11 November 2007

The 2007 CECI Award

It's time once again for the event the whole blogosphere awaits with breathless anticipation - the presentation of the annual CECI award!

Once again this year the judges (me) have sifted through the year's dross and spent Guy Fawkes' Day mulling over who's made the greatest contribution to clear thinking about identity, privacy, security, and risk.

As I made my decision I've had a few things on my mind. I've had in mind, for example, why the principal deputy director of National Intelligence thinks we need to change our definition of privacy. The short answer is that the current definition is very inconvenient to the government. How inconvenient? Well, for one thing, it prevents them from spying on all of us without a good reason.

Since we haven't changed the definition of privacy yet, the US Government is being forced to go to all the embarrassment and expense of arguing (in public! how undignified!) in United States v. Warshak that you and I have no expectation of privacy in email communications because we've signed an agreement with our ISP to let them examine our emails under certain circumstances.

(Side note: is anyone but me thinking "Wait! The fourth amendment doesn't say anything about expectations of privacy! It just says that there won't be unreasonable searches and seizures, and there will be warrants based on probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the persons or things to be seized"?)

The definition of "privacy" which deputy director Donald Kerr would like us to adopt, in deference to the government's needs, is that "government and businesses properly safeguard people's private communications and financial information."

What does he mean by "properly safeguards"? Probably something like this: that the government and the supermarket will only arrest you, send you to Guantanamo, and deny you access to legal counsel if the FBI thinks your falafel purchases are suspicious; if you eat only a patriotic American quantity of Falafel, you have nothing to fear.

And I've been thinking about why so few people agree with Mark Klein that all this is a problem.

Which brings me to our winner.

The 2007 Ceci Award goes to Andrew Napolitano, former New Jersey Superior Court Judge and current Fox News analyst (I know, I know, but stay with me for a minute), for his most recent (2007) book "A Nation Of Sheep".

Napolitano's basic argument in "A Nation Of Sheep" is this:

  1. The Natural Rights theory says that our fundamental rights come from God and still exist even when they aren't enforced or even respected by the government.
  2. This theory is necessary as a defense against government encroachment, because government does not actually acknowledge any power higher than itself...
    (even when it says stuff like "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed")
    ...but while it is willing to coerce the governed to permit the usurpation of their rights it is embarrassed to say in public that it does not believe in God's supremacy - so attributing rights to God is the only way to make the government acknowledge their legitimacy.
  3. Even attributing rights to God doesn't do us any good if we don't confront government whenever it tries to usurp the rights God gave to us.
  4. But most of us are sheep, and won't confront the government...
  5. Therefore it falls to a few wolves to prevent all of us from falling into slavery.
He's right. Read the book. If, after reading the book, you're feeling sheepish, consider the example of Mark Klein and ask yourself if you've seen any of your natural rights being confiscated lately. If so, ask yourself what you've done about it.

Congratulations to Judge Napolitano on his award. As usual, an acceptance speech in the comments is not required, but would be most welcome.

01 November 2007

Turn Off Your Flash

You're at a party. Or maybe walking on the beach at sunset. Your eye is attracted to a scene. You take out your camera and look through the viewfinder (or at the LCD). You adjust the framing, and, trembling with excitement, you push the shutter button.

You examine the results.

They suck.

What happened?

I'll tell you what happened: your flash spoiled the shot.

What you saw was interesting. What the camera saw was ordinary. The difference was the light. You saw beautiful, interesting, colorful ambient light coming from an interesting direction.

Your camera saw 5500-degrees-kelvin daylight-colored strobe light beamed straight from your eyeball to the subject.

Now stop for a moment and consider a question: if you looked at the scene and liked the light you saw, why did you change it?

So stop changing it.

Look at the picture above. It's a picture of my friend Andre. I took it last week in a shot bar called Chupito's in Barcelona (if you're in Barcelona, go there. You'll like it). Chupito's is very dark. The blue color on Andre's (white) shirt is fluorescence induced by a UV tube illuminating the drink menu on one wall. The red color on Andre's face comes from a very dim incandescent bulb about a foot away from the two of us.

If I'd used flash, It would have lit Andre evenly (so I would have lost the contrast between the shadow on the right side of his face and the brightness of his shirt on the same side) and the flash would have overwhelmed the the red and blue colors of the dim lights. The result would have been a much less interesting picture - a picture which would have looked a little like the one I took of Andre earlier this year in a boring hotel corridor at a different event: This isn't a bad picture, but it's not nearly as interesting as the one from Chupito's. One reason the Chupito's picture is more interesting is that the color of the light is more interesting. If you use flash, your pictures will all be taken in daylight-colored light. But the color of the light isn't the only important thing about the Chupito's picture. The shadows are important too. If you use flash, your pictures will all be lit from your position - that is, they'll all be front-lit, and they won't have very interesting shadows.

Here's another picture; it's a picture of my colleague Mike, and it's front-lit: Again, it's not a bad picture, but it's got no interesting shadows. I have another picture of Mike (taken in a different bar in Barcelona) which is much better, because it's lit more interestingly. Here it is: If I'd taken this picture with a flash, there would be no shadow on the left side of Mike's face (on the right in the picture), and the picture would be much weaker.

The moral of this little story is: if you see light you like, turn off your flash. If you turn off your flash, you might need a fast lens on your DSLR, or a tripod for your point-and-shoot, but your pictures will be much better.

(Full disclosure: if you really learn how to use flash, you can get great results. Joe McNally has really learned how to use flash. He uses lots of flashes, most of them off-camera, triggered by wireless remotes, and some of them filtered to provide interesting colors of light. If you want to really learn how to use flash, instead of just turning it off, a great place to start is strobist. And if you ever get a chance to take one of Joe McNally's workshops, do it. He's a great photographer, a great teacher, and a great storyteller.)

Family Matters

I've been doing most of my blogging here and here for the last few months. In the meantime, my sister has started a stamping blog, and my daughter, a digital native, has started to write about what identity means to the next generation (among other subjects). Upcoming posts here will include:
  • Turn Off Your Flash
  • What Is Privacy, Really?
  • Fear and the Bigger Haystack
  • Privacy, Tolerance, and a Free Society
  • The Boggs Tax