Boing Boing 

Word Oddities and Trivia

Fun site with examples of odd words.
According to Craig Rowland, Scrabble in North America recognizes five words which, if spelled over two triple-word score squares, and with a premium-scoring tile on the double-letter score square, will award the player 392 points on a single play. These five words are: OXAZEPAM, BEZIQUES, CAZIQUES, MEZQUITS, and MEZQUITE.

John Chew says that OXYPHENBUTAZONE is the highest-scoring word known under American tournament Scrabble rules (OSPD+MWCD). It can score 1778 under suitably contrived circumstances listed and credited in the Scrabble FAQ.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Gary!)

King Tut's curse disproved

The mummy's curse has been proven false by statistical research into the lifespan of grave-robbers:
Mark Nelson, an epidemiology and preventive medicine scholar at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia conducted the study.

He found the average life expectancy of those exposed was 70 years, compared to 75 years for those who weren't.

But if you dig deeper, the age difference disappears.

"If you take into account the differences in age and the differences in gender balance, then there was no statistical significant difference between the two groups," Nelson told CBC Radio's As It Happens.

Link Discuss

Conspiracy theories from deep in the Library of Congress

"Librarian X" is apparently an insider at the Library of Congress who is mad as hell. S/he has lots of consipracy theories, primarily revolving around James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, who, apparently, is an ex-CIA spook. I'm not clear on how credible Librarian X's samizdata is, given the lack of documentation in support of the claims on the "Deep in the Stacks" website, but it sure makes for interesting conspiracy-theory readings.
This collection was acquired prior to World War I. This is--or was--a rather impressive private library of over 80,000 volumes. This was quite a collection, not just literary but scientific as well. In essence, this collection showed the intellectual achievement of Russia. So impressive was this collection that a Russian Who's Who visited and read the books, including Lenin. Part of the promise during purchase was that the collection would remain intact. Well, with over 70,000 volumes still to go it looks like this will never happen. The other problem is that Billington put a non-citizen (a federal security violation) in charge of processing this collection. A further problem is that his Russian was far too limited, the cause of the resultant disaster. A number of alert rare book dealers, recognizing the Yudin stamp, called the Library when they were offered for sale. Billington insists these are "duplicates," even though evidence given the IG shows otherwise. Since there are, according to Billington, no thefts at the Library of Congress these Yudin books will remain on the open market. If you think the FBI, Congress or Library managers are interested in retrieving these books, well...you need to go back and read the rest of this website.
Link Discuss (Thanks, John!)

JWZ's mom discovers interface cruft

Ur-geek-turned-club-owner JWZ reports back from the anthropological intersection of interface cruft and old people:
...I recently got my mom a new computer.

She had been using a truly ancient Mac for a long time, and nothing worked any more. She wasn't able to get any version of Netscape newer than 2.0 installed on it, and she wasn't able to enable her ISP's spam-blocking feature, because it used an SSL page, and her copy of Netscape's root cert had long since expired. Faced with the prospects of either trying to explain this to her, or update the cert myself, I just bought her a new iMac with OSX.

She's aghast at the idea that this perfectly good computer is totally obsolete, only six years later. As well she should be. But, oh well, it is...

So today she proudly told me that she'd gotten it all figured out. She said, ``now I just always save everything to `Desktop' and then I can see where it is: once I save it, I drag it to the right folder!''

Now, that's just... so wrong. But hey, she made it work. Go mom.

Link Discuss

Fannish idea-virus crosses into NYC literary society

Mafia is this fiendish game that has completely eaten fandom, turning science fiction conventions into all-night gaming sessions. In the game, players compete to lie effectively to one another and collude to carry out the sham. It's a game of alliances, betrayal, and dissembling, and I've stayed the hell away from it on the sensible grounds that it appears to be a black hole whence I shall never return.

