Some Trivial Language Issues: Part—1

Language issues — Mohammad Tauheed

Some random trivial language issues in Bengali and English in local and international context, I might add more to this post or post separate part-2 later 🙂

Spicy
Please do not use the words “spicy” and “hot” (taste) interchangeably. In Pan-Indian cuisine some food can be very spicy yet not at all hot, and vice versa, some food can be full of chilly pepper however not much other spices, that food is “hot,” not spicy. They are two different words with different tastes and meanings!

পাছে
অনেকের ধারণা, কামিনী রায়ের বহুল প্রচলিত কবিতার “পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে” পংক্তির “পাছে” শব্দের অর্থ “পেছনে,” অথবা পাছে মানে খারাপ কিছু—”পাছে লোকে” মানে খারাপ লোকে—এই ধারণাগুলো ভুল। পাছে মানে “যদি” (lest)। “পাছে লোকে কিছু বলে” মানে “যদি লোকে কিছু বলে!”

পাছে শব্দের সঙ্গে সামনে-পেছনে, বা ভালো-খারাপের কোন সম্পর্ক নাই, এটি কোনো বিশেষণ (adjective) নয়, এটি একটি সংকোচক অব্যয় (conjuction)। 🙏🏼

জামাই
জামাই মানে Son in Law, জামাই মানে Husband না! এই বহুল প্রচলিত শহুরে ভুলটি আমাকে খুব অস্বস্তিতে ফেলে। মানুষ যখন “আমার জামাই” বলে স্বামী বোঝাতে চায় তখন আমি বোঝার চেষ্টা করি ওর মেয়ে হলো কবে, সেই মেয়ের আবার বিয়ে হলো কবে, জামাই পেল কিভাবে এত তাড়াতাড়ি, কদিন আগেই না নিজেই বিয়ে করল! #কিএক্টাবস্থা 🤷🏻‍♂️ 🤦🏻‍♂️

Knock me
বাংলাদেশের বাইরে কোন ইংরেজিতে knock me কথাটা reach out to me, call/text me এগুলো বোঝাতে ব্যবহৃত হয়না। Knock somebody (off) বলতে কাওকে মেরে শুইয়ে দেওয়া বোঝায়। এবং ইংরেজি মাতৃভাষার কাওকে knock me বললে তারা #কিএক্টাবস্থার মধ্যে পড়ে, ঠিক বুঝতে পারে না আপনি কেন মাইর খেতে চাচ্ছেন।

Check out the comments and discussion on my Facebook.

Email Is Among the Least Secured Channels of Communication!

Email vulnerabilities—sketch by Mohammad Tauheed

[I sketched that stupid thing. It is ok to steal, just mention where you stole it from]

Email is an archaic technology that has not been improved much ever since the protocols were created back in the early days of the Internet. Email is among the most frequently used least secured mode of digital communications today.

In general, emails are not encrypted. All emails are stored as open plain text in the server. Anyone (including your web administrator, internet service provider, web-hosting provider, server admins—depending on where it is hosted, and protocol/port it was transferred with) can read and also EDIT all your emails, without even having to know your password. This includes about 99% of emails we use, including Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and specially your office/university/work emails. Typically your work emails are hosted on servers with even weaker infrastructure and security, and they are managed by “semi-professional IT guys;”—yes, they can read and edit all your official emails, and they don’t have to know your password.

Any private communication that is not end-to-end (E2E) encrypted, falls into the shaky territory of trusting the guys who are running the servers. Email protocols—by the way they were originally designed—do not have E2E. Oftentimes, they do not even have a basic TLS (Transfer Layer Security—an encryption protocol that keeps your emails undecipherable “on the way” to and from the servers). No matter what, emails are readable and editable by the person(s) who has access to the server.

I always wonder, how and why emails are often held as authentic legal documents, whereas it is a completely unreliable technology with shabby security and authenticity. By the time a court subpoena an email, it can be already edited without leaving a trace.

Another big issue with email is its authentic ‘origin’—if the email actually came from where it claims to be coming from. There are very limited ways to verify that. You can literally send emails posing as anyone to anyone. A simple PHP mailer script will let you send emails to your friends as if the email is going from [email protected], and you offer them a billion dollar since you have too much money to keep. Over the time there have been some improvements in this front about verifying the origin of an email before it gets delivered to your inbox, however, they are not foolproof, and not universally enforced. These techniques include DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail—a method of using a public signature key for a domain to verify if the email is originating form that domain name, it does not authenticate an email at personal level though,) and SPF (Sender Policy Framework), if you are curious, search and explore more about these technology.

