000) Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries

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I am Unable to Fulfill Your Wish (2012) by Owen Mundy

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Review: Memoirs of a Spymaster by Markus Wolf and Anne McElvoy

Friday, March 11th, 2011

This is a review for the 1997 autobiography of Markus Wolf, the former head of East Germany’s foreign intelligence department.

Wolf’s story begins with a fascinating personal history, particularly, regarding his father who was a communist and their exile from Nazi Germany in Moscow. After the end of WWII and the downfall of the Third Reich Wolf returns to Germany, to Berlin, taking a position first as a journalist in the Soviet Zone and later taking a position and rising through the ranks of the party. He eventually becomes and serves for 30 years as head of the foreign intelligence division, the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) (en. Main Reconnaissance Administration), within the Ministry for State Security.

I found the writing articulate, though it often provides too much detail. It is especially riddled with justifications for controversial actions on the part of himself or the DDR. For example, there is a whole chapter devoted to Willy Brandt, the Chancellor of West Germany who resigned when one of his aides was exposed as an East German spy.

For all the dull details of his bureaucratic life …

“Vast stretches of this work were very boring. Intelligence is essentially a banal trade of sifting through huge amounts of random information in a search for a single enlightening gem or illuminating link.” (101)

… the book also contains a unique historical perspective of WWII and the two German states during the Cold War. It also has many other interesting facts about pre-digital-computer surveillance including methods for protecting identities of spies and ways to physically transfer secret messages. One example, which would be easy with a computer’s ability to generate pseudo-random numbers, was the use of bank note serial numbers for random numbers in cryptographic messaging. He mentions often that he was not a fan of the use of the computer to automate details of record-keeping or gathering because he felt computer records could to easily be stolen and put into the wrong hands.

“The problem with technical intelligence is that its essentially information without evaluation.” (284)

In closing, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the historic details of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security. I’ll end with a few choice quotes which point to the author’s wisdom and ability for critical self-reflection.

“The dividing line between freedom fighters and terrorists is usually determined by which side you are on.” (279)

“No secret service can ever be democratic nor, … open to constant scrutiny.” (282)

Review of “Python: Visual QuickStart Guide (2nd edition)”

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

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I have to admit I had my doubts about this book. I have not been impressed with Visual QuickStart Guides in the past. I respect the idea, of presenting only essential information in an easy-to-understand introductory manner, but that was rarely the case in previous experiences. Usually I found them to be a mixture of non-essential information that was not presented in a manner that would be good for those new to the subject.

That being said, their Python (2nd edition) breaks with their past. So far, I have almost consistently found it to be concise and to the point regarding an introduction to Python and programming languages in general. The examples are relevant and work accordingly. While I normally head to O’Reilly for the in-depth look at a language, this book is a great starting point.

One note and criticism; The examples using input() are flawed for users with Python <3 (most of us). You have to use raw_input() in place of it, although the book does not point this out.