Internet freedom in the Arab world: An interactive map.

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For my final ICM project, I created an interactive map tracking individuals in the Arab world who had been detained, prosecuted, or harassed by their governments in 2015 because of their online activity.

Check out the map here.*

Data sources: Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2015 report on jailed journalists | Global Voices’ Digital Citizen project

When I had initially proposed this project, I planned to limit the scope of my data to just imprisoned journalists. As I did more research, however, I realized that journalists weren’t the only citizens being actively censored by their governments for the things they said on the internet. Activists, outspoken citizens, bloggers, and gay people are receiving lengthy prison sentences for expressing themselves online. In many cases, individuals are being arbitrarily detained without any clear accusations or charges.


The data for this project came from several sources. First, I combed through the data collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists in its 2015 report on jailed journalists. Second, I consulted Global Voices’ outstanding project Digital Citizen, a biweekly review of human rights in the Arab world. For every individual, I found at least one other piece of journalism online confirming the incident. The result was a long list of individuals who had been detained, prosecuted, physically harassed, or killed by their government between December 2014 – December 2015.


Here’s what is most troubling: The number of individuals being targeted for their online behavior in the Arab world is increasing. According to Freedom House’s 2015 Freedom on the Net Report, in the past year there was a spike in public floggings of liberal bloggers, life sentences for online critics, and beheadings of internet-based journalists in the Middle East.

The report states that in the past year “penalties for online expression reached a new level of severity as both authorities and criminal groups made public examples of internet users who opposed their agenda.” In Egypt, for instance, two journalists received life sentences for their online coverage of a violent government crackdown on a Muslim Brotherhood protest.



With this project, I wanted to explore the factors driving the boost in imprisonments and detainments for online behavior. Specifically, I was interested in how the legal climate and attitudes towards the internet in each of these countries contributes to the problem.

The adoption of sweeping cybersecurity and anti-terrorism laws in 2015 has been cited as one of the major causes of increased imprisonments. This year, Mauritania proposed two draft laws on cybercrime and the information economy that punish “insults” against the government with up to seven years in jail. Tunisia passed a counter-terrorism law that arbitrarily restricts freedom of expression. A new freedom of information act was passed in Sudan that legalizes government censorship. This year Egypt passed a number of cybercrime and anti-terrorism laws that criminalize broad online offenses, allowing the government to crack down on human rights activists. The Jordanian government broadened its legal definition of “terrorism” to include critics who “disturb its relations with a foreign state.” Kuwait adopted a controversial anti-terrorism law. Other countries in the region continue to enforce their cybercrime and anti-terror laws, including the U.A.E., which has been know to give the death penalty for defamation charges.

A quick look at the data suggests that these were the charges most often brought against individuals:


I plan to continue investigating this issue in order to better understand why there has been an uptick in human rights abuses against journalists/internet users/bloggers/activists.


*A major limitation of this data set: It is impossible to have a complete picture of human rights abuses right now. We do not yet have access to information about every detained or imprisoned citizen in the Middle East.

For countries in which there is no rule of law (i.e. Libya and Syria), access to information about killings and detainments is limited. In addition, it’s incredibly difficult to get an accurate read on human rights violations in Israel/Palestine and so data from the country has been temporarily omitted from this map.

I will continue to add additional individuals to the map as the media continues to report on human rights abuses that occurred in the past year.


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Regina and I spent a lot of time creating the assets for this animation. We spent even longer animating in After Effects and editing the sound in Premiere. It was worth the time, though, because I think the final product is close to what we were aiming to do with this story.


The Yellow Wallpaper project.

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For my final project, I constructed an interactive wall that showcases the multiplicity of narratives surrounding women, their pain, and their conflicted relationships with emotion.

I asked several women in my life to record themselves talking about their relationship with sadness and grief. As you touch various points on the wall, it triggers audio clips from those interviews. You can see the progress of this project here and here.

Check out the video:

I was initially inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Published in 1892, the story is written in the style of a diary of a woman who, failing to enjoy the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sent to live in a room alone in the country in an effort to “cure” her ineptitude. She wants to write, but her husband and her doctor forbid it. Confined to her bedroom, the patterns on the faded yellow wallpaper come to life for the protagonist and eventually precipitate her descent into insanity.