Given that, if you ever receive any email from a “friend” (generally someone using a friend’s email) asking for money or offering you money, asking for some password or OTP code or luring you into downloading and opening an unsolicited attachment, always verify it by an alternative mode of communication other than email, i.e: call them up to check. If they may have “lost their phone,” tell them to call you from a phone booth, before you take any action. “Any action” includes downloading/clicking/opening any attachment “they” send.

There is one not-so-easy way to encrypt your emails end to end, using PGP encryption. You can install OpenPGP package on your computer and email client to encrypt your existing email addresses. There are also some webmail services that has built-in PGP encryption like Protonmail or Tutanota, although they come with some inherent limitations, like the E2E works only if both parties—the sender and the receiver of an email have PGP enabled emails. If you would like to learn more about their encryption techniques comparing Protonmail vs Tutanota—check out this post. Both of these services also offer hosting your custom domain emails, i.e: you can move your business entire email to their encrypted servers.

The bottomline is, if you are communicating anything private or sensitive, do not use email to begin with. Use one of the end-to-end encrypted messaging services instead.


Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about the basics of the overall digital security and privacy for everyday use, sign up for the weeklong Digital Security and Privacy—101 course that I teach almost every other months.

Art Without Media and Artists

Art from data — Aaron Koblin, TED

Art—generated from data, Aaron Koblin/TED

Art is now taking new turns. In the metamorphosis of art, new characters and catalysts are emerging into the play where the individual medium and artists are gradually becoming insignificant than before. Like artificial intelligence in technology, art itself is turning into an independent catalyst of this transformation, and is somewhat working independently off the artists! Specialised formats of art which result in single pieces hanging on one person’s wall are rendering themselves irrelevant. They are now being replaced by a thriving proliferation of mediums with infinite combinations and possibilities. It’s a time when each work is a new experiment, a new format and possibly a completely new style. It’s a turning point of embracing new dimensions of diversity and experiments, and perhaps most exciting time to be an artist!

Transformable form in workspace, self assembly

Transformable, self assembling forms—Self Assembly Lab, MIT, Google

Technology is having a huge impact in these accelerating changes. We have seen data as art, where parts of the works are done by a machine-intelligence and parts by a human. Self-assembling, self-generating objects, forms, patterns and fractals are not new concepts anymore. Blurring these lines between an artist’s planned moves, and the uncertainty of randomness of nature, mathematics, quantum superpositions or AI, is the new reality. Also the concept of collaborative works has gone to a new level, where an entire symphony is composed by random people, or design of a house is crowd-sourced by dozens of architects together. Even simple everyday objects, cellphone photographs and videos are edited, tied and taped to make remarkable works of art! Then there are these blurring lines between performing, visual and experiential arts. A dance choreography, for example, is more than dance nowadays; it is a designed experience. One notices similar things in theatre and film.

Art, now more than ever, is everything, and for everyone. Ai Weiwei famously wrote “Everything is art. Everything is politics.” The critical word here is “everything”! To elaborate, Weiwei said: “My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.” Everything is influencing and shaping one another in this hyper-connected world. As Juhani Pallasmaa said in one of his lectures at Bengal Institute, “Every book that you read, you are a co-author because otherwise it’s just a book and printed letters.” The way readers join hands in creating the meaning of a book, the spectators become artists too! The spectators’ experiences, feelings, understandings and definitions are a part of every artwork.

There is no way to look into art, architecture, literature, politics or even technology and science separately anymore. The quicker we learn to embrace them together as integral parts of each other, the more we will prepare ourselves for the future. 

——————————-
Originally published on the newsletter-magazine of Bengal Institute, Vas—issue 04

The History of the Future

The History of the Future — Photo by Abdul Momin

[Photo © Abdul Momin]

History is a philosophical and political statement or opinion, and it is invariably incomplete. It is never absolute, and will always invoke a range of responses, from outright rejection to enthusiastic support, depending on who the narrator, and who the readers are. We have learned to accept the incompleteness of history and the inherent conventions that come with it, but for a better understanding of our current state and predicting the future, we need to turn the tables and look at history through different perspectives.

