Watch the Birdie


Most of the publicity regarding cameras hidden in the rooms of paying guests has centered on Airbnb, but conventional hotels have also engaged in spying, as in a recent scandal in South Korea where some hotel staff peddled captured video footage of guests online as pornography. With cameras getting smaller while retaining good lens quality, and storage capacity on digital solid state chips growing larger, for ordinary people the temptation to spy has never been greater. No longer does someone need thousands of dollars and considerable technical knowledge to set up and conceal a surveillance camera or two or three.


Airbnb claims it does not allow cameras, hidden or otherwise, in bathrooms and bedrooms, and that it requires hosts to disclose to guests the locations of any cameras in the more public spaces of rental properties. They allow cameras in spaces such as living rooms and kitchens in the interest of monitoring and protecting the hosts’ property. Airbnb says it’s all there in the rental agreement a guest signs. Hotels have always operated without surveillance cameras officially and knowingly installed in guest rooms. Following the reasoning from Airbnb, their situation is different because the rentals are in privately owned dwellings, where damage and abuse caused by guests can more seriously impact business for each host, who can’t spread out losses over the income from a hundred room hotel.

Eye-Fi Wifi Card
16 GB (GigaBytes) of data storage and wi-fi capability, packed onto a card the size of a person’s thumbnail. There are now cards with 512 GB capacity, which can store several day’s worth of high definition video. Photo by Hegro Berlin.

That’s a good economic point, but not a good moral one. No spying on people in a domestic situation is acceptable. When people are out in actual public spaces, as opposed to the relatively public spaces of a domestic living room, kitchen, or hotel room, they should nonetheless be entitled to complete privacy. Having guests waive their right to privacy by signing off on yet another head spinning legal disclosure, like the multitude of such documents they encounter now, is not acceptable. The choice then becomes either accept spying or do not rent rooms from Airbnb. That could be acceptable as long as Airbnb hosts explicitly and clearly disclose the locations of every camera and show to the guest what the camera is seeing in real time. After the guest’s stay concludes and the host has had the opportunity to assess the property for damages, arrangements can be made between the guest, the host, and Airbnb to destroy the video footage to the satisfaction of all.

Airbnb has undertaken a new business model filling a niche and has apparently been successful with it, but if it cannot ensure guest privacy while also preserving the integrity of host property, the company will see a loss of public trust, and with it a loss of revenue. The latest news stories about spying hosts can’t be good for business. Left unattended, the problem for Airbnb will only get worse.

In the 1960 film Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, owner of the Bates Motel, spies the old-fashioned, low tech way on guest Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh. If by peeping at his guest, Marion, with the same supposed motivation as some Airbnb hosts, Norman was trying to catch her stealing, he was far too late for that. It did not end well for Marion Crane, Norman Bates, or the Bates Motel.

Technological improvements will continue to make cameras smaller and more capable of capturing high quality images in low light; digital storage capacity will continue to increase and be put on ever smaller devices, along with the increasing capacity of wi-fi networks to handle the flow of information; batteries will get smaller and more powerful, allowing tiny cameras to operate without wires, which will make them even easier to hide. All these technological improvements, as always, are amoral in themselves. The question becomes, for people who desire extra income by renting out rooms in their homes, as for all of us, does what technology makes possible mean that we have to use it, even if the technology trespasses on moral boundaries? Just because you can do something, does that mean you should do it?
— Techly


The Gut Puncher


Norovirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis, also known more inexactly as stomach flu, is making an unwelcome visit to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Considering how norovirus thrives in crowded conditions, its appearance in Pyeongchang before the Games even began is a nightmare for organizers, as well as for the poor unfortunates who come down with the illness. One of the names it has become rather unfairly known by is “cruise ship virus”, as if the illness were more prevalent on cruise ships than anywhere else. Norovirus actually afflicts cruise ship passengers no more or less than people existing in similarly crowded conditions elsewhere, but when it strikes on a cruise ship the outbreak attracts notoriety because of reporting requirements in the industry and because changes in the itinerary of cruise ships to offload sick passengers easily become common knowledge.

Rembrandt Saskia in Bed
A Woman Lying Awake in Bed, circa 1635-1640 drawing by Rembrandt (1606-1669).

