Robogames coverage

Ambiguous.org's Quinn Norton covers last weekend's Robogames event for the O'Reilly Network:
A sensor board coordinates data from two infrared controllers at 45° and 135° (angled to give some advanced data about the angle of the walls just in front of the robot). The sensor board also takes in data from a front-mounted sonar unit that tells the robot how far away the wall is (bumping a wall in the Trinity challenge is a penalty). Finally, there's a pair of line detectors pointing at the floor. These allow it to see the lines that mark the entrances to rooms, as well as the fire circle and the starting circle.

The last part of Larson's basic board kit is the CPU board, which pulls in data from the other boards, and spits out decisions to the motor.

Many of the decisions about what the sensors are seeing is farmed out to processors on the other boards, which come to an agreement using a subsumption architecture, the distributed decision-making architecture invented by Rodney Brooks in the 1980s. But at the top, the CPU board's Microchip PIC CPU (a 18F6621) uses a traditional maze-solving routine to map its way to the candle.

Link

Library of Congress deletes whistle-blower's comments

Joe discovered that when the Library of Congress posted the comments it got on the "Orphan Works" proceeding, it failed to redact the personal info of the submitters, simply covering them with a white box, which anyone could see through with a simple copy-paste operation. He complained to the Library of Congress, so they deleted his comment.
I had assurances from the LoC that they had fixed this personal information disclosure. However, working with the folks at freeculture.org, it appears that their "solution" was to remove my comment document only (instead of a more general solution). Moreover, all the original unredacted files are available in the ZIP file they offer... which hasn't been updated.

Man, doesn't anyone know someone at the LoC who can get things done? Well, I guess that's the price I pay for providing feedback (participation tax, I suppose).

Link (Thanks, Joe!)

Euro-RIAA justifies breaking iTunes, endorses fairy-tale of "open DRM"

Charlie sez, "While Jon Johansen ported PyMusique to C#, now called SharpMusique, a head of IFPI Norway says they don't care about PyMusique and that all the blame is on Apple and its proprietary DRM:"
To the degree that iTunes sells music based on proprietary barriers, this is not something that has happened with the recording industry's blessing and celebration. We are skeptical to this. This is a problem Apple has to solve." [...] "As far as I can see PyMusique does not violate the DRM system in iTunes, it only keeps the music away from the (iTunes) program.
It's funny to see the European equivalent of the RIAA saying that Apple deserves to have its DRM broken, of course.

But the REALLY funny thing here is the nonsensical term "proprietary DRM." DRM is by definition proprietary. Even in the "standards bodies" where they are setting out DRM systems, these are not freely implementable -- instead, you have to go on bended knee before a cartel of studio executives and beg permission to have your implementation approved. Shipping an unapproved DRM is a one-way ticket to an anti-circumvention lawsuit.

Among the grounds for refusing to approve an "open DRM" is that you want to include an output to some other DRM that hasn't been approved -- if you build to a "DRM standard," you have to waive your right to contract with anyone building to different standard.

But it gets worse: say you get permission to include an output for some other DRM system that you think your customers want and use. If, at some time in the future, the cartel decides that the other DRM system is no good (say, because Jon Johansen has released OtherDRMMusique), they demand the right to force you to eliminate that DRM from your system -- even if you have a contract with that DRM provider promising to include it.

So you not only waive your right to contract up to the moment that you implement the "standard," but also for the indefinite future.

It's like a schoolyard friend who says, "If you want to be my pal, you have to promise not to talk to the goth kids -- only the jocks." So you end up in a study group with a bunch of jocks and your erstwhile friend says, "I hate jocks now. Stop hanging out with them. From now on, you have to hang out with the D&D nerds." When you protest that if you walk away from your study group you'll flunk out of school, your "friend" just shrugs and says, "I told you when I agreed to be your friend that this might happen. Tough."

Implement a DRM "standard" and be prepared to have your devices redesigned at regular intervals, to the whims of the most paranoid, power-drunk, technophobic executives in the world. Link (Thanks, Charlie!)

