Hold on to your hats, folks, today’s post will cover a multitude of media. Let’s begin by rolling back the clock 41 years and revisit a gem of a movie, The Conversation.
The film features Gene Hackman as Harry Caul, a private electronic surveillance expert in San Francisco who is considered to be the best in the world. Harry has been hired by the Director (Robert Duvall) to follow and record conversations between his wife (Cindy Williams) and her lover (Frederick Forrest) in the city’s bustling downtown Union Square.
Deeply religious, a crisis of conscience comes over Harry when he listens to the contents of the recording and realizes that the two people are in a relationship and fear being discovered by the husband.
Harry Caul: [upset, walking over to Martin seated] What are you doing here?
Martin Stett: Take it easy I’m just a messenger. I brought you a drink.
Harry Caul: I don’t want your drink. Why are you following me?
Martin Stett: I’m not following you I’m looking for you. There’s a big difference.
Some years before Harry had worked a job that led to the deaths of the subjects. Fearing that harm might come to these two lovers, Harry refuses to turn over the recording to the Director’s assistant, Martin (Harrison Ford), in part because because he was instructed to only give it to the Director himself.
Contrary to his usual role a a detached observer, Harry must now decide whether to try and save the lives of the couple using information from the recording, or complete the job he was paid to do.
Enjoy this film trailer before we move along with today’s Multimedia Monday.
1974 — A Busy Year
The Conversation was released in June of 1974. Two months later, on August 9th, Richard M. Nixon resigned his position as 37th President of the United States as a result of the widening Watergate scandal. The two events were unrelated, but had eerie similarities. Both involved information gathering via electronic surveillance, and both events illustrated what happens when that information is no longer hidden from public view.
Harry Caul’s challenge was to record a conversation between two people who were moving through a noisy crowded public park without being discovered. The challenge for the Watergate burglars was to plant recording devices and photograph documents in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee without being detected.
State-of-the-art equipment today is much different than that of 1974. I completed my apprenticeship in 1972 and we were the last class that was taught Vacuum Tube theory. Do you remember them in the old TVs and radios? I can still recall going to the Seven Eleven with my Dad and a shoebox full of tubes from our TV set. I watched as he tested them one at a time, looking for the bad one(s), in the machine at the entrance to the store.
The apprentices who followed me learned about transistors and solid-state electronics. Shortly after they finished their studies, PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) came into wide-spread use.
My 46-year career ended at the Golden Gate Bridge. Some days we ran rigid conduit, climbed cables and pulled fiber-optic cables. Other days we rebuilt computers or solved problems with the automated Toll equipment. Much has changed since 1974 and I had a front row seat for a lot of it.
…What if we could use video to capture the vibrations of sound, which are just another kind of motion, and turn everything that we see into a microphone? —Abe Davis
Scary, right? The above quotation sent chills up the back of my neck when I heard it. 1984/1974? Who is listening and why? On the one hand I am impressed by the technology that allows such an event to happen and on the other hand I am concerned about it’s misuse.
We have plenty of surveillance in today’s world—web browser histories, tracking apps, Facebook and Twitter feeds, cameras in public places and private spaces, facial-recognition software, credit card transactions, and on-and-on. There are days that I think that half of the people who have a job are watching the other half at work.
Abe Davis and his team have come up with a way to put some powerful technology into the hands of ordinary people with off-the-shelf accessible equipment. His vision goes beyond just the collection of sound into the area of interacting-video. For example, a video of a bridge could be run through his software where it would be transformed into a picture that you could “push” or “pull” on various parts to see what results occurred. A simulation of wind or seismic activity would produce visible clues as to how the structure reacts to such forces.
We always have to weigh the good with the bad, and in this case I think that the Good outweighs the Bad. The following video will enlighten you on this emerging technology.
Do you have any views about today’s emerging technologies that you would like to share with us?
The Wayback Machine
I couldn’t get away without a nod to Simon & Garfunkel and their classic tune, The Dangling Conversation.