Boing Boing 

Telecoms policymakers blown away by WiFi sales figures

Kevin Werbach describes the astonishment of policy-makers when he drops the WiFi bomb on them: 1.5 million 802.11b cards sold every month. Meanwhile, in DC, they're pushing ahead with a plan to provide municipal lighting by filling standards with gas that glows when you hit it with 2.4GHz radio -- a plan that will saturate the city with radio waves that drown out 802.11b.
For the past day, I've been at a small workshop on spectrum policy hosted by the Aspen Institute.  Aspen regularly assembles key figures from the government, private sector and academia to frame emerging communications and Internet policy issues.  This one was interesting.  I was there to advocate open spectrum and unlicensed wireless technologies, like 802.11/WiFi.  It was heartening to see the level of awareness about WiFi among the lawyers, economists, lobbyists and policy-makers.  They realize something important is going on here.  Still, most of them were shocked when I mentioned there are now 1.5 million WiFi cards being sold every month.
Link Discuss

Fray Day 6

Derek sez:
Save the date: Fray Day 6 has been set for September 14, 2002. Last year we came to ten cities worldwide. This year could be even more. Ever wanted to organize a Fray event in your town? Now's the time to speak up!
Link Discuss

Roll-yer-own municipal wireless

Andy sez: "Tired of waiting for Verizon to provide high-speed internet access, The town of Cumberland in Maryland is extending its pre-existing wireless network to bring broadband access to its residents." Link Discuss (Thanks, Andy!)

If ICANN can't, who can?

After my last anti-Verisign rant, Paul Hoffman sent me some email and set me straight on a lot of things. One thing he asked me, which I didn't have an answer to, is "Who should run the DNS Root instead?" Paul has a pretty credible answer, in his sweeping ICANN-reform proposal.
The TLD Secretariat could easily be a single person. Her or his allegiance would be first to the root server operators, then to the ccTLDs, and lastly to the gTLDs. A stable, well-respected, international Internet organization would appoint the TLD Secretariat. While there are benefits to having the ITU organize the ccTLD administrators, it would be completely unsuited selecting the TLD Secretariat because it isn't well regarded in the Internet community or by the root server operators. The Internet Society (ISOC) would be a much better choice.

Given ICANN's current penchant for secrecy and closed meetings, the new TLD Secretariat will have a harder time gaining the world's trust. Fortunately, it wouldn't be difficult to make all correspondence to and from the TLD Secretariat a matter of public record. Although this might initially cause some consternation for the commercial registries that have benefited from ICANN's methods, it will build trust in the system.

Link Discuss

Rosetta Stones: $25,000

The Long Now Foundation has a store! And unline the crappy affinity items that most charities give you if you slip 'em a couple bucks (how many tote-bags can one PBS watcher usefully own?), these are really cool:
First Edition Rosetta Disk: (25 will be made, 23 remaining)
We are creating a limited edition run of 25 Version 1.0 Rosetta Disks and Containers, which we are offering in exchange for donations of $25,000 and above. Proceeds will support our global collection efforts to build the 1,000 language archive and complete the disk. The delivery date is the summer of 2003. You can see the design for the disk and container in the "about this project" part of our site under "concept" and "design". $25,000
Link Discuss (Thanks, jpancake!)

The Internet is for Everyone

The Internet Society's latest RFC, entitled "The Internet is for Everybody," is an inspirational call to arms: Free the Subnet 255!
Internet is for everyone - but it won't be if it cannot keep up with the explosive demand for its services, so we must dedicate ourselves to continuing its technological evolution and development of the technical standards the lie at the heart of the Internet revolution. Let us dedicate ourselves to the support of the Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Engineering Steering Group, the Internet Research Task Force, the Internet Engineering Task Force and other organizations dedicated to developing Internet technology as they drive us forward into an unbounded future. Let us also commit ourselves to support the work of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers - a key function for the Internet's operation.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Katie!)

Finally, a downloadable "King of Kensington" theme!

MP3s of great Canadian TV themes:
Edison Twins theme Polka Dot Door theme Take Off, Eh! Degrassi High Theme Degrassi Jr. High Theme Beachcombers Theme King of Kensington Theme Definition Theme Hockey Night in Canada (Original) Theme From Degrassi -- Zit Remedy The Littlest Hobo Theme Mr. Dressup Theme Kids In the Hall Theme
Link Discuss (Thanks, Michael!)

