I had a rather fun and interesting weekend in terms of photography. As part of my whole pursuing my passions business I’ve set about trying to better myself as a photographer and part of that is challenging myself each week (or as close to that as I can) to take on a photographic challenge. The first one was something I was already comfortable with, landscapes, and flush with victory for that I decided to take on something that I haven’t really seriously tackled before: architecture. I had a few locations here in Canberra scouted out and so after swinging by the computer fair to pick up a new router I jumped straight in, looking to find that unique view of some Canberran architecture that’d catch my eye.
To put it simply the day didn’t go quite as I had expected. I figured buildings would be much like landscapes, big things that don’t move or complain so they’d make for easy photographic pickings. It’s completely the opposite of course as for landscapes you’re usually taking things from a great distance away and for buildings and architecture you usually don’t have the luxury of distance, especially if you’re in the middle of a city like I was. I haven’t had the chance to fully review all the pictures I took but suffice to say none of them really impressed me after I took them, so I definitely know there’s room for improvement there.
However during my journey I made a quick sojourn up to the iconic Parliament House as no photographic trip focused on architecture would be complete without a picture or two of it in there. As I approached it however I noticed a group of people out the front with many holding signs and a loud speaker amplifying the words of a lone spokesman. Intrigued I approached them and from what I could tell (many of the signs and speeches were in Arabic, I believe) were protesting the current asylum seeker legislation. Figuring this would be a good time to hone my photojournalisitc skills, which didn’t exist prior to this, I started snapping pictures. No one complained about having their pictures taken but it did bring back some horrible memories of stories of fellow photographers who had had some bad experiences doing the same thing.
Generally speaking if you’re on public property you have every right to take a picture of what you see, especially if what you’re taking a picture of is on public property as well. There have been numerous cases of people being harassed by police when taking photos of them (there were police at this protest too, but I didn’t want to invite trouble by photographing them) but you’re well within your rights to do that as well. There are of course exceptions to these rules as the link describes but for the most part as long as you’re sensible about what kinds of pictures you’re taking you won’t be any legal trouble.
Still it’s always something that niggles at the back of my head and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve shied away from any kind of photography in a public place.I know I’m in the right legally I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll get accosted by people when taking photos near them, even if I’m not pointing the camera directly at them. I did get a couple looks (the Canon 60D with a 24-105mm F/4L lens and a 480 EX II SpeedLite can be a rather imposing beast to look at) but no one really seemed to care that much that I was taking pictures so that feeling is probably just more of my introverted side coming out more than anything else. Maybe my next challenge should be street photography to work that part out.
I don’t have anything to show you just yet as I don’t like to shoot in JPG + RAW because it seems redundant and the codec pack I’ve got for viewing RAWs doesn’t work on the x64 version of Windows 7. I’ve bought myself a copy of Lightroom though so once I get that installed and get comfortable with the interface you’ll then be relentlessly spammed with all the photographs from the weekend and I might update this post with a few choice shots from my little jaunt. Whilst it might not have been the most pleasurable experience (it was rather cold) it was definitely a learning one and it’s something that I’ll be looking to repeat in the not too distant future.
It’s not often that I encounter an idea that fundamentally shifts my thinking or view of the world but I came across one not too long ago: the Dunning-Kruger effect. The essence of the idea is that people below a certain level of understanding in something tend to over-estimate how well they understand it and those who are well versed in something tend to underestimate how well they understand it. In short, dumb people are too dumb to know that they’re dumb. That one idea fundamentally changed the way I viewed the world and not for the negative. More I understood where to draw the line on certain issues and gained a whole swath of insight into the reasons why people do certain things that make no sense to me.
Since late yesterday many websites have been going dark to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills that have managed to resurrect themselves since my post on it a couple days ago. I personally haven’t done anything because I know the vast majority of my readers are already informed on the matter and I’m not one to engage in me-too like behaviour just for the sake of it (just like LifeHacker who’ve copped some flak over it). However whilst the protests are proving to be a rather effective means of getting attention of this issue (it got air play here in Australia) I get the feeling that a lot of them, especially Wikipedia’s one, are running up against the Dunning-Kruger effect.
