Temporary Expert Final :: Surveillance

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For my final topic in Temporary Expert, I wanted to look at the incredibly broad topic of surveillance.  It’s an old topic, and one that came back to the forefront last year through the Snowden leaks.  While it was always something I had an interest in, it rarely went past fleeting interest.  Some time in the last couple months, I came across the concept of Van Eck Phreaking, and it’s something that has just stuck in the back of my mind.  Van Eck Phreaking is a way to recreate displays, originally CRTs but can now be used with flat panel displays, by interpreting the electronic frequency signals that the electronics give off.

Two things about that technology stood out to me (aside from the sheer “magic” factor of it): One, the complete and utter privacy invasion into the personal portal that is your laptop screen.  It’s the ultimate big brother version of someone leering over your shoulder; it presents the opportunity to steal everything personally and professionally important that you do.  The other was the “magic” factor I mentioned – listening to stray electronic signals, the byproduct of our devices, and being able to reconstruct our activities through unexpected patterns.  Thinking about the topic was enough to send me down the path of surveillance.

Because my interest in the topic had been so random, my breadth of knowledge was insufficient.  I set out to explore surveillance, in all its forms.  I researched everything from the origins of spying to the technical programs commissioned by the NSA that spy on Americans to this day.  I read about famous government moles, the Stasi, methods of computer encryption, artists working in this space, and recent publicized breaches.   I also had conversations with Alexander Galloway (Previously of Carnivore fame) and Lauren McCarthy.  I had a very nice conversation with Alex about ethics and approaches, although it seemed he doesn’t do much work in this realm anymore.  I didn’t have the most productive conversation with Lauren, though much of that could be blamed on me as I wasn’t totally sure what I was going in to ask her.  It was helpful to make my articulate my own thoughts, but not much past that.

From that research, I developed a few initial conclusions.  The space is broad, exceedingly complex, and very futuristic.  The technology is incredibly sophisticated, and pervasive enough that it’s tough to escape while living in modern society.  The other thing I realized is peoples general ambivalence to the topic.  Edward Snowden leaked the details of the largest government data collection system ever in June of 2013, and nothing has really changed.  There were protests (Full disclosure – I didn’t go, and had to look up if there were even protests), but a couple of weeks ago, reform of the NSA was voted down.  You can even here people defend the collection (“If you don’t have anything to hide…”).  I’m really curious why people don’t seem to care about this.  Is the technology and scope just too far over many peoples heads?  Is it a sense of hopelessness?  Is it removed just enough from your daily life that you forget and carry on?  Before I could try to answer such a complex question, I began on a series of experiments to examine the nature of surveillance, in various forms, to try to break things down for myself.

I wanted to examine what people do, say, and make.  And I thought it was important that my experiments involve me being on both sides of the situation.  Watching and being watched.  My first experiment involved watching myself, watching what I do, as an ode to Van Eck Phreaking (something I wasn’t going to accomplish in this timeframe).  I wrote a script to capture my desktop every 5 minutes for a week, and compiled the images.

Right away I noticed behavioral changes in this.  The script still played the mac screenshot sound, so I knew when it took the screenshot.  I began thinking constantly about what I had up on the screen.  Even though I was controlling the app, and the photos were saving locally, I still knew this was something I wanted to put online, so I was hesitant.  I’d quickly do sensitive tasks right after a screenshot, or try to sneak in a facebook check; I almost felt like I should always be having work up on the screen.  But if I had music playing, or the volume muted, or maybe had headphones plugged in, I wouldn’t hear the sounds, and would forget it was happening.  That was my first indication that the feedback was potentially a really important aspect to these experiments.

My second experiment focused on what people say.  Using an analog circuit (thanks to some internet resources of course, I didn’t come up with this), I built a laser microphone.  Sounds make things vibrate, and speakers vibrate when they play music, just as glass vibrates when you talk behind it.  By placing a small mirror on the speaker, I could shine a laser at it, and catch the reflection on a photoresistor.  Running that signal through a transistor to a headphone jack, you can head music playing simply by catching the reflections of a laser.  When I showed this to people, their reaction was always the same – it’s like magic.  This is an old technology, been around for decades, but it was leaving people speechless when they realized what was happening.  That says a lot about the state of todays technology.