AOL lost $50B+ this quarter

Holy crap. AOL/TW/NS/whatcher just wrote down a $54.2+ Billion loss, the largest in corporate history. Link Discuss

Comrade Smurf

The Smurfs as Marxist parable. The parallels are quite amazing; I'm still reeling from the similarity of "Comrade _________" and "_________ Smurf."
Papa Smurf represents Karl Marx. He is not so much the leader of the Smurfs as an equal revered by the others for his age and wisdom. He has a beard, as did Marx, and thus could conceivably be a caricature as well. And lastly, he wears red, which is the traditional colour of socialism. Brainy Smurf could represent Trotsky. He is the only one in the village who comes close to matching Papa's intellect - he is a thinker. With his round spectacles, he could also be a caricature of Trotsky. He is often isolated, ridiculed or even ejected from the commune of the village for his ideas. And of course, Trotsky was banished from the USSR.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Drue!)

Blagg: Blaggpluggs: Bling Bling

Rael's still hacking his RSS aggregator, Blagg, the <50-line perl marvel. He and Ben "Movable Type" Trott have jemmied up Blaggplugs (I think they should spell it Blaggpluggs, but what do I know), a Blagg implementation that spits out aggregated RSS in formats that can be easily slurped into various blogging engines (including Movable Type, natch!). Another testimony to tackling large, ambitious technical problems with small, lightweight tools that are easy to hack and chain. Link Discuss (Thanks, Rael!)

Cattle-class is a crime

A British court has ruled that airlines bear liability for deep-vein thrombosis resulting from cramped conditions in Coach on long flights. No more veal pens for travellers! Link Discuss (Thanks, Ronks!)

Blue Demon Iron On Auction


Here's my new iron on. Link Discuss

Nested emulators for posterity's sake

An oldie but a goodie: The Library of Congress has a monkey on its back. Every couple years, it has to open and re-save every doc in its 35TB collection so that the docs can be read by modern computing and modern machinery.

This is problematic and not just because it's expensive. When you convert a document, it's hard to know whether you've preserved all the parts of that doc that will be of interest to posterity -- it's impossible. For example, someone may want to dig through billions of Word docs to look at the embedded spyware GUIDs to see which modern writers were reviewing each others' works. Opening a Word 5 doc and saving it in WordXP may well eliminate that information.

The solution is emulation. Write, say, a 486 simulator that will run under a Pentium III running XP. Run Win 3.1 on the virtual machine and run Word 3 under the virtual Win 3.1. When PIIIs are in danger of obsolescence, write a PIII emulator to run on a G5 processor under OS X. Run XP on the virtual PIII, run the 486 emulator on the virtual XP, run Win 3.1 on the virtual 486 and so on -- nested Turing machines, one inside the other.

Theoretically, this eliminates the explosion of complexity; at any time, you need only know how to emulate the last generation of technology on the current gen. While there is a possiblity that the nested emulators will introduce difficult debugging problems, an emulator that runs on a gate-for-gate simulated processor should, in theory, run perfectly (what do you do about I/O? I dunno).

It's a powerful idea. Human posterity is terribly endangered by proprietary data-formats (and doubly so by DRM technology), but by funding emulator research, the LoC can preserve posterity -- just so long as Moore's Law keeps on generating CPUs that are sufficiently advanced over their predecessors that they can handily simulate them.

Of course, it's at direct odds with DRM. If I simulate your "trusted computer" in a virtual machine, I can bend the laws of time and space as far as the simulated computer goes -- like a brain in a jar with a wire running off its stem, it doesn't have any way of distinguishing those responses that are explicitly generated from those that are "real."

The MPAA's Broadcast Protection Discussion Group is establishing the principal that digital media technologies should be made tamper-resistant (read: no emulators, no open source) so that you can't intepret the "protection" as damage and route around it.

I predict a major collision between the Copyright Office and the copyright industry in the coming months -- let's hope posterity wins. Link Discuss

Email without the switching costs

I recently wrote an extended rant about my problems with Entourage and my yearning to switch to a mailer that stores its material in flat text files. Tim McLaughlin wrote in to describe his solution to the problem which involves <geek>running fetchmail on your OS X machine, storing the mail in a store that a local IMAP server can access. That way, you can use any email client, point it at your IMAP server on localhost, and away you go. In other words, there are no migration issues (modulo address-books) if you want to switch mailers. Lock in? What lock in?</geek> Link Discuss (Thanks, Tim!)

