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Ian McDonald's "Cyberabad Days" -- short stories in 2047 India that blend technology with spirituality, love, sex, war and humanity

Ian McDonald is one of science fiction's finest working writers, and his latest short story collection Cyberabad Days, is the kind of book that showcases exactly what science fiction is for.

Cyberabad Days returns to McDonald's India of 2047, a balkanized state that we toured in his 2006 novel River of Gods, which was nominated for the best novel Hugo Award. The India of River of Gods has fractured into a handful of warring nations, wracked by water-shortage and poverty, rising on rogue technology, compassion, and the synthesis of the modern and the ancient.

In Cyberabad Days, seven stories (one a Hugo winner, another a Hugo nominee) McDonald performs the quintessential science fictional magic trick: imagining massive technological change and making it intensely personal by telling the stories of real, vividly realized people who leap off the page and into our minds. And he does this with a deft prose that is half-poetic, conjuring up the rhythms and taste and smells of his places and people, so that you are really, truly transported into these unimaginably weird worlds. McDonald's India research is prodigious, but it's nothing to the fabulous future he imagines arising from today's reality.

All seven of these stories are standouts, but if I had to pick only three to put in a time-capsule for the ages, they'd be:

1. The Djinn's Wife: this Hugo-winning novelette is a heartbreaking account of a love affair between a minor celebrity and a weakly godlike artificial intelligence. The special problems of love with an "aeai" (AI) are incredibly, thoroughly imagined here, as are the possible glories. Here, McDonald perfectly captures the stepping-off-a-cliff feeling of the new kinds of romance that technology enables, and of the wonderful, terrible sense of the wind rushing past your ears as the ground screams towards you.

2. Sanjeev and Robotwallah: a story that will be anthologized in two of this year's "Best Of" anthologies, Sanjeev and Robotwallah is the story of a young, displaced boy who finds temporary glory in acting as batsman for a squadron of amped-up teen mecha pilots. The pathos here arises when the war ends and the glamorous warriors are retired, leaving Sanjeev in limbo, his aspirations smashed with the lives of the older boys. Like all of McDonald's stories, the ending is bittersweet, rich and unexpected.

3. Vishnu at the Cat Circus: the long, concluding novella in the volume is an account of three siblings: one genetically enhanced to be a neo-Brahmin, one a rogue AI wallah who is at the center of the ascension of humanity's computers into a godlike state, and one who remains human and bails out the teeming masses who are tossed back and forth by the technological upheaval. A story of character, Vishnu blends spirituality and technology to look at how the street might find its own use for things, when that street is rooted in ancient traditions that are capable of assimilating enormous (but not infinite) change.

Cyberabad Days has it all: spirituality, technology, humanity, love, sex, war, environmentalism, politics, media -- all blended together to form a manifesto of sorts, a statement about how technology shapes and is shaped by all the wet, gooey human factors. Every story is simultaneously a cracking yarn, a thoughtful piece of technosocial criticism, and a bag of eyeball kicks that'll fire your imagination. The field is very lucky to have Ian McDonald working in it.

Cyberabad Days


Tomorrow is Britain's nationwide "Convention on Modern Liberty"

Tomorrow marks the first ever British Convention on Modern Liberty, co-sponsored by The Guardian, OpenDemocracy, and Liberty. It's a daylong, nationwide forum on the erosion of liberty, privacy and civil rights in Britain. Boing Boing is a proud sponsor of the event, and I'll be speaking at the closing plenary with Billy Bragg tomorrow afternoon in London.

We are entering a dangerous period in our country. Economic turmoil threatens profound hardship and disharmony. Disenchantment with politics is growing and even legitimate protest is threatened by an unprecedented programme of challenges to our rights, freedoms and democracy. Sixty years ago Britain was a proud co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Now it is increasingly centralized, abandoning its historic principles some of which date back to the Magna Carta.

The Government’s continued stated determination to extend detention without charge in terrorism cases to 42 days is one symbol of the damage done to our hard-won rights and freedoms. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), which gives hundreds of agencies access to people’s records without their knowing, is another. The collection of all available records on a huge central database for the use of the authorities is a third.

We believe that such threats can be overcome but only if the public is woken to the dangers. While we may be impatient for action, the issues must be addressed in an open-minded way with as thorough and accessible public debate as possible.

