Boing Boing 

2000+ year old Greek computer reinterpreted

The Antikythera mechanism, recovered off a sunken ship in Greece in 1900, is thought to be a clockwork device to calculate the orbits of the celestial bodies. New analysis of the remaining fragments shows that it was wicked-cool:
The Greeks believed in an earth-centric universe and accounted for celestial bodies' motions using elaborate models based on epicycles, in which each body describes a circle (the epicycle) around a point that itself moves in a circle around the earth. Mr Wright found evidence that the Antikythera mechanism would have been able to reproduce the motions of the sun and moon accurately, using an epicyclic model devised by Hipparchus, and of the planets Mercury and Venus, using an epicyclic model derived by Apollonius of Perga. (These models, which predate the mechanism, were subsequently incorporated into the work of Claudius Ptolemy in the second century AD.)

A device that just modelled the motions of the sun, moon, Mercury and Venus does not make much sense. But if an upper layer of mechanism had been built, and lost, these extra gears could have modelled the motions of the three other planets known at the time—Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In other words, the device may have been able to predict the positions of the known celestial bodies for any given date with a respectable degree of accuracy, using bronze pointers on a circular dial with the constellations of the zodiac running round its edge.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Mark!)

Dan Gillmor responds to Jack Valenti

Dan Gillmor interviewed Jack Valenti last week in his column and did the impartial thing, representing Valenti's beliefs as fairly as possible. This week, Dan takes Valenti's arguments apart, looking at what Hollywood's agenda really entails:
So the movie and music companies are going back to Congress for another helping. They are asking for laws that would force technology innovators to restrict the capabilities of devices -- cripple PCs and other machines that communicate so they can't make copies the copyright holders don't explicitly allow. Amazingly, the entertainment industry also wants permission to hack into networks and machines they believe are being used to violate copyrights.

Here is what it all means. To protect a business model and thwart even the possibility of infringement, the cartel wants technology companies to ask permission before they can innovate. The media giants want to keep information flow centralized, to control the new medium as if it's nothing but a jazzed-up television. Instead of accepting, as they do today, that a certain amount of penny-ante infringement will occur and then going after the major-league pirates, they call every act of infringement -- and some things that aren't infringement at all -- an act of piracy or stealing. Saying it doesn't make it so.

Link Discuss

Automotive software Easter Egg discovered

Slashdot's reporting that according to the current ish of Popular Science, an Easter Egg has been discovered in the transmission control software for the BMW M3:
...the proper combination of commands to the electronically controlled manual transmission will cause the car to rev up to 4000rpm and drop the clutch...
Are we sure that this is a feature and not a bug? Link Discuss

Disney's no-good Park-Czar replaced

Disney has named a new president of Walt Disney Parks, replacing Paul Pressler, the exec who did his damnedest to ruin Disneyland, slashing spending (at the expense of safety and employee satisfaction), building the craptastical California Adventure, reducing the number of SKUs available for sale in the Park stores, and so on. The new president, James Rasulo, used to be head of Euro Disney. Link Discuss

Turkey City Lexicon

After the talk at UT Austin, I spent Saturday at the Turkey City science fiction writers' workshop at Bruce Sterling's place. Turkey City is a venerable science fiction workshop that has spawned many good writers and a lexicon of science fiction critical terms that is the de facto standard for understanding what works and what doesn't in a work of science fiction:
Squid on the Mantelpiece

Chekhov said that if there are dueling pistols over the mantelpiece in the first act, they should be fired in the third. In other words, a plot element should be deployed in a timely fashion and with proper dramatic emphasis. However, in SF plotting the MacGuffins are often so overwhelming that they cause conventional plot structures to collapse. It's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is levelling the city. This mismatch between the conventional dramatic proprieties and SF's extreme, grotesque, or visionary thematics is known as the "squid on the mantelpiece."

