5 Intriguing Things: Tuesday, 12/10

Three-hop authority, rocket engines, the future of retail, the Xerox book, and hand gestures for intellectuals.

1. The NSA can look at metadata "three hops" (or "degrees," if you like Kevin Bacon) away from a target phone number. Simple phone-tree models suggest that a single number could yield a three-hop network of millions of phones. But because there are some numbers that lots of people contact (say, T-Mobile voicemail), the NSA's net could be even larger.

"Our measurements are highly suggestive that many previous estimates of the NSA’s three-hop authority were conservative. Under current FISA Court orders, the NSA may be able to analyze the phone records of a sizable proportion of the United States population with just one seed number.

And by the way, there are tens of thousands of qualified seed numbers."


Roger Hiorns

2. Artist Roger Hiorns makes art about surveillance and depression.

"The sculpture consists of two engines from a decommissioned military surveillance aeroplane. The Boeing EC-135c aircraft was part of a fleet that gathered intelligence as part of an ongoing US initiative codenamed 'Operation Looking Glass', begun in 1961. Contained within the engines is a measure of crushed anti-depressant drugs."


3. This is how companies selling the idea of "the future of retail" are pitching themselves

"For years, online retailers have enjoyed the advantages of web analytics. They understand where visitors enter their sites, what they search for, where they stop, what pages and messages motivate them to buy. By analyzing this information for hundreds or thousands of visitors, e-commerce retailers learn and respond. They optimize page layouts, messages, price points and product lines.

With Brickstream Behavior Intelligence, BehaviorIQ, brick-and-mortar retailers can at last profit from this same level of knowledge. Accurately counting people at the door and tracking their path yields insights to improve store performance, reduce labor costs and improve customer service.

  • What areas did your customers browse?
  • Where did they shop?
  • How long did they stay there?
  • Where did they go next?

In this way, the total customer experience is recorded. When the tracks of all customers are combined, behavior patterns are clearly seen and valuable insights emerge."


Sol Lewitt

4. The 'Xerox book' of photocopier art, 1968.

"We would sit around discussing the different ways and possibilities to show art, different contexts and environments in which art could be shown, indoors, outdoors, books, etc. The 'Xerox book' — I now would prefer to call it the 'Photocopy book', so that no one gets the mistaken impression that the project has something to do with Xerox — was perhaps one of the most interesting because it was the first where I proposed a series of 'requirements' for the project, concerning the use of a standard size paper and the amount of pages the 'container' within which the artist was asked to work. What I was trying to do was standardize the conditions of exhibition with the idea that the resulting differences in each artist’s project or work, would be precisely what the artist’s work was about."


5. A GIF gallery of hand gestures for critical discourse

"The Dialectic. ‘This is a dialectic and I’m going to explain it.’

Grip imaginary six centimetre object between thumb and forefinger. Rotate wrist ninety degrees, snapping into end position. Smoothly rotate back to start. Repeat up to three times depending on conviction.

Use when expressing a shift from one thing to another. Highly infectious."


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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