Jonathan Lethem is a genre writer who has crossed over, more or less, into NYC literary society, and he's brought Mafia with him, with predictable results:

These days, if you’re looking for a bunch of New York writers, magazine editors and publishing types on a Friday night, track down Mr. Lethem, who has become a kind of mob boss among an ever-growing salon of poker-faced literati obsessed by the spiky parlor game they call Mafia. There’s no money involved, everyone stays clothed, and the alcohol intake is surprisingly moderate—but to witness Mr. Lethem’s disciples in the throes of their favorite game is to know that the stakes run high.

"People got so upset," said Ms. Schappell, "stalking around and screaming: ‘I can’t believe you don’t believe me! How come you don’t believe me?’"

On that evening, Ms. Jackson ended up trusting Mr. Lethem, but she shouldn’t have: He was lying his face off, and everyone knew it. But Ms. Jackson was swayed. "He gets excited about pleading his case," she said, explaining why she trusted him. "My knowledge of his character worked against me, because I had too many ways to interpret his signs. And it confused me."

Link Discuss (via Gawker)

Relativity explained with four-letter words

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity lucidly explained -- using only words of four letters or less.
Get a load of this. We have Bert and Dana. Take a bus, and put Bert on the bus. The bus goes down the road. Dana, she sits here, on the side of the road. He's in the bus and she's on her ass. And now take a rock off of the moon, and let it fall at them. It hits the air and cuts in two. The two bits burn, and then land just as Bert and Dana are side by side. One hits the dirt up the road a ways, and one hits down the road a ways. Dana sees each rock at the same time, but Bert sees one rock and then sees the next rock. Now: if Bert and Dana both see Dana as the one who is "at rest", they both will say that the two bits came down at the same time. Dana will say, "I am 'at rest', and I saw them both land at the same time, so they both did, in fact, land at the same time." And Bert will say, "I move away from the rock down the road, so when I add that fact in, I can see that if I were 'at rest', I'd have seen both land at the same time. So it must be the case that they did land at the same time." Okay, but what if Bert and Dana now see Bert as the one who is "at rest"? Eh? You get to pick who is "at rest" and who isn't, no? So make Bert be "at rest". Now Bert will say, "I am 'at rest', so the one up the road beat the one down the road, on the way to the dirt, just the way I saw it." And Dana will say, "I saw them land at the same time, but I move away from the rock up the road, so when I add that fact in, I can see that the rock up the road must have beat the one down the road."
Link Discuss (via Electrolite)

Russia sez: Harry Potter doesn't incite hatred

The Russian inquiry into whether the Harry Potter novels promote religious hatred has concluded that they don't.
An investigation was launched after claims the books "contained signs of religious extremism".

There were also claims they were "drawing students into religious groups of a Satanic type".

Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said they had found no basis for opening a criminal case.

Link Discuss

Natural cork's disappearance hurts endangered species

As the world's vintners move away from natural cork -- which some claim is responsible for "corking" spoilage of up to four percent of all wine -- to synthetic stoppers, animal conservationists are sounding alarm bells about the future of the endangered species that thrive in cork orchards.
Two wildlife species, the Iberian lynx and the Iberian imperial eagle, are both seriously endangered, but can survive within cork oak forests. If the forests suffer, the outlook for these native animals will also worsen.

WWF estimates the Iberian lynx population has decreased some 90 percent in the past 15 years and population estimates range from 1,000 to only 150. It is the most threatened carnivore in Europe.

Link Discuss

Baby-eating artist's TV show defended by Brit TV station

Tastes like chicken? Britain's Channel 4 is defending a show in which Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu appears to nosh on a dead baby, describing it a "thought-provoking film about extreme art in China." News excerpt:
"[In the] documentary... [he] shows off photographs of himself washing a dead stillborn baby in a sink and putting its dismembered parts in his mouth. Politicians and media critics have condemned the plans but the Broadcasting Standards Commission said it could not address a program before it was shown.

Zhu is also shown having a piece of his own body grafted onto a pig. He describes his work as expressing his Christian faith, saying: 'Jesus is always related to death, blood, wounds, etc.'"