Lastly, I did two experiments on what people make.  The first, as the one who surveils.  Thanks to some help from Surya, I was able to engage in what’s called packet sniffing, the act of watching the packets we send over a network when your computer makes requests to a server.  Again, this is not a new technology.  But it’s incredibly interesting to see network traffic flashing across your computer.  I only did it through a local host on my computer, but you immediately feel a sense of power when you can identify the packets containing “payloads,” or the actual content you’re trying to send, open it, and read it.  You can also inject packets, in what’s called a man-in-the-middle attack.  I see a packet come through requesting information, and step in to impersonate the response, sending what I want.  I used this to control a small network game of pong, where I could intercept my own commands and change them.  There’s obviously security measures to prevent me from doing this to your gmail, but all that’s really stopping me is my own technical ability.  This is a thing that is done, and there’s a whole range of emotions you go through realizing you can perform actions like this.

For the last experiment, I wanted to get a sense of what I make.  And, as far as the government or advertisers are concerned, I make data.  Data to track me, analyze my actions, place me in a demographic, and sell things to me.  Everyone of us does this, and it drives both government surveillance and the entire online advertising world.  I thought back to the feedback sounds from my desktop experiment, and from examples like We Live in Public, a great documentary.  People are usually fine with surveillance until they have to be confronted with it.  The realization that it’s constantly happening, the cognizance of being watched, is what breaks people down mentally and emotionally.  I wrote a Chrome extension that blinks a small red light every time you (theoretically) create a data point.  I didn’t have the time to really track data you make, but this simulates it by tracking clicks, text inputs, web page changes, etc.  For any action that would create a data point used to quantify you, a light blinks.  I haven’t had time to really test it, as I just finished it, but I’m optimistic(?) about the potential.  I don’t know if another blinking light is what we really need, if it will help anything or drive awareness, or even what the goal really is, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

Temporary Expert Update

After narrowing down to the extremely broad topic of “surveillance” I started to work on some daily experiments.  Without a clear project idea, I was hoping these would help to clarify my thoughts and come up with an interesting project.  Using this idea generator, with areas to plug in mood, time period, arc and audience, I did daily sketches of scenarios based on what was presented to me.  Below are a some examples of scenarios, as well as pages of sketching.

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So, that sort of helped.  It most definitely got me thinking differently, but still didn’t solidify an idea.  To start thinking about effects of surveillance, I wrote a script that screenshots my desktop every 5 minutes.  I have a large collection now, and am going to probably overlay them all with very low alpha, or make a grid photo.  I began to feel the psychological effects of this almost immediately, even though it was something I was doing, only I was controlling and I could delete at any time.  I found myself closing my laptop more, trying to vary what I was leaving up on the screen if I stepped away, and trying to keep more work-oriented things up on the screen instead of something like a sports article or anything I would consider non-serious.

The last class proved extremely helpful for me.  As I talked through the project more with Kina and Dan, I began to solidify on the idea of breaking down “surveillance” into the various components and methods possible to do surveillance, and try different experiments within those areas.  Most interesting to me has been the idea of passive surveillance, of observing the effects of human activity, which leave a trail of data that can be used to track people.  Van Eck Phreaking got my interested in this idea, which has been reinforced through discovery of audio signal stealing through gyroscopes, or deciphering sound through vibrating glass.  I have a list of resources and people to talk to after class, and I’ve been trying to read and watch a lot of classic cyberpunk and near-future fiction to more immerse myself in the topic.  This update is a few days late, so I will have another coming shortly after I reach out to a few people like Eric Rosenthal, Kyle McDonald, and Alex Galloway.  I’ve also talked to Shawn VE and Surya, both of whom were excited about what I was doing, and were very willing to help and offer resources.

Temporary Expert: Carnisseur


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The above patent represents the latest efforts of the Carnisseur Corporation.  We have been the leading force in the in vitro meat industry, and our constant innovations have kept millions sustainably satisfied for years.  Recently, our patent on the Accelerated Growth of meat cultures expired, allowing many to enter the in vitro meat market and begin experimenting.  Some people have taken to hacking our printers and culture cartridges, resulting in unsafe meat combinations being created, and people trying to print more meat than is appropriate from a cartridge, leading to potentially cancerous cells.