Card Tricks in the Dark

Elaborately contrived plot which arrives at (a) the punchline of a private joke no reader will get or (b) the display of some bit of learned trivia relevant only to the author. This stunt may be intensely ingenious, and very gratifying to the author, but it serves no visible fictional purpose. (Attr. Tim Powers)

I had the cold from hell all weekend and I'm jetlagged, but I wanted to get some links up before I hit the sack. Until tomorrow! Link Discuss

My talk at UT Austin

I've been in Austin all weekend. On Friday, I spoke at the University of Texas about EFF issues. Jon Lebkowsky was there -- hell, he organized it -- and he blogged the hell out of the talk:
Entertainment industry has tradition of attacking technology: the piano roll, the radio (sued by vaudeville), television (would destroy cinema!), "the Betamax affair"... the latter being the first consumer VCR. In Betamax case, argued that the ability to make a full copy of a broadcast work would not be a fair use (in terms of copyright). It was illegal enough that the VCR should be kept off the market, they argued. The Supreme Court got the case, and the thing that shook out of it was the Betamax principle: a technology is legal so long as it has substantial non-infringeing uses. This principle is under attack.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998. Illegal to defeat a copyright measure. Regionalization system for DVDs. This is a control that limits distribution. John Johansen in Norway figured out how to break the content scrambling system and allows you to move from one region to another, override copy protection. It was called DeCSS - Johansen is facing trial for creating a piece of code.

Link (Wes blogged it, too) Discuss

Underwater high-voltage photography

Stefan sez: "My brother's friend Sue plays with high voltage. The linked-to page shows the gadget she used to photograph high voltage discharges in *water*." Link Discuss (Thanks, Stefan!)

Nostalgia for analog cameras

Minox has just shipped a teensy digital camera that looks like "a miniaturized Leica M3 classic camera of the fifties with digital interior." Link Discuss (Thanks, Jef!)

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom reviewed on Blog Critics

Kevin Marks reviews my novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," on blogcritics.org:
About once every ten years, a Science Fiction novel appears that redefines the art form. One that describes a world different from our own, but recognisably ours - extrapolated from current trends, but richly evocative of its difference, adding words to the language that needed to be coined. Books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy,Snow Crash and now Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

What these books have in common are worlds that draw you in and make you believe in the technological underpinnings, accepting them implicitly and learning their terminology (TANSTAAFL, frood, Metaverse, Whuffie) as you go, while you follow the adventures of characters you come to care about.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Kevin!)

Turd-harvested coffee in the news

Another one of those end-of-history headlines: "Marsupial-manure coffee is flying off the shelves." This isnt' a very new story; turd-java (where the partially digested beans are harvested from the feces of an animal that eats 'em in the wild) has been a weird-ass coffee-fetish that's been creeping into the mainstream for a couple years. And what coul dbe more mainstream than a conservative cattle-country burg like Edmonton?
Coffee fanatics in Vancouver and Edmonton are paying $150 per quarter-pound for the privilege of taking home coffee that came from the poo of an odd marsupial...

The result is worth $600 a pound and has a chocolatey taste.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Dave!)

Software Defined Radio defined

Eric Blossom, the developer behind GNU Radio, is interviewed on Slashdot today. GNU Radio is a free-software Software Defined Radio project, wherein an oatmeal PC and some commodity radio hardware are combined to make a device that can tune and demodulate a wide range of signals, from 802.11b to FM radio to cellular; in other words, it's a recipe for turning your computer into a universal radio. It will also be illegal under the Braodcast Flag initiatives working their way through Congress, the FCC and WIPO right now. Link Discuss

My interview with Howard Rheingold

I interviewed Howard Rheingold about his new book, Smart Mobs, for TheFeature. Link Discuss

Haunted Mansion movie inches forward

Disney's put up a little brochureware site about its forthcoming (and very exciting!) film based on the Haunted Mansion ride, a followup to the Country Bears movie (I may be the only adult in the world who enjoyed that one). All that's there now is a downlaodable poster, which is pretty keen, except for this supercillious bit of legal crapola you have to click through to get at it.
Disney Pictures hereby grants you a limited, nonexclusive, nontransferable, one-year royalty free license to use and display the Images on your site in accordance with the terms below. Nothing herein by implication or otherwise, shall grant you any rights other than as explicitly set forth below.

