Larry Hosken. Technical writer. Puzzlehunt enthusiast.
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Infrastructural Voodoo Doll

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For the past few months, on various trips out west to Los Angeles, I’ve been working on an exclusive story about a new intelligence-gathering unit at LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport.

To make a long story short, in the summer of 2014 Los Angeles World Airports—the parent organization in control of LAX—hired two intelligence analysts, both with top secret clearance, in order to analyze global threats targeting the airport.

There were many things that brought me to this story, but what particularly stood out was the very idea that a piece of transportation infrastructure could now punch above its weight, taking on the intelligence-gathering and analytical capabilities not just of a city, but of a small nation-state.

It implied a kind of parallel intelligence organization created to protect not a democratic polity but an airfield. This suggested to me that perhaps our models of where power actually lies in the contemporary city are misguided—that, instead of looking to City Hall, for example, we should be focusing on economic structures, ports, sites of logistics, places that wield a different sort of influence and require a new kind of protection and security.

From the article, which is now online at The Atlantic:

Under the moniker of “critical infrastructure protection,” energy-production, transportation-logistics, waste-disposal, and other sites have been transformed from often-overlooked megaprojects on the edge of the metropolis into the heavily fortified, tactical crown jewels of the modern state. Bridges, tunnels, ports, dams, pipelines, and airfields have an emergent geopolitical clout that now rivals democratically elected civic institutions.

For me, this has incredible implications:

It might sound like science fiction, but, in 20 years’ time, it could very well be that LAX has a stronger international-intelligence game than many U.S. allies. LAX field agents could be embedded overseas, cultivating informants, sussing out impending threats. It will be an era of infrastructural intelligence, when airfields, bridges, ports, and tunnels have, in effect, their own internal versions of the CIA—and LAX will be there first.

There are obvious shades here of Keller Easterling’s notion of “extrastatecraft,” where infrastructure has come to assume a peculiar form of political authority.

As such, it also resembles an initiative undertaken by the NYPD in the years immediately following 9/11—a story well told by at least three books, Peter Bergen’s excellent United States of Jihad, Christopher Dickey’s Securing the City, and, more critically, Enemies Within by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman.

However, there is at least one key difference here: the NYPD unit was operating as an urban-scale intelligence apparatus, whereas the L.A. initiative exists at the level of a piece of transportation infrastructure. Imagine the Holland Tunnel, I-90, or the M25 hiring its own in-house intel team, and you can begin to imagine the strange new powers and influence this implies.

In any case, the bulk of the piece is focused on introducing readers to the core group of people behind the program.

There is Anthony McGinty, a former D.C. homicide detective and Marine Reserve veteran, kickstarting a second career on the west coast; there is Michelle Sosa, a trilingual Boston University grad with a background in intelligence analysis; and there is Ethel McGuire, one of the first black female agents in FBI history, who undertook their hiring.

There are, of course, literally thousands of others of people involved, from baggage handlers and the LAX Fire Department to everyday travelers. LAX, after all, is a city in miniature:

At more than five square miles, it is only slightly smaller than Beverly Hills. More than 50,000 badged employees report to work there each day, many with direct access to the airfield—and thus to the vulnerable aircraft waiting upon it. More than 100,000 passenger vehicles use the airport’s roads and parking lots every day, and, in 2015 alone, LAX hosted 75 million passengers in combined departures and arrivals.
LAX is also policed like a city. The airport has its own SWAT team—known as the Emergency Services Unit—and employs roughly 500 sworn police officers, double the number of cops in the well-off city of Pasadena and more than the total number of state police in all of Rhode Island.

However, the actual space of the airport—the built landscape of logistics—is probably the main potential source of interest for BLDGBLOG readers.

For example, at the western edge of the airfield, there is an abandoned suburb called Surfridge, its empty streets and sand dunes now used as a butterfly sanctuary and as a place for police-training simulations. The runways themselves are vast symbolic landscapes painted with geometric signs that have to be read to be navigated. And then there are the terminals, currently undergoing a massive, multibillion dollar renovation campaign.

At one point, I found myself sitting inside the office complex of Gavin de Becker, an anti-assassination security expert who has worked for celebrities, foreign dignitaries, and even U.S. presidents. Protected behind false-front signage, de Becker’s hidden complex houses a full-scale airplane fuselage for emergency training, as well as ballistic dummies and a soundproofed shooting range.

I had a blast working on this piece, and am thrilled that it’s finally online. Check it out, if you get a chance, and don’t miss the speculative “case files” at the end, brief examples of what might be called infrastructural security fiction.

(Thanks to Ross Andersen and Sacha Zimmerman at The Atlantic for the edits. All images in this post from Google Maps, filtered through Instagram).