This idea of questioning history and accepting the inherent limitations of any account gives us a unique opportunity to understand history in a whole new way: to look with fresh eyes at some of the incomplete and erroneous narratives in text books and everyday discussions.

The ‘production process’ of written history is a kind of a luxury. It is usually written by the victor, and only produced by privileged people, such as historians and chroniclers who are sponsored and supported. Any recorded history is aligned with the imaginations, desires and myths set by rich and powerful patrons. This represents the hegemony of the privileged few over the rest.

The raw material of history is documentation. The evolution of history, for this reason, was much slower, for example, than art. Documenting was an expensive business until the invention of cheap paper, and later computers. While artists were already practicing self-expression, architecture and historiography were still beholden to the powerful. It has only been in recent times that the work of a historian has become easier, cheaper and a way of life, and historians have started to enjoy independence from patronage and established hegemony. Today, the number of photographs and recorded videos produced everyday in the world might be more than what have been produced throughout the 20th century. This change has a massive impact on the future of how history will be absorbed, documented and written, and may mean that we are heading towards a more comprehensive version of the history of humanity.

Leaving a mark on the timeline of history with ‘architecture’ versus ‘Instagram’ has some stark differences! Architecture can work as a map of the society, a culminating work showcasing long standing culture, whereas Instagram is a snap, however, still important as a historical evidence. We do not have much opportunity of looking into the snaps of everyday lives of everyday people from even the 1700s. All we have are archaeological evidences and written pieces that are slowly and carefully crafted, often to represent the ‘greatness’ of emperors or piped up heroism of generals and soldiers.

Architecture is not always a very efficient mode of communicating and documenting history, although, often that’s all we have when we are looking into the past. Learning history from the ancient architecture has some fundamental problems. It is slow and ambiguous. One of the biggest missing pieces of the puzzle of reading history from the ancient architectural and urban archaeology is the daily snaps of random people. It was never documented in such volume with architecture, art or even literature, the way it is happening now. Consider yourself a historian of 2090, and suddenly you have a plethora of written evidence with fine details since the late nineties when people started posting their daily lives on the Internet.

The future of history is going to be very different. It is potentially going to be more complete, and hopefully a little freer from bias. Then again, there is the inherent problem of focusing on the ‘snaps,’ as they come from only the people with access to internet, technology and education. Since it is now easy to document, if we want to change the dynamics of how our own history will be written in future, we have to start posting more about the people who are otherwise left behind, and creating a balance. That’s the only way to work against the hegemony of history. The key to a more independent and unbiased history is in the uniformity of the distribution of how accessible information is. For the first time in history, anyone can write and post, take photo and shoot videos, and directly contribute to the global archive of documentation. We need to leverage this change! This will surely change the dynamic of the future of history.

In order to fix the problem of the production of history ‘today’, we have to empower the marginal communities and people who cannot afford the luxury of contributing to it. A big portion of our national expenditure needs to go into the production of history to turn the table from the West to East; rich to poor, colonisers to oppressed. And it is easier now than ever before.


Originally published on the newsletter-magazine of Bengal Institute: Vas—issue 04.

You Thought Zoom Is Insecure?—So Is (Almost) Every Other Group Video Calling Service!

Group video calls

[Stock photo stolen from TechCrunch]

Recently you may have heard about Zoom’s security issues. They are true. Zoom’s video calls are not secure, they are not fully encrypted. But the bigger truth is, neither the others!—except Apple’s FaceTime.

One-to-one video calls are secure on a few platforms (like Signal). But group video calls are difficult to encrypt end-to-end (E2E). Often it is not just about the will of the service provider, it is also a technology limitation.

If you know the concept of E2E, it is not supposed to reveal absolutely anything on the way to and from the recipients of data, not even to the servers—now think how group video calls are managed by an app, it zooms in or highlights the person who is talking, right?—it means the “server knows” who is talking!—hence it is most certainly not an E2E technology, and for the same reason, it is difficult to make a group video calls E2E in general, as the server needs to know who is talking when to organise the video streams and bandwidth allocation. In most cases there may be Transfer Layer Security (TLS/HTTPS) enforced, that encrypts the calls on the way to and from the servers, but the server itself can listen, record, archive the calls as open unencrypted videos, and most probably you have already given the consent for recording and also automated transcribing by clicking some “I agree” jargons that nobody reads. And those recordings can be subpoenaed by the government agencies depending on your local laws.