The Convention on Modern Liberty

Philip Pullman on the collapse of personal liberty in the UK

A reader writes, "Philip Pullman writing in today's (London) Times on the state of the UK, 'to mark the Convention on Modern Liberty'. Lyrical, eloquent and compelling. Sent chills down my spine. I've read lots of articles on the increasing loss of our civil liberties, but the style and tone really set this one apart. It's literary without being fictional, and that makes it all the more effective in its message."

Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don't mind if we are. They don't think we care about it.

We want to watch you day and night

We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you

We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people

We can see you have abandoned modesty

Some of our friends have seen to that

They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible

In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide

We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural

We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things

One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:

We know who our friends are

And when our friends want to have words with one of you

We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need

It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law

It is for us to know what your offence is

Angering our friends is an offence

Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms

Sudo Make Me a Sandwich: the robot edition

Inspired by one of the funniest goddamned XKCD strips of all time, Bre Pettis and Adam Cecchetti have built a "Sudo make me a sandwich robot" that makes a sandwich when you tell it to.

Sudo Make Me A Sandwich Robot (via Make)

Ryanair wants to charge for using the toilet in-flight

Ryanair, the prisonships of the sky, are now contemplating replacing the free in-flight toilets with pay toilets that will drain your wallet as you drain your bladder.
"One thing we have looked at in the past, and are looking at again, is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in future," he told BBC television.

He added: "I don't think there is anybody in history that has got on board a Ryanair aircraft with less than a pound."

I've flown some pretty bad airlines in my day, but nothing tops Ryanair for consistently terrible experiences. You couldn't pay me enough to get on one of their flights again.

Ryanair mulls charge for toilets

Home and work with comic-store clerks

Wired.com's gallery of comic-book store employees at home and work is just enchanting. I never worked in a comic store, but I did the next-best thing, working at Toronto's oldest sf bookstore, Bakka Books. There's something incredibly satisfying about that kind of work -- living in a mountain of awesome media, interacting with fellow mutants all day. We even sold bOING!bOING! (the print zine!).

If you could be any comic book character, who would it be?
My two favorites are Superman and Spider-Man. Superman is the ideal. He was the first superhero and shows you the best of what humanity could be but it's reflected through the eyes of an outsider, someone who is not human. Then I like Spider-Man because he discovers his powers and, in a very human way, uses them to get the girl and get some money and not be a geek anymore. Then he learns a lesson about responsibility and decides to use his powers for the good of all.

Which title has fallen farthest from grace?
That can vary on a month-to-month basis. The Ultimates is the least recognizable when compared to the run before it. Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira are great writers but it's such a tonal shift from what Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch did that it's just too much of a shock.

Secret Lives of Comic Store Employees

Customizable shipping container for the Caribbean

WorldChanging's Julia Levitt reports on an architecture project underway at Clemson University in South Carolina to come up with plans for turning shipping containers into good, humane, locally appropriate, customizable housing in the Caribbean. Shipping containers that land in Caribbean ports are treated as waste because it's not worth anyone's while to ship them out again.

"Our goal for the initial start up phase of the project is to come up with a design that, like the ISO container, can navigate the many different scenarios -- Haiti, Dominica, Jamaica etc. -- in the Caribbean, and at the same time be "open" enough to take root and adapt so that families can take ownership of the dwelling to meet their needs but within their means," says Hecker.
Turning Shipping Containers Into Customizable, Affordable Housing

Wil Wheaton vs. Authors' Guild vs. Kindle

Wil Wheaton sez,
I totally agreed with Cory's take on the whole Author's Guild vs. Reality (and text 2 speech) kerfuffle, and I saw that other authors like John Scalzi and Neil Gaiman were pretty much on the same, uh, page.

But then I wondered: What if we're all wrong? As an author, performer, and consumer of audiobooks, what does this mean for me? Are we really threatened by this?

To find out, I picked a short passage from my book Sunken Treasure and read it. Then, I took the identical passage, and let my computer read it. I recorded the whole thing and put together something I call "Wil Wheaton versus Text 2 Speech" so you can hear for yourself.

wil wheaton vs. text 2 speech

Ted Chiang's story Exhalation -- free podcast

Avi sez, "StarShipSofa has made a podcast of Ted Chiang's amazing new story: 'Exhalation'. This is as good as it gets for quality SF." Ohmanohmanohman! New Ted Chiang fiction. We're all in for a treat.

