Roses are red, Frankenroses are blue.

The Japan Times reports that liquor distiller Suntory has successfully engineered a truly blue rose by inserting a gene from pansies. The company created a blue carnation using the same technology in 1995. Why'd they do it? Because they can. Link, with photos. (Thanks, Sid)

Thousands volunteer to spy on fellow citizens

Time has good news for nosy, racist jerks: the Dept. of Homeland Security is enlisting 400,000 people to report on suspicious behavior in public areas.
After the [training] session in Little Rock, two newly initiated Highway Watch members sat down for the catered barbecue lunch. The truckers, who haul hazardous material across 48 states, explained how easy it is to spot "Islamics" on the road: just look for their turbans. Quite a few of them are truck drivers, says William Westfall of Van Buren, Ark. "I'll be honest. They know they're not welcome at truck stops. There's still a lot of animosity toward Islamics." Eddie Dean of Fort Smith, Ark., also has little doubt about his ability to identify Muslims: "You can tell where they're from. You can hear their accents. They're not real clean people."

That kind of prejudice is hard to undo, but it's a shame Beatty's slide show did not mention that in the U.S., it's almost always Sikhs who wear turbans, not Muslims. Last year a Sikh truck driver who was wearing a turban was shot twice while standing near his tractor trailer in Phoenix, Ariz. He survived the attack, which police are investigating as a hate crime.


"Painters of Blight" show at Roq la Rue in Seattle

_Blanchard.Kinkade_72_dpi_ Chick.Ryan Seattle's Roq la Rue Gallery (2316 Second Avenue) is running a two-day exhibit on Friday, July 9, and Saturday, July 10, featuring the work of two dozen artists paying tribute to Thomas Kinkade and Jack T. Chick. (click on thumbnails for enlargements. Painting on left is by Jim Blanchard; painting on right is by Johnny Ryan).

As you probably know, Thomas Kinkade, the famous "Painter of Light," has made millions of dollars with his customized prints of day-glo cottages against backdrops of enchanted forests. He has a team of "Kinkade-trained Master Highlighters" who go over reproductions of his work with oil paint. For this show, artists Jim Blanchard, Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley, Robert Hardgrave, Claire Johnson, Charles Krafft, Pat Moriarity, Erin Norlin, Marion Peck, Benton Peugh, Robert Rini, Bonni Reid, Mark Ryden and Kipling West have highlighted pages from the Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light with Scripture: 2004 Deluxe Wall Calendar, in their own distinct styles.

And Jack T. Chick is the famous artist-publisher of a series of incendiary 3" x 5", 24-page religious comic book tracts. Loaded with scare tactics and jabs at "enemies" of Christianity, Chick's comics vividly depict the horrors of Hell for anyone who neglects to convert to Christianity. Since 1961 Chick has created 175 proselytizing tracts, which have had more than 500,000,000 copies published in over 100 languages worldwide. Artists Tom Bagley, David R. Drake, Jed Dunkerly, Nathan Eyring, Rod Filbrandt, Cliff Hare, David Lasky, Deborah F Lawrence, Eric Reynolds, Johnny Ryan and Kamilla White have each created work inspired by Chick. In contrast to the Kinkade artists, they worked with no specific assignment, and came up with equally diverse outcomes: David R. Drake reduced an entire tract to its minimum visual information, creating 23 individual tiles still closely correlated with the original, Eric Reynolds has painted an original portrait of the reclusive Jack T. Chick, and David Lasky will display the original art for an entire tract written by Jim Woodring intended to be traded for unwanted religious pamphlets.

No link, but you can find out more about Roq la Rue here.

True surround sound

Audio engineers at UC Davis have developed a new technology that delivers motion-tracked binaural sound (MTB). It's an update on conventional binaural recording which uses microphones embedded in a dummy head to capture the "location" of sound in a room. One problem with conventional binaural recording is that the sound doesn't change when you move your head. For example, if you hear a recording of someone behind you and turn your head to face them, it still sounds like they're behind you.
"The new method records through multiple microphones (eight for voice, 16 for music) spaced around a head-sized ball or cylinder. The sound is played back through headphones with a small tracking device attached to the top to follow head movements. As you turn your head while listening, the system mixes sound from different microphones, reproducing what you would hear if you were in the room."

ISPs not liable for royalties, says Canada's Supreme Court

Canada's highest court has just ruled that ISPs cannot be forced to pay royalties on music downloaded by users:
In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the court ruled that although ISPs provide the hardware and technology, they aren't responsible for what people download. The court ruled that companies providing wide access to the web are "intermediaries" who are not bound by federal copyright legislation.
Link (Thanks, Michael)

Shanghaied in Portland

My post about CIncinnati's abandoned subway reminded BB reader Colin Sheridan of Portland's Shanghai tunnels. During the 19th century, this was the real underbelly of the city. Sailors would get drunk, drugged, and dragged through the underground tunnels to the port where they'd be sold to a ship captain as slave labor. By the time the poor saps awoke, they were already at sea. These days, tours are available and, of course, there's even a Shanghai Tunnel bar. Link

Update: BB reader Mike says that Chuck Palahniuk's non-fiction book Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon "covers the tunnels and a bunch of other cool stuff to be found in, around, and under Portland."