Now how to know if your conversation is secure:

Is it a group video call? Then assume by default that it is not secure, and you should be careful about what you are saying. It does not matter if you are on Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, StreamYard etc.—nothing, nobody has E2E security on group video calls (except FaceTime).

An open-source platform called Jitsi is now gaining traction, you can use their Jitsi Meet platform for group video calls (still not fully encrypted, but they are testing E2E option for group calls). Good thing about Jitsi is calls on their platform is often routed peer to peer avoiding a central server. Jitsi can be also scaled and hosted independently in your own server, which makes it more secure by eliminating the issue of trusting third party servers for storing and routing video calls.

The bottomline for everyday practice, remember, group video calls are not secure in general; it does not matter which platform you are using.

Do you feel unsafe online?

Do you feel unsafe online digital security and privacy

A quick digital security guide: 4 tips to keep you safe

Mohammad Tauheed and Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh

The world that emerges at the end of 2020 is going to be starkly different from what we have been used to, and these changes are happening too rapidly for many to keep up. There has never been a better time to instill good digital security practices into your life. Here are a few tips (Part 1 of 2):

(1) Spot misinformation

Crises are times of large information gaps. We are impatient, so we often fill these blanks with unfounded theories, made up by people taking the chance to fabricate information for a ready audience. Recent months have brought an infodemic with them — a surge of misinformation, unfounded theories and unqualified experts.

Here is an example of a headline which is likely to be fake; ‘Remedy for Covid-19: [Insert medicine name] Cures Covid-19’.

All of our knowledge about Covid-19 is so far gathered from general observation, previous knowledge of similar viruses, and speculation. We have not had enough time to confirm anything through standard scientific ways of researching, testing and publishing, so a headline not containing some sort of doubt in it is likely to be false.

Here is an example of a headline which is more likely to have some truth in it; “A group of doctors claim [insert medicine name] is helping some patients”.

Always check sources of all news, dates, authors and the source of sources. Memes or random people making YouTube videos are not credible sources. In a rush to constantly create more content, even news outlets are basing reports on social media posts, e.g. the news about dolphins in Venice canals. If research is cited, check where it came from, and, if possible, who funded it. Watch for lobby groups with misleading names paid to push agendas. Check if a reputable newspaper has covered the issue yet. Our trusted media sources include the Guardian, BBC, New York Times, Economist, Telegraph, Hindustan Times, Japan Times and Al Jazeera.

If you are looking for COVID-19 updates, it is better to refer to WHO-run websites, or your country’s official website.

(2) Choose your news

Do not just rely on your social media feed for news, otherwise you will only see content that your algorithm thinks you should see.

Each time you click and search from a browser, your activity is logged as your ‘interest’, and added to your personal algorithm, which creates your bubble of information (content which is consistent with what you have already searched for).

Take control of your news sources: make a habit of visiting the homepages of a few trusted news sites, such as the ones cited above. This also ensures that your traffic supports these news sites, rather than social media giants (remember that every click/second spent browsing the internet is monitored and worth money).

(3) Encrypt your communication

Encryption is the holy grail of security on the Internet today. There are two types of encryption you need to know about:

TLS/SSL encryption, displayed as a lock sign next to the URL in a browser, is the bare minimum of security that we should ensure is enabled every time you are writing on a webpage, such as email, Google Docs and sign-up forms. This means that your device encrypts your data to and from the server. The server itself can read it or use it, but nothing can be stolen on the way to and from the server.

End to End Encryption (E2E) is more advanced encryption; a technique of transferring data between two devices where even the server (or anything/anyone else) cannot decrypt it.

Most of us are aware now that conversations held over platforms owned by social media giants can be archived, recorded and used for advertisement targeting or be used against us. They are an obvious target for hackers and governments for surveillance.

Generally, all social media has TLS encryption, but unless they have E2E, the messages are open and saved as plain text in the server; i.e: they can be read, analysed, sold for ads or subpoenaed by the government.

Two platforms which offer strong E2E and becoming increasingly popular and user-friendly are Signal and iMessage/Facetime.

(4) Exercise caution with group calls

Group video calls are difficult to encrypt because of the nature of the technology. The server needs to know who is talking, so it can highlight one speaker at a time — so it needs access to the group activity to manage a call, making E2E difficult.