Exhalation, MP3 link (Thanks, Avi!)

Australia's Great Firewall collapses under political pressure!

Alison sez, "the combined opposition of the Australian Liberal Party, Greens and two Independent senators has effectively canned the unworkable censorship measures the Australian government has been trying to push through."
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has consistently ignored advice from a host of technical experts saying the filters would slow the internet, block legitimate sites, be easily bypassed and fall short of capturing all of the nasty content available online.

Despite this, he is pushing ahead with trials of the scheme using six ISPs - Primus, Tech 2U, Webshield, OMNIconnect, Netforce and Highway 1.

But even the trials have been heavily discredited, with experts saying the lack of involvement from the three largest ISPs, Telstra, Optus and iiNet, means the trials will not provide much useful data on the effects of internet filtering in the real-world.

Senator Conroy originally pitched the filters as a way to block child porn but - as ISPs, technical experts and many web users feared - the targets have been broadened significantly since then.

ACMA's secret blacklist, which will form the basis of the mandatory censorship regime, contains 1370 sites, only 674 of which relate to depictions of children under 18. A significant portion - 506 sites - would be classified R18+ and X18+, which is legal to view but would be blocked for everyone under the proposal.

Web censorship plan heads towards a dead end (Thanks, Alison!)

First Superman comic up for bid

Tomorrow, the holy grail of comic book collectors will go up for auction. An "unrestored" copy of Action Comics #1 (1938), the first appearance of Superman, is expected to sell for $400,000. Comic Connect is hosting the auction on behalf of an unnamed seller. The actual cover is seen in the photo below. Don't miss the priceless "WTF!" expression on the guy's face at the lower left; that image has stuck with me since I was a little kid and first saw a reprint of this. From CNN:
 Data Image Gallery Act1.6061A "Of the 100 existing copies, 80 percent have been restored, but people want an untouched copy," (Comic Connect owner Stephen) Fishler said. The book is listed in "fine" condition, a six on the 10-point rating scale...

Co-created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the comic book first appeared on newsstands for 10 cents a copy in June 1938.

Nearly 12 years later, a young boy on the West Coast found himself in a secondhand book store, where he persuaded his dad to loan him 35 cents to buy the comic book.

Until 1966, the owner forgot about the book, which was hidden in his mother's basement. Since then, he's been holding onto it, hoping to see it increase in value, Fishler said. He has not been disappointed.
"'Unrestored' copy of first Superman comic book for sale (CNN), Action Comics #1 auction (ComicConnect)

We are Fractal Sheep

Margaret Bourke-White - Leipzig, 1945

Boingboing's current guestblogger Paul Spinrad is married 

When my friend John started going to the Bronx High School of Science, he was surprised to find that it contained the same cliques that his former, neighborhood school had had-- the jocks, the geeks, etc. He figured that because the student body consisted of all the geeks taken from other schools, he would only find geeks there. But no-- and when he got to know the school's Chess Team, the geeks among geeks, he saw that they paralleled the same divisions.

Humans and human groupings always seem to break down into the same archetypes, and this also seems to happen at all levels of granularity, from national character to impulses within an individual. Maybe they're the elements from some periodic table of strategies that game theorists haven't yet discovered. Maybe we all intuitively know this table and overlay it with our changing estimations of what niches are open and where we can fit in.

If so, it's a great blueprint for survival, for a group intelligence that reaches into every corner and processes everything. Imagine a prehistoric tribe suffering through a series of cold winters. The conservatives argue to stay, the malcontents argue to go someplace new, the physical risk-takers scout out unknown territories, and so on. Advocates on all sides try to win over the hearts and minds of the people in the middle, who make their own observations and assessments, but also want the tribe to stick together. Consensus is usually found, but when differences become too great, the group splits.

Today, a voter might decide at the last possible minute because they want the most accurate sense of how others will vote. A new Supreme Court justice might go against their prior voting record because they're now in a group where they see new niches that need to be filled. Our programming is simple, but the game setup and ever-changing environment makes complexity grow to the limits of our massive processing power.