Interview with RFID implantee

Last week, Mark linked to Flickr photos of a guy who had an RFID chip implanted in his hand. The always-fun Body Modification Ezine made contact with the gent, Amaal Graafstra, and posted a lengthy interview. Here's an excerpt:
 News Presenttense 20050330-Rfid-Latch Vid Cap BME: Now, who actually performed the implant procedure?

AG: As I have not asked the doctor for permission to publish their name, I can’t give that out, but they happen to be a cosmetic surgeon, so it seemed the natural choice. However, it was not hard to find someone to do the procedure; I have many MDs for clients and the day I got my chips, I asked two and both said they’d do it...

BME: Ideally, what sort of accessibility do you hope to see this implant give you in the future?

AG: Well, because I’m writing my own software and soldering up my own stuff, pretty much anything I want. Well, more accurately, anything I have the time and inspiration to do. Ultimately though, I think true keyless access will require an implantable chip with a very strong encryption system; right now I’m only looking at this type of thing in a personal context. As for society at large, nightclubs in Spain are already using RFID chips to let customers put drinks on their tabs and enter VIP lounge areas, and I think Australian pubs are doing the same as well. I’m not sure if they use encrypted implants or not. I was more interested in just getting something simple, cheap, and fun to play with.
Link (via Gizmodo)

Boring Boring: Awesome April Fools' parody of Boing Boing


Some anonymous geniuses whipped up this incredibly thorough parody of Boing Boing. I LOLed until my very eyeballs popped out. The detail is frightening (note the "Studious Girls" ads), as is the volume of witty, nuanced little references to actual crap we've blogged. To wit:

HOWTO: De-everybody Boring Boring
Jason Gill says, "Someone has posted a script for GreaseMonkey (a Firefox extension that lets you add your own Javascript code to any website, to remove ads or add features) that automatically removes every post when viewing Boring Boring." We wish we had thought of that.
and
At last, an alternative to Firefox!
Firefox Alternative Chris James sez, "I got so tired of all the updates, lame plug-ins and the W3C evangelism of the Mozilla crowd that I've been looking around for an alternative to Firefox for quite some time. Finally, I've settled on a great free app called Internet Explorer -- and it looks like I'm not alone. According to my site stats, Explorer is running neck and neck with Firefox for marketshare. It's about time somebody gave those thugs at the Mozilla Foundation some competition." Link
Link to "Boring Boring: A Directory of Dull Things." Link to mirror, and Link to another (Thanks for the mirror, Sean). It's a masterpiece. Thanks, smartass(es)!

Update: If you can't access either link, here's a partial screenshot: Link.

Sony to create "iTunes for movies," release 500 films digitally within a year

At a conference in Santa Monica today, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment SVP Michael Arrieta said:
"We want to set business models, pricing models, distribution models like (Apple Computer CEO Steve) Jobs did for music, but for the film industry," [said Arrieta], "I'm trying to create the new 'anti-Napster."

To that end, Arrieta said, his group plans to digitize Sony Pictures' top 500 films and make them available for the first time in various digital environments within the next year. He said the distribution for films like "Spider-Man 2" will go beyond just Movielink, the video-on-demand joint venture of Sony Pictures and several other major studios, which to date has hosted a limited library of Sony's movies.

For example, Sony plans to sell and make films available in flash memory for mobile phones in the next year, Arrieta said. It also will further develop its digital stores for downloading and owning films on the PC, he said in an interview. Sony's plans--and similar moves by other studios--are likely to avoid empowering any one technology company--such as Apple in the music equation--and allow studios to pocket more of the profits. The philosophy in Hollywood is "Define your own agenda or someone else will for you."

Link to ZDNet story. Previously on Boing Boing: The Cuban Revolution

Shirky: stupid (c) laws block me from publishing own work online

Clay Shirky tells Boing Boing:
Welcome to the Copyfight. So, at Etech this year, I gave a talk entitled Ontology is Overrated. I want to put a transcript up online, and Mary Hodder, who recorded the talk, graciously agreed to give me a copy of the video.

