Book Review: The Circle

David Egger’s The Circle is a fun take on a fictional evil version of Google, a company obsessed with knowing everything to the point where it actively villifies privacy and anonymity. Our protagonist Mae takes a job at the tech giant and is slowly indocrinated into their crazy kool-aid corporate culture. The prose was snappy and the pacing was pretty great – it’s a very readable and clever take on privacy issues and how readily we’re willing to trade off our rights for security and service personalization. I really enjoyed this one and have recommended it to friends.

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Hard to have too much discussion about the mechanics of the book without spoiling things, but Mae is subjected to a kind of “slow boil”, where she’s willing to give up more and more of her privacy for nifty benefits like real-time healthcare monitoring and office prestige. At first the trade-offs are sneakily sensible, Eggers decribes cameras saving lives in conflict zones, and kidnap-proofing babies with microchips. By the third act she’s deeply embroiled in transparency culture, but I felt like Eggers lost me along the way – I had hoped he’d continue to rationalize away her resistance but at one point she chugs the kool-aid with such gusto it’s difficult empathise with her decisions through the rest of the novel. In fact, Eggers needs Mae to make a series of ridiculous decisions to let The Circle’s menacing master plan unfold, so I get why things unspool the way they do, but I think there was a missed opportunity to seduce the reader into playing along a little further than he did.

The only ‘voice of reason’ in the novel is her semi-paranoid survivalist ex-boyfriend, which I think was a clever calculated move by the author to make rational arguments feel a bit over the top and easy to dismiss. In fact it’s hilarious how insular and co-operative Egger’s world for Mae is – even the most innocent products offered by The Circle would have real-life modern-day privacy advocates storming the barricades with wirecutters to shut the whole thing down.

The book has inspired me to consider a bunch of privacy-themed art projects, but it’s been a busy summer – I’ll see if I can get any actually done. 🙂 Online privacy is something I think about often and there’s so many discussions we need to have about what we’re okay with as a society.

See-through Reptiles

I think cleared and stained specimens are really fascinating – this is collage from a tiny reptile that was in a jar on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto – it’s a bit morbid maybe but the organic shapes of the skeleton are so strange and alien. It’s amazing to be able to look into a creature and learn from it’s biology.

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Green for Spring

We’re getting snowed on again, March 31st. I’m not as sensitive to the weather as a lot of my friends, but I’m done with Winter and wish it would move along so I could get on with my garden plans for Spring. Just to keep our minds focused on the greenery of the near future – here’s a backlit Peace Lily picture I snapped.

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Setting the date on a Honeywell RTH7400 Thermostat

My Honewell RTH7400 somehow time-travelled a day into the future, and it turns out you have to “hack” it to fix the date on a hidden diagnostic menu. Full credit to Daniel from Bowerstudios.com for the solution. RTH7400

  1. Select System
  2. Press and Hold Fan
  3. Should see 0120 with setting 20 blinking
  4. Press next to 0130, this is the year
  5. Press next to 0140, this is the month
  6. Press next to 0150, this is the day
  7. Press Done.

I’ve also grabbed the PDF instruction manual for the RTH7000-series in case you find it handy!

35mm Slide Archiving Project

I’m in the process of wrapping up a bunch of ongoing projects to free up some time this spring.

When my grandparents passed away I inherited my family’s box of old slides. For more than 20 years now I’ve been working on a way to scan them – but scanners 10-15 years ago weren’t very good, slide scanners were really precise but slow (there were about 2000 slides!) and the various photo apparatus and projection capture systems were all clunky or costly, especially transferring slides to film negatives, which cost a fortune to get developed.

Along came digital, and for a while it was “close but not quite good enough” resolution. Last year I bought a new Canon DSLR (the T5i) with an insane sensor on it, and finally, after years of trying to find an effective way to digitize all of the slides, the tech allowed me to put together a super simple workflow.

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I built a light table using a piece of fogged white acrylic and a fluorescent tube (daylight and incandescent balanced so there’s no colour cast) and laid the slides down on it. I have a loupe so I could quickly cull the boring ones and the ones that weren’t in focus (like nearly half! We forget how hard getting sharp photos was before multi-sensor autofocus!).

Then I’d shoot them with my macro lens – snap, snap, snap. A little cropping and colour correcting script in Photoshop finished the job, and voila – high-res digital scans of my family’s slide collection. I did the entire batch in a weekend.

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That’s me in the pink hat, chillin’ in a castle in 1978. (My Great Aunt? Dad, Mom, Grandmother pushing me, and Grandfather)

A few observations from the process:

  • The photos people find most interesting are the ones with people in them. My grand-dad was a shutterbug who snapped a lot of birds and airplanes and stuff but 40 years later the ones people are excited to see are the ones with their kids and visitors from overseas and funky fashions. It sped things up to prioritize the photos based on subject.
  • I was warned explicitly as a kid to never touch the slide surfaces, but I have to assume some finger-touching must have occurred. 40 years on there’s no sign of fingerprint corrosion on any of the photos, I think the slides are physically pretty robust. Chemically though – everything is transitioning into purplish hues, and I had to do some extensive colour-correction wizardry to keep the greens and yellows vibrant.
  • The slides were very disorganized when I started – but I found a fast trick for sorting them. Slides would have been processed 24 at a time (usually 1 roll per family event) at different film development shops based on location, so when I separated Blacks from Kodak from Fujimatic just based on the logos on the slide borders, I inadvertently sorted them chronologically. Kodak England slides were unilingual, while the Canadian ones were bilingual – little characteristics that helped me group everything up without having to determine which island a palm tree species might be from. 🙂