Damon Knight remembered

Damon Knight's daughter-in-law is compiling a master sheet of euologies and memorials for Damon, which is shaping up to be an astonishing document. Damon was a fantastic and odd person, and reading others' remembrances of him reminds me of how lucky I was to know him. Link Discuss (Thanks, Ted!)

Scriban v. Valenti

George Scriban is one of my heroes. After reading Jack Valenti's latest filetraders-are-commies-chewing-through-the-body-politic rant, George has decided to turn his keep analytic corpus to letting the air out of Valenti's rhetorical tires (George is the freelance troublemaker who demonstrated that the RIAA's sales-figures-in-decline-because-of-file-sharing hysteria was as unfounded as we suspected, and yes, folks, he still needs a gig!).

So check this out, as George begins his one-man crusade to tear apart Black Jack Valenti's prevarication:

according to the report, the "350,000 downloads" number was ginned out of a weeklong sample of IRC file-trading activity. the IRC profile was subsequently applied against "self-reporting" P2P networks (like Napster or Gnutella) activity (ie, given x nodes and y files, z files can be assumed to have been traded). the resulting numbers were smoothed out with media reports for the less transparent networks (like Aimster). I admit that this is about as thorough as you can get. it's also probably wildly inaccurate.
Link Discuss

The Outer Limits kick azz

Hallucinogenic rave for The Outer Limits:
With a free-flowing id and the assistance of old-school, no-nonsense directors like Gerd Oswald and Byron Haskin, Stefano established "The Outer Limits'" uneasy tone and celebratedly gothic atmosphere in the stellar episodes he wrote. Among these were "Don't Open Till Doomsday," a deliciously unctuous take on frustrated desire featuring a belligerent phallo-vaginal blob, coitus interruptus on a cosmic scale and several Stefano-penned songs; "The Bellero Shield," a spin on "Macbeth" with a shimmering space creature as inadvertent Player King; "The Invisibles," in which crablike aliens botch a takeover of the human race by commandeering its most marginalized members; and "Nightmare," a prescient look at the internal and external bonds that disintegrate during wartime. Some of his other efforts, such as "A Feasibility Study," "The Mice" and "The Zanti Misfits" (which features the series' best-remembered monsters, a race of fist-sized ants with leering human faces), were less cohesive but no less distinctive
Link Discuss (Thanks, Marc!)

Boy adopted by chimps

Nigerian parents leave their disabled infant son in jungle to die, but he is adopted by chimpanzees. Link Discuss

RSS aggregation in 46 lines of perl

Rael's written an RSS-aggregator for Blosxom (though you can use it for lots of things), in 46 lines of perl. Tie it together with Blosxome and you've got an entire blogging engine, complet avec RSS aggregation, in fewer than 100 lines of perl!
* Aggregate (i.e. read and blog) RSS syndicated feeds of about any flavour via a simple command-line interface

* Simpler than pie drag-n-drop installation

* Small (<= 46 lines of actual code ;-) and lightweight

* Makes use of all the operating system and Web server beneath its feet have to offer

* Doesn't even require an XML parser (whatever that is ;-)

Link Discuss (Thanks, Rael!)

Bluetooth harddrives -- living-room-area storage

Toshiba's shipped a 5GB Bluetooth hard-drive. I like the idea of being able to access, say, a living-room storage device over a wireless link, but I have to wonder about the speed of Bluetooth. At 0.72 Mb/s, it seems that 802.11b or 802.11a would have been a better choice -- who wants to wait an hour to transfer a CD's worth of MP3s to your laptop? Link Discuss (Thanks, Erik!)

Freedom through graffiti

A woman who was kidnapped by a trucker who drove her across the country, beating her and keeping her locked up for over a year is free. She used a marker that she hid in her sock to scrawl pleas for help on over 100 toilet walls at gas-stations -- her kidnapper stood guard over the door -- and finally, someone called 911. Cops used GPS to track down the truck and arrested the driver. The driver's employer characterizes the crime as a lovers' spat. Link Discuss

Epic Tums jingle

A gem in today's Onion:
Opium-Inspired Ad Executive Composes Epic Tums Jingle

CHICAGO— An eight-hour opium binge resulted in a towering work of advertising Sunday, when DDB Needham copywriter Brian Lisi gave birth to an epic 400-line radio jingle for Tums. "When Vulcan's fires spout and rage / within a roiling acid sea / let work the soothing tablet Tums / The Hell-sear'd forge within becomes / sweet alkaloid esprit," the jingle begins before detouring into iceberg imagery believed to represent Tums' new "Cool Relief" flavor. The ad, which begins production in June, is expected to run nearly 90 minutes.

