Boing Boing 

Tor needs interns!

Tor Books -- the largest science fiction publisher in the world -- is looking for student interns. Tor's offices are at near (thanks, Patrick!) the top of the Flatiron building in midtown Manhattan, a beautiful turn-of-the-century skyscraper, and their offices are a-burst with wonderful books, mad editors, itinerant copyeditors, and some of the greatest sf writers in the world stopping by for a free lunch. If I was a student in New York, voom, I'd be there like a shot. Link Discuss

Automatic warchalk symbol generation

Yoz "Internet Yiddish" Grahame (who insists that he is a far-less-than-excellent geek) has whipped up a little Web app that takes the specifics of a wireless access point as parameters and spits out a printable PDF of the wibo warchalking mark for it. Here's the one for mine. (Matt Jones adds that the back end for this was written by Dean Hall, credit where credit is due). Link Discuss

Uke video clip from Hawaiian public TV

I usually save my ukulele-related posts for my uke blog, but this clip is too good not to share with the boingers. See what you non-uke players are missing out on? Link Discuss

Infoworld doesn't understand community wireless

Glenn Fleishman nails what's wrong with Infoworld's latest howler on why open WiFi is doomed.
The column completely misses the point of why community networks (or freenets as he describes them) exist at all: because people want them to, not as tools for business. Any business use is incidental to the notion of ubiquitous, free access. They are acts of will. Because they are communities of interest, the notion that they don't serve a business audience has no impact on their growth or utility.
Here's some of what Ephraim Schwartz wrote in Infoworld:
"If you need a presentation from your office and you had access the day before on Folsom and 10th Street [in San Francisco] and it's not there the next day, you are hosed," Pereyra said.

The point is, to get value from a Wi-Fi network, it must be reliable.

And here's a little pre-refutation from an old O'Reilly column I wrote:
Even as cable modem companies are knocking hundreds of thousands of subscribers offline, untethered forced-leisure gangs are committing random acts of senseless wirelessness, armed with cheap-like-borscht 802.11b cards and antennae made from washers, hot glue, and Pringles cans.

The Community Wireless movement is a fantastic example of how something unreliable can be cool, useful, self-sustaining, and utterly devoid of revenue potential. Wireless ISPs like Mobilestar charge a small fortune for network access at airport lounges and Starbucks in a handful of cities, and are still going broke, while a ride in a taxi through midtown Manhattan with an iBook will yield a new open network at every stoplight. Mobilestar's $60/month gets you a service that is only slightly better than what a mass of public-spirited (or security-impaired) WiFi users have accomplished without even trying. It's just too damned expensive to provide the kind of reliability that stress-feeding mobile execs demand. Meanwhile, the cranky, kludgey world of open 802.11 base-stations gains ground every day. It'll never be good enough for people who use phrases like "mission-critical," but it'll be just fine for the rest of us.

Link Discuss

Tetris with physics

Triptych: Tetris with complex physics. Link Discuss (Thanks, JJZ!)

UC Berkeley Physics junque for sale this Sunday

This Sunday, the Berkeley Physics Department is auctioning off its old junk, including:
A reflecting galvanometer covered in Bakelite that's as heavy as a lead brick.

A four-foot long demonstration slide rule.

A Portable Precision Potentiometer.

Brass spectrometers.

This is just a warm up for a much larger auction to be held at the end of July. Link Discuss (via Oblomovka)

A con man's worst nightmare

I hate those door-to-door magazine salespeople, especially the ones from American Community Services. They are as pushy as hell, and the prices are a rip-off. (Here's an article about some of the crimes commited by ACS agents.) When some magazine scamster came to a town in New Jersey, residents started posting warnings about him on the town bulletin board. He showed up at someone's door and before he could start his spiel, the homeowner asked him if he was "Mr. Williams." It freaked this guy out and he skipped town. Link Discuss (Thanks, Derek!)

Letter to NPR redux

I've posted my letter to NPR's ombudsman about their new linking policy. If you're thinking of writing a letter to NPR, here's a model you can follow if you want:
However, NPR is a respected news-agency. When it takes the position that permission to link can be extended and revoked, it creates a climate of uncertainty among NPR's audience who use the Web. NPR is failing its commitment to journalistic ethics in promoting this harmful myth. It is misleading its stakeholders and betraying their trust in NPR's integrity.