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lahosken
6 days ago
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San Francisco, USA
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Fallen off the Map

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We have, for all intents and purposes, fallen off the edge of the map. I know Captain Brandon has better resources up on the bridge, but down here on main deck, we left charted waters yesterday. And even those charts spoke of the days where mapmakers inscribed vague warnings: “Here be dragons.”

Our own inscriptions are less fanciful, but come to the same point: a dashed line to the south off Peacock Sound, cautions: “Limit of reliable photographic data,” and more ominously, where the dashed lines fade to white: “Source material not reconcilable.”

It has been three days since we’ve seen anything but Stygian fog on flat, black water, and the notion of progress westward has long since faded from visceral sensation to memory. There is neither sky nor sun nor dark, nor even cloud, and we move on faith, vaguely trusting the slowly spinning dial on our display claiming westward longitude: now 115.8918, now 115.8919. In two weeks, it says, we’ll arrive at McMurdo, but we temper our trust in it the way we temper a preacher’s promise that God will provide: it’s a nice thought, but one does want to have a backup plan in place.

Our last visitor from the outside world was two days ago, the ghost of an iceberg making its way north from fast ice along the Bellinghausen Sea. It was enough of an occasion that we all set our busywork aside to go up on deck and watch.

No, scratch that: there was the small miracle, almost like a card trick, of spotting one of Caitlin’s floats, left to drift here a year ago, and pulling it aboard for rehabilitation. Perhaps that preacher GPS is on to something.

Beyond that, we trudge westward tending our knitting, our plankton samples and code, and wait patiently for our promised reward from the placid sea.










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lahosken
11 days ago
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"Source material not reconcilable" isn't good news on a nautical chart
San Francisco, USA
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Introducing the Tilt Brush Artist in Residence Program

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When your paintbrush and canvas have as many possibilities as your imagination, amazing things can happen.

Tilt Brush, a virtual reality app from Google, lets you paint in three-dimensional space, walk around your brush strokes from any angle, and use fantastical materials like fire, stars and rainbows. Since we launched Tilt Brush in April, we’ve seen professional artists and everyday doodlers alike make some incredible creations.

We’ve also been working closely with more than 60 artists to help them explore their style in virtual reality as part of the Tilt Brush Artist in Residence program (AiR). Coming from a wide range of disciplines, these graffiti artists, painters, illustrators, graphic designers, dancers, concept artists, creative technologists and cartoonists have all brought their passion and talent to create some amazing art with Tilt Brush. Beginning today, you can explore the AiR site to see their creations, and we’ll be continually adding to it moving forward.

The Tilt Brush team created AiR to help artists explore the possibilities in virtual reality as a medium. But by working side by side with our engineering teams, these artists have also given feedback to inspire new features for Tilt Brush.

For example, Steve Teeple and Sougwen Chung suggested new ideas for how to export Tilt Brush sketches in new formats, making it easier to render and animate. Glen Keane, long time Disney animator, inspired the Media Library feature that lets you import 3D models into your sketches. And when Antonio Canobbio, creative director at Titmouse Animation, needed a very tapered marker for one of his pieces, we created a slimmer brush for him. Another resident artist, Peter Chan, quickly discovered the new brush and used it exclusively to paint "The Rescue," seen below. Now anyone with Tilt Brush can use the new brush. Finally, our new YouTube export feature was a top request from artists in the AiR program.

There’s much more to come from Tilt Brush and our Artists in Residence. We'll continue working with more artists over time and updating our site with what they create. If you're using Tilt Brush, we’d love to see what you’ve made — share it with us using #TiltBrush.

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lahosken
12 days ago
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San Francisco, USA
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A Lot More Love. A free download for you.

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Happy new year. A gift for you.

Why this song? 

I could have used a lot more love- The idea behind the lyric  seems  simple. At first listen,
it appears it is a lament where I wish I had been loved better and more often throughout my
life.
  
That is not the case.   

What moved me to write this song was realizing  that I could have loved better. I could have loved more
So many times, I should  have used love first.   

I believe  it a  proper sentiment for the year we are  facing.  I offer it here to you . A small gesture of my
gratitude to you all. 

I wish you the strength to love in the year to come. May  tolerance and empathy always be your preemptive move.

Gratefully.

Andy Prieboy

A Lot More Love 

I've been walking all night 
I've been walking 'till dawn 
I've been a fool all my life 
I never fooled anyone 
And my summers have gone 
And my winter has come 
And the one thing that I'm thinking of: 
I could have used a lot more love. 