This older Taipei Times article covers previous works by Mr. Yu Zhu (Thanks, Hutch!), including the smash hit shows Maneater and Canned human brains: "Zhu admitted that the meat obtained from the bodies tasted bad, and said he had vomited several times while eating it. However, he said, he had to do so 'for art's sake.' " Here is more background on the pig-skin-graft performance art piece, a snapshot of which is shown at left.

Link to news story, Discuss

A dream of flying in Flash

FlyGuy is an utterly enchanting little Flash app. In it, you are a pudgy salaryman who flys through an amazing, Hypercard-like monochrome line art fantasyland, sailing through the sky, through space, and eventually landing up in a tropical paradise where the monkey dances the hula all night long. Playing with this app made me feel like Tuttle in Brazil, having a dream of flying. Link Discuss

Stalinist posters from Poland

Maciej sez "This is a page of wacky/disturbing Polish wall posters from the early 1950's. The posters have been reissued in Poland as a campy, popular kind of retro calendar; I've scanned in some of the stranger ones, with translated captions." Link Discuss (Thanks, Maciej!)

Thrill Devil Thongs: wacky pop-couture lingerie

Cool, aggro-hipster thong designs straight outta Chicago and now available online.

Link Discuss (via Nipporn)

Pre-prohibition drug labels from products containing now-illegal drugs

Paul Bissex writes:
Labels and info from pre-prohibition over-the-counter psychotropics. Cocaine tooth drops, benzedrine inhalers -- fun for the whole family!
Link Discuss

Word Spy - daily jargon

Nice jargon watch site. Today's term: dark biology: scientific research related to biological weapons. Link Discuss (Thanks, Kevin!)

Cellular number portability in 2003?

Wired News reports that number portability will finally come to cellular customers next year. The cell companies have been dragging their heels on this for years now -- and no wonder: any industry so hostile to its customers naturally fears anything that makes it easier for customers to sever their ties with them. Ironically, the mobile telcos have cited the already high amount of churn in their business as evidence that number portability is unnecessary: "See? Our customers hate us so much today that they are willing to reprint all their business cards every six months with a new cellular number: what makes you think that they need to have that pain eased for them?" It's possible that number portability will ramp up cellular churn to the point where one or two of these companies actually get a customer-service clue and emerge as winners. I'd sign up in a hot second for any cellular company whose motto was: "We're less horrible than a root canal with a cold chisel." Link Discuss

Supreme Court Intervenes in deCSS/DVD Dispute

AP is reporting a significant development in the case involving webmaster Matthew Pavlovich, who republished DVD-cracking deCSS code on his website:
The Supreme Court has temporarily intervened in a fight over DVD copying, and the justices could eventually use the case to decide how easy it will be for people to post software on the Internet that helps others copy movies. More broadly, the case against a webmaster whose site offered a program to break DVD security codes could resolve how people can be sued for what they put online.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor granted a stay last week to a group that licenses DVD encryption software to the motion picture industry, giving the court time to collect more arguments. She requested filings by later this week. The group has spent three years trying to stop illegal copying. The case puts the court in the middle of a cyberspace legal boundary fight: Where can lawsuits involving the World Wide Web be filed?

UPDATE: Lisa Rein sez: "I've made the Pavlovich Legal Decision available in non-PDF (web-friendly HTML) formats, here."

Link to AP story, Background on EFF.org, Discuss (Thanks, Scott!)

RIP, payphones

The payphone is the twenty-first century horse-trough. It's a quaint artifact, more often employed by dope dealers than upstanding cits, who are expected to commit their action-at-a-distance through mobile handsets. The payphone has been dwindling away on this continent, from Bell South's announced shutdown of 143,000 payphones to Bell Canada's recent annoucement that it will be turning its armored public phones into public WiFi hotspots. Even COCOTs -- private, high-cost payphones that merchants install in remote places for a captive audience -- are being supplanted by cellphones. WashPo runs down the continuing demise of the coin-op telephone:
"At first it was fun, because you'd put in a new phone and you'd generate revenue right away of $600 a month," said Castro, a manager and 11-year veteran at Robin Technologies Inc. in Rockville. Castro empties the coin bin of the dead pay phone, which now averages only $2.50 a day.

