Slowing traffic by setting up living rooms in the street

Ted Dewan was tired of cars zooming down the residential street in front of his house, so he designed a series of "DIY traffic-calming happenings," including living room furniture sets in the middle of the road.
These type of "DIY traffic-calming happenings" are described by their creator as "roadwitches" and have included an 11-feet high rabbit, a big bed (for a sleeping policeman), a Casualty-style fake crash scene for Halloween and the setting up of a living room in the middle of the road.

"There's an element of fun and mischief, but underneath is the ambition to encourage people to re-examine how roads are used," says Mr Dewan.

"With the living room, it was the most direct way of saying 'We live here. This is our living space.'"

And he says that residents really enjoyed the strangeness of being able to relax outside in their own street, rather than feel it was a place only belonging to the cars that race up and down it.

Link (thanks, Dale!) Read the rest

Brain scans to predict behavior

Neuroscientists at Washington University can use a brain scan to predict if a subject will succeed or fail at a simple videogame. Basically, the scan reveals whether the subject glimpsed a quick hint that might help them "win" the game. The scientists had a success rate of 70 percent. From a press release:
Eleven seconds before volunteers played the game – discriminating the direction of a field of moving dots – scientists showed them a hint: an arrow pointing to where the moving dots were likely to appear. The dots were visible only for one-fifth of a second and therefore were easy to miss if a subject was not paying attention to the right area. After the hint and prior to the appearance of the moving dots, researchers scanned the volunteers with functional brain imaging, which reveals increases in blood flow to different brain areas indicative of increased activity in those regions. Based on brain activity patterns that reflected whether the subjects used the hint or not, scientists found they could frequently predict whether a volunteer's response would be right or wrong before the volunteers even had a chance to try to see the dots.
Link Read the rest

Gallery of sketches by Spumco bigshot Vincent Waller

Stephen Worth, director of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, says: "You might be interested in the artwork we digitized today at the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive... It's a collection of drawings by Spumco 'Bigshot,' Vincent Waller. Vincent directed the classic Ren & Stimpy episode, 'Rubber Nipple Salesmen,' and boy can he draw!" Link Read the rest

Anti-teenager sound weapon

Today's New York Times profiles an invention that emits a high-frequency sound designed to annoy people younger than 20. Apparently, people older than 30 can't hear it. Howard Stapleton of Barry, Wales invented the device, called the Mosquito, to drive away teenagers loitering around storefronts. From the NYT:
A trip to Spar here in Barry confirmed the strange truth of the phenomenon. The Mosquito is positioned just outside the door. Although this reporter could not hear anything, being too old, several young people attested to the fact that yes, there was a noise, and yes, it was extremely annoying. "It's loud and squeaky and it just goes through you," said Jodie Evans, 15, who was shopping at the store even though she was supposed to be in school. "It gets inside you..." Stapleton, a security consultant whose experience in installing store alarms and the like alerted him to the gravity of the loitering problem, studied other teenage-repellents as part of his research. Some shops, for example, use "zit lamps," which drive teenagers away by casting a blue light onto their spotty skin, accentuating any whiteheads and other blemishes. Using his children as guinea pigs, he tried a number of different noise and frequency levels, testing a single-toned unit before settling on a pulsating tone which, he said, is more unbearable, and which can be broadcast at 75 decibels, within government auditory-safety limits. "I didn't want to make it hurt," Stapleton said. "It just has to nag at them."
Link Read the rest

Bad business metaphors

In the new issue of Smithsonian, author Richard Conniff has a funny and informative article about why business metaphors involving animals and animal behavior (like "800-pound gorillas" and ostriches burying their heads in the sand) are, from a zoological perspective, wrong. From the article:
You don't want to be an 800-pound gorilla. No such animal has ever existed. The average big daddy silverback tops out at about half that weight. And gorillas are not predators, but vegans, with an almost unlimited appetite for fruit and bamboo shoots. I once worked on a TV documentary about lowland gorillas; on an average day the dramatic episodes consisted of the alpha male passing gas, picking his nose and yawning. Then he did the same things, the other way around. Over and over. This is probably not the image a hard-charging executive wants to present to the public. Nor do you want to be lionized. Once, in Botswana, I saw a male lion rouse himself to court a female, with lots of growling and nipping. Finally, grudgingly, she assumed the sphinx position and he mounted her. One of my companions, a National Geographic photographer, began whirring and clicking (with his camera, I mean). The big moment of leonine love lasted all of ten seconds. "Definitely a motor-drive picture," the photographer muttered. Think about this the next time the preening CEOs at an awards banquet liken one another to lions.
Link Read the rest