Right to the heart 
And a left to the jaw 
Bright were the stars 
They were the last thing I saw 
And I tried to be strong 
And I tried to be tough 
But I'm never ever tough enough 
I could have used a lot more love 

And when the moon comes up 
In a pool of blood 
I could have used a lot more love

 





Download audio: http://andyprieboy.com/podcast/4527298/tracks/1154474.mp3
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lahosken
17 days ago
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San Francisco, USA
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Video

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lahosken
18 days ago
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San Francisco, USA
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How people’s sensitivity to threats illuminates the rise of Donald Trump

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How people's sensitivity to threats illuminates the rise of Donald Trump

It's impossible to identify all the reasons Donald Trump won the presidency. In a close election, virtually anything could have tipped the balance: small changes in turnout, Russian hacking, fake news, James B. Comey, mistaken campaign strategy, brilliant campaign strategy, a vulnerable opponent, email servers and so on. A different, and perhaps more important, question is simply why a candidate such as Trump is appealing to so many Americans and yet deeply off-putting to so many others. In the long run, the sources of these deep and enduring political divisions is of greater consequence than any one election's outcome. A string of recent findings points to a key source of these divisions: people's sensitivity to threat. Some people attend and respond more to potential dangers in the world and therefore are attracted to policies and candidates that they think will offer protection from threats. Here are some of these findings:
  • My colleagues and I asked people to pick out angry as opposed to happy faces in a crowd.  People who were quicker to spot the angry faces were more likely to support “protective” policies that promote law and order, defense, gun rights, immigration restrictions and traditional lifestyles.
  • In another study, we used an eye tracker to determine how much people looked at positive images (cute bunnies and pretty sunsets) instead of negative ones (vicious dogs and wrecked cars) when given the choice. Those who “dwelled” on the negative images were also more likely to support “protective” policies.
  • We showed research participants 120 images — some negative and threatening; some positive and comforting — and, after a break, brought them back to see which images they remembered seeing. Those who disproportionately remembered the negative as opposed to the positive images were more likely to support protective policies.
  • We measured people’s basic physiological responses as they were looking at threatening, troubling images or responding to unexpected auditory startles. Those who registered the strongest biological responses again were the most supportive of a similar collection of protective policies.
  • We documented significant correlations between people’s political views and brain activation patterns as research participants looked at disturbing, threatening images.
In sum, people who are “threat sensitive” experience the world in a fundamentally different fashion than people who are not. Threat-sensitive people then gravitate toward policies and candidates they think will protect them from threats, especially those threats posed by out-groups and in-group norm violators (the two most deadly dangers throughout human existence). People who are less threat-sensitive are mystified by the allure of these same policies and candidates. And so feelings intensify; battle lines harden; tribal conflicts clarify; political stalemate descends; the social fabric frays. The relevance of this account to 2016 is not difficult to imagine. Whether by design or happenstance, Trump speaks the language of threat-sensitive individuals in a way that candidates such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney do not. During the campaign Trump offered a dark view of the state of the nation, one in which threats lurk everywhere and a diminished United States is no longer able to confront them. A vote for Trump was a vote for someone who would take these threats seriously. Threat-sensitive individuals felt liberated and emboldened. Finally, someone got them. They then confronted their less threat-sensitive fellow citizens in a way the latter found deeply disconcerting. Of course, previous elections have been fought over similar issues. (A relatively recent example is 1968.)  Although these elections tend to be unusually bitter, we have always recovered from them. On the other hand, the ability of those with a given level of threat sensitivity, whether high or low, to surround themselves with individuals and messages that affirm their predispositions has never been so great. More than in the past, this constant reinforcement creates a vicious downward spiral. Can anything be done?  It won’t be easy. Perhaps the place to start is to change people’s perception of those who disagree with them. Individuals high in threat sensitivity see those on the other side as naive, clueless, and so insufficiently vested in the welfare of the in-group that they constitute a threat to the country. Meanwhile, individuals low in threat sensitivity see those on the other side as angry, fearful, and racist. Although perfidy and racism must never be tolerated, not all strongly held political positions cross those lines. And not all of them result from insufficient thought or from exposure to bogus information. In other words, you can support certain immigration restrictions without being racist, just as you can kneel during the national anthem without being treacherous. We must take more seriously the psychological and biological sources of political attitudes. As harmful as biased media outlets and fake news might be, the real problem is people’s eagerness to consume information that, however bizarre, pleasingly affirms their existing biases. Those whose threat sensitivity is different from ours will continue to tailor their politics to the way they experience the world. We need to accept that, as baffling and maddening as we find them, they are not going away. John R. Hibbing is the regents professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and co-author of “Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences.”
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lahosken
20 days ago
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Trump popular with nation's cowards
San Francisco, USA
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