[-empyre-] Transborder Tool

Brett Stalbaum stalbaum at ucsd.edu
Mon Apr 26 11:27:21 EST 2010

Hi Claudia, and thanks for the post. I wanted to add a few words  
regarding the technical aspects of the platform.

On Apr 24, 2010, at 12:50 PM, Claudia Costa Pederson wrote:

> It is a difficult work to discuss with students born around
> the time that the Zapatista uprisings were taking place.  That said
> students were dismayed at the recent developments relating to the
> transborder tool, which they see relating to the events around CAE's
> bioterrorist case. To their mind these works are not so much about
> producing working tools, but interventions in the border politics of
> immigration and the interdisciplinary turn of the university. I  
> should say
> that most of these students are in the sciences. Their immediate  
> concern
> is whether the Transborder tool works as a practical aid to immigrants
> crossing, and if not, they see the reaction of the USD managers as
> excessive.  Technical research, as they see it in general ought to be
> subject to equal standards.

The key technical question that the research project is asking is  
whether sub $20 phones can be made useful for emergency navigation.  
Current indications are that the early generation of the platform we  
have most targeted probably can be made reasonably useful in a better- 
than-nothing-else scenario, though there are concerns about their  
dependability in terms of consistent GPS reception when the phone is  
off-network. (Long technical story here - these "early" phones depend  
in part on their network to get a GPS fix, but can do it with some  
obvious difficulty off-network. We have a partial solution for this...  
a "low gps" mode of operation.)

Importantly: latter generations of phones that don't (yet) cross that  
price barrier are already proving to be *fully* useful as practical  
aids without even a SIM card installed or network service being  
available in the area! As in, with proper use (turn off transmitters  
to save battery) the GPS performance of these newer phones (3 or 4  
years on the market already) is *just as capable* as any GPS designed  
for back country navigation, and their used prices are falling. GPS  
itself does not require service and has free global coverage courtesy  
of the United States. Fully capable of directing a lost person to a  
nearby safety site dependably and accurately, I would trust these  
later mobiles 100% in such an emergency. Seriously. Indeed, because we  
can write the software and deploy it to these GPS platforms, we are  
able to fine tune the application to the needs of lost migrants.

So this is an important question for your students: practical for  
what? The TBT software is designed specifically for short-distance  
emergency navigation addressing the "last mile" problem of finding  
local safety sites. Many immigrants have died within mere hundreds of  
meters from maintained water stations, due to issues of terrain and  
the severe cognitive effects of dehydration. We are trying to create a  
platform that does one thing very well: help find emergency resources  
in a small region (say a 10 Kilometer radius from your current  
location at the time of emergency) with maximum, redundant cognitive  
support (screen, audio and haptics...) as well as moral support for  
dehydrated, tired people. I will argue that these latter generation of  
phones actually hold the advantage for short distance use over outdoor  
devices from Garmin, Magellan and others, specifically because we can  
design the UI to focus on this particular problem.

By the way, the outdoor GPS devices from Garmin and Magellan are  
indeed "useful aids" for the *long distance* overland orienteering  
required to walk into the United States. Further, they are readily  
available at Walmart and Best Buy in Mexico, and as you mention, these  
have been used for a long time in border crossings! Ironically,  
capitalism has already long ago accomplished what the atavistic right  
and its neo-liberal administration find themselves in a panic about!  
Increasingly (see my last post) it may become necessary to raise  
questions regarding their competence in terms of understanding our  
technology, and sadly possibly even understanding the technology they  
currently administering. (Going to UCOPs mistaken diagnosis of a  
virtual sit-in as a botnet attack.) In any case, they have not  
bothered to understand what our project actually is, even though we  
have explained it to UCSD auditors in great detail. Whether this  
misunderstanding is willful in support of a political agenda or based  
in an incapacity to understand GPS and software design is perhaps yet  
to be determined.

>  In any case, GPS enabled
> technologies are used by border patrol and smugglers already.

We have an announcement. We are beginning to work on an Android  
version for such times as Android handsets become low cost surplus  
items. This can be from 5 to 10 years... the earliest platform we  
targeted is 2003 technology and it is that which has slipped down to ~ 
$10-20 dollars per used handset. We anticipate that current 3-4 year  
old technology will inevitably slip that far within a few years. And  
we plan to be ready for today's generation of phones as they age too!

Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, LSOE
Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM)
Department of Visual Arts
9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084
La Jolla CA 92093-0084

OFFICE HOURS (Note: these change every quarter)

FALL 2009: Wednesdays, 1-3PM, Mandeville 221 (Near Vis Arts Advising)

WINTER 2009:  Tuesdays, 1-3PM, Mandeville 221 !!!*Moving to VAF, TBA,  
sometime during Winter Quarter*!!!

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