Categories
Computational Media Fall 2015

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

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.

OVERALL TRENDS

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.

arab-map

THE LEGAL CLIMATE

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:

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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 WORD ABOUT THE DATA

*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.

Categories
Computational Media Fall 2015

ICM Project Proposal: Mapping jailed journalists.

arab-world

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:

 

 

Categories
Computational Media Fall 2015

Cast magicks on internet trolls.

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Lately I’ve noticed something strange: Conversations about technology often locate themselves in the realm of the magical or the supernatural.

The sci-fi genre is replete with descriptions of machines that use language linked to animism, magic, witchcraft, the occult, and ghosts. In William Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi novel Neuromancer, the protagonist Case describes the posthuman body as “data made flesh,” a reference to Christian ontology and Jesus’ divine personhood.

These types of metaphors reaffirm one of the central assumptions at the core of the sci-fi genre: Breathing life into a machine is not far off from breathing life into a human body.

Similarly, the language used by today’s Silicon Valley tech kingpins reveals patterns in their thinking that link artificial intelligence to animism. “With artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon,” remarked Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a 2014 MIT symposium. “You know those stories where there’s a guy with the pentagram, and the holy water, and he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.”

In a wonderful blog post entitled “Living with our Daemons,” Ingrid Burrington reminds us that Musk’s invocation of a metaphor to the supernatural is actually standard fare in the digital age. We’ve been living with so-called ghosts on the internet for a long time: Software wizards walk us through software installations, apps work “like magic,” and emails bounce back into our inbox from the mysterious MAILER-DAEMON. Evidently the tech world loves a good ghost story.

With that in mind, I decided to make a funny little game in p5.js in which users are prompted to “cast spells” on their internet enemies. Our assignment was to use some external media source in the sketch.

Check out my game here. 

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The code for the game was fairly simple: I used dom elements to create buttons and capture video from a webcam.

Here’s the full code:

I’m satisfied with the way the project turned out. Here’s a video of someone (me) interacting with the interface:

Categories
Computational Media Fall 2015

First p5.js sketch using the NYT API.

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This week’s assignment was to create a sketch that employs an external data source. I had done this in one of my last assignments, where I was pulling data information from a CSV file to visualize the changing water levels in Lake Powell.

For this week’s project, I decided to work with the New York Times’ API to pull the NYT’s weekly Best Sellers list. I wanted to create a simple search so that users could see what the most popular books were on their birthday. Unfortunately, the API only allows you to pull data as early as 2008 but I decided to finish the project anyway.

See the final sketch here.

Before getting too deep into the project, I decided to make sure the NYT’s API was easy to use with ample documentation. Unlike the Goodreads API (which I’d spent a few hours playing around with), the NYT API is pretty intuitive and easy to use. It has a Best Sellers API that you can use after you’ve obtained the appropriate API key.

The URL that gets called each time a user searches is this:

http://api.nytimes.com/svc/books/v2/lists/overview.json?published_date=2012-11-18&api-key=f175980bb4d8913503354046d03a662b:4:56111762

Before writing any code, I had to construct the URL so that the input, which is a date (2012-11-18), gets wedged into the middle of the url.Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.25.02 PM

 

 

Then in the function setup (), I created a button and a search bar. I also called a new function returnData() which pulls the data as soon as the mouse is pressed.

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The function returnData() constructs the URL as dataString and loads the JSON file. A JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, is a programming language that parses and translates data into JavaScripts objects and arrays. The loadJSON() function takes two parameters: the URL (dataString) and what you’re telling the sketch to draw once you have the data (gotData).Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.38.10 PM

 

 

Finally, the function gotData() is defined. Figuring out how to get the right data from the JSON file was tricky. The JSON file provides a series of objects and arrays nested in each other. There’s a lot of information to work with for each book: The title, the author, the publish date, an image of the cover, the price, the ISBN, the publisher, the contributor, the list, etc.

I decided I just wanted my function to pull pictures of the front covers of each book. To do so, I had to first create an empty array and push the URLs for the image into the new array. I printed the array to make sure it worked!

Next, I needed to use the p5.dom library in order to get the appropriate images from the URLs. I was introduced to the function createImg(), which creates images from the URL that appears in the parameter.Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.41.11 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 1.02.15 PMThat’s it! I got the search working. There were several lingering issues with the sketch that I didn’t have enough time to resolve, namely:

  1. There are duplicate book covers. Because I didn’t specify which Best Seller list to display, it’s displaying all of them at once. As such categories like hardcover_fiction and ebook_fiction are going to have repeats.
  2. The book covers aren’t wrapping. The books appear in a straight line because we added ‘inline-block’ to the display style, but the books do not wrap in order to fit within the canvas.
  3. The dates only go back to 2008. This is the only data the NYT API provided.
  4. The input is awkward. Entering in a date with the format YYYY-MM-DD is unwieldy. I would need to create three dropdowns or inputs so that users could enter the date information more easily.

See my full code here.

Categories
Computational Media Fall 2015

The photobooth: An interactive film using p5.dom.

In class on Thursday, we were introduced to the powerful dom library in p5. According to the p5 reference article about p5.dom, the library allows you to interact with HTML5 objects, including video, audio, text, and your webcam.