You may want to stop using Facebook and Google (and anything which is owned by them, e.g. Instagram and Facebook Messenger, Meet, Hangouts etc.) for private conversations; almost all governments have some sort of agreement or backdoor access to them. Skype has bad reputation for security. Zoom is not end-to-end encrypted, they have suspended encryption for free calls recently and some of their admin features has been criticised of being too invasive (the host can track if you are attentive to the meeting window or not etc.).

Jitsi is a more secure option. Create a URL from meet.jit.si and send it to your peers, no account or information is required and you can set a password. Jitsi is completely free, unlimited, open-source and encrypted. They also have an API, so you can also integrate Jitsi inside your team/corporate apps/software.

__

Mohammad Tauheed is an editor, architect and technology consultant and Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh specialises in storytelling, communications and branding, in Australia and Bangladesh. We both believe that a better world is possible — both in real and digital life, and that all the tools to make it happen already exist.

Originally published on Sarah-Jane Saltmarsh’s Medium

How to Stop Your Facebook Account from Being “Hacked”

Facebook security

In the wake of an epidemic of hacked Facebook accounts, here are my suggestions about saving your account from getting “hacked”

Understanding:

1. Often, your Facebook doesn’t get hacked, it is not about your Facebook’s password either, rather possibly it is your email or your phone that gets ‘hacked’. It simply begins with asking Facebook to reset your password using your name, username, your most commonly known email address etc. Then the password reset key is sent to your email or 2FA codes to your sms. These get stolen by hacking your email or spoofing your phone.

2. Oftentimes, these “hackings” are done by people who somehow know you, i.e: people who might possibly know some information about you, like your email address, phone number, date of birth etc. verifiable information. This group include people who have a copy of your NID or passport—like a stupid concert that asked for ID for entry, a Facebook group or page you shared your information with, a security guard whom you gave your full name, phone number and email address to enter a building, the IT support guy who helped you install your anti-virus, all of them are your possible attackers. Hacking an absolutely random, unknown account is way more difficult than accounts of whom you have certain information about.

Here is the most effective way to prevent your Facebook account from being hacked as far I have tried and tested:

Pre-requisites:

1. Install Authy for Two Factor Authentication (2FA) code generation. Ideally, use a password manager app, I recommend: Dashlane, or Bitwarden.

2. Immediately turn on Two-factor Authentication [on Facebook, go to Settings > Security and Login > Two-Factor Authentication]. Use Authy for generating code, avoid codes by SMS.

3. Go to Facebook settings > Apps and Websites, ideally remove everything from here, or keep only the apps/services/games that you must keep. Give up on the habit of “log in with Facebook” completely, use your email address for opening accounts in various websites and services.

4. Do not leave your computer or phone open, EVER, not at home, not at work, religiously lock your computer before you leave your desk (on Windows it’s Windows+L, on Mac it’s ⌘+Control+q to lock) even if it is for a few seconds. On your work machines insist for a personal account on the computer, do not share its password with anyone; your office’s IT team can have their own admin account on the computer for maintenance, but they never need your personal account’s password. If your employer disagrees about it, quit the job.

5. Do not login to your account from random computers/phones, not even of your friends’, family’s or your office computers unless you already have a “computer user account” on that machine. If you don’t, and if you must use your Facebook, then use a “Guest” account on the machine, or at least an incognito/private window, and be sure to carefully check the address bar of your browser if it is with a lock sign and the URL is exactly https://www.facebook.com/ and nothing else at the end or middle (if the full URL is not visible, click on the address bar to see the full form of the URL), to make sure you are not putting your ID and password in a fake phishing website.

Steps to Secure Your Facebook:

1. Create a new encrypted email address dedicated for Facebook. Use Protonmail for making the new address. Ideally do not share this email address with anyone, avoid using it publicly.

2. Go to Facebook settings > General > Contact. Add your new Protonmail address as the primary email. You must remove every other email address from your account.

3. Check where you are logged in, remove any unknown, or unnecessary device from the list.

4. On Protonmail go to Settings > Security: Turn on Two Factor Authentication, as always use Authy, avoid SMS.

5. (On Protonmail) now go to Settings > Keys: Click the dropdown arrow next to your email address, click on Actions: Export, select “Public Key.” It will download an ASC file. Open the ASC file with Notepad (or TextEdit on Mac). Select all, copy everything from the file.

