fb-pixel Skip to main content

The deaf policemen of Mexico

And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog

Daredevil, the Marvel comics superhero
Daredevil, the Marvel comics superheroFanpop.com

Violent crime in Mexico has pushed Mexican law enforcement to find new ways to fight crime, and one of the most innovative experiments is taking place in Oaxaca: According to local news reports, a team of 20 deaf police officers monitoring 230 security cameras scattered throughout the city’s historic downtown.

The deaf officers, nicknamed the "Angels of Silence," are considered an asset because of their ability to read lips, to detect visual cues that might suggest nervousness or suspicious activity, and to pay attention to the visual periphery as they stare at a wall of monitors displaying different camera feeds.

The idea echoes the 2003 Ben Affleck movie "Daredevil," in which the title character's remaining senses grow to superhero proportions after he is blinded by toxic waste. It has a precedent in real life, too: In Belgium, a visually impaired man named Sacha van Loo uses his acute hearing and knack for identifying foreign accents to help police.


Though there is no specific data available, the Oaxaca project has been judged a success. Last month the first corps of deaf police officers began training new recruits who soon will sit behind security cameras trained on other parts of the country, including tourist-intensive destinations like Puerto Escondido and Huatulco.

A flowing airport wall

In recent years a number of airports around the world have begun hosting large-scale art installations, and one of the most striking is Textscapes, a wall of ever-shifting type near a security line at the Vienna International Airport (a detail is show above). Constructed by Ars Electronica Futurelab, Textscapes depicts an endless stream of alphabet letters fluttering down to the ground like snowflakes, where they pile up across a wall of monitors in an evocative, shifting topography of words and phrases. The volume of falling letters changes according to the number of people passing by, and the contours of the accumulated text shift to reflect air traffic patterns: Hills develop in response to takeoffs, valleys in response to landings.

Besides being innovative as art, Textscapes would seem to serve a more practical end as well—as a salve to security line stress, and a reminder to single-minded travelers that airports are complex places where sometimes you just have to accept your place in the flow.

Being Alan Kwan

We’ve all wondered what it would be like to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It is by all accounts a hopeless fantasy, but that hasn’t dissuaded 22-year-old Hong Kong filmmaker Alan Kwan from trying.

In November 2011 Kwan attached a small, custom-designed video camera to the frame of his glasses to record the world as he moved through it. At the end of each day Kwan uploaded the footage into a video game environment he'd built to store his memories. The result is Bad Trip, a surreal virtual reality experience that lets users navigate with a joystick through all—as in, basically every single one—of the visual experiences Kwan has had in the last year.

Bad Trip is a startling aesthetic experience; a six-minute demo online reveals a stark, spectral black-and-white world dotted with "memory blocks" that look like piled freight crates. Approach the memory blocks and suddenly the empty world of Bad Trip explodes with all the scenes from Kwan's life: a plate of food at a restaurant, a girl sitting across the table, footage from a video game that Kwan had played. It feels like dipping your head beneath the surface of a pool and into another world.


Of course, we don't see the world the same way that a video camera attached to our eyeglasses does, and memories are much thicker constructions than pure visual data. After watching (or playing or experiencing or encountering…it's hard to say what the appropriate verb is here) Bad Trip, you won't necessarily feel like you understand
Alan Kwan's memories any better than you did before, but you might leave with a new way of imagining the weird, peripatetic terrain of your own mind.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.