As much as the cruise ship industry chafes under its unfairly exaggerated association with norovirus, the citizens of Norwalk, Ohio, might have been perturbed that for the last third of the twentieth century their small city not far from Cleveland lent its name to the virus until the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) changed it officially from Norwalk virus to norovirus. An outbreak of the virus at a Norwalk elementary school in 1968 led to the first scientific isolation and identification of it under the microscope, though it had been known to exist from similar outbreaks around the world since at least the 1920s. The history of the virus before then is unknown, which could be due to any number of factors, including the similarity of some of the symptoms to influenza and the low risk of life-threatening complications compared to those brought on by the influenza virus, leading to it not receiving as much notice over the years as influenza, or getting lumped together with it. It is also possible it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that the virus mutated to become the causative agent of misery we recognize it for today, drawing our attention, our fear and loathing, and our research efforts toward a vaccine to limit the suffering.
— Vita


Pushing Buttons


The television remote control is a wonderful device, allowing a television viewer to turn the channel, adjust the volume, and even turn the television off altogether, all from the comfort of a chair or couch across the room. As entertainment components have proliferated in the home, innovators have kept pace with the implementation of the universal remote control to control all of them. The universal remote control of today is to the basic television remote control of yore as wonderfulness squared and then some.
Vietnam War on television
In the old days, a television viewer had to get up from a chair and cross the room to change the channel or turn the TV off in order to avoid unpleasant scenes such as this obviously taped-on picture of Vietnam War footage. Photo from the February 13, 1968 issue of U.S. News & World Report Magazine by Warren K. Leffler.

When the beginning of a National Football League game comes on the television then, and some of the players are kneeling during the National Anthem as a way of protesting police brutality and institutional injustice towards black people, and some people in the home audience are offended by the players’ exercise of their First Amendment rights, there is always the option of using the wonderful hand held device at their side and either turning the channel or turning the television off. For offended people in the stands at the game, the options are different of course, including turning away from the offending sight and riveting their attention on Old Glory, or taking the occasion to visit the food concourse or the restrooms. For our purposes, we will be concerned with the home viewers who vastly outnumber the people willing to put up with the rigmarole of attending an NFL game in person.

Let us suppose that the home viewer has discarded the options of turning the channel or turning the television off using their wonderful remote control, perhaps because the fate of the western world depends on their viewing of the game at hand, and so is left with the spectacle of highly paid professional athletes, many of them black, kneeling during the National Anthem. Never fear!

Firstly, remember that the protest itself is against the police and the judicial system, not the revered Anthem and the Flag, much as Supreme Leader would like to pervert the understanding of the protest to push white America’s jingoistic buttons. If, realizing this, the kneeling is still offensive, remember that the Constitution was written in large part to protect unpopular minority (meaning less than majority in this case, not necessarily differently skinned) expressions from the tyranny of the majority. Yes, it’s in the Constitution that they can do this! God bless America!

Secondly, remember to stand at home during the National Anthem and either salute or place one hand over your heart. Just because a football fan is at home viewing the game, that is no excuse for not showing due respect to Flag and Country during the National Anthem if that is what is so important to them that they are eager to publicly shame others for not doing the same. If you don’t have a flag displayed at home (and you really should), stand and face Washington, DC, or whatever direction indicates the position on the globe of Supreme Leader at the moment. He could be in South Korea just across the line from North Korea, childishly taunting his rival in idiocy, Kim Jong-un!

Heitech Universal remote-3225
The Heitech Universal Remote, one of many wonderful devices available on the open market which, with sage usage by the discerning consumer of entertainment, should shield that consumer from offensive content such as the free exercise of Constitutional rights by black athletes. Photo by Raimond Spekking.

Lastly, remember to take pictures of yourself standing at home for the National Anthem and pass them around for the scrutiny of your friends, neighbors, family, and co-workers. You must pass muster! What use is your sunshine patriotism if no one else notices it? It’s all well and good to be in the stands at the game and boo the kneeling players and berate your fellow citizens who side with them, but for the stay at home football fan there has to be a more influential option than firing off angry emails to the league and the local paper. Take pictures and post them on your social media accounts. Burn your NFL merchandise in the front yard. Lynch Colin Kaepernick in effigy – oh, wait, that’s a little too Ku Klux Klan for the suburbs. Too many echoes.

Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk in 1965’s The Great Race understood the importance of pushing buttons on mechanical devices to achieve desired results, though their efforts didn’t always work out as planned.

You get the idea. There’s one technological hurdle that the wonderful remote control device can’t overcome, and that’s answering the question “Why?” Why, for instance, do grown men (and some women) get so emotionally invested in a game that they have blown a simple political protest out of proportion and selfishly, narcissistically claimed it has ruined their fun? Why is it no one refutes the silly argument about “pampered millionaire athletes”, when after all it was all of us who made them rich, with our misplaced priorities that reward hundreds of jocks with millions of dollars while thousands of talented schoolteachers and others who provide vital services scratch to make a living? Who are we then, after elevating them, to tell these athletes to shut up and play, and why do we think it’s important that they should? Why do the rest of us allow the childishly insecure and testosterone poisoned among us to set the agenda and bully everyone else to follow their foolish commands? Too bad we can’t point a remote control at ourselves for the answers. Meanwhile, if the protests bother you so much that you get your knickers in a twist about them, push a button on your remote control and read a book instead.
― Techly