I remember an illustration, possibly from my high school biology textbook, of a bunch of ants carrying a chunk of food. It showed that the ants don't all pull in the same direction; instead, they pull in different directions and the vector sum of all their efforts points the way home, to their colony.

And so it is with us. What stories inspire you most? The Lord of the Rings? The Matrix? Hey, I know-- it's that one about the ordinary person who gradually finds out, through a series of eye-opening events, that they're actually a pivotal figure in the great battle between Good and Evil, that everything they do matters, and so they step up to their new-found responsibility.

We like these epic tales because they're true. Our survival as a species (a.k.a. Good) depends on each of us fighting for what we believe in. We all have a different perspective that's valuable to the whole, even when (sometimes especially when) we're confused and undecided. If we aren't true to ourselves and don't think we matter, it diminishes the overall survivability of us all, especially during times of change and new threats.

When disaster does happen, this distributed setup is highly fault-tolerant. Honestly, if 90% of the human population were wiped out today, the rest of us would fill in the gaps and carry on. But two constants, true from a small tribe up to a planet of 6 billion, are that we need each other always, and that we must fight with each other always.

Photo: Margaret Bourke-White - LIFE © Time Inc. 

The Pen Which Shall Never Be Lost

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Macetech calls this "The Pen Which Shall Never Be Lost."

Whatever is stealing pens will hopefully take some time to gnaw through that rope, I'll get a chance to actually use the pen a few times.

Test driving a Tesla Roadster

Lyle of GM-Volt.com wrote a detailed review of his test drive of a $109,000 Tesla Roadster.
200902261629The car was fascinatingly quiet at slow speeds though at high velocities wind noise was very audible due to the removable top. The car was entirely made of hand-crafted ultralight carbon fiber, which made closing the hood and trunk a little challenging as they had nearly no weight. With the massive 53 kwh battery pack in its center, the car weighed in just under 2700 pounds including the battery pack.

After about two hours of driving fun I arrived back at my house with 16 miles of estimated range and 25 miles of EPA range. There was no way I was getting back to the city to drop the car off! And there was the three-headed, or should I say three-pronged monster that I’d only heard of, staring me right in the face…Range Anxiety!

Fortunately my doctor friend and co-pilot had a friend with an arc-welder in his garage. And so too, as it need be, a 220V 50 amp power outlet. After a few unanswered calls we finally got a hold of him and drove to his house. At this point my little range gauge told me "power reduced" and “battery almost empty.”

The small trunk of the Tesla, which at best could hold a small bag of golf clubs, held a potpourri of chargers and adapters. We finally found a male plug that would fit in our friend’s outlet, but this required some reattaching of it to the copper wiring.

Finally the plug went into the wall. We opened the door of the Tesla which of course wasn’t a gas tank but a unique four pronged charge port. The other end of the charger slid in twisted and locked. Some clicking and whirring sound were heard along with an eerie flashing green light, and then those most comforting of words popped up on the cars screen…charging.

Test driving a Tesla Roadster

Fabric synthesizers

 3325 3282050683 7E9B926F38 Australian artist Pul(sew)idth crafts fantastic fabric model synthesizers (and guitars and pedals too). Seen here is a Minimoog. Over at Boing Boing Gadgets, Rob has details on where you can see, and even buy, these fine creations.
Feltlight Children: Pul(sew)idth's fabric synths

Coilhouse Vol. 2 on stands

Coilhouse Bb02 Alternate

Coilhouse is "a love letter to alternative culture" that exists in two forms – a glossy print quarterly and a daily blog. The magazine is produced and published by photographer Nadya Lev, artist Zoetica Ebb, and musician Meredith Yayanos.

Classic Coilhouse blog posts: Top 10 Most Preternaturally Beautiful Men, The Tarnished Beauties of Blackwell, Oklahoma, What Made You Weird? and The Pervert's Guide to Etsy.

A sampling of recent topics: Cthulhu meditation, Adagio in stop-motion origami, Mark Gormley, the "Legofication" of pop music, Meet the Feebles, whip shoes, the Magenta Foundation, stalking your junior high bullies, Outlander (vikings fighting aliens!) and thrift shop douche.