You shall receive HTML code and GIF file (the "Files") from Disney Pictures to incorporate the Images into your site. You agree not to modify the Files in any way. Acceptance and use of the Files indicates acceptance of these terms of use. If you do not accept these terms of use, you must not use or display the Files. This license will commence when you receive the Files and will terminate automatically, one year later, or immediately upon any violation of these terms of use. Also, we reserve the right to terminate this license at any time, in our sole discretion, upon notice to you.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Amanda!)

Notes from infamous Guards/Prisoners experiment

Alena sez: "Details of the infamous 1971 Prison Experiment at Stanford University (these types of experiments are today banned due to the psychological harm inflicted on the subjects). In the study, ordinary college students, who responded to an ad for paid subjects of an experiment, were randomly assigned to one of two groups, prisoners or guards, in a simulated prison environment. The ensuing startlingly rapid transformation of ordinary young people (and of Psychology professors!) into sadistic prison guards and fearful, hopeless, and identity-stripped prisoners is astounding."
Prisoner #8612 began suffering from acute emotional disturbance, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage. In spite of all of this, we had already come to think so much like prison authorities that we thought he was trying to "con" us -- to fool us into releasing him... [A] colleague had heard we were doing an experiment, and he came to see what was going on. I briefly described what we were up to, and Gordon asked: "Say, what's the independent variable in this study?" I got really angry at him. Here I had a prison break on my hands. The security of my men and the stability of my prison was at stake, and now, I had to deal with this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong who was concerned about the independent variable!
Link Discuss (Thanks, Alena!)

Rats' intestines and pigs' teeth

This is the headline of the month, possibly the year: "Doctors Grow Pig Teeth in Rat Intestines." Do we even need to read the story to understand it? It's like a freaking haiku of near-singularity, future-shocky wonderment!
U.S. doctors said on Thursday they have managed to grow living pig teeth in rats, a feat of biotechnology that experts said could spark a dental revolution.

Researchers at Boston's Forsyth Institute said their successful experiment suggests the existence of dental stem cells, which could one day allow a person to replace a lost tooth with an identical one grown from his or her own cells.

"The ability to identify, isolate and propagate dental stem cells to use in biological replacement tooth therapy has the potential to revolutionize dentistry," said Dominick DePaola, president and CEO of the institute that focuses on oral and facial science.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Dave!)

Thank the dove, stymie the hawk

Here's a site where you can get a sample letter to your congresscritter, asking her/him to support Rep Barbara Lee's Bill, HR 473 that asks Congress to consider peaceful alternatives to resolving the (non-)situation in Iraq, and asking them to vote down the Shrub's war-bill. Link Discuss

Sir Greenspan's Madrigal

The Queen has knighted Alan Greenspan
"It's a very unusual day for an economist," he said, as he received the honorary knighthood in the softly lit library of Balmoral Castle, which looks out onto the royal rose garden and the valley of the River Dee.
Link Discuss

Duct-tapers -- suspension and bondage fetish goes mainstream

Duct-tapers are mainstream bondage fetishists who tape each other up to walls and ceilings "just to see if it will hold." Pervs. Link Discuss (Thanks Steve!)

Gearheads and bunnyhuggers in the OED

Some of the words in the new shorter Oxford English Dictionary:
Asylum seeker, economic migrant, bed-blocking, and stakeholder pension reflect the serious side of life; bunny-hugger (a conservationist or animal lover), chick flick (a film appealing to women), gearhead (a car enthusiast), and Grinch (a spoilsport or killjoy) are entries in a more light-hearted vein. Several entries are testaments to the popularity of science fiction, among them Tardis from the TV series Doctor Who, Jedi from Star Wars, and Klingon from Star Trek.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Mark!)

Dabba Wallahs: India's meal-delivery FedEx

Amazing story about the "dabba wallahs" -- India's 112-year-old meal-delivery system that outdoes FedEx using pictograms, bicycles, and largely illiterate (but well-compensated) deliverypeople:
As part of the tiffin distribution process, every day the meals are picked up from commuters' homes in Mumbai long after the commuters have left for work, delivered to them on time, then picked up and delivered home before the commuters return.