As a result, Carnisseur has had to respond with changes to our meat printing system.  The first is our new Culture Lock Connector, a patented digital connector exclusive to the Carnisseur line of printers and cartridges.  The second is in a system of Digital Rights Management software loaded onto the cartridges and printers.  Only Carnisseur-approved cartridges will function on the printer, and any tampering will result in destruction of the cells within the cartridge.  The cartridges will also not print after producing 4lbs of meat to prevent the risk of potentially damaging meats.  When a consumer is finished with their cartridges, they are encouraged to send them back to Carnisseur for reuse, and will receive a discount in the process.


In this project, we wanted to explore the ways the current landscape of regulations and litigious business practices could negatively affect the world of near-future food, often viewed through rose-colored glasses.  In vitro meat is an expensive endeavor, and people will want to profit off of its creation.  A combination of patents for the Carnisseur corporation ensure their competitive domination of the in vitro meat landscape.  Having already dominated the printer market, Carnisseur printers now only print their meat cartridges, thus freezing out any competitors.  Partially under the guise of consumer safety and brand quality, Carnisseur no longer has to worry about advances from large producers like Tyson, Purdue or Applegate.

Carnisseur was made with Jason Sigal and Karam Byun

Temporary Expert Update

Karam, Jason and I have decided to further pursue the topic of in vitro meat.  While it’s painted by many as one of the panaceas for world hunger, we feel it’s a solution often looked at through rose-colored glasses.  This is an extremely complicated, complex entity.  It will take people many years and an enormous financial investment for this to ever potentially be a scalable product for the masses.  Should in vitro meat reach that level, it will be subject to all of the intricacies, restrictions, regulations, and _____ that other consumer products deal with on a regular basis.

There is already a US patent for “…the production of tissue engineered meat for human consumption, wherein muscle and fat cells would be grown in an integrated fashion to create food products such as beef, poultry and fish.”  So there’s a patent on the overall process.  But what about further down the line, when that patent has expired?  Our project is seeking to explore a new patent within the consumer world of in vitro meat.  

In this near future, in vitro meat has achieved market saturation.  Consumer products are regularly sold which allow the printing of various meats at home.  Our company, Carnisseur, is the leader in countertop meat printers, which function by printing from individual cartridges, or “cultures”, which contain the animal cells and serum to print from.  However, companies have begun to sell their own cultures to print from on our machines, which is bad for business.  That’s why we are planning to debut a new digitally-encrypted style of cartridge, with a proprietary connector, to ensure the quality of meats printed on our machines, as well as keep business within the company.   We want consumers to be locked into our ecosystem, which is why we have also talked about protecting the meat itself.  Our printers will have a very specific crosshatch pattern the cells are printed in.  Only the knives our company makes, either by way of a specialized blade, or EMP to breakdown the hatched pattern, will be able to easily cut through the meat.

We want to explore how the nuance of business will stifle true innovation in the world of in vitro meat, and consolidate power and money in the holdings of only the most powerful companies.  Below are some pictures of whiteboard diagrams and brainstorming sessions, where we first came up with the idea of “DRM for in vitro meat”, as well as an early mockup of our proprietary connector.






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Design for Alternative Culinary Futures

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy is proud to announce it’s first open design expo.  We are seeking projects which embody the idea of Design for Alternative Culinary Futures.  The world is a dynamic environment, and our food systems will need to be flexible by necessity.  How do you see them changing?  What events of the near future will shape how we feed the world? 



“Drifters” is a project seeking to explore the food futures of the displaced.  Visions of the future of food tend to focus on feeding the general stable populations, and as of late prominently feature bugs.  And rightly so!  The population is growing, and competition for resources in increasing.  Alternatives are necessary.  But what about those on the bottom rung?  Between natural disasters, war, and other oppressions, there are on average 44 million people displaced in the world, all of whom must be fed.  Our current food production methods are unsustainable for even our current population, so what happens when the population continues to increase and resources are even further constrained?