Those audience members who understand the true facts of linking lose respect daily for NPR. Those who do not are led farther and farther astray by a trusted source of information.

You owe your listeners and readers better than this. NPR should immediately withdraw this policy in its entirety and formally retract any statements that implied the necessity of permission before linking, and so serve its journalistic mission.

Link Discuss

NPR renews rotten linking policy -- again

NPR has revised its linking "policy." The revision seems like an improvement, but it's not -- it's just as bad as it ever was. NPR still maintains that people who link to NPR's site require permission -- the new policy merely conditionally grants that permission.

I'll say it again: The most harmful lie you can tell about the Web is that permission is a prerequisite for linking. There is no copyright interest in controlling how people reference your work.

The most ironic thing about this is that NPR maintains that the rationale for it is to maintain "the highest journalistic ethics and standards." Journalism is about telling the comprehensive and accurate truth. Here we have NPR knowingly promulgating a destructive myth, something not borne out by copyright law or practice.

People who respect NPR's journalistic integrity may be duped into believing this harmful lie (as was one friend who emailed me to tell me that NPR wouldn't have this policy if there wasn't some debate about whether there's a copyright interest in links). If they succeed in convincing their audience that there's an interest in controlling links, we don't have any basis for the Web.

I'm sending fresh mail to Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR's ombudsman, to tell him what I think of this. I recommend that you do the same. I will also be withholding my donation from NPR until this policy is reversed. Much as I hold public radio dear, NPR's policy has the potential to irreparably damage the Web. I would give up a thousand NPRs for the WWW.

NPR encourages and permits links to content on NPR Web sites. However, NPR is an organization committed to the highest journalistic ethics and standards and to independent, noncommercial journalism, both in fact and appearance. Therefore, the linking should not (a) suggest that NPR promotes or endorses any third party's causes, ideas, Web sites, products or services, or (b) use NPR content for inappropriate commercial purposes. We reserve the right to withdraw permission for any link.
Once again, let's have a look at that:
  • Therefore, the linking should not (a) suggest that NPR promotes or endorses any third party's causes, ideas, Web sites, products or services
    You don't need a link policy to acheive this end. Someone who makes a fraudulent misrepresentation is committing a crime; your policy is irrelevant to the remedies you could seek in such an instance.
  • (b) use NPR content for inappropriate commercial purposes.
    Again, you don't need a policy for this. There are illegal commercial uses of NPR's programming; if someone breaks the law, the presence of this policy won't matter. As to "inappropriate" uses, who gets to define inappropriate? There are plenty of unauthorized, even impolite uses that are lawful. Prohibiting "inappropriate" uses is nonsensical, prohibiting unlawful uses is redundant.
  • We reserve the right to withdraw permission for any link.
    You can't withdraw that which you did not extend. I don't need your permission to link to your site. The absence or presence of your permission is irrelevant. There is no intellectual property interest in controlling the contexts in which your work may be referenced.
Link Discuss

Shiny Junk Bots

Excellent gallery of robot sculpture made from junk. Check out the working handmade pop guns, priced from $300 to $500. Link Discuss (Thanks, Kevin!)

New Anti-Sleep Drug

Washington Post article about modafinil, a new drug that kills the urge to sleep. (Personally, I love sleeping.)
In trials on healthy people like Army helicopter pilots, modafinil has allowed humans to stay up safely for almost two days while remaining practically as focused, alert, and capable of dealing with complex problems as the well-rested. Then, after a good eight hours' sleep, they can get up and do it again -- for another 40 hours, before finally catching up on their sleep.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Kevin!)

Mapping the spammers

Amazing -- slow loading -- map shows the known and speculative connections between spammers and the ISPs that support their mailing and product-marketing. Link Discuss (via /.)