When she came by NYC last week, she dropped off a DVD, which I then wanted to convert to AVI (the format used by my transcription service.) I installed ffmpeg and tried to convert the material, at which point I got an error message which read "To comply with copyright laws, DVD device input is not allowed." Except, of course, there are no copyright laws at issue here, since I'M THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER.

Got that? I am in possession of a video, of me, shot by a friend, copied to a piece of physical media given to me as a gift. In the video, I am speaking words written by me, and for which I am the clear holder of the copyright. I am working with said video on a machine I own. Every modern legal judgment concerning copyright, from the Berne Convention to the Betamax case, is on my side. AND I CAN'T MAKE A COPY DIRECTLY FROM THE DEVICE. This is because copyright laws do not exist to defend the moral rights of copyright holders -- they exist to help enforce artificial scarcity.

Copyright holders in my position, who want to use Creative Commons licensing to share material, are treated as pathological cases, because we're not behaving in the extortionate manner that current regulations are designed to protect.

I've gotten the copy another way, and the transcript will go up, but this is the state of the world, circa 2005: I can be prevented from copying my own words from my own devices, precisely because I want to share them freely, a use the law is perfectly prepared to regard as irrelevant.

Boing Boing reader Thomas provides further evidence of unjust copyright cockblocking:
I have also found that when trying to take screenshots of DVDs (whoever holds the copyright) it is usually disabled by the OS. Similarly, if a miniDV device is asked to record a copyrighted DVD, it will not permit it, regardless of who tagged the disc and who is operating the miniDV device.

The bullshit continues.

d3 says:
I was reading this bb post about Shirky being unable to copy his DVD content using ffmpeg. The software does prevent the user from copying directly from a DVD, but it is possible to copy the .vob files to the hard drive and then ffmpeg will happily convert the files. Personally, I prefer using DVDxDV, which is pretty much a one-click operation from DVD to a DV file. No copying of .vob files neccessary. Strangely, I was just dealing with this issue yesterday. Maybe this can help. I agree that it is ridiculous, but at least there are some people writing tools to help us out.
Leland Johnson says:
The OS doesn't "permit" taking screenshots of DVDs because it's faster to do overlay rendering (direct communication with the video card). Some computers can't update their screens the normal way because it takes more CPU power. If you want to play videos/DVDs and take screenshots of them, the excellent and free Media Player Classic [link below] can be easily forced to never use overlay by selecting the output filter VMR9, which makes screenshots possible.
Link BB reader daniel says:
If you're an os x user, snapz pro x will happily capture screens from a dvd (or anything else you like, in fact). Link
And M. Noel adds:
OS X users who don't want to pay for Snapz can take screencaps of DVDs by using the screencaputre shell (Terminal.app) command. It comes with the OS, so there's nothing to buy. I always type the command into a terminal, move the window as far offscreen as possible, and then press Enter to execute -- so you don't have to see much (if any) of the Terminal window.
Link

Early bird syndrome linked to genetic mutation

In this week's issue of Nature, neuroscientists report that they've implicated a single gene mutation in Familiar Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (FASPS), or "early bird syndrome." Often, people who have this condition have no choice but to crash in the early evening and wake up long before dawn. From National Geographic News:
"The net result is you can feel very isolated," (FASPS sufferer Susan) Middlebrook said. "Who wants to party at three in the morning? Nobody I know, and I'm not headed to the local bar to see who's still there." Instead, she quietly cleans the house, makes breakfast, or cuddles up with a book.

About three-tenths of a percent of the world's population lives like this, including two of Middlebrook's sisters, her daughter, and her mother. "Their whole clock is shifted," said Ying-Hui Fu, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco...

The researchers are not yet certain how the gene mutation works to shift people's sleep time. But laboratory experiments suggest mutation slows the activity of a protein called casein kinase I delta (CKIdelta). "The next step is to figure out why," Fu said.
Link

Library of unusual materials

Inside the basement of King's College London's engineering department, Mark Miodownik curates a "cabinet of curiosities" for materials scientists. He started the collection in 2003 after noticing that his colleagues trashed all kinds of unusual materials at the end of their research projects. From News@Nature:  News 2005 050328 Images Bowl
His collection now includes more than 300 samples, including artificial skin made of rubber composites, and a material known as a superslurper that absorbs 400 times its own weight in water....