The year is 2064, and the effects of climate change have begun to wreak havoc on the planet, notably the low-lying coastal regions.  Millions in the United States have been forced from their homes due to rising sea levels, and government relief efforts are feeding a significant portion of the population.  However, a combination of resource limits and strict global carbon emission regulations have forced a change in eating habits.  The high production and resource cost of typical livestock has become untenable for both producer and consumer, and the carbon and waste produced by industrialized farming systems of the past fails to meet regulatory standards.    
The country, and much of the world, has been forced to implement alternative measures to feed their populations under duress.  Consumption of bugs has finally gained traction out of necessity, but it is the rise of plankton that has truly allowed for economical and sustainable method of food production.  As the government delivers millions of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), people find traditional recipes like Pot Luck Pie or Baghdad Chili replaced with Krill Burritos and Plankton Fried Rice.  Plankton are vitamin rich and high in protein, while requiring much fewer resources to produce than a standard beef-based meal.  

This project imagines how we begin to feed the millions of people who lack the stability and infrastructure to feed themselves.  On the move, in hostile territory or refugee camps, this is a population easily forgotten about.  But they still need the same nutrition anyone else is fortunate enough to get.  We are attempting to design for the culinary future of the displaced.  


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Plankton Fried Rice MRE.  Consists of 1/2 cup dehydrated brown rice, rice flavoring, dehydrated vegetables, zooplankton topping, nut & bug energy bar, dried fruit, 3 candies, and 1tsp spirulina powder to mix with water.



Spirulina powder, under the usb microscope.  Looks familiar but strangely alien, almost like a landscape.  Very lichen-esque.



Reef phytoplankton under the usb microscope.  Looked completely devoid of any life.  Probably too microscopic.



When you say plankton, most people think of whales, who filter plankton out of the water with baleen.  I made myself some baleen.  It was not as effective for me.



A future in which endless tanks of plankton are grown in place of our industrial farmlands.  Based on current estimates of average farm size in the US and spirulina production per square meter, an average-sized farm could produce 10,000kg of plankton per day under optimal conditions.

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I ordered an MRE online, which missed its delivery date to my house twice, so I never got it.  That was unfortunate as examining and eating the MRE was going to be one of my main experiments, and really guide my design of a new MRE.  I had to make do without it and design my own from scratch.


Dried spirulina adds vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, E, K Iron, and Manganese to any meal.  Provides a large energy boost in smoothies or juices.



Brown rice with bell pepper, topped with spirulina and soy sauce.  The taste is actually pretty nice.  Spirulina has a very distinct flavor, but can easily become a common cooking ingredient with the right recipes.



Scholarly papers:

  • Moore, PG. “Popularizing Marine Natural History in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century Britain.” The Society for the History of Natural History 41.1 (2014). Print.
  • Shor, Elizabeth Noble. “Oceanography Is Fun: A Glimpse of the Expeditions.” Scripps Institute of Oceanography: Probing the Oceans 1936 to 1976 (1978): 389-420. Print.
  • Caron, David, and David Hutchins. “The Effects of Changing Climate on Microzooplankton Grazing and Community Structure: Drivers, Predictions and Knowledge Gaps.” Journal of Plankton Research 35.2 (2012). Print.



  • Adam Greer – Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Georgia – Biological oceanography
  • Candice Machikas – Marine Science – University of South Carolina
  • Commenters on reddit.com/r/military


Plankton Update Pt. 2

Plankton research continues.  This week I received some freeze-dried zooplankton and liquid phytoplankton in the mail.  I’m still deciding exactly how and what to cook with them, and I also want to make sure this random plankton I ordered off Amazon isn’t going to make me sick.  The zooplankton is certainly pungent.  I also have a few other experiments in the works.  I’m doing some sketching and modeling of plankton, and am researching the nets used to harvest plankton.  I’m not sure if that’s something I’ll be able to accurately recreate, but I’ll find out.  I’ve also been researching MREs and their makeup, from army recipes to the DIY meals that doomsday preppers make.  I want to get an idea about where plankton would fit in these meals nutritionally.  Would they be able to hold up to their role as an entree, or is it more likely they’re relegated to snack bars as a more supplementary food?  I have an actual MRE on the way, which I’ll be eating, as well as some extra heating packets to cook up my own MRE.