6. Now, go to Facebook settings > security and login > scroll down to Encrypted notification emails. Paste the text here. Check in the box for “Use this public key to encrypt notification emails that Facebook sends you?” Save.
It might send a test email to your Protonmail to check if the encryption key is working. This email might land in your spam of Protonmail. Click on the “Yes, encrypt notification emails sent to me from Facebook.” to confirm.
Now your Facebook settings for Encrypted notification email should show “On”.

7. Memorise your Protonmail login password, or use Dashlane to save your password. Now go to Protonmail settings > Account > Disable the “Allow password reset” option. Remember that, it means, if you forget Protonmail password, it is not recoverable, you are screwed. But this is the final layer of security.

You are all set. It will now be super-duper difficult for anyone to hack into your Facebook account.

If you need any further help about this write to [email protected]
I recommend you take the Digital Security and Privacy—101 course that I conduct, almost every other month for one week.

Thinking Density Differently

Thinking Density— Photo Mohammad Tauheed

What if density is not the evil it is often cited to be? Cities by their very nature are the epitome of human interactions and innovations; and in doing so, they have made a remarkable contribution to improving the state of our lives and communities. No other platform enables a critical mass of humans to interact, work and live in close proximity, and to generate innovation, creation and collaboration on a large scale as cities do. For all these to function properly, density is a key factor.

George Vaillant, a Harvard psychiatrist directed the famous Grant Study[1][2] from 1972 to 2004 to understand the secrets to happiness and a fulfilling life. The study shows that embracing social connections helps us live longer, and be happier. It concluded that the core of human happiness lies in these interactions and relationships. The question is: How do we enter this world of interactions? How do we meet people beyond our family and neighbours?

It is cities that offer us the opportunity to belong to several communities at one time. These opportunities often come randomly and serendipitously. Sometimes they also arise through organised formality which is perhaps the beauty of large formal groups or fraternities. Whether random or formal, accidental or organized, all these are very much conditions of the urban phenomenon. 

It is often argued that a fast paced urban lifestyle is killing human interactions. The opposite also might be true, as we in one way or another belong to some large fraternities, perhaps an alumni group, club, neighborhood groups, pubs, coffee shops, fairs, festivals, or even international networks of organised communities. Communities that gather, exchange group messages virtually and physically, take up new initiatives, organise charity events, or put up protests. We might be hardly in close relationship with, for instance, two or three people of these large groups, but the possibility that these fraternities offer is important. A little event, a get-together, a picnic, an excursion, or a workshop possibly can add new close relationships with almost completely random people whom we would have otherwise never met. We have to agree that such modes of connections and relationships are made possible by the urban lifestyles that are offered and practiced in cities. Eventually this contributes to our overall happiness and well being, and arguably, happiness is what we are all pursuing. 

Thinking density differently— Dhaka, Mohammad Tauheed

Cities offer the greatest opportunities of public interactions, Photo: Mohammad Tauheed

Population density plays a big role in the size, nature and diversity of these fraternities. The sheer number of random possible encounters at a coffee shop in Dhaka is incomparable to a small town in Northern Ontario, and it is because of the density of the place. Often people talk about the charm of knowing everyone in a town or neighbourhood. We fantasise the past for this, however, in the long run, it may not assure happiness! A small town of tightly woven communities offers little individual freedom, and much less random encounters which could lead to new meaningful relationships.

The idea of going back to the isolation of nature sounds magical, but it miserably fails when it comes to human interactions. You can fancy a vacation in a remote island for a few weeks, but settling there would not necessarily make you happier. There is also a good chance that it wouldn’t help the environment either. Every new settlement on every new island in history alters the ecosystems forever, often bringing development which results in extensive damage. Commonly-known examples include Madagascar[3][4] and Australia[5] where human settlement wiped out about 90% of the big mammals of both these islands in just a few years of humans settling in. 

For many of us, cities are the future, and they can be good for the environment and us, if we know how to design them well. How? Concentrate, form tightly knitted diverse clusters, avoid sprawls, and think about how to foster more and more of this uniquely urban phenomenon, the new fraternities.

Density makes possible public transportation, mobile networks, Internet, water and sanitation facilities, and human interactions to be more efficient. Never before did we know how dense is unbearably dense, until Dhaka happened. This city is the fastest growing, densest city on earth. Interestingly enough, Dhaka is not sprawling that fast as it is ‘growing’; it is rather growing in density, and not quite in physical size. Such a condition brings in some inherent problems which are possible to be solved. 