Miodownik trawls the globe in search of additions to his collection. On a recent trip to Australia, he found himself in the remote uranium-mining town of Broken Hill in New South Wales. He started hunting through antique shops there to find a special type of glass.

Miodownik explains that in the early twentieth century people thought that radioactive materials had beneficial health properties. For this reason, they manufactured glassware containing uranium, especially in places such as Broken Hill that had an abundance of the element.

In the Australian antique shops, Miodownik flashed an ultraviolet light on various glass pieces to find one that glowed, a sign that it contained uranium. When he found a bowl that did just that (pictured here), he brought it back to London and added it to the library.
Link

Schiavo parents to sell donor data to direct-marketing firm

The parents of rececently-deceased Terri Schiavo will sell their list of supporting donors to a direct-mailing firm.
The company, "Response Unlimited" pays about $150 a month for 6,000 names and $500 a month for 6,000 e-mail addresses. A spokesperson for the Schindlers confirmed that they had agreed to sell the information, but won't say for how much.
Link (Thanks, Steve). Update Here's a more in-depth piece co-authored by John Schwartz in the New York Times: Link

707 panel as decorative lighting

Todd Lappin has finished installing his 707 jet panel in his house. It looks incredible!
 7900634 Ef15D64C4D M This hangs on one wall of our living room, above the stairway that leads down to the garage. As you walk up the steps, you get this view.

My 707 has come a long way since I first found it at an aircraft scrapyard in Tucson. Here's a daylight view, shortly after I stripped off the paint. The illumination comes from rope lights mounted on the structurally-cool back side. (Next time you rest your head against a window-seat wall to snooze, this is basically what lies underneath.)


Link

Wing Sings

Her voice sounds like the cry of a shy hamster in whose rectum a hot poker has just been inserted.

The New Zealand-based performer's squeaky, ear-shredding rendition of "Dancing Queen" (Link: MP3) was featured in a South Park episode last week. I really need to get out on the internet more often, I don't know how I missed this -- Jesus, I just figured they'd made the character up.
Link to Wing Tunes, the official Wing website. Her new album of ABBA covers is magnificent: Link. Here's the South Park episode: Wing, first aired 03-23-2005. (thanks, pelle)

Update: %20 says:

I did a cut up of Wing's "My Favorite Things" following Negativland's infamous version. Link to MP3, and try this folder if the direct link doesn't work.

Government docs torrents

Thad sez,
Wanted to tell you guys about some more cool new torrents I've put up:

- Commission on Intelligence Capabilities WMD report & other key WMD documents
- Betamax legal documents
- Betamax mp3s
- National Security Archive Pre-9/11 intelligence documents

Link (Thanks, Thad!)

Wearing John Malkovich: actor launches men's clothing line

Snip from Theater News item:
John Malkovich, the renowned stage and screen actor, is also the designer of the Uncle Kimono clothing line -- and he will showcase his autumn/winter 2005-2006 men's wear collection at a trunk sale to be held at The Performing Garage (33 Wooster Street) in SoHo on Saturday, April 16, from 10am to 5pm. A percentage of the proceeds will benefit The Wooster Group.

(...) According to Malkovich, "Uncle Kimono is a men's wear collection that resonates with the late 1950s Californian beach boys, some Palm Springs Rat Pack, a touch of lounge lizard, and a recollection of a Swiss banker who's been let go."

A few months ago I was out having sushi with some pals in West Hollywood, and a very dapper Mr. Malkovich sat down at an adjacent table with friends. He was dressed in an extremely funky-fresh outfit, so this news comes as no surprise. He is one stylin' guy. Link to news report, and here is John Malkovich's website. Site also includes some pretty cool t-shirts, like the one shown above, but yow -- they're $70 a pop. (via blogging.la)

Katamari Damacy 2 screenshots

Check out these screenshots for the sequel to Katamari Damacy: "Everybody Loves Katamari Damacy." Christ, I want this game on my Powerbook. Link (Thanks, Tallpat!)