Link Discuss (This one's for you, Grad!)

The happiest geek on earth

Joey is the happiest geek on earth. He feeds the beast by taking contract programming gigs, and spends the rest of the time working on hacktivist projects and playing alterna-tunes on his accordion, surrounded by beautiful women who are drawn, irresistably, to his exhibitionist performances and are compelled to purchase drinks for him while he gets random passers-by to snap photos with his digital camera. His latest adventure, "The accidental go-go dancer," is a classic. Link Discuss

What's that word again? Monorail!

Vegas is building the largest monorail transit system in the country:
Plans call for the line to stretch up to seven miles by the time construction ends later this decade, with stops at most casinos, downtown and the local convention center. Sleek bullet-shaped trains will be run by computers, not drivers, and travel up to 50 miles per hour on a winding route above roadways.

There will also be unusual safeguards. Since more than a few riders here are bound to be sloshed by more than a few drinks, every stop will be walled and sealed in glass, with doors timed to open only at the moment trains arrive -- so no one in a stupor falls from a platform.

Link Discuss (via /.)

It's all [Greek|Chinese|Hebrew|Turkish|Heavenly Script] to me

Fascinating whitepaper surveys the world's languages to determine what other languages native speakers consider to be most difficult to understand. Link Discuss (Thanks, Raffi!)

Are publishing contracts anti-trust?

The Authors' Guild is doing something more like its job these days -- instead of trying to tell Amazon how to run its business, it is publicizing the dreadful state of the modern publishing contract. The clauses they describe are indeed quite dreadful -- like the option to opt not to publish a novel without surrendering the rights to it.

The essayist's point is that publishers -- either by deliberate collusion or economic forces -- have harmonized their standard, non-negotiable boilerplate contracts, and that this leaves authors with no choice: Sign the contract or publish it yourself. He goes so far as to call it anti-trust.

For the record, the book contracts I've signed have been, on the whole, fair. The only parts I've ever taken serious issue with that I haven't been able to negotiate are the occassional nondisclosure clauses. When you're writing a book where you're a domain expert, it's hard to determine what information you learned in confidence versus information you came by over your transom. The other thing I've objected to is the "reasonable" withholding against returns, which is a pretty ugly practice, since it never specifies the definition of "reasonable."

OTOH, I did turn down a nonfic contract recently, after my agent looked it over and pronounced it completely unworkable. He sent the publisher a letter asking for a real contract and the publisher never wrote back. Que sera, sera. Link Discuss (Thanks, Pat!)

Write in Kerouac's house -- in Orlando!

OK, this is the ultimate writing gig: Live in Jack Kerouac's house in Orlando rent free. Got writers' block? Visit Walt Disney World! Orlando is the land of cheap buffets and discount pharmacies/groceries, close enough to the Keys for a diving weekend, and damn, I'm drooling. Link Discuss (Thanks, Pat!)

DIY coaster

Amazing DIY back-yard rollercoaster built out of scrap metal, the seat from a junker-car and the lap-belt from a wrecked airplane. Check out the 360 degree corkscrew!
John Ivers wanted to see a roller coaster.

So he built one -- a real, working roller coaster 180 feet long, 20 feet high, and complete with a 360-degree corkscrew. It goes over his steeply angled barn roof, wraps around a nearby Chinese elm and comes to a roaring stop in about 11 seconds

Link Discuss (Thanks, Michael!)

Tom Swift Jr glory!

Justin sez: "The Tom Swift, Jr series was my favourite pulp sci-fi when I was growing up - the undersea space coptor and the captive planetoid ruled my technic fantasies. This lucky boy had a great brain, unlimited funds and tolerant parents! And of course wild adventures. The writer of this site respects Tom Swift Jr's contributions to science and literature such that he has posted a book-by-book technology review to see whether these machines would be plausible. Nice to revisit the series if you've been a fan, and fun reading for technology speculation nuts. Before we go any further, please let me alert you to this finest web shrine to Tom Swift, Jr." Link Discuss (Thanks, Justin!)

Tax sf for space program

A Republican congressional candidate is proposing to fund the space program by imposing a 1% tax on science fiction paraphenalia. Link Discuss (via Electrolite)