Thinking density differently—Dhaka Hosaini Dalan, Mohammad Tauheed

Crowd around a street fair near Hossaini Dalan, Old Dhaka. Photo: Mohammad Tauheed

We need to stop pandering to the idea of decentralisation and reduction of density as a solution to all our problems. We have to give density a chance. Embrace it for a few more decades, see where it takes us. We never knew mobile phone service can be this dirt cheap, serving this huge number people using the same infrastructure. We didn’t know that it is possible to supply water to fifteen million inhabitants using only about 2000 km long pipelines charging only 6.6 Taka ($0.08 USD) per cubic meter (1000 litres)[6]. Dhaka WASA has about 300,000 domestic and commercial connections. This may seem low, but in most of the areas of Dhaka, each connection may serve up to 1,000 households. The magic behind this, is density. If keeping our ‘footprint’ small on the planet is a concern, why don’t we take the idea literally, and pack ourselves in places that is as dense as the future technology allows us to be? Leave our rainforests and oceans to flourish and regenerate, and function as the lungs that our sick planet needs, and be the spaces that animals need. In that way, the natural conditions will be there when we need them too.

The radical New York urbanist Michael Sorkin in a conversation at Bengal Institute once said: “To cross the street in Dhaka is kind of a constant negotiation, as the traffic is slow, it is somewhat democratic and autonomous, it simply just works, without much of modernist controlled or rigorously zoned techniques. Every means of movement is isolated in the modern western cities. I find it problematic, they need to negotiate organically and find ways.” Renowned urban designer Gary Hack made the point quoting a model designed by the famed Dutch architecture practice BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), that in near future we do not have to segregate and control the vehicles and pedestrians anymore; autonomous vehicles can simply find their ways automatically, in a pseudo-organic fashion. That would bring back the belongingness and ownership of the city to its citizens. We want to walk, and we want to walk freely, everywhere. Moreover in a highly dense mixture of urban clusters, we all want to walk to work, shop, play, learn and live. We want to walk keeping our heads high, and not looking for zebra crossings or pedestrian signals. As pedestrians, we set our own rules of walking about. Let the vehicles find their ways on their own, make them intelligent enough to leave us alone freely enjoying a walk. That’s the future city we would like to head to.

Often these participants of the makeshift boardgames are all random | Ramna area, Dhaka | Photo: Mohammad Tauheed

Half of the world’s population is now living in cities. Many fear mongering “think-tankers’ are busy making headlines describing this as our biggest problem. We should rather be focusing on creating densely efficient yet green and happy urban clusters. Living, working, production and interaction should happen within a few walkable blocks of cities. The cost of rent in the city-center versus commuting cost from the periphery is a constant battle. We should focus more into creating autonomous, dense clusters of various mixes, rather than a centralised CBD and far away residential areas. We also have to be careful about the potential danger of so-called ‘smart cities’ with a centralised brain, that has the possibility of affecting the diversity and autonomy of communities. Everyone working in a neighbourhood must be able to walk to work, and live in the neighbourhood; here ‘everyone’ means everyone, including the domestic helps and janitors for example, otherwise it would be a failed neighbourhood. These clusters should have access to their own funds or means of raising its own operating capital by crowdsourcing, with a ‘people first’ attitude.

Invoking the ‘S’ word here, if we want a sustainable and happy world, we need to foster more interconnected large fraternities that offer random and diverse personal connections, in densely populated autonomous urban clusters. With, of course, a focus on continuous social and technical innovations. We need to start believing in cities. We have to embrace their growth and density, they are not the culprits, rather the key to improving the state of our lives. We have to look into the conundrum of density for Dhaka, and find the virtues in it. 

