Boing Boing 

Slashdot troll speaks

Tom Coates has been discussing technical tricks for coping with message-board trolls on his Everything in Moderation blog, and, surpisingly, an avowed Slashdot troll has shown up to explain why he undertakes extreme technical measures to disrupt Slashdot's message baords.
...i believe that the people who must be treated with the most public, forthright, and open methods of censure are those who offend us the most. i do not believe that trickery is ever as effective as open methods because trickery is, at its core, dishonest to both the person being tricked and the online community you have secretly enacted policy for.

i believe that secret punishments inevitably lead to abuse and combativeness, that they lead to an arms race against people of equal intelligence and unlimited free time.

Link (via Oblomovka)

Aaaaand we're back

Well, it looks like we may or may not be back up (don't be surprised if we get an outage or two in the next couple days!).

Thanks to everyone who wrote in asking if everything was all right. The server threw a shoe, we moved it to a new host, all is well.

Thanks to Carl Steadman, for his years of hosting the box, and thanks to Ken Snider, who has taken over hostly duties. All hail the sysadmins.

Hallowe'en and copyright

Ernie sez, "On Halloween, what is more scary than copyright law? For example, did you know that the famous vampire movie 'Nosferatu' was almost lost forever due to copyright? On the other hand the makers of a Michael Myers Halloween mask won a lawsuit by proving they took the idea from the movie. Maybe someone can figure out how to get around pumpkin carving DRM. If not, some ghost pirates (or is that pirate ghosts?) have a solution for the file sharing problem." Link (Thanks, Ernie!)

I'm interviewing Stross on the WELL

I'm interviewing Charlie Stross for the WELL's inkwell.vue conference for the next two weeks or so -- it's free to read, and you can ask questions by emailing me and I'll post 'em.
I suppose you could say my second writing career dates to about 1998. I took stock of myself and found (a) one unfinished novel (I was 12 months in to it), (b) one finished, unsold novel with structural problems (bits of it have since re-surfaced in the form of "The Atrocity Archives"), (c) one short story sale in 1998 -- and that was a reprint of something I wrote in 1991. I was in my early thirties and I realised that either I should give up, or I should get serious about writing. I started by setting myself a goal of writing *and selling* four stories a year, and a second goal of getting into the magazines that get name recognition -- Asimov's, Analog, F&SF. Somewhere in the preceeding decade I'd cross-fertilized a chunk of ideas between the biological and computer science, and I'd also learned a little bit more about human nature -- enough to handle characterisation better than during my late teens or early twenties. (Parenthetically: this is one of the reasons why we often see new authors erupt on the scene aged thirty-something -- they've finally learned enough about human nature to have something interesting to say about it.) So in 1998 and early 1999 I finished and sold "Antibodies" and "A Colder War" (which got me into the Year's Best SF anthologies), wrote "Lobsters" (which got me into Asimov's and onto the Hugo and Nebula ballots), completed the novel now know as "Singularity Sky", and got serious.

Issue Two of LA Innuendo magazine now out

The second edition of snarky LA Innuendo, post-ironic slicers and dicers of all that is Hollywood, is now out. If you're in LA on Wed. Nov. 5th, check this: editors and contributors will do standup at the Hudson Theater's Comedy Central Stage. Link to the mag, Link to event details.

How to bypass voicemail hell and get a live operator

List of ways to get to a live operator for various banks, airlines, credit card companies, and support centers.
If you want to reach a live voice at Gateway, hit zero twice, but be prepared to wait on Hold for a little while.

For Hewlett-Packard say "agent" when you're first prompted to speak.

We found no magic bullet to bypass Dell, Apple, or IBM's automated voice menus.


Web archiving legal in the UK

Parliament has enacted a law allowing the British Library to scrape and archive British websites.
"This new legislation will now mean that a vital part of the nation's published heritage will be safe," said MP Chris Mole, who supported the move.

The archive will comprise selective "harvesting" from the 2.9 million sites that have "" suffixes.


Powerbook 15" has known screen-defects

The new 15" PowerBooks have a new known screen defect, in which big ugly white splotches show up on your display. My new 1GHz 15" has this in spades; Dan Gillmor's has a less severe case. The problem is that I suspect that I'll have to give the box back to Apple for a week to get it fixed, and there's no way in hell I can afford to do that any time soon. Link

Lock-in prevents landfill

The AP has run a good piece on cellphone recycling that is marred by an excitingly stupid lede about the likelihood that number-portability will cause many of us to throw away our phones once we get better deals under the new competitive rules, and that this will be an environmental disaster. Lock-in prevents landfill. Cheez.
The new rule that takes effect Nov. 24 allowing users to change wireless (news - web sites) companies without losing their phone numbers is expected to motivate as many as 30 million people to switch within the first year.