Update: BB reader Jeff says "several people have called the tunnel tour operators written about in Fugitives and Refugees, and the conclusion is that the tours are not currently in operation because the building they used to use to enter the tunnels has been renovated and bought by somebody tunnel-unfriendly. They're looking for a new entrance."

Art attack update

University of Buffalo professor Steve Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble, was charged yesterday with mail and wire fraud. As you may recall, Kurtz has been under investigation after he awoke to find his wife dead and called the police who discovered some biological materials related to Kurtz's latest art project. (See this post for background.) Robert Ferrell, chair of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health, was also charged for helping Kurtz obtain $256 worth of harmless bacteria. The absurdity continues. Link

John Shirley talks about his new Gurdjieff book in Los Angeles, July 1

Author John Shirley will be at the Bodhi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles at 8585 Melrose Ave this Thursday July 1 at 7:30 pm till 9-ish, to talk about his book Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas (Tarcher/Penguin). Here's an essay about Gurdjieff that John wrote for Fringe Ware Review.  

Japan's rent-a-puppy business

Sid sez: "Babies can't be far behind ... in Tokyo you now can rent the cute little dogs that are all the rage. About $15 will get you an hour of canine bonding, and for a heftier fee you can take one home for the night. All puppy necessities included. These same dogs usually sell for about $3,000-$5,000."
In Tokyo alone, the number of shops registered to rent out pets grew to 115 as of March, up from 17 just three years earlier.

Each person who rents a dog by the hour is given a leash, some tissues and a plastic bag - in case the pooch has to answer the call of nature. They also get strict instructions not to let the dogs run free, to keep them in the shade on hot summer days and refrain from giving them snacks.


Annotatable UK ID Card consultation

Mark sez, "As you may know in the UK, ID cards are being debated again. A document with a draft Bill has been produced and the public consultation process is now underway. I have taken this document and converted it into a Moveable Type blog, pretty much every parachraph in the document is linkable, commentable and trackbackable." Link (Thanks, Mark!)

Flickr adds Creative Commons licenses, OS X uploader

Flickr (Ludicorp's amazing, witty, easy photo-sharing/community service) has just added two spiffy new features: an uploader for OS X that works with iPhoto and a tool for automatically adding Creative Commons licenses to the photos you upload and share. (Disclosure: I'm on Ludicorp's advisory board) Link

Down and Out wins Locus Award

This is so freaking cool: my novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom has won the Locus Award for Best First Novel of 2003. The Locus Award is based on a popular poll of readers of the trade mag, a larger group than even the Hugo voters, making it the largest beauty contest in the field. I couldn't be any happier: thanks everyone! Hope to see you at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston, where the award will be presented. Link

Akihabara is geek sex paradise

The Japanese town of Akihabara has become a legendary gadget shopping destination. But this Japan Today story examines its odd brand of nerd sociology, in which fantasizing about sex is of far greater importance than actually having sex. Spotlight on girls named "Pudding," synthetic paramours, and the scarcity of 'no-pan' cafes -- in which miniskirted hottie waitresses going commando serve you rice cakes with a smile.
The area has undergone something of a makeover recently with posters and figures of animated beautiful girls plastered all over the place and the emergence of cafes and restaurants devoted to "cosplay," featuring girls dressed as animated heroes, maids, etc. Even a public area, such as the floor space of JR Akihabara station, has got into the act, with a 3-meter-round poster of the face of a beautiful girl appearing in an animation video. Kiichiro Morikawa, a professor at the Kuwasawa Design Research Institute, said, "An increasing number of animation goods and game shops have opened their doors and changed the area into an 'otaku' (geek) Mecca." Psychologists say these "otaku" or geeks are regressive, have poor social ability, and have never fully matured as adults. "Therefore, they are not good at communicating with others, cannot date real human beings, and instead adore an imaginary character," said one.
Link (Thanks, Steve)

iPod based foreign language phrasebook

Talking Panda is a new language translation app designed for the Apple iPod. Comes with over 300 common words and phrases of whichever language you want to speak. French, Spanish, and Japanese for $10 per language. RFID News editor John Wehr, who is helping out with the project, says "The fun thing is that the idea is so straightforward it could be used (or pre-installed?) with any portable player." Flash demo here, and website here.

"Fight Club"-branded office supplies, sort of

Weblogger Sean Bonner phonecammed a funny discovery in the laser-printable-label aisle at Staples today -- the "sample address" on the packaging for Avery #8293 is addressed to Brad Pitt's character in the movie Fight Club. Link