Regular blog columns include: All Tomorrows (sci-fi glories from the deviant age), Better than Coffee (Monday morning audiovisual stimulants), Zo! Style Technician (fashion adventures in space), Weekly Ad Uncoiling (ad smackdowns by copyranter).

The 96-page, perfect-bound Coilhouse print mag is designed to be the kind of magazine you keep around for years. Issue 01 included the intricate Wunderkammer sculptures of Jessica Joslin, Victorian monster portraiture by Travis Louie, a conversation with singer/iconoclast Jarboe, and an excerpt from an upcoming book by science fiction great Samuel R. Delany. Issue 02 includes a history of cyborg hands, a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the atomic bomb written by Mondo 2000 alum Joshua Ellis, neo-Rococo paper dolls by Molly Crabapple, and interviews with Mark Mothersbaugh, Margaret Cho, Selene Luna, Stephane Halleux, Andy Ristaino, Madeline von Foerster and R.U. Sirius, among others. The magazine is available in major bookstores, and can also be purchased on the site.

Röyksopp's Space Invaders-enhanced music video

Royksssop
Röyksopp premiered a fantastic new music video featuring some killer real-life Space Invaders sequences. Check it out at Boing Boing Offworld. "Earth invaders: Röyksopp's Happy Up Here video"

Nurses fired for taking photos of patient's x-rays (of his rectum, complete with lodged object)

Two nurses in Wisconsin were fired after allegedly taking phonecam shots of a patient's x-rays depicting a sex toy stuck in his rectum. One of the nurses is accused of then posting the photo she snapped to her Facebook page. From WISN.com:
The patient was admitted to the emergency room with an object lodged in his rectum. Police said the nurse explained she and a co-worker snapped photos when they learned it was a sex device. Police said discussion about the incident was posted on her Facebook page, but they haven't found anyone who actually saw the pictures.

The nurse removed her Facebook page from the Internet last week. Without more, (Walworth County Undersheriff Kurt) Picknell said this conduct does not appear to violate any state laws. He has referred the case to the FBI.
"Nurses Fired Over Cell Phone Photos Of Patient" (Thanks, Gil Kaufman!)

Mule-driver TSA ID card contest is off and running

Barak-Tsa Mule Badge

UPDATE: The contest ends on Friday, February 27 at 12pm Pacific, so hurry and get your entries in. The ones I've gotten so far are stupendous!

In response to Cory's post about the TSA's requirement for mule handlers to carry biometric identification (lest some sneaky terrist use a 2-mile-per-hour mule-driven barge to asplode the eastern seaboard), we are holding a contest to find out which of our readers can design the best Mule-driver TSA ID card.

The winner, judged by me, gets a Boing Boing T-shirt.

Dave kicks off the contest with this fine entry, shown above. Note how Mr. Ed is trying to pass himself off as a mule. That sneaky terrist horse! They won't be putting peanut butter under your lip in Horsey Gitmo, you can bet your bridle on that.

Email me your entries.

Human-sized human candles


Artists Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz cast life-sized candles of themselves in beeswax, then watched their waxy doppelgangers melt.

Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz (via Street Anatomy)

Nano-origami

 Newsoffice 2009 Nanoorigami-1-Enlarged
MIT researchers are developing what they call "nano-origami," a technique for folding materials into tiny 3D structures with edges that are a hundred times thinner than a human hair. Someday, their work could lead to minuscule motors and components for faster microprocessors. Mechanical engineering professor George Barbastathis and his colleagues pattern the 2D shapes using conventional lithography technology. Then they use an external magnetic field, a beam of helium ions, or deposit metal on the materials' surface to induce the shape to fold itself up into a 3D structure. From the MIT News Office:
The folded shapes can be fabricated with a few different types of material, including silicon, silicon nitride (a type of ceramic) and a soft polymer known as SU-8.

Once the material is folded, the tricky part is getting the faces to align properly. The researchers have developed a few ways to do this successfully: one uses magnets; another involves attaching polymers to a certain spot on the faces and melting them with an electric current, sealing the two faces together.
"Engineers use 'nano-origami' to build tiny electronic devices"

The Twenty Weirdest TV Interviews of All Time

Nicole says:
I wanted to let you know about a great list we just put up on Nerve – “The Twenty Weirdest TV Interviews of All Time.”