Each tiffin carrier has, painted on its top, a number of symbols that identify where the carrier was picked up, the originating and destination stations and the address to which it is to be delivered.

After the tiffin carriers are picked up, they are taken to the nearest railway station, where they are sorted according to the destination station.

At the destination station they are unloaded by other dabba wallahs and re-sorted, this time according to street address and floor.

The 80 kg crates of carriers, carried on dabba wallahs' heads, hand-wagons and cycles are delivered at 12.30 p.m., picked up at 1.30 p.m., and returned when they came.

The system relies on multiple relays of dabba wallahs, and a single tiffin box may change hands up to three times during its journey from home to office.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Tom!)

Labels shoot selves in foot by focusing on stopping P2P

A new KPMG study concludes that the RIAA and its member companies are hurting themselves by focusing on cracking down on P2P sharing instead of figuring out ways to earn a living with it.
Media companies must put less emphasis on protecting digital content and instead find ways to make money from digital music and movies if they hope to beat back copyright pirates who threaten their businesses, according to a study released on Wednesday from KPMG...

"They complain about the Napsters," she said, referring to the bankrupt music swap site that was found to violate U.S. copyright laws. "But why do the Napsters exist, because the marketplace wants them."

Steel said that if the issue "is not on boardroom table ... then that boardroom has problems."

Link Discuss (Thanks, Michael!)

Speaking in Texas this Friday

Just a reminder: I'm speaking at the University of Texas at Austin at 7PM this Friday -- giving a talk on Hollywood's legislative agenda, sponsored by EFF-Austin, ACTLab, and ACLU-Texas. Love to see you there! Link Discuss

Public domain superheroes reborn in Tom Strong

Great piece on the pulp comic characters that appear in the new series of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Tom Strong (thanks, Zed) funnybook. These characters, like The Terror and The Fighting Yank, are in the public domain because their original publishers didn't register (or renew, it's unclear) their copyright, which means that they've been granted a new lease on life in Tom Strong. The article segues into a very good discussion of the public domain. This was just Slashdotted, so it might be a little slow, but it's worth the wait. Link Discuss (via /.)

WiFi Trek badges

Brian sez: Vocera Communications has developed what is essentially a Star Trek: TNG-style lapel communicator device that uses WiFi to transmit voice across networks.
The Vocera Communications System consists of Vocera Server Software, residing on a customer premise server, and Vocera Communications Badges, which operate over a wireless LAN (802.11b). The badge - which weighs less than 2 ounces - includes a microphone and speaker, LCD readout to display text messages, and an 802.11b wireless radio. It can be clipped to a shirt pocket or collar, or worn on a lanyard.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Brian!)

Bond-Barbie

Barbie has been made over as a Bond girl:
As James Bond, Ken has matured nicely with rooted hair, with slight silvering at his temples, wearing a midnight blue tuxedo, and authentic recreation of the classic tux by Brioni, the famed clothier. Linda Hemming, the award winning costume designer in charge of this year's James Bond film, outfits Barbie doll. She wears a blood red gown with a glittering gold lace overlay and a gauzy red shawl with a gold filigree design. Her gown is cut up the side to reveal lots of leg as well as not so discreet hip strap that anchors Barbie's cell phone. The set is slated for release in November, to coincide with the premiere of "Die Another Day," the new James Bond film. Bond, James Bond, meet Barbie, just Barbie...
Link Discuss (Thanks Derek!)

Lovely Tokyo rant

Tokyopia is a lovely Japanese gaming site, and it features long, autobiographical, non-gaming-related rants by some of its correspondants, like this one, called "The State of Tokyo Hygiene."
I was halfway up the stairs, in the midst of a people-wave, when the punks made their move. The short one clipped me in the middle of the back with his shoulder. The tall one got me in the back of the head with the side of his elbow. I snapped forward, brushing the top of my long hair into the back of a hurrying salaryman. My toes caught on the bumpy surface of a yellow tile designed to aid the cane-carrying blind, and my chin slammed into the stair at the salaryman's feet. My CD player fell out of my hands, and was neatly impaled by my knee as my leg twisted. Somehow, I managed to slide down one stair, twisting my ankle. When I opened my eyes, I was on my back. Two upside-down Yakuza punks were stepping up onto the platform. My foot hurt like hell -- I must have chipped a bone. It looked like I was going to miss the train.