I was immediately interested in trying a first pass at making an interactive film in which the user could click a button to jump to another film. I knew that I wanted to make some kind of super cut using p5.dom.

Here’s an unfinished, unpolished version of my sketch. I’m still working on it.

I was inspired by the Bob Dylan music video for “Like a Rolling Stone” in which users could “channel surf” as different individuals sing the lyrics to his song. I also was thinking a lot about video artist Christian Marclay’s art installation The Clock, a 24-hour montage of hundreds of film clips that make real-time references to the time of day. The video clips are all tied by one thing: The presence of a clock and/or time. The result is an eerie, fragmentary portrait of what one day looks like in the movies.

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I also wanted to access the webcam in some way. I’m taking my cues from Paul Ford’s insanely well-written and lengthly Bloomberg piece “What is Code,” which accesses your webcam and automatically prints a PDF certificate of completion with your picture when you have completed the 38,000-word article.

With that in mind, I wanted to combine both ideas and build a photobooth. You can switch between disparate clips of characters using a traditional photo booth in different movies by clicking the button “span time.” You can press “play” or “pause” to stop the film:

movieButton = createButton(‘play’);
movieButton.position(700, 500);
movieButton.mousePressed(toggleVid);

 

 

 

Categories
Computational Media Fall 2015

Water elevation in Lake Powell.

85521.ngsversion.1422286517028.adapt.676.1Photograph by Michael Melford, National Geographic Creative

I’ve been living in Utah for the last six years, give or take, and my friends and I have spent a lot of time exploring southern Utah national and state parks.

One of the most iconic bodies of water in the region is Lake Powell, a reservoir on the Colorado River that straddles both Utah and Arizona. Lake Powell is best known for its orange-red Navajo Sandstone canyons, clear streams, diverse wildlife, arches, natural bridges, and dozens of Native American archeological sites.

Since its 1963 creation, Lake Powell has become a major destination for the two million visitors it attracts annually. You can see why we love spending time there:

10590510_10154540007750624_787829644479667926_nPhotograph by my friend Kelsie Moore.

10532870_10154540023060624_3323817325450871258_nPhotograph by my friend Kelsie Moore.

Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., storing 24,322,000 acre feet of water when completely full. The lake acts as a water storage facility for the Upper Basin States (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico) but it must also provide a specified annual flow to the Lower Basin States (Arizona, Nevada, and California).

Recent drought has caused the lake to shrink so much, however, that what once was the end of the San Juan River has become a ten-foot waterfall, according to National Geographic. As of 2014, reservoir capacities in Lake Powell were at 51% and the nearby Lake Mead was at 39%.

Drought has really reshaped the Colorado River region. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years in the southwest region, ranging from “severe” to “extreme” to “exceptional” depending on the year. You can see how drastically the landscape has changed over the past decade by taking a look at this series of natural-color images taken by a the Landsat series of satellites.

This week in ICM, we’re learning how to use objects and arrays in javascript. I wanted to produce a simple data visualization that displayed historical data about the water elevation in Lake Powell since its creation in the 1960s. I also knew that I wanted to use some kind of organic sound in the visualization, exploring p5.sound library.

See the final visualization here.

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I found a database online that contained the information I needed and I created a CVC file that detailed the year in one column and the elevation values in another column.

At first, I envisioned an animated visualization that snaked across the screen and split into fractals as you cycled through each year in the database. I liked the idea of having the design mimic the structure of the Colorado River. Here was my initial sketch:

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I started playing around with the code and was able to produce an array of values from the CVC file. For instance, I created an array “elevation[]” that pulled the water elevation value for a given year. I wrote some code that allowed me to cycle through the years:

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After getting the years to cycle chronologically, I made an animation of a white line moving across the screen. For each new year, I wanted to draw a bar extending from the white line that helped visualize how the water levels were changing from year to year.

I created a function Bar () and gave it some parameters for drawing each of the bars.

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After defining the function, I started the animation by typing bar.display () with the specified parameters under function draw (). The bars were now a new object.

Next, I wanted to add sound to the visualization. I thought about a few different organic sounds: rainfall, rivers flowing, thunder, etc. In the end, I found a field recording of a thunderstorm in southern Utah and I immediately fell in love with the sound.

Every time a new year started, I introduced a 20-second clip of the sound so that over time you can hear the rolling thunder. I added some brown noise to sit underneath the sound file and some oscillation effects.

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When a new year starts, a new sound file plays, layering over the last sound. When the visualization finishes, the sound disconnects.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 12.16.14 PMScreen Shot 2015-10-08 at 12.16.21 PMHere’s a video of the visualization:

Overall, I liked how this sketch turned out, but I had some major problems with this visualization.

First off, I think that the data I obtained (water elevation values by year) told a much less dramatic story than I had expected. I realized as I was doing research for this blog post that during droughts, it’s not the reservoir levels that experience the most dramatic decline, but the outflux of water is reduced significantly. I think that if I were to do this project again, I would have spent more time researching the data set I wanted to use.

Second, I really didn’t love the simple animated graph I produced. Yes, it told the story in a straightforward way, but I really wanted to produce a fractal/river shape that was more visually compelling than just straight lines. I couldn’t figure out how to do it in time so I might try doing it for a future project.

I think that adding the sounds made this visualization much more interesting and I want to keep exploring the p5.soundLibrary for future sketches.