With celebs gone wild, wasted, or just mad about Katie – it’s good stuff. Joaquin Phoenix on Letterman was just the beginning.

All 20 are good. Here's No. 3: Adam West and Jerry Lawler on Memphis Wrestling, 1977

When Adam West appeared on a Memphis TV station to promote a local car show in 1977, he arrived slurring his speech and wearing what can only be described as "homeless Bat-chic." Jerry "The Evil King of Memphis" Lawler then stopped by, prompting West to inexplicably lecture him on superhero sartorialism and traffic safety. Moments like this are why YouTube exists: the whole tableau is so wonderfully mystifying that it only gets better when watched out of context, particularly when West solemnly tells Lawler, "I've heard about your box." It's like you're watching his Family Guy audition tape.

Typographic tree sculptures

 Crblog Wp-Content Uploads 2009 02 Crawley-Trees-In-Workshop  Crblog Wp-Content Uploads 2009 02 Crawley-Trees-In-Situ-1
Artist Gordon Young, design studio Why Not Associates, and colleagues created typographic sculptures from dead trees for the new Crawley Library in West Sussex, UK. From Creative Review Blog:
The striking, cracked trees, 14 in all, are situated throughout the library building and are installed vertically, flush to the floor and ceiling to resemble supporting, structural pillars. Each tree is, in fact, a real oak trunk and displays carved passages of text from literature within the library, the typeface of each passage chosen carefully to suit the nature of the text...

The type on the trees isn’t carved but sandblasted out of the wood... “You put a kind of vinyl onto the wood and peel the cut lettering out of it,” explains (Why Not's Andy) Altmann of the process. The idea is that the particles of grit eat into the wood but bounce off the vinyl, resulting in the ‘carved’ lettering.
"A Library Full Of Dead Trees"

Slavery among Florida's tomato pickers

Colleen sez, "Gourmet magazine goes political? In this interesting and horrible piece, the author investigates modern slavery among immigrant workers in Florida."

For two and a half years, beginning in April 2005, Mariano Lucas Domingo, along with several other men, was held as a slave at that address. At first, the deal must have seemed reasonable. Lucas, a Guatemalan in his thirties, had slipped across the border to make money to send home for the care of an ailing parent. He expected to earn about $200 a week in the fields. Cesar Navarrete, then a 23-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, agreed to provide room and board at his family’s home on South Seventh Street and extend credit to cover the periods when there were no tomatoes to pick.

Lucas’s “room” turned out to be the back of a box truck in the junk-strewn yard, shared with two or three other workers. It lacked running water and a toilet, so occupants urinated and defecated in a corner. For that, Navarrete docked Lucas’s pay by $20 a week. According to court papers, he also charged Lucas for two meager meals a day: eggs, beans, rice, tortillas, and, occasionally, some sort of meat. Cold showers from a garden hose in the backyard were $5 each. Everything had a price. Lucas was soon $300 in debt. After a month of ten-hour workdays, he figured he should have paid that debt off.

But when Lucas–slightly built and standing less than five and a half feet tall–inquired about the balance, Navarrete threatened to beat him should he ever try to leave. Instead of providing an accounting, Navarrete took Lucas’s paychecks, cashed them, and randomly doled out pocket money, $20 some weeks, other weeks $50. Over the years, Navarrete and members of his extended family deprived Lucas of $55,000.

Taking a day off was not an option. If Lucas became ill or was too exhausted to work, he was kicked in the head, beaten, and locked in the back of the truck. Other members of Navarrete’s dozen-man crew were slashed with knives, tied to posts, and shackled in chains. On November 18, 2007, Lucas was again locked inside the truck. As dawn broke, he noticed a faint light shining through a hole in the roof. Jumping up, he secured a hand hold and punched himself through. He was free.

Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes

Are the photos of Borneo's monster snake real?

200902261122

My unexpert analysis concludes that these photos of a 100-foot long river snake from Borneo are as phony as a politician's smile.

Grainy images of a large snake in Borneo's Baleh River have some locals afraid the mythical Nabu snake is back. Is Borneo's 100-foot river snake—reported yesterday by London's Telegraph and captured in photographs (one appears to the left)—real?