Those who do will need to buy new phones. That's because even carriers that use the same network technologies employ different encryption.


Photo quiz: Serial killer or Programming Language Inventor?

I got 7 out of 10. Link

Album covers redone in Lego

Famous album covers re-envisioned in Lego. Can you guess this one? Nirvana's Nevermind. Link (thanks, jean-Luc!)

Hack the universe

BoingBoing patron saint Warren Ellis spake thusly, and lo; it was good:
Read this Scientific American piece. Short version; the universe is actually a two-dimensional plane packed with information, and the three-dimensions universe we perceive is nothing but an expression of that information. Matter and energy and life are, in fact, holograms. It leaves something very very interesting open for the future. If the universe is a vast two-dimensional plane of information -- then it can be hacked.

Crazy TokyoFlash watch: the Pimp Watch

New on the killer TokyoFlash watch site, the Pimp Watch -- at $129, it's a little rich for my blood, but boy, that's some sweet watch action. Link

Senator John Edwards to guestblog for Lessig

Presidential hopeful Senator John Edwards is coming to Lessig's blog for a guest stint -- Lessig's doing this very swell thing in convincing presidential candidates to write frankly and personally about their aspirations on a blog. Shoot by and ask Edwards a question or two... Link

Temporary IP address instead of

As you may have noticed, we're in the middle of an extended outage. We've got a new server up and running (with lots of new posts), but the DNS is going to take a day or two. In the meantime, is your friend. Link

Protection from Pornography Week

First they came for the bukkake websites, and I did not speak out because I was not a bukkake website. George W. Bush says:
Pornography can have debilitating effects on communities, marriages, families, and children. During Protection From Pornography Week, we commit to take steps to confront the dangers of pornography.

Hallowe'en, Jack Chick style

If you're tired of celebrating Hallowe'en in a TP- and egg-free house, why not give you Jack Chick tracts instead of candy this year? Jack's got a bunch of suggestions for helping you warn your neighbors off of the evil crypto-druidic satanic costume-festival. Link (via EBA)

Nokia's sideways phone makes people feel silly

Sidetalkin' is a photoblog devoted to pix of people demonstrating how ridiculous they feel talking into the new "sideways" Nokia N-Gage phone, which requires that you hold it at a right-angle to your head and talk into the thin edge. Link (via The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century)

Extended iCal rant from a timezone warrior

Apple's iCal has an unbelievably annoying, poorly thought-out system for handling timezone changes. Here's how it works: when you change the timezone of your system-clock, it adjusts all of your calendar items, so if you go from Pacific to Eastern time, you noon lunch appointment is "fixed" so that it shows up at 3PM -- the Eastern equivalent of 12PM Pacific.

What is the use-case for this? If I'm in San Francisco and I'm going to Toronto in a week and I make a 6PM dinner appointment with my brother and sister-in-law, should I enter it as a 3PM appointment, knowing that my computer will adjust this to 6PM when I land in Toronto and change my system clock? And if I do, how do I avoid double-booking myself when someone else asks me to have dinner at the same time and my calendar shows that 6PM isn't booked, that's fine?

In other words, why does Apple think I want to use Greenwich Mean Time, rather than my internal, subjective frame-of-reference, as my clock?

Now, Apple has updated iCal with a "switch timezones off" feature. Which doesn't work.

Here's how it doesn't work: Create an appointment with timezone "support" switched off. Make it from noon to 1PM. Now, go to your system clock and change your timezone to one hour back. The appointment will shift back by one hour. That's with timezone "support" switched off.

If you switch the "support" on and change timezones, iCal will ask you if you want to change the timezone "display" for your appointments. Answering "no" seems to solve the problem, as all of your events will stay localized for whatever timezone you were in when you created them. What's more, whenever you create an event, it gives you the option of specifying a timezone for it and adjusts it on your behalf -- so if you create a 12PM appointment while in EST and specify that its timezone is PST, iCal will move the event back to 9AM for you.

This stinks. For starters, that's all well and good when you and I make a lunch date for noon next week in New York, but it falls down when you call me back an hour later and ask me if we can make it brunch at 2PM -- now I have to go into iCal and work out that my noon-Eastern/9AM-Pacific appointment is really a 2PM-Eastern/11AM-Pacific appointment and, rather than simply bumping a noon appointment to 2PM, I need to subtract three and move a 9AM appointment to 11AM.