Possible "love molecule" identified

Psychiatrists from Pavia University have associated early romantic love with a biochemical known as nerve growth factor (NGF). Apparently, levels of NGF in the bloodstream were significantly higher in subjects who were in the early stages of romance than individuals not in a relationship. Interestingly, "subjects in love who–after 12–24 months–maintained the same relationship but were no longer in the same mental state to which they had referred during the initial evaluation" did not have elevated NGF levels. Link to the paper summary in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, Link to Reuters article (Thanks, Gabe Adiv!) Read the rest

Buy tanks and guns to be melted down for African farm-implements

A charitable Christian retailer in the UK invite you to purchase AK-47s, tanks, and rocket-launchers that will then be donated to blacksmiths in Sierra Leone to be converted to farm-implements.
Peace is paying dividends in Sierra Leone. The same civil war that depleted the country of tools and work is now providing ample raw material for recovery: weapons. Enterprising blacksmiths and metal workers convert them into farm implements so that a Kalashnikov becomes hoes and axe heads and a rocket launcher transforms into pickaxes, sickles and even school bells.

The indisputable heavyweight champ is a tank (or a heavy duty 16 wheeler) that can provide a year's work for 5 blacksmiths, turning it into 3,000 items vital to equip a farming village of 100 families. Jobs, tools, agriculture. It isn't everyday that what you long for comes true.

Link (via WorldChanging) Read the rest

Better visual working memory stems from ignoring stuff

People who have better "visual working memory" (correlated with performing well on many cognitive tests) aren't better at remembering things -- they're better at ignoring unimportant things. Researchers at the University of Oregon used new brain-measurement techniques to determine that high scorers for visual working memory tests aren't cramming more material into their brains, but rather are ignoring lots of items.

Most of what I do from day to day is ignore stuff -- quickly deleting emails that I won't be able to answer or don't need to read, skipping through RSS to get at the good stuff, separating small quanta of wheat from mountains of chaff. I can totally believe that the key to survival in the information age is not paying attention to unimportant stuff.

The findings turn upside down the popular concept that a person's memory capacity, which is strongly related to intelligence, is solely dependent upon the amount of information you can cram into your head at one time. These results have broad implications and may lead to developing more effective ways to optimize memory as well as improved diagnosis and treatment of cognitive deficits associated with attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia...

"People differed systematically, and dramatically, in their ability to keep irrelevant items out of awareness," Vogel said. "This doesn't mean people with low capacity are cognitively impaired. There may be advantages to having a lot of seemingly irrelevant information coming to mind. Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people."

Link (via Collision Detection) Read the rest

Firefox 1.5 came out today

Firefox 1.5 came out earlier today. I've been using it for an hour now, and boy is it nice. If you're still using Microsoft's Explorer or Safari, now's a great time to switch -- better ad-blocking, better usability, better security, and better standards-compliance. And it's free of charge and free to hack! Link Read the rest

Warners censors mashup album, fight back!

Earlier this month, blogged about "American Edit," a noncommercial mashup album that combined Green Day's American Idiot with sources as varied as Dr Who.

Now a record company has shut down the American Edit site -- I was privately sent a copy of the takedown notice, which was signed by Warner Bros -- and internet activists are calling for a reprise of Grey Tuesday when websites all over the Internet mirrored DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album mashup, which was censored off the Internet by EMI.

As I wrote earlier this week, fighting mashups has nothing to do with reducing "piracy." No one who listens to American Edit will shrug her shoulders and say, "Well, heck, now that I've heard that, who needs to buy the Green Day album?" Censoring this art is tantamount to saying, "This music must go because it displeases us."

I presented this view to an EMI representative at the Creative Economies conference in London earlier this autumn and she responded by saying that DJ Danger Mouse had a happy ending, because they subsequently hired him to produce lawful mashups for them (while still maintaining legal censorship of the Grey Album).

Copyright maximalists like to contrast copyright with the old system of patronage, when you could only make art if you could convince the Pope or a duke or a king that your art was worthy. Patronage really distorted creative expression, and copyright did indeed promise to decentralize authority over what kind of art was permitted.

But the EMI rep's answer to the Grey Album is patronage. Read the rest

Free, ad-supported PCs for the developing world?

AsiaTotal is offering free computers called IT PCs to the developing world, with a catch: the machines' keyboards are lined with hotkeys that take their users to sponsors' retail websites. Unlike the One Laptop Per Child program, the machines are proprietary, running WindowsCE instead of GNU/Linux, and they plug into the wall instead of running on hand-crank power. It has no WiFi (it uses a modem line) and therefore no way of providing mesh networking either.

It's an interesting service, but the land-line, mains power, and proprietary OS all make this less valuable as a development tool than the One Laptop Per Child device. The OLPC people talk about their device as something that will not only bring computing to poor and rural people in the developing world, but as something that will provide a platform for users to learn to program and improve on their tools -- a "teach a man to fish" technology. This goes hand in hand with the WiFi and the power designs in OLPC, which allow ad-hoc groups to gather, collaborate, and work together. By sacrificing these three elements, the IT PC undermines these knock-on benefits.

