(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)
In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.
Panel title: Urban Camouflage for Storytellers
Panel members: Clay Cooper, John Goff
Panel description: How should your protagonist blend into a crowd? How should she act to attract zero attention from her evil overlords? Come and find out how to vanish right before their eyes.
CC: So what is everyone’s perceptions of urban camouflage?
Q: Blending in, looking like everyone else.
CC: Yes. It’s blending into the surroundings and not be different. At MisCon, you’ll have a hard time blending in.
JG: Even if you’re wearing a polo shirt, you’ll stand out at MisCon. It’s hard at a con to blend in. But when you’re at a class teaching surveillance, there’s always someone who thinks clown gear can help you blend in. It might work the first time, but the second time–no. Same with an ice cream truck. People will notice it when it moves.
CC: If you try to keep a wide berth from someone, they will notice. If you make eye contact, they will remember your face. So don’t look at people’s eyes.
JG: Stay far enough away that they don’t notice you. In psychological studies, they find that people look for faces in things. The worst thing you can do once eye contact is made is to look away suddenly. Instead, just smile or pretend to scan for someone else.
CC: Look past them.
JG: Or give them the vacant look. For clothing, dress to fit in. I like cargo pants with zippers and zip off sleeves because it makes it easy to change my appearance. Change so nothing sticks out. Glasses or contacts. No t-shirts with logos. Earth tones and dark colors are better. Blue jeans usually work.
CC: Unless you’re in an area where no one wears jeans.
JG: Khaki works both ways. Also hiking boots.
CC: Hoodies, when up, draw attention. Or wearing a jacket when it’s hot out.
Q: How about hats?
JG: It depends. If you want to be anonymous, avoid color, shape, style, anything that catches attention. It should be subdued. We tend to walk in a straight line, so don’t swerve.
CC: People get the creepy vibe when someone walks behind them.
JG: Psychologically, people have perceptions of their personal space. They have an awareness of it. Someone following is a predator. The posture gives away what they feel about personal space. In interrogations, one intimidation tactic is to move closer and closer. You risk drawing attention if you invade their personal space. So keep outside of that radius.
Q: Is there a difference tracking someone in the city versus a small town?
JG: Depends. On foot, it can be horrible depending on the number of people and cars. It’s hard to be unnoticed although it’s easier in a city. In a small town, it’s not an option. In a small town, everyone knows everyone. One time, a boss tried to do surveillance in a small town but it was complicated by the fact that the postmaster (who knew the target) also worked at the sheriff’s office.
Q: People in towns are so rude. They just look at you.
JG: It’s a coping mechanism to prevent you from impinging on their personal space. For example, when people get in an elevator, everyone looks at the door.
CC: Or what happens in the bathroom.
JG: In a small town, there’s less personal space and more connectivity. So give yourself a reason to be there that everyone accepts. Like being a surveyor. With a vehicle, it’s easier to go unnoticed.
CC: At 35 mph, you become invisible.
Q: What about construction vehicles?
JG: You can only use them once. And you can’t follow people with it. White vehicles are good. Ten years ago, everyone used SUVs, but now their popularity is down. However white vans can stick out.
Q: What makes it difficult to follow someone?
JG: If you get cut off by a train. If you’re in a tailing vehicle, you need some identifying marker to follow. It’s hard to follow a silver Camry because everyone has one. In heavy traffic, it’s the luck of the draw. In that case, you can stay far away if the car is obvious. It’s difficult if they’re going above the speed limit and if the person thinks they’re being followed. They could make illegal u-turns, sudden shifts, going onto off ramps, turning around in parking lots, or just stopping and sitting. It’s really tricky going from urban to rural on a highway because you need to keep visual contact.
Q: Does a dirt trail help?
JG: It doesn’t help so much.
CC: In a valley area, you don’t realize how close you are until you’re practically on top of them.
JG: If it’s wooded, it helps, but not in a wide open area. Country surveillance is difficult. You can use a ghillie suit as camouflage.
Q: What tech do you use?
JG: For surveillance? You should know where you’re going. A digital video camera, GPS, cellphone, and sometimes night vision gear although that may be legally complicated.
Q: If there were no rules and you were a bad guy, what tech would you use?
JG: Drones because they can hide by hovering at the edge of the treeline. Infrared camera. Theromgraphic equipment to detect heat signatures. Helicopters, however, are noisy.
Q: If you’re the protagonist, how would you avoid detection?
JG: Hack into security cameras. Avoid facial recognition technology by altering appearance.
CC: They can look through sunglasses, though.
JG: The Xbox Connect has a camera so they can detect your heartbeat and blood flow with certain filters.
CC: It’s the sort of technology they use to monitor babies.
JG: With all the things you can do with smartphones, it makes things easier.
Q: How realistic is the media, especially the show Person of Interest?
JG: I haven’t seen it.
Q: Can you clone a phone?
JG: If you have the right software. But that’s crossing federal law.
Q: With a Bluetooth, you could do it at a hundred yards.
JG: I use a prepaid phone to prevent that from happening.
Q: What would you do if you had a suspicion that someone following you wanted to do something to you?
CC: Find a way to turn it on them. Become the stalker to see what they’re doing. If you’re threatened, move to a large crowd.
JG: Simply confronting someone can break it off. Unless they want to cause you bodily harm.
Q: In a crowd, you could turn around and ask why they are following you.
JG: Make a scene.
Q: Some of the creepier technologies out there exist as software in vehicles. It’s possible someone could hack into the car computer and take control.
CC: Then get a manual car.
JG: People can’t break into keyless cars in a conventional way, but someone can follow you with an antenna to get the signal.