There is an indignity to the way pay phones go. They are covered with detritus -- an empty 750-milliliter bottle of cheap red wine, a wet pack of Marlboro Lights and discarded phone cards. The shiny base of the pay phone shells degrade to a mottled magenta. "Unfortunately, what happens is people urinate on them and they corrode," Castro said.

Link Discuss (via Lawmeme)

RIAA Hacked Again

Andy sez: "The RIAA is being hijacked, as we speak. I just wrote about this on my site, with all relevant links." Link Discuss

E-commerce Jumping Beans King busted by Singapore authorities

The 22-year-old business school graduate and e-commerce entrepreneur known as the "Jumping Beans King" has been ordered by Singaporean agriculture officials to recall thousands of the beans he sold online. Story snip:
William Tan was told to recall the beans he had been selling as novelty pets because the moth larvae inside that make them jump pose an ecological threat, said Cheng Lee Ching, a spokeswoman for Singapore's Agri-food Veterinary Authority, or AVA. The penalty for importing jumping beans into the tightly controlled city-state is a fine of 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$5,760) or three years imprisonment.

"I'm very disappointed because the market potential for this was huge, but everything came to a sudden death," said Tan, who said he was not aware of the ban. "I marketed it as a pet, a nice little thing you can carry around and play with," he said.

Link Discuss

Terminator 3: more robots ready to kick your ass

Speaking of deadly machines: the new trailer for Terminator III is chock full of aggro-robot glamor. Movie hits theaters in July, 2003. Link (QuickTime) Discuss

Wiley Wiggins' Solarcon-6

Wiley sez, "Alt-X publishing has just put up my first free e-book of short story-blobs, Solarcon-6."
Green metal fingernails of the mommy-robot awake larvae at 9:00 am with digital alarm-clock eyes and grubs begin feeding, still in the dark since they do not yet have eyes and the mommy robot sees by infrared. Heat signatures of the larvae show their gender and age as they slurp regurgitated protein with soft translucent mandibles. The retarded boy got his back cursed in a game of tug-o-war and now his skin is rotting at such a young age, he looks so becoming in his safety helmet... The secrets of Mexican cooking so close at hand. A man with iron-straight pant-legs like PVC pipes cuts names from roll-call sheets. He is an island of dignity in a hive of rotting, mutated children and grubs.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Wiley!)

Martial Arts robot created in China, now ready to kick your ass

Anybody got photos? China's state-run news agency is reporting that a group of Beijing scientists have created a 5.18-foot, 167-pound robot that can perform T'ai Chi, the traditional Chinese martial art of "shadow boxing."
The robot named BHR-1 passed appraisal on Saturday as a major project for the Beijing University of Science and Engineering under China's High and New Technology Research and Development Program...BHR-1 had 32 joints from head to foot which made it move properly, said Professor Li Kejie, chief scientist in charge of the project at the university. It can walk with 33cm steps at a speed of 1kph, he said. The robot is able to walk and play tai chi and can also sense changing ground levels and balance itself, Li said.

Li added that this type of robot would be able to take over some dangerous jobs from humans.

Such as, what, bodyguard? Personal yakuza? Robot-assassin?

Link, and another Link from Xinhua News Agency in China. Discuss

Future of Music Policy Summit returns to D.C. this week

The annual forward-thinking music summit known to regulars as "FOMC" will return to the nation's capital in just five days. What other industry gathering brings together artists as diverse as Joan Jett, Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, fmr. Minor Threat), Vernon Reed, Doug E. Fresh, Bob Mould (fmr. Husker Du), Patti Smith and Lester Chambers (Chambers Bros.)? In addition to their participation in the three-day dialogue--covering everything from compulsory licenses to P2P filesharing to copy-protected CDs--many artists will also perform free concerts at the Kennedy Center on Saturday and Sunday evenings. FOMC co-founder Brian Zisk writes:
"No longer will corporate media and big money frame the terms of the discussion as we draw together the strongest voices in the Internet and independent music community to reframe these questions with a clear-eyed focus on the interests of the artists."