It gets worse, though: say you use the timezone "support" and just don't worry about the timezones. All start/stop times stay as you entered them, provided you keep on clicking "no" every time you change zones and iCal asks you if you want to update your display. So far so good. But woe betide you if you create an appointment with an alarm -- your 9AM alarm will ring a 6AM when you're on the west coast (if you created it while your clock was set Eastern), even though it will show up as a 9AM alarm in your calendar. There's a user-hostile design decision!

It gets even worse: Just wait until you synch iCal with your PalmOS device! Last night, I moved from Mountain to Central time. I adjusted the time-zone on my Clie and my Powerbook, but asked iCal to leave all my appointments in Mountain time. Then I made the mistake of synching my Clie: iSync decided that all the appointments in my Clie were an hour behind, and moved them up an hour -- including my wake-up alarm and the alarm for my 8:30AM conference call (Thanks, Apple!).

I have toyed with the idea of leaving my timezone set to GMT or some arbitrary value, and then spoofing my clock by manually setting it forward or back whenever I get off an airplane, but this royally screws up your email (which arrives at the remote end with bogus timestamps that indicates that it was sent hours in the past or the future, depending), and messes up any kind of incremental backup that uses change-dates to determine which version of a file to overwrite.

So, after all that whingeing, I have a solution of sorts. I used to use an app called "iCalTimeZoneFixer" that would automatically adjust your calendar items when you changed timezones, undoing the damage wrought by Apple's system. But with Panther and the new iCal, this doesn't work so good anymore: about 70% of the time, running iCalTimeZoneFixer deletes all the items in my calendar.

So this morning, while I was missing my phone call because my alarm hadn't gone off, I figured out a fix of sorts. It hinges on the fact that your iCal calendar file (which you'll find in ~/Library/Calendars/$CALENDARNAME.ics") is a flat text file, that you can edit with a text-editor like BBEdit.

1. Quit iCal, then make a copy of your calendar file. Open your calendar file in a text-editor (I used BBEdit)

2. Look for the string that denotes the city/timezone your calendar is localized to, i.e. "America/Chicago" or "America/San Francisco"

3. Go to System Preferences -> Date and Time -> Time Zone and use the map interface to find out the name of your desired timezone (i.e., if you're in America/San Francisco on your way to America/Denver, America/Denver is your desired timezone)

4. Search-and-replace the existing timezone string with your desired timezone and save

5. Start iCal up again, then go back to System Peferences -> Date and Time -> Time Zone and change your timezone. iCal will "adjust" your calendar and you'll find yourself looking at the correct times again

There you have it: using a text-editor and search-and-replace, you can undo the stupidest feature I've ever seen in a calendar app.

MoveOn calls for homemade CC-licensed anti-bush TV spots

MoveOn is sponsoring a competition to produce the best 30-second political TV spot showing "the truth about George Bush." The winning entry will be aired during the week of the State of the Union address -- and all entries must be opened under a Creative Commons license.
All eligible submissions will be posted on this web site and rated by visitors. The top rated ads will then be voted on by our panel of esteemed judges, including Michael Moore, Donna Brazile, Jack Black, Janeane Garofalo, and Gus Van Sant. The winning ad idea will be broadcast on television during the week of Bush's 2004 State of the Union address, and the winner will receive a recording of the ad as broadcast.

Atkins Hacks: Overclocking your metabolism

A Salon piece picks up on something I've been saying for a while: low-carbing is the geek diet. It's why conferences are now filled with nerds with jawlines.
Sure, if you eat fewer calories and exercise more you'll lose weight, but if, like so many dieters, you're unable to follow that advice, who cares if it's an airtight theory? "If that's science, then it's science that has yet to produce a lot of results because American asses grow rounder every day," says Doctorow. "If you ask people to reduce their caloric intake and increase their exercise, you won't get a lot of good results. It's like going around complaining that people have crappy passwords."

"The hacker ethic is not necessarily being a formally trained engineer, not necessarily being someone who understands the science. It's a reverse-engineering perspective: Sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong, but it's based on empiricism," says Doctorow. "That's kind of the low-carb approach, which goes against the conventional wisdom about how you do nutrition and weight loss."

Scientific studies sanctioning the approach are just starting to appear, but there's a still a sense that one is tinkering with one's own body to somewhat unknown ends. "Maybe it will make us all grow third arms and go blind in 20 years," quips Doctorow. "It's sort of hard to tell. It represents a kind of hacker's approach, grounded as it is in jack-legged engineering rather than science."