Like the Loch Ness Monster, countless UFOs and Bigfoot, it's hard to say, says Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth University, because it's been captured in such low resolution. "It's as if you took a blood sample," he says, "threw away 99 percent of it and asked me to do a forensic analysis."

Are the photos of Borneo's monster snake real?

Picture 2-6 UPDATE, Feb 26: In the comments, Fromage used the excellent image search site TinEye to find the original snake-free photo (left). Congrats for exposing the hoax, Fromage!

UPDATE, Feb 27: Rhonda Roland Shearer says: Please see our recent post: http://www.stinkyjournalism.org/. We note that you credited Fromage with discovery of the source photo (judged from his Feb 26th comment) but Nuno of nunoxei.com posted his investigation on Feb 25th.

New issue of h+, edited by R.U. Sirius, available for free download

Our friend, R.U. Sirius is the editor of h+, a digital magazine that's the natural successor to Mondo 2000. The lineup for the second issue looks good!

R.U. says:

H2Mag Rising up out of the gloom of early 2009, the second edition of h+ magazine sends a message of hope to weary changesurfers.

With articles like:

"Space Solar: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun " by Howard Bloom

"The Global Financial Crisis: A Hiccup on the Path to Superintelligent Financial Markets?" by Ben Goertzel

"Singularity 101 with Vernor Vinge"

"First Steps Toward Post Scarcity or Why It's the End of the World as We Know it and You Should Feel Fine" by Jason Stoddard.

h+ #2 takes on the mess in front of us and then catapults us further on and further out.

And for those of you who prefer your futurism gritty, we have John Shirley on Cyberpunk for the 21st Century and Paul McEnery talking to "Bio Gunk" SF writer Peter Watts.

In my humble opinion, this is the most fully realized edition of a periodical that I have been involved in since the glory days of Mondo 2000 in the early '90s. Really, when's the last time you saw a magazine that deserves to be read front to back? Seriously, check it out.

And that's not all. For those of you - like me - who love the feel of a good old-fashioned print magazine in your hands, we are printing a limited number that will be available on some magazine stands and directly through us.

So let the word go forth, h+ issue #2 is calling the future into the present. And please, spread the word.

h+ magazine

Anti "clean coal" short by the Coen brothers


New PSA directed by acclaimed filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen for ThisIsReality.org, with the aim of debunking "clean coal" industry propaganda. It was produced in partnership with Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Just released today.

A fair EULA for downloaded works

My latest Guardian column's just gone up, about the message that entertainment companies send when they put crappy EULAs on their digital downloads:
Here's the world's shortest, fairest, and simplest licence agreement: "Don't violate copyright law." If I had my way, every digital download from the music in the iTunes and Amazon MP3 store, to the ebooks for the Kindle and Sony Reader, to the games for your Xbox, would bear this – and only this – as its licence agreement.

"Don't violate copyright law" has a lot going for it, but the best thing about it is what it signals to the purchaser, namely: "You are not about to get screwed."

You shouldn't have to sell your soul just to download some music

Jim Munroe's THEREFORE REPENT as a free download

Jim "Angry Young Spaceman" Munroe sez,
I've released Therefore Repent! as a CC licenced pdf, cbr and cbz download. ("It's completely nuts... It's a book about what if the Rapture actually happened, and that's all I'm gonna tell you." -Junot Díaz, 2008 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction)

I'm hoping people will dig it enough to preorder the first issue of the Detroit-set continuation, Sword of My Mouth #1, at their local comic shoppe.

Sword of My Mouth #1 Out Soon (Thanks, Jim!)

TSA demands biometric IDs for period reenacter mule-drivers

Mark sez, "Under TSA rules, various transportation workers need to pass background checks to receive biometric 'Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC)' IDs; this measure is allegedly necessary to thwart terrorism. This standard is being applied to employees of Hugh Moore Historical Park who operate mule-drawn canal boats at breakneck speeds of up to two miles per hour while wearing period costumes."
"We have one boat. It's pulled by two mules. On a good day they might go 2 miles per hour," said Sarah B. Hays, the park's director of operations.

The park's two-mile canal does not pass any military bases, nuclear power plants or other sensitive facilities. And, park officials say, the mules could be considered weapons of mass destruction only if they were aimed at something resembling food.

TSA: Mule skinners need background checks, too (Thanks, Mark!)