The non-profit Future of Music Coalition is putting on the third annual Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington D.C. January 5-7. It's a forum where those whose lives have impact on musicians come together to discuss the future, present and past, in front of hundreds of those who this debate most impacts, musicians themselves. It helps set the legislative agenda regarding issues which will affect musicians for the upcoming year.

Senators, Congressmen, FCC Commissioners, Copyright Office officials, Technology Folks, Consumer Advocates, Publishers, Label Folks, Academics, Reporters, Music Lovers, and many others will be coming together, as well as hundreds of musicians... Hope to see you there!

Link Discuss

Ex-Navy-man hunts son's killers with private army

Amazing story of an ex-MarineNavy-man (thanks, Stefan!) whose son was beaten to death by Nazi skinheads while waiting for a cab outside of a bar they'd been ejected from. The father has assembled a private army of ex-Marines, PIs and bouncers from his nightclubs and is hunting down the men who killed his son, confronting them and turning them over to the cops.
Ten days ago, he caught his first. After two months of working the phones, huddling with private investigators, directing his squad of ex-Marines and security guards from the Arizona nightclubs he owns, Cole Sr. tracked down Chris Whitley, a 24-year-old white supremacist.

Through go-betweens, Cole Sr. sent Whitley an ominous message: Surrender or face a father's wrath.

So, days before Christmas, in a bizarre confrontation, Whitley met with Cole Sr. at a Phoenix coffee shop.

"It was one of the hardest and strangest things I've done in my life," Cole Sr. says. The grief-stricken father sat directly across from his son's suspected killer, whose face and head are covered with tattoos.

Link Discuss

Chat as a side-channel for face-to-face meetings

Clay Shirky's written up some findings from a brainstorming session he hosted in NYC last month that I attended. The meeting was a face-to-face affair, but virtually every attendee had a laptop with an WiFi card, and Clay set up a web-based chat for us to play with while we talked. A giant display at the front of the room showing the running chatter, and it created a really dense dialog that was very fun and productive.
Group conversations are exercises in managing interruptions. When someone is speaking, the listeners are often balancing the pressure to be polite with a desire to interrupt, whether to add material, correct or contradict the speaker, or introduce an entirely new theme. These interruptions are often tangential, and can lead to still more interruptions or follow-up comments by still other listeners. Furthermore, conversations that proceed by interruption are governed by the people best at interrupting. People who are shy, polite, or like to take a moment to compose their thoughts before speaking are at a disadvantage.

Even with these downsides, however, the tangents can be quite valuable, so if an absolute "no interrupt" rule were enforced, at least some material of general interest would be lost, and the frustration level among the participants consigned solely to passive listening would rise considerably.

The chat room undid these effects, because participants could add to the conversation without interrupting, and the group could pursue tangential material in the chat room while listening in the real room. It was remarkable how much easier it was for the speaker to finish a complex thought without being cut off. And because chat participants had no way of interrupting one another in the chat room, even people not given to speaking out loud could participate. Indeed, one of our most active participants contributed a considerable amount of high-quality observation and annotation while saying almost nothing out loud for two days.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Clay!)

Safe hex for 2003

Ten reasons why 2003 should be the year that we all switch to secure computing alternatives:
* The use of Web bugs is up 500%. Switch to a free browser such as Mozilla that can be configured to expire all cookies when you close your browser and refuse all cookies coming from domains other than the one you're visiting.

* Windows XP is full of security holes that make life easier for those who would snoop on you. Time to get off the Microsoft bandwagon and switch to Linux, FreeBSD, or Mac OS-X. God knows what horrors the NSA will stick into the next version of Windows.