Apple's history in several nutshells

Fantastic, exhaustive, well-written, well-researched history of Apple at apple-history.com.
Announced in September 1989, The Mac Portable was Apple's first attempt at a more easily portable Macintosh. It had a bay for a 3.5" half-height drive, and could support up to two Super Drives. Reaction to the Portable was poor. It was clunky, slow, had no expansion capabilities, and its active matrix screen (later backlit) made it incredibly expensive. It sold for $6,500.
I lay my degenerating disc and chronic shoulder-pain at the tiny rubber feet of this computer. Link Discuss (via Raelity Bytes)

TrackBack: P2P blog-pinging

Movable Type launches TrackBack, a framework to allow weblogs to ping each other when one blog references another. The idea is that when, say, a Boing Boing entry links to, say, a Scripting News entry, that Scripting News will get a ping that gives it the URL of the referencing Boing Boing post. So in addition to the Discuss link at the end of the story, Scripting could also have a link to page with all the blog entries that have picked up that link. Meta-tools like Daypop can scour these pages and build meme-charts, showing the interconnectedness of all blogs.

So Ben and Mena have released TrackBack -- an event which reminds me of the release of the Blogger API -- and now it remains to be seen if other blog-software vendors/authors will integrate TrackBack support on their own tools. I know that TrackBack sounds like an amazing tool for Boing Boing; I hope that Ev thinks well enough of it to incorporate it into Blogger. Link Discuss (via Aaron)

Radio Warchalking

Matt Jones did an excellent interview with MPR's Future Tense yesterday about warchalking -- the practice of drawing hobo runes on sidewalks to indicate the presence of wireless connectivity nearby. Here's an MP3 of the interview. Link Discuss (Thanks, Jon!)

Popup blocker for Netscape 7

While you might have been enjoying the wonder of Mozilla's popup-ad-blocker, pity the poor AOL user. The version of Netscape 7 that AOL users are provided with has had the preference item that allows for popup-bocking disabled by the AOL/Time-Warner/Netscape mothership.

No sweat. Hack a couple of lines into your preferences file and Netscape 7 will block popups just as well as Mozilla!

Make a backup of pref.js. Edit pref.js with a text editor and insert one of the following (don't insert the expanations after the line of code):

user_pref("capability.policy.default.Window.open","noAccess"); -- will cut off all popup windows

user_pref("dom.disable_open_during_load", true); -- will cut off popup windows only when a page is loading

user_pref("browser.block.target_new_window", true); -- will "override popping up new windows on target=anything"

Save prefs.js and restart Netscape 7.0 PR1. You could try each one of these and see which works the best for you.

Link Discuss (Thanks, cel4145!)

Meetup: Meatspace camaraderie for Internet shut-ins

Meetup: a new service where you indicate your interests and your location, automatically locate other people local to you with similar interests, vote on a place to hang out and actually, you know, meet up. As an Internet shut-in with a permanent computer-tan, I'm a little leery of meeting up with actual raw biomass in meatspace, but I suppose that there's some reason to hang out in real-life. Link Discuss (Thanks, Scott!)

Detroit: One theatre for one million people

The NYT reports on Detroit's only first-run theatre. Detroit is the model of a doughnut city (empty core, thriving suburbs), a Jane Jacobs nightmare town, and there's something about a major urban center with only one movie-house that epitomizes doughtnut-ness.
"I don't know if companies are afraid to invest in the city," said John Jennings, 38, a fourth-grade teacher sent by children to refill a popcorn tub during "Scooby-Doo."

"Thankfully, these owners were brave enough to invest," Mr. Jennings continued. "A one million population city should have at least six theaters. I think that was the number before the riots. And we should have some minority-owned theaters."

Link Discuss

New Canadian anti-terror protocol: Shut down wireless

The Inquirer reports that mobile radio signals are being jammed at the site of the G8 summit in Alberta (to stop terrorists from using cellphones) and speculates that the Mounties will also block 2.4Ghz emissions. More alarming is the speculation that the Pope's visit to Toronto at the end of July will evoke the same countermeasure. Blocking cellular and WiFi in the largest city in the country for a whole week is just Not On. Link Discuss

Amazon comes to Canada

Amazon has come to Canada. I can't figure out if this is good news or bad news. After all, Canadian bookselling has been demolished by big-box retailers -- the Chapters/Indigo monolith. Chapters/Indigo started strong, opening stores that were big, airy, kept amazing hours (7AM to 11PM!), stocked millions of SKUs, and hired great people who were really knowledgeable -- not to mention offering deep-dish discounts on new releases. But it went sour. Chapters consolidated its national distribution, bought out competing distributors, and became a vertical, virtual monopoly.