I’ve been in touch with some people whose work has involved plankton.  I’m currently in email correspondence with Adam Greer, a postdoc candidate studying the population and reproduction of zooplankton in coastal environments, as well as their interaction with fish larvae – all very important considerations should large-scale plankton farming take place.  Adam will be a great resource for scientific questions about plankton.  But what about eating them?  The restaurant Aponiente in Spain is one of the only establishments in the world serving plankton, and doing it at a sophisticated level.  I am waiting on responses concerning response and attitudes from people eating plankton, preparation techniques and nutritional content, and sustainability considerations.  I also asked them about how they would approach designing a plankton meal for the masses vs an expensive, Michelin-minded dish.  I hope they answer that.

Aponiente (as far as I can tell) get their algae from Easy Algae, an industrial plankton-growing operation also in Spain.  They responded telling me they would put me in touch with the right department, but I am waiting on that confirmation.  I will reach out tomorrow if I still haven’t heard back.  I also contacted Kevin Gianni of Renegade Health after seeing the linked article.  He’s a new-age health promoter (which will have it’s pluses and minuses here I suppose) but he clearly has experience eating phytoplankton, so he should be a great person to talk to (assuming he writes back, but I am confident of that).

The one person I have yet to hear from is Prof. Geoffrey Moore, who discovered the old research where UK scientists made plans to potentially feed the population on plankton during WWII.  He is the person I’d like to speak to most, but it’s been hard to track him down.  I found an email that may or may not be active, as well as a profile on ResearchGate (where I contacted Adam).  Time will tell if I hear back.


But, that’s some progress. Some photos:

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Plankton Update

Research has begin into my first Temporary Expert topic, plankton.  One new fact I quickly learned was that plankton are not taxonomically classified, they are ecologically classified.  Plankton can be animalsprotistsarchaeaalgae, or bacteria that inhait the pelagic zone, a zone that is neither near the bottom or shore of any body of water (plankton inhabit salt and freshwater).  They live in the water column, but have no control over their horizontal movement.  While some can move themselves vertically, like jellyfish, they are completely at the mercy of the current.

In doing some thought exercises, I realized plankton itself is a metonymy.  People say plankton meaning any number of things, but typically thinking of something like krill or corepods (zooplankton) – tiny, aimless drifters in the sea.  But there are phytoplankton, single celled organisms turning light and oxygen into energy, for zooplankton to eat.  Small but irreplaceable links in an incredible food chain.  There are also organisms like salp, which chain tens to hundreds of themselves together to form long floating strings in the open ocean.

Plankton are everything – single celled, complex, plant, bacteria, animal, drifters, propulsionists, carnivores, cannibals, vegetarian, autotrophs, microscopic, extremophile… it almost doesn’t seem like a scientific classification at all.

While plankton make up a crucial link in the food chain, providing sustenance for everything from fish larvae to the largest mammals in the world, they are a relatively unexplored food source for humans.  Plankton exist in the same model as insects, but even less popular: an easily producible source of food, low on required resources, where hundreds or thousands of organisms are consumed instead of a part of a larger, extremely resource intensive food.  I’ve been interested in the idea of bugs as a source of food for humans for a while now, so it’s not wholly surprising I’m going in that direction.  But one finding in particular drove home this desire.

In 1940s era England, in the throngs of WWII, plans were made and trials conducted by several academics to feed the population on plankton harvested from the Scottish sea lochs should food supplies be cut off.  Most people scoff and the notion of eating plankton in good times, but we all know it would get eaten under more dire circumstances.  It’s a viable food – can we convince people to eat it now?  Do we need to?  Meal, Ready to Eat, or “MREs” are individual food packets used by the military to feed soldiers in environments where regular cooking isn’t possible.  What happens if, due to human action, traditional cooking and eating habits are no longer possible?  Us land dwellers are in the minority on Earth, and for all of our supposed familiarity, the sea is a mostly unexplored resource.  More dire circumstances may force us to turn to resources we currently shy away from.  Maybe this near-dystopian future requires we survive on an MRE based heavily around plankton, harvested from our seas by government-manned trawlers. It’s a topic I intend on exploring.  Contact Geoffrey Moore, British scientist who discovered those long-lost plans, is a great first step.  I also need to contact people well-versed in the nutrition content of plankton, as well as current MREs.

Experiments may include but are not limited to: Modeling and printing larg(er) scale plankton, buying growing dried plankton, crafting a meal out of plankton, making my own MRE to try to live off, making baleen to filter plankton from water, etc.  Some note pages and sketches are below.  I’m really excited about this project.


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