* Unrelated lawsuits. Get sued or get arrested for one thing, have your computer impounded, who knows what other questionable things might be found? Remember: It's not whether you're innocent or guilty, it's whether the district attorney can make a jury believe that you're guilty.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Zed!)

Cellular companies sucked hard in 2002

Cellular Telephone companies in Washinton generated more consumer complaints than any other industry in the state.
"What really roped me in was the fact that I could cancel anytime" during a three-month "free trial" period, Aberg recalled. "I came to find that just was not the case at all."

In her complaint to the attorney general, Aberg noted that after becoming disillusioned with the service, she tried on numerous occasions to cancel before the trial period was over.

But she "could not get through because I was repeatedly put on hold for OVER 45 minutes. I then submitted e-mails to Qwest to request the phones be deactivated well within the allotted time period," Aberg said in her complaint.

Link Discuss

Peanuts Tarot Deck

Brilliant, hilarious, masterful re-envisioning of the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck -- populated with Peanuts characters. Features Peppermint Pattie as the Empress, Lucy as High Priestess, Linus as the Hierophant, and Charlie Brown in a variety of roles throughout both the Major and Minor Arcana. The artist Valerian pleads online, "Don't sue me," and offers this explanation of the offbeat project:
An absurd, heretical, really cool view of an ancient ritual of divination... This is a joke. Six-year-old suburban kids enacting adult emotions and situations, breaking them down and magnifying them into hilarious crumbs of childhood experience... ­ tragedy, pain, and measured triumph. With children as protagonists and innocent humor as the disarming tool, the emotions are simplified and magnified (as are the physical features of each cartoon drawing) and the exchanges between the children become both an ironic parody of adult emotions, and an impossibly close and meditative study of them.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Matt!) (via Journalista)

Study: Internet now a mainstream info utility for Americans

A new study scheduled for release Monday reveals that more Americans than ever before now use the 'Net to obtain info on government services, shopping, and healthcare. The Pew Internet and American Life Project report goes even further, stating that "abundant evidence [exists] that the Internet is now the primary means by which many people get key information." Or, to compress all 17 pages to one short blurb: "Most expect to find key information online, most find the information they seek, many now turn to the Internet first."

Excerpt:

With over 60 percent of Americans now having Internet access and 40 percent of Americans having been online for more than three years, the Internet has become a mainstream information tool. Its popularity and dependability have raised all Americans' expectations about the information and services available online. When they are thinking about health care information, services from government agencies, news, and commerce, about two-thirds of all Americans say that they expect to be able to find such information on the Web. Internet users are more likely than non-users to have high expectations of what will be available online, and yet even 40 percent of people who are not Internet users say they expect the Web to have information and services in these essential online arenas.

For information or services from a government agency, 65 percent of all Americans expect the Web to have that information. (...) in the realm of electronic commerce, 63 percent of all Americans expect that a business will have a Web site that gives them information about a product they are considering buying. (...) For news, 69 percent of Americans expect to be able to find reliable, up-to-date news online. (...) For health care information, 67percent of Americans expect that they can find reliable information about health or medical conditions online. (...)

When it comes to personal information, the story is different. Only 31percent of Americans expect to be able to find reliable information about someone online; 35 percent of Internet users say this and 25 percent of non-users say this. However, 58 percent of Internet users say they expect to be able to reach someone via email.

Link to study summary, Link to study homepage, Download complete report (PDF), Discuss

Portland airport debacle still being investigated by bloggers

The bloggers at Silflay Hraka are following up on the "Coffee, Tea, or Should We Feel Your Pregnant Wife's Breasts Before Throwing You in a Cell at the Airport and Then Lying About Why We Put You There?" that swept through Blogistan last week. They've gotten some pretty generic responses from the Portland airport cops, an offer from a law prof to take on the guy's case, and lots more. Link, Link Discuss (Thanks Mitch!)