Independent retailers were forced to buy books from their biggest competitor, who engaged in all manner of anti-competitive practices (Chapters' distribution arm had the exclusive on Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, and every store in the country -- except for Chapters stores -- was given an out-of-stock message when they tried to order it. Indie retailers ended up buying the book from Chapters retail outlets at the 30 percent new-book-discount to stock their shelves, putting money in their competitors' pockets). Indigo and Chapters merged, the number of SKUs plummeted, the prices went up, the hours were foreshortened.

The last time I was in Toronto, I stopped into the big Indigo and big Chapters at Bay at Bloor. They had empty shelves, minimal staffing, and the cluster of indie bookstores that had thrived in that neighborhood were starving.

Meanwhile, Chapters/Indigo has taken to paying its bills with returned merchandise (sometimes reordering the same books on the same day, a favorite dodge of the mega-bookstore), or not at all. Some American publishers now regard the Canadian market as a bad credit risk; fewer copies are shipped, the terms are tighter and nastier. A friend in the trade tells me that her credit-limit has been reduced to one dollar: she has to pay in advance for every book she orders -- that means that she doesn't take flyers on new titles that she thinks might take off; she just can't afford the risk.

Say what you will about Amazon and its relationship to indie stores, but its presence in Canada can't be any worse than what Chapters/Indigo did to the market. Perhaps a little competition will kick soil over Chapters' coffin.

I hear that Amazon.ca is in business with Canada Post. With luck this means that Canada Post will revise its goony package-delivery policies (when I lived in Toronto, they wouldn't even attempt package delivery to my place; instead, you'd have to go to the distant post office and queue up to get your books). And of course, by keeping the sales that formerly went to Amazon.com inside of Canada, it will repatriate (some of) the book-buying dollars that used to head south of the border. At least the money will go to Canadian distributors for Canadian editions. Link Discuss

We're back!

We were offline for a couple hours this evening. Not sure why, but we're back! Discuss

Snowcrash: Non-disposable Swedish furniture

Snowcrash -- the Swedish design firm -- is chock full o' super-leet Swedish design. It's like Ikea for people with an unlimited budget. Link Discuss (Thanks, Matthew!)

WorldCom's pyramid scheme

Was WorldCom a pyramid scheme? This essay suggests that it was:
Here's how the Pyramid worked, step by step:

1. WorldCom reports great results in the carriers' carrier market.
2. New entrants raise money, pointing to WorldCom's revenue and stock price
3. These entrants buy Dark Fiber from WorldCom, as they play Telecom Monopoly to build out their global networks
4. WorldCom reports improved fundamentals -- driving its stock price up further.

Then the cycle repeats itself:

1. More entrants raise money, using WorldCom's highflying stock price to justify raising more money at higher valuations in the private and public markets. WorldCom raises money too.
2. New entrants build out their own networks with all the capital they've raised
3. Everyone buys excess dark fiber capacity from each other.
4. Everyone's fundamentals and valuation improves, for a time...

Link Discuss (Thanks, John!)

More on corporate felons

Dan Gillmore responded to my comments about corporate corrupting on his blog:
If financial corruption is this deep in the system, rational investors -- the people without whom markets will collapse -- will get out and stay out. And if that happens, the economy will go into a depression.

As I said, some of these slime who've ripped off their investors, employees and communities must go to jail. Then we need laws, with teeth, that deal with this situation.

George W. Bush said today he was outraged to hear of WorldCom's fraud. Nice to hear this sentiment -- but come on.

Here's my response:
Here's the thing. Everyone I know assumes that the Enron people will do minimal time and pay substantial -- but not destructive -- fines. Further, they assume that Enron's crooks have their money squirreled away in secret accounts. No matter how they're punished, their children will go to Ivy League schools without debt while the children of the shareholders and taxpayers they raped will be lucky to have a roof over their heads. No matter how they're punished, they'll someday walk out of minimum-security white-collar jail and put on a suit worth more than everything in my apartment put together and go out for a meal worth twice as much on their private Caribbean island while the people they screwed go hungry.

