Building An Army Of Faux Cameras In The Name Of Art

After taking mental note of the number of surveillance cameras pointed at him while standing in line at the local Home Depot, [Mac Pierce] was inspired to create A Scanner Darkly. The art installation uses beams of light projected by mock security cameras to create a dot-matrix character display on the opposing wall, which slowly blinks out US surveillance laws and regulations.

[Mac] has put together an extensive behind the scenes look at how he created A Scanner Darkly, which among other things covers the incredible time and effort that went into producing the fifteen identical cameras used to project the 3×5 grid. Early on he decided on 3D printing each one, as it would give him complete control over the final result. But given their considerable size, it ended up taking 230 hours and 12 kilograms of PLA filament to print out all the parts. It took a further 55 hours to sand and paint the camera housings, to make sure they didn’t actually look like they’d been 3D printed.

Internally, each camera has an off-the-shelf LED flashlight that’s had its power button rigged up to an ESP8266. Once they’ve been manually pointed to the appropriate spot on the wall, [Mac] can turn each camera’s spotlight on and off over WiFi. Rather than rely on the gallery’s infrastructure, all of the cameras connect to the ESP32 M5Stack that serves as the central controller via ESP-Now.

From there, it was just a matter of writing some code that would load a text document from the SD card, convert the current character into a 3×5 array, and then command the appropriate cameras to turn their lights on or off. [Mac] has not only provided the STL files for the 3D printed camera, but the client and server Arduino code to control the lights. Combined with his excellent documentation, this makes A Scanner Darkly something of a viral art piece; as anyone with the time and appropriate tools can either duplicate the installation or use it as a base for something new.

While some will no doubt argue that [Mac] could have completed this project far faster had he just modified some commercial dummy cameras, it’s important to remember that as an artist, he had a very specific look in mind for A Scanner Darkly. This project is a perfect example of how a creator’s passion can take an idea to new heights, and we think the end result proves it’s worth the time and sweat to put in the extra effort.

Continue reading “Building An Army Of Faux Cameras In The Name Of Art”

Hackaday Links Column Banner

Hackaday Links: May 17, 2020

Consider it the “Scarlet Letter” of our time. An MIT lab is developing a face mask that lights up to alert others when the wearer has COVID-19. The detection technology is based on sensors that were developed for the Ebola virus scare and uses fluorescently tagged DNA fragments freeze-dried onto absorbent strips built into the mask. The chemistry is activated by the moisture in the sputum expelled when the wearer coughs or sneezes while wearing the mask; any SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the sputum bind to the strips, when then light up under UV. The list of problems a scheme like this entails is long and varied, not least of which is what would possess someone to willingly don one of these things. Still, it’s an interesting technology.

Speaking of intrusive expansions of the surveillance state, Singapore is apparently now using a Boston Dynamics Spot robot to enforce social-distancing rules in its public parks and gardens. The familiar four-legged, bright yellow dog-bot is carrying cameras that are relaying images of park attendees to some sort of image analysis program and are totally not capturing facial or personal data, pinky swear. If people are found to be violating the two-meter rule, Spot will bark out a prerecorded reminder to spread out a bit. How the system differentiates between people who live together who are out getting some fresh air and strangers who should be staying apart, and whether the operators of this have ever seen how this story turns out are open questions.

Those who lived through 9/11 in the United States no doubt remember the deafening silence that descended over the country for three days while every plane in the civil aviation fleet was grounded. One had no idea how much planes contributed to the noise floor of life until they were silenced. So too with the lockdown implemented worldwide to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, except with the sometimes dramatic reduction in pollution levels. We’ve all seen pictures where people suddenly realize that Los Angeles isn’t necessarily covered by an orange cloud of smog, and that certain mountain ranges are actually visible if you care to look. But getting some hard data is always useful, and these charts show just how much the pollution situation improved in a number of countries throughout the world after their respective lockdowns. For some cities, the official lockdown was a clear demarcation between the old pollution regime and the new, but for some, there was an obvious period before the lockdown was announced where people were obviously curtailing their activity. It’s always interesting pore over data like this and speculated what it all means.

While the in-person aspects of almost every conference under the sun have been canceled, many of them have switched to a virtual meeting that can at least partially make up for the full experience. And coming up next weekend is Virtually Maker Faire, in the slot where Bay Area Maker Faire would normally be offered. The call for makers ends today, so get your proposals in and sign up to attend.

And finally, there aren’t too many times in life you’ll get a chance to get to visualize a number so large that an Evil Empire was named for it. The googol, or 10100, was a term coined by the nine-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner when he asked the child for a good name for a really big number. To put the immensity of that number into perspective, The Brick Experiment Channel on YouTube put together an improbably long gear train using Lego pieces we’ve never seen before with a reduction ratio of 10103.4:1. The gear train has a ton of different power transmission elements in it, from plain spur gears to worm drives and even planetary gears. We found the 2608.5:1 harmonic gear particularly fascinating. There’s enough going on to keep even a serious gearhead entertained, but perhaps not for the 5.2×1091 years it’ll take to revolve the final gear once. Something, something, heat-death of the universe. [Ed note: prior art, which we were oddly enough thinking of fondly just a few days ago. Synchronicity!]

Hacking And Philosophy: Surveillance State

hnpss

If you don’t live under a rock (though you may want to now) you probably saw yesterday’s article from Spiegel that revealed the NSA has its own catalog for spy gadgets. Today they released an interactive graphic with the catalog’s contents, and even if you’re not a regular reader of Hacking & Philosophy, you’re going to want to take a look at it. I recommend glancing over IRATEMONK, in the “Computer Hardware” category. As the article explains, IRATEMONK is

An implant hidden in the firmware of hard drives from manufacturers including Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung that replaces the Master Boot Record (MBR).

It isn’t clear whether the manufacturers are complicit in implanting IRATEMONK in their hardware, or if the NSA has just developed it to work with those drives. Either way, it raises an important question: how do we know we can trust the hardware? The short answer is that we can’t. According to the text accompanying the graphic, the NSA

…[installs] hardware units on a targeted computer by, for example, intercepting the device when it’s first being delivered to its intended recipient, a process the NSA calls ‘interdiction.’

We’re interested to hear your responses to this: is the situation as bleak as it seems? How do you build a system that you know you can trust? Are there any alternatives that better guarantee you aren’t being spied on? Read on for more.

Continue reading “Hacking And Philosophy: Surveillance State”