The OLPC is intended as a platform for instruction and exploration of computers themselves, as an opportunity to put the means of production into the hands of users -- as well as a tool for delivering and sharing information. The IT PC is just a tool for doing the latter; and for delivering users to merchants.

Jamais at WorldChanging has some good commentary on this, too. Read the rest

HOWTO convert Atari joystick into a vibrator

Homemade Sex Toys has posted a guide to converting a classic Atari 2600 joystick into, well, a joystick. From the HOWTO:
There's something about an Atari 2600 that makes you feel warm and tingly all over. If you want to bring those feelings to the ultimate climax, follow these instructions to make a vibrator out of your Atari controller. We found a small, inexpensive and self-contained bullet vibrator that fit perfectly inside the case and whose switch happened to be very compatible with the button on the Atari 2600 controller. With a little wire, solder, and basic materials, you can build one of these units yourself and put even more joy in your joystick.
Link Read the rest

Sony knew about rootkits 28 days before the story broke

BusinessWeek reports that Sony knew on Oct 4 that its DRM system was built on rootkits and exposed its customers to danger of opportunistic infections from other malicious programs. The story wasn't made public until Oct 31, and Sony didn't recall its infected CDs until 11 -- five and half weeks later. Many new infections occurred during the gap, while Sony sat mum. Sony claims that it had intended all along to go public with the news that it had endangered its customers' PCs, identities, and data, but not until it managed to produce a patch.
Sony BMG officials insist that they acted as quickly as they could, and that they expected to be able to go public and offer a software patch at the same time. However, Russinovich posted his blog item first, forcing Sony BMG to scramble to contain the crisis. It recalled millions of CDs recorded by 52 artists, including Van Zant, Celine Dion, and Neil Diamond. Plus, it offered exchanges to customers. "We're very, very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that this has caused to music consumers," says Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG's Global Digital Business.
Link (via /.)

Previous installments of the Sony Rootkit Roundup: Part I, Part II, Part III

(Cool Sony CD image courtesy of Collapsibletank) Read the rest

Mathematics of surprise

Scientists have modeled surprise in the form of a mathematical theory. The computational model is capable of predicting what stimuli an individual will pay attention to amidst the flood of sensory of data. In their experiments, the researchers from the University of Southern California and UC Irvine's Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics used their theory to identify the most "surprising" features in a video. Then, they observed the eye movements of humans watching the same video. Apparently, the subjects' responses matched the predictions of the computational model. According to the scientists, "efficient and rapid attentional allocation is key to predation, escape, and mating -- in short, to survival." Link Read the rest

Will NY sue Sony, too?

New York Attorney General is making threatening noises over Sony's rootkit DRM. There are still CDs infected with the malicious software in his jurisdiction and a spokesperson for his office says that he is "looking into" a lawsuit against Sony. The Texas AG has already announced a lawsuit under his state's anti-spyware law, seeking $100K per CD.
Spitzer's office dispatched investigators who, disguised as customers, were able to purchase affected CDs in New York music retail outlets -- and to do so more than a week after Sony BMG recalled the disks. The investigators bought CDs at stores including Wal-Mart (WMT), BestBuy (BBY), Sam Goody, Circuit City (CC), FYE, and Virgin Megastore, according to a Nov. 23 statement from Spitzer's office...

"It is unacceptable that more than three weeks after this serious vulnerability was revealed, these same CDs are still on shelves, during the busiest shopping days of the year," Spitzer said in a written statement. "I strongly urge all retailers to heed the warnings issued about these products, pull them from distribution immediately, and ship them back to Sony."

LInk (Thanks, Danilo!)

Previous installments of the Sony Rootkit Roundup: Part I, Part II, Part III

(Cool Sony CD image courtesy of Collapsibletank) Read the rest

Radiohead remix redux: Me and This Army from Panzah Zandahz

Perhaps you missed this news over the holiday weekend? Don't. DJ Panzah Zandahz's "Me and This Army" is a collection of 16 Radiohead tracks remixed with snippets of artists such as MF Doom, Jurassic 5, De La Soul, and more. Link to info, tracklisting, and torrent. (Thanks, Sevaan) Read the rest

Miami police plan random ID checks of citizens

Snip from AP story:
Miami police announced Monday they will stage random shows of force at hotels, banks and other public places to keep terrorists guessing and remind people to be vigilant. Deputy Police Chief Frank Fernandez said officers might, for example, surround a bank building, check the IDs of everyone going in and out and hand out leaflets about terror threats.
Link (Thanks, Mike F.)

Update: a revised version of the story here says no random ID checks are planned. (Thanks, Dave F. and Kevin Poulsen) Read the rest

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