Here’s a sampling of some of the things that were said:

“I think there’s a stereotype in our culture that emotions are bad and they are weak.”

“I expect myself to push forward and to be better and to move on.”

“I’ve come up with this theory that it’s best to feel whatever emotion feels most urgent at that time and if it’s sadness then so be it. I think that sitting with sadness and getting to know its roots — it’s huge.”

For the fabrication of the wall, I covered a canvas with some vintage floral wallpaper from the 1920s. I liked that wallpaper is something we associate with domesticity, a quality and a space that has historically been associated with women.Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 7.15.43 PM

As I mentioned last week, behind the canvas is a web of wires connected to the SparkFun Capacitative Touch Sensor Breakout driven by an I2C interface. The Arduino code was drawn largely from example code I found online at bildr for utilizing the touch sensor. Using what we learned about serial communication, I was able to connect a p5.js sketch that plays the appropriate audio interviews when the corresponding flower is touched.IMG_6809

After play testing the wall last week, I decided to also add LED lights behind each flower that turn off when you are touching them. I also added a pair of headphones in order to create an environment in which the participant/listener feels an intimacy with the speaker.

Overall, I was really happy with the quality of the audio that I got and the simplicity of the interaction. My friends and family who recorded themselves were generous and thoughtful. I think that came through when you listen to the audio.

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If I were to do this project again, I would change the fabrication of the wall to make it more elegant and beautiful. Right now the wall has a DIY feel – which I like – but if this were to become a real installation piece it would require some rethinking.

The Yellow Wallpaper: A Progress Report.

Using a large canvas and some vintage yellow wallpaper from the 1920s, I successfully fabricated a working version of my Yellow Wallpaper project.


Behind the canvas, a web of wires poke through the wallpaper at different points where the center of the flowers sit. The central component of my hardware was the SparkFun Capacitative Touch Sensor Breakout driven by an I2C interface. The site offered a hookup guide for the touch sensor that was extremely helpful for the wiring.

I successfully coded the Arduino using some example code I found online at bildr for utilizing the touch sensor. Using what we learned about serial communication, I was able to connect a p5.js sketch that plays the appropriate audio interviews when the corresponding flower is touched.

Right now I only have two audio files but I’m working on getting more stories from friends and recording stories from strangers on Periscope. So far, collecting the audio has been the most rewarding part of this process.

Animation project: Cornelia.

Back in 2011, I worked on an oral history project aimed at collecting stories from individuals who had been displaced by Hurricane Sandy in New York. One of the people I interviewed, a Dutch woman named Cornelia, had been evacuated from her home in Long Beach before the storm hit. During my interview with Cornelia, she told some stories about working in Holland after WWII, living in Paris and meeting her Vietnamese American husband, moving to America, and finally the ordeal of being evacuated from her home.

For our animation project, Regina and I knew that we wanted to animate based on an existing audio interview. We both liked the idea of an elderly person telling a story about their youth – and I remembered my interview with Cornelia.

We plan to animate a story Cornelia told about how she met her husband in Paris and the pains he went through to convince her to marry him. Here is the storyboard we created for the final animation:





ICM Project Proposal: Mapping jailed journalists.


For my final ICM project, I intend to design an interactive map that flags countries where freedom of speech is under attack. Taking data from the year 2015, I will show where journalists were imprisoned around the world.

Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published a comprehensive list of journalists who were imprisoned around the world in 2014 and their perceived offense against their country’s government.

Here is a test map of the MENA region that I began designing a few weeks ago. It’s based on data from Global Voices’ Digital Citizen bi-monthly newsletter about journalists who are imprisoned for the things they post online.

The broader question for me is about how the internet is being used in the Arab world. To no small degree, the spike in internet use and monitorial tools like Periscope and Twitter have empowered activists across the region to organize into collectives to fight abuses of power. The protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, for instance, were organized and promoted on simple social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

In a very optimistic 2005 academic paper “The Internet in the Arab World: Playground for Political Liberalization,” Albrecht Hofheinz suggests that the internet will expand the possibilities of what can be said in public spaces and usher in a new era of liberalization in Middle East countries. While we have witnessed major strides towards greater transparency and democratization in the region due to the internet, there is still a long way to go.