MySociety: Technology in the public interest

MySociety, a new project from the people behind FaxYourMP and VoxPolitics, launched today. MySociety is a foundation that supports the production of low-cost technology that is produced in the public interest: will support projects that have three broad attributes:

1. Founded on electronic networks. This includes the internet, mobile and telephone networks, wireless, fax and anything related.

2. Real world impact. The projects must have an impact which is above and beyond helping users to use their computers or mobiles more efficiently. We understand that there is a degree of philosophical ambiguity here (isn't faster browsing a real life impact?), so we've developed the following list of desirable outcomes from projects...

3. Low or zero cost scalability. This is key. We are looking for projects that cost the same (or virtually the same) to run for ten or a million users. This doesn't exclude the possibility of SMS based services, but it does rule out one-on-one tuition or building a site just for your community.


RIP, Hal Clement

Harry Stubbs -- AKA the golden-age science-fiction legend Hal Clement -- has died. He was a gentleman, a talented writer, and he always had the time of day for beginning writers. We were on panels together at Ad Astra, the Toronto science fiction convention, a couple times, and he always made me feel like I was worth listening to. I saw him and had a brief and friendly conversation with him in September at the World Science Fiction convention. He was very old, but sharp as a tack, and friendly as ever. Goodbye, Hal. Link (Thanks, Scraps)

CIA's goofy spy-robots

The CIA has celebrated its 40th by showing off its misbegotten spy-robots (mechanical, eavesdropping bumblebees, dragonflies and catfish!) in a private exhibit.
In the 1970s the CIA had developed a miniature listening device that needed a delivery system, so the agency's scientists looked at building a bumblebee to carry it.

They found, however, that the bumblebee was erratic in flight, so the idea was scrapped.

Link (via Gizmodo)

Biz-card-sized PDA with Crackberry functionality

Here's some leaked info about a new business-card-sized PDA from Citizen that supports a WiFi card (or Bluetooth, if you're some kind of pervert) for email. Rumor has it that it will be targetted to corporations at 20,000-30,000 Yen ($185-$285) each. Link (via Gizmodo)

America approves anti-shortness therapy

The FDA has approved human growth hormone for use in treating shortness, so that parents of short kids can hack their hormone-balance and make them into beanpoles. Link

Google to create searchable archive of 60,000 books

Hot on the heels of Amazon's brilliant new text-search service for books, Google is getting ready to announce a similar service.
So far, Google has made agreements that give it the ability to scan as many as 60,000 titles, the report said.

Fox threatens to sue Fox over Simpsons

Fox News threatened to sue Fox Entertainment because a Simpsons parody of the Fox News crawler hurt Rupert Murdoch's feelings.
"Fox said they would sue the show and we called their bluff because we didn't think Rupert Murdoch would pay for Fox to sue itself. We got away with it," Mr Groening told National Public Radio in the US.

"But now Fox has a new rule that we can't do those little fake news crawls [tickers] on the bottom of the screen in a cartoon because it might confuse the viewers into thinking it's real news," he added on NPR's Fresh Air programme.


Totally TMI: Survey shows information overload on the rise

A group of researchers at UC Berkeley have just released research that shows global information production grew by 30% annually from 1999 to 2002.
"All of a sudden, almost every aspect of life around the world is being recorded and stored in some information format," said [researcher Peter] Lyman. "That's a real change in our human ecology."

According to the researchers, the amount of new information stored on paper, film, optical and magnetic media has doubled in the last three years. And, new information produced in those forms during 2002 was equal in size to half a million new libraries, each containing a digitized version of the print collections of the entire Library of Congress, they added. The researchers also report that electronic channels - such as TV, radio, the telephone and the Internet - contained three and a half times more new information in 2002 than did the information that was stored.


Code Genealogy of the New Napster

The New Napster launches tomorrow, and -- apart from the crippling WMA/DRM barbwire -- it's really a rather nice app. With more than a little resemblance to Pressplay and, from which it is descended. I asked founder Michael Robertson (also founder of, to trace the digital DNA for BoingBoing readers; here is his take on who begat whom:
(1) VU buys
(2) VU owns half of pressplay (Sony owns other half)
(3) Pressplay uses to build pressplay service.
(4) had my.mp3 which made it fairly easy to do pressplay since framework was already built
(5) Roxio buys pressplay and got along with it 150 engineers in San Diego and the my.mp3 technology which is used for pressplay
(6) Roxio buys Napster
(7) Roxio takes pressplay, adds to it with tech all built by my ex-guys in San Diego
(8) Relaunches as Napster
So Roxio currently has a building in San Diego, one of the old buildings full of engineers that do the work on Napster. It's like a soap opera.