References:

  1. Mineo, Liz. “Over Nearly 80 Years, Harvard Study Has Been Showing How to Live a Healthy and Happy Life.” Harvard Gazette. April 11, 2017. Accessed 2018. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.
  2. Waldinger, Robert. TED: Ideas worth Spreading. https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness.
  3. Merz, Thomas. “Creating PDF Files.” Web Publishing with Acrobat/PDF, 1998, 35-56. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-72032-1_4.
  4. Allnutt, Thomas F., Simon Ferrier, Glenn Manion, George V. N. Powell, Taylor H. Ricketts, Brian L. Fisher, Grady J. Harper, Michael E. Irwin, Claire Kremen, David C. Lees, Timothy A. Pearce, and Jean‐Noël Labat. “A Method for Quantifying Biodiversity Loss and Its Application to a 50‐year Record of Deforestation across Madagascar.” Freshwater Biology. August 22, 2008. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1755-263X.2008.00027.x.
  5. Clarkson, Chris, Zenobia Jacobs, Ben Marwick, Richard Fullagar, Lynley Wallis, Mike Smith, Richard G. Roberts, Elspeth Hayes, Kelsey Lowe, Xavier Carah, S. Anna Florin, Jessica McNeil, Delyth Cox, Lee J. Arnold, Quan Hua, Jillian Huntley, Helen E. A. Brand, Tiina Manne, Andrew Fairbairn, James Shulmeister, Lindsey Lyle, Makiah Salinas, Mara Page, Kate Connell, Gayoung Park, Kasih Norman, Tessa Murphy, and Colin Pardoe. “Human Occupation of Northern Australia by 65,000 Years Ago.” Nature News. July 19, 2017. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature22968.
  6. Khan, Taqsem A. “Http://ljournal.ru/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/a-2017-023.pdf.” Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority: Performance and Challenges, 2017. doi:10.18411/a-2017-023.

Originally published on the newsletter-magazine of Bengal Institute: Vas —Issue 04.

We are already naked

We are already naked, to some of the tech giants. Now before you signup with another new service or install another new app on your phone that asks for a lot of unreasonable access, you must think twice, before you undo your pants to yet another company.

There are two approaches for amateurs for hiding their asses across online ecosystems.

1.You sell yourself to a maximum two tech companies and their ecosystems. Give them everything, drop your pants. And never use these services to login to other websites.

Personally I somewhat trust two companies, Google and Apple. I’m naked to them. And I’ve learned to accept it, for the ease and services they provide. But I am very careful about giving access to certain things to any other service. Those are my contacts book, my live-location, shopping and search habits.

I still hide two things from Google in particular. 1. my search habit, I always use incognito VPN enabled windows for searching, and I often avoid Google for searching altogether. I try to use DuckDuckGo (they suck) or Bing (they suck a little less). When I must use Google, I take precautions. 2. My voice. I recently have completely shut down microphone access to all Google owned services. I don’t trust Google with my voice.

2Divide and rule: Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. If you are giving away your location to one company, don’t give them your voice. If you are giving away your camera and photos to one, don’t give the same one your location. So that there is always less than enough meta information and data points about you, if one system is compromised. Similarly, when you are communicating individual set of sensitive information, split the communication, i.e: send the username via iMessage and give the password over a phone call or a Signal text, without giving much context to any of the individual communications.

Bluetooth’s uncomfortable position and two simple questions

Bluetooth vs USB DongleSome technology just won’t pick up! Bluetooth being one of the prime examples. It is there, with an uncomfortably inept attitude in the technology world. Bluetooth is not dying anytime soon, it is not picking up the momentum either, for quite a long time, almost ever since its birth in 1994 at Ericsson.

Without going into the big discussion of Bluetooth ecosystem and where is it heading; two annoying questions that bug me more than anything else about this matter are:

1. Why do we still have 2.4Ghz USB dongles to connect mouse, keyboards and other peripherals? I’d really like someone to enlighten me about this! There is Bluetooth for decades, then who came up with this ridiculous idea of the USB dongles for connecting ‘wireless’ peripherals? Why can’t they simply connect over Bluetooth? Why do I have to waste a valuable USB port for a task that could have been done without any physical object pushed through my computer’s ports?

The Bluetooth SIG Adopter Membership is free, you don’t have to pay a price to use Bluetooth logo or branding or declaring your product as a Bluetooth device. Then why on earth the 2.4 Ghz dongles were ever invented?

2. Why don’t the desktop boards come with a Bluetooth chip built in?Desktop boards have no issue of space per se, they have plenty of real-estate for adding additional cards, chips, ports etc. Still, none of the typical desktop motherboards come with any wireless network chips built-in! I always wondered why, and couldn’t find any answer. It takes less than 0.25 square-inch space to install a Bluetooth chip, and also a WiFi chip, still they won’t. You will have to buy USB dongles for these wireless protocols to use on clone desktop machines. The height of absurdity that won’t just die.

If you have any insight or answers about these please add those in the comments! Thank you 🙂