Most shockingly, in recent years the internet has been wielded as a tool for authoritarian regimes to discipline those individuals who are doing the very critical work of reporting human rights abuses as they are occurring. Not only is censorship at an all-time high in many of these countries, but many governments are seeking to pass new cybersecurity laws that would sanction the arrest of journalists speaking out against the government in online spaces.

With my project, I hope to not only visualize where these abuses are occurring, but I would like to give them a name and a face. I would also like to explore the legal statutes and cybersecurity laws that are governing how governments are using the internet in the Middle East. Are these actions sanctioned by the laws? Are lawmakers paying attention to the internet? How will the relationship between the Internet and the Arab world evolve in the coming years?

There are a few projects I will look to for inspiration:



Project Proposal: The Yellow Wallpaper.



“Pain is everywhere and nowhere. Post-​wounded women know that postures of pain play into limited and outmoded conceptions of womanhood…I know these dialects because I have spoken them; I know these post-​wounded narrators because I have written them. I wonder now: What shame are they sculpted from?”

– Leslie Jamison, “A Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” The Empathy Exams

For my final project in pcomp, I intend to explore the narratives we construct surrounding women, pain, and the erasure of the self.

My project was initially inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Published in 1892, the story is written in the style of a diary of a woman who, failing to enjoy the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sent to live in a room alone in the country in an effort to “cure” her ineptitude. She wants to write, but her husband and her doctor forbid it. Confined to her bedroom, the patterns on the faded yellow wallpaper come to life for the protagonist and eventually precipitate her descent into insanity.

For my final project, I will construct a wall covered in yellow, faded floral wallpaper that participants can touch and interact with. When a participant touches an individual flower on the wallpaper, an LED will light up and an audio recording will play. The audio recordings are stories that I will record from women describing their personal experiences with love and pain.

I am still refining the conceptual piece of this project, which is requiring me to talk to many of my friends about what kinds of stories they would find most interesting. For now, these are the questions I’m considering:

  • Tell me about a time when you most felt loved.
  • How long will you let yourself be sad about something? Do you think there is an appropriate timeline?
  • Tell me about a time when you felt the most known.
  • Do you have any wounds from experiences long ago that you still carry around with you?

For the physical interaction, I will use conductive thread and wires behind the wallpaper to connect the center of each flower to a SparkFun capacitive touch sensor, which I have already tested out.

When the flower is touched, the audio plays and the LED turns on. When it is not touched, the audio and LED are off.

Schematic for hooking up the touch sensor:


Here is a link my Bill of Materials (BOM), which is still being updated.

Here is my timeline.timeline



Stop motion animation: Kawaii sushi.

tumblr_mduybmjHVq1qzqwamo1_500Sushi by Benjamin Ang (GIF by Nathan W. Pyle).

My parents are currently living in Tokyo, Japan. This past summer I took a trip to visit them and get a peek at what their life looks like. Knowing my parents and their proclivities for Japanese cuisine, the trip began with a comprehensive tour of Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. I tasted some of the best sushi I’ve ever tasted outside the market. I also was introduced to “kawaii culture” in the form of adorable sushi cartoons with button noses and big eyes.

Kawaii culture, or a love of all things cute and adorable, is a global phenomena that has its origins in Japanese teenage culture. Kawaii is an aesthetic style of making things as cute as possible – even household objects. According to one culture theorist, the “culturally odorless” characteristics of the kawaii movement have made it a global hit, resulting in Japan’s global image shifting from being known for austere rock gardens to being known for its “cute-worship.”

I was surrounded by these kawaii artifacts in Japan and I became interested in how the practice tends to anthropomorphize inanimate household objects such as food.

Example of a sushi animation from Lainey on Vimeo.

When we started discussing what types of materials we would like to include in our stop motion animation, my partner Regina and I decided we wanted to work with food. At first we thought about the different textures of candy and sugar, but finally we fell in love with the idea of using sushi ingredients in an animation in which the sushi “makes” itself.

We thought about the different “characters” that would be involved in the animation: raw salmon, raw octopus, raw tuna, rice balls, sesame seeds, avocados, etc. The characters will be ascribed with human characteristics. For instance, we imagined the octopus to be mischievous, the tuna flirty, and the rice balls authoritative.

Here’s our storyboard for the stop motion video:

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