What proof do I have of this? The existence of Twitter accounts like this one showcasing those who don’t understand why Wikipedia is down. Forgetting for the moment that the Wikipedia blackout page explains exactly why this is happening and that it’s still available via their mobile site or Google cache it seems that the second something changes for these people they’re are simply unable to understand what has happened. It’s a known phenomena for us IT people: change the way something is done and most users won’t be able to figure out how to work around it. They are simply lacking the required level of knowledge to understand that they don’t have enough knowledge to approach the problem rationally, and react to it with vulgarities and mindless commentary.
For these people then the protests that Wikipedia et. al. are going through are thus meaningless for them as should they lack the required level of knowledge to understand why an online resource has gone away it’s unlikely they’d grasp the fundamental reasons of why SOPA is a bad thing. To them Wikipedia going away would simply be a loss of a valuable tool without reason (hence the reactions) or they’d wrongly attribute the blame somewhere else. They don’t understand that there is something they can do to prevent such things happening in the future, both for working around the blackout and for preventing such things happening again.
Does this mean that these shouldn’t have engaged in these protests? Far from it. I’d argue, based on completely anecdotal evidence, that the vast majority of people will be able to see the reasons why Wikipedia is gone and will probably just wait it out and not do much more. However there are those rational thinkers who were not privy to the evils of SOPA and PIPA prior to these sites going dark and they will more than likely join the cause afterwards. We’re already well past critical mass here so any more supporters simply adds additional momentum and hopefully that will be enough to kill these ridiculous bills before they go any further.
I’m always surprised at the lengths that Google will go to in order to uphold its Don’t Be Evil motto. The start of last year saw them begin a very public battle with the Chinese government, leading them to put the pressure on by shutting down their Chinese offices and even going so far as to involve the WTO. Months passed before the Chinese government retaliated, in essence curtailing all the efforts that Google had gone to in order to operate their search engine the way they wanted to. After the initial backlash with a few companies pulling parts of their business out of China there really wasn’t much more movement from either side on the issue and it just sort of faded into the background.
In between then and now the world has seen uprisings and revolutions in several countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Whilst the desire for change is stronger than any tool services like Twitter, Facebook and Gmail have been instrumental in helping people to gather and organize the movements on scales that would’ve taken much more effort than before. Indeed those in power have recognized the usefulness of these tools as they’ve usually been the first thing that gets cut when a potential uprising begins to hit critical mass. China is known for its harsh stance on protesters and activists and they’re not shy when it comes to interfering with their activities.
It seems that Google has picked up on them doing just that with Gmail:
Google has accused the Chinese government of interfering with its popular Gmailemail system. The move follows extensive attempts by the Chinese authorities to crack down on the “jasmine revolution” – an online dissident movement inspired by events in the Middle East.
According to the search giant, Chinese customers and advertisers have increasingly been complaining about their Gmail service in the past month. Attempts by users to send messages, mark messages as unread and use other services have generated problems for Gmail customers.
Screwing around with their communications is one of the softest forms of oppression that the government can undertake without attracting to much attention. Whilst I believe an uprising on the scale we’ve seen in the middle east is highly improbable in China, thanks entirely to the fact that the sentiment I get from people I know in China is that they like the current government, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t conducting operations to kill any attempts in it’s infancy. They’ve previously targeted other activists with similar attacks in order to gain information on them and that’s what sparked Google’s first outburst against the Chinese government. Why they continue to poke this particular bear is beyond me and unfortunately Google is in the hard position of either continuing to offer services (and all the consequences that follows) or pull out completely, leaving activists in China few options that aren’t at least partially government controlled.
There’s also rumors that the government is now implementing similar technology to their Great Firewall onto the cellular network. Some users are reporting that their phone calls drop out after saying certain phrases, most notably “protest”. Whilst I hesitate to accept that story whole heartedly (the infrastructure required to do that is not outside the Chinese governments ability) there is precedent for them to conduct similar operations with other forms of communication, namely the Internet. Unfortunately there’s no real easy way to test it (doing encrypted calls is a royal pain in the ass) without actually being there so unless some definitive testing is done we’ll just have to put this one down to a rumor and nothing more.
Google has shown several times now that it’s not afraid to go against the Chinese government if they believe their users are under threat from them. It’s unfortunate that there haven’t been many more companies that have lined up behind Google to support them but if they continue to be as outspoken as they are I can’t see them staying silent indefinitely. Of course many Internet services in China are at least partially controlled by the government so any native business there will more than likely remain silent. I don’t believe this is the last we’ll hear on the Google vs China battle but unlike last time I’m not entirely sure it will lead.