All the way to work on the morning I met Mami, I thought about the day before, on the Keihin-Tohoku platform, waiting for the train. My CD had been cracked right down the middle. The first five tracks played; the sixth one skipped, and the last ten didn't work at all. I sat there, wondering how my CD player had survived the fall. I had made up my mind: tonight I'm going to beat Metal Gear Solid 2. It isn't released in Japan for seven more days. I got my friend to send it to me for a reason. I'm going to beat it, and then spoil it for the game-loving salaryman who spoiled Final Fantasy X for me. He has a lesson every day. It's payback time.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Marc!)

12 Reasons to Pre-Order my Novel

I've put up a page called "12 Reasons to Pre-Order Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," with blurbs by twelve people telling you why they think you should buy it. Here're the blurbers:
  1. Bruce Sterling
  2. Lawrence Lessig
  3. Kelly Link
  4. Mark Frauenfelder
  5. Karl Schroeder
  6. Rudy Rucker
  7. Howard Rheingold
  8. Douglas Rushkoff
  9. Tim O'Reilly
  10. Bruce Schneier
  11. Gardner Dozois
  12. Mitch Kapor
And the blurbs are great, like this one:
Wow! Disney imagineering meets nanotechnology, the reputation economy, and Ray Kurzweil's transhuman future. As much fun as Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and as packed with mind bending ideas about social changes cascading from the frontiers of science.

Tim O'Reilly
Publisher and Founder, O'Reilly and Associates

(NB: This used to be 13 reasons, but I just realized that I somehow ended up with a phantom entry from Dan GIllmor, who, on closer examination, it appears I failed to deliver a copy to, like a total idiot. My apologies, Dan) Link Discuss

Laura Bush's 419 letter

A new addition to the parodical genre of 419 ("Nigerian Money Laundry Scam") letters from members of the Shrub establishment, following up on Cheney's letter.
I am the widow of the late President George W. Bush of the United States of America. I am writing you this letter in confidence regarding my current circumstances.

I escaped the United States ahead of death squads with my husband and two children Jenna and Frank, moving first to England and then, when my husband's political enemies took power there, to Austria. All of our wealth, obtained legitimately through baseball, oil drilling and insider trading, was seized by the new government of the USA under the despotic regime of (Dr.) Noam Chomsky, except for the contents of a few Swiss bank accounts. These bank accounts, which contain social security lock-box funds and the bulk of the 2001 budget surplus, could not be accessed by me or my children, due to agreements made between the socialist government of the USA and Swiss bank regulators. They seized our ranch in Crawford, Texas and now use it to teach homosexualist propaganda to schoolchildren.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Stefan!)

Buy the Enron "E"

Gregor sez:
ENRON Corp material assets go on the block 7 AM CT TOMORROW, Wednesday, 9/25. First on the list is the giant, steel, Enron "E" (Lot "E"), followed by tons of cool tech. 50 inch plasma panels, desktop LC Displays, boxes of Palm PDAs or Nokia cell phones, network stuff, wireless stuff, desktop computers, servers, monitors, printers, plotters, in both massive lots, and individually! Oh yeah, Enron trade-show trinkets too, by the cartload.

The catch: You have to either go to Texas to pick up the stuff, or arrange with an approved 3rd party vendor (list provided on the web site) to have it picked, packed and shipped for you.

Go! Register! Bid! Consume!

Link Discuss (Thanks, Gregor!)

Horror writers against illiteracy

The Horror Writers of America are hosting a charity auction on eBay to raise money for American literacy charities.
Among the items up for auction: a rare softcover advance copy (bound galley) of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs issued by St. Martin's Press in 1988; the first U.S. hardcover edition of Clive Barker's The Damnation Game; and a bundle of limited-edition prints depicting scenes from Stephen King novels such as Carrie and The Shining.
Link Discuss