What's justice for these people? What's an effective deterrent? Life in prison? 50 years? Penury? Scarlet letters?

Link Discuss

New Ren & Stimpy coming to TNN

TV Guide reports that John K. is busy making a new series of Ren & Stimpy cartoons! He hates TV executives (see my interview with him) so it'll be interesting to see what happens. Link Discuss

Me vs. NPR on TechTV

I did a TV appearance yesterday on TechTV's "The Screen-Savers" about NPR's linking policy. Computer problems conspired to keep me from blogging this before it aired, unfortunately. Link Discuss

Gillmor on corporate criminals

Dan Gillmor blasts the corporate crooks whose transgressions fill today's newscasts, greedy bastards who milked billions from their companies, betraying their shareholders. Dan thinks they're aberrant, and that their worst sin is making investors believe that there's no way for the little guy to win. I wonder how aberrant they are -- these aren't fly-by-night operators; the perps in these billion-dollar, economy-destroying felonies are seasoned CEOs and CFOs, people who come from the ranks of Big Five consulting firms and out of world-renowned B-schools. These crooks are the kinds of talking hairpieces that VCs like to parachute into startups to get them ready for IPO; they're the kinds of back-slapping cap-toothed glad-handers who know how to talk to the investment bankers. Some days, I believe that the only way to get to the top of a venture-funded or public company is to check your morals at the door.
Rational people are starting to assume something that isn't necessarily true. They're becoming convinced that the system is hopelessly, irrevocably rigged against everyday investors by a corrupt cadre of insiders in boardrooms and on Wall Street, willfully assisted by regulators and elected officials who are either corrupt themselves or simply blind.

None of this excuses the greed that turned many of those currently rational people into greedmongers themselves. Every financial bubble brings out the sharks, and the smaller fish tend to swim en masse into the killing zone.

Link Discuss

Contraband Kinder Suprise Eggs sales booming online

Kinder Suprise Eggs -- chocolate eggs with tiny do-it-yourself toys inside -- are banned in the US as a choking hazard. Kinder-fans have therefore had to rely on smuggled eggs retailed in "ethnic" grocery stores or on friends returning from abroad. The Internet, though, has managed to put Kinderfetishists in direct touch with suppliers abroad, letting them score their sweet sweet contraband without leaving their seats.
Jim MacKenzie began selling the eggs here six months ago via his kinder-eggs .com site and says he lives "comfortably" off his U.S. profits. He won't say what those are but says he has 3,600 customers in his e-mail address book, and has sent as many as 100 cases a day -- 2,400 eggs a day -- in cases priced at $22.95. (Fundraisers get a break: $19 a case). Mr. MacKenzie, a Canadian from Delta, British Columbia, hires extra help at Christmas and Easter to do packing.

In Heidelberg, Germany, where the eggs are known as Kinder Uberraschung, or children's surprise, Linda Oldaker began shipping to the U.S. a year ago, taking orders via her Web site. Ms. Oldaker won't disclose U.S. sales, but she says she had five e-mail orders from the U.S. over a recent two-day period, including one for eight dozen. One day recently, the eBay auction site listed 74 people offering Kinder items, including 200 eggs available for shipping from "our video and convenience store just north of the New York State border."

Link Discuss (via Oblomovka)

Alternaporn: The New New Thing

Nice Wired News story about the rise of alterna-porn, medium-core erotica starring punk/goth/raver women. These sites are small, cheap, non-exploitative, profitable and a (comparatively) huge hit with women. The models look like real (pierced, tattooed) people, and members visit as much for the chat and the model-blogs as for the photos. I was at a party at Richard Kadrey's place a couple months back and a bunch of the Suicide Girls models were there; they seemed like pretty sharp technology-fetishists, indie filmmakers, photographers, writers. Link Discuss

Small-claims anti-spammer

Inspiring story of an anti-spam activist who sues spammers for fraud and similar in small-claims courts, collects default judgements, and sends collection agencies after the spammers. The column's author calls for 1,000 volunteers to do the same, putting a powerful chill into the hears of spammers. Link Discuss (Thanks, Glen!)