Boing Boing 

Researchers develop handy phrasebook for people who travel in time to the Stone Age

Picture 1-8
Historically accurate illustration of cave people and dinosaurs, both domesticated and feral, from BibliOdyssey.

Mark Henderson of the London Times reports that researchers at the University of Reading have developed a phrasebook that "could allow basic communication between modern English speakers and Stone Age cavemen."

“If a time traveller wanted to go back in time to a specific date, we could probably draw up a little phrasebook of the modern words that are likely to have sounded similar back then,” [Mark Pagel] told The Times. “You wouldn’t be able to discuss anything very complicated, but it might be enough to get you out of a tight spot.”

Dr Pagel’s research also predicts which parts of modern vocabulary are likely to survive into English as it will be spoken 1,000 years in the future, and which will die out.

By the year 3000, words such as “throw”, “stick”, “dirty”, “guts” and “squeeze” could easily be gone. These already differ greatly between related languages, such as English and German, and are good candidates to evolve into new forms.

A handy little guide to small talk in the Stone Age

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has mounted a display of unmanned aerial vehicles, essentially model airplanes outfitted with GPS, microprocessors, and surveillance tech for battlefield reconnaissance. Seen here is a prototype of the 5 pound, 45-inch AeroVironment Dragon Eye. It was launched by hand or slingshot style with a bungee cord. From Smithsonian:
 Images Unmanned-Aerial-Vehicle-Dragon-Eye-2 Unmanned and remote-controlled aircraft have a surprisingly long history. "The technology that goes into a UAV has been around for 100 years," (museum curator Dik) Daso says, "since before World War I." Henry Ford and other top engineers helped to design both full-size and scale planes that were radio-controlled. The Great War ended before any of them could go into action. Now, Daso adds, "there are so many UAVs in the air, it's hard to keep track of them all..."

So why did (Dragon Eye co-developer Rob Colbow) decide to include this duct-taped veteran in the UAV display? "I wanted it for all the kids who, like me, have built things like this."
Under the Radar with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Merck releases gigantic hunk of expensive pharma data into public domain

John Wilbanks from Science Commons sez, "Merck just pledged a ton of high-resolution, very expensive data to the public domain, along with some software and other resources to make it work. It's going into a new non profit org (disclosure - I am a Board member) called Sage. This stuff isn't going to be open on day one - it takes a while to figure out how to give things like this away, and more time to make them *useful* - but it's on the road."
Sage resulted from the realization that the needs and potentials of clinical and molecular data to inform drug development are greater than the resources or capacity of any one company or institute. Sage is a legacy of successful proof of principle work accomplished at Rosetta Inpharmatics, a subsidiary of Merck & Co., Inc. in Seattle. Core human and intellectual property resources from this effort are seeding Sage’s growth. The primary output from Sage will be an open access platform available in the public domain. An incubation period of three to five years is anticipated in which new project data are generated, critical tools for building and mining disease models are developed and governing rules for sharing, accessing, and contributing to the platform are established.

Sage is a distributed research organization with nodes embedded within core academic partner facilities. Collaborating scientists from both the nonprofit and commercial sectors will contribute to projects building and using innovative new databases and tools. More detailed information will be available soon.

Sage (Thanks, John!)

Large, Luscious QTVR Panoramas of Compact Muon Solenoid (and other "big science" scenes at CERN, Switzerland)

Still from QTVR of Large Hadron Collider, photog: Pete McCready

I've featured interactive QuickTime VR panoramas from photographer Peter McCready previously on Boing Boing, and it looks like he has some lovely new work up. QTVRs aren't good for everything, but they're great for "big science" sites like the ones at CERN, featured here -- places best appreciated with all directions visible. Pete sends these links and says,

Whilst we ‘Big Science Porn’ (thank you for the term!) aficionados eagerly await the relaunch of the Large Hadron Collider this September, thought I’d share a few new Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment VR panoramas with you that were taken days before ‘first beam’ last year from numerous locations within Underground Experimental Cavern UXC55.
Here are the panoramas: (one, two, three, four, five, six) and there's another up from the CMS Centre (where data quality monitoring, detector calibration, data analysis and computing operations take place).
Previously on BB:
Excellent new CERN Hadron collider QTVR
CERN photos in Nat'l. Geo: The God Particle

Seven-bladed jaw harp

The experimental instrument played in this video is a variation on the kou xiang (a Chinese jaw harp). This one has seven blades though and is well tempered, referring to a common type of tuning in 20th century Western music. The sound reminds me a bit of Frampton on a talk box.

UPDATE: You can buy one here!

Strange new fish: H. psychedelica

 News 2009 02 Images 090226-Psychedelic-Fish-Picture Big-Ap
This trippy fish that has been confirmed as a new species and named, appropriately enough, Histiophryne psychedelica. Scuba divers discovered it off Indonesia and University of Washington researcher Ted Pietsch tested its DNA. From the Associated Press:
Like other frogfish – a subset of anglerfish – H. psychedelica has leglike fins on both sides of its body.

But it has several traits not previously known among frogfish, wrote Pietsch, of the University of Washington.

Each time the fish strike the seabed, for instance, they push off with their fins and expel water from tiny gill openings to jet themselves forward. That and an off-centered tail cause them to bounce around in a bizarre, chaotic manner.

The fish, which has a gelatinous, fist-size body covered with thick folds of skin that protect it from sharp-edged corals, also has a flat face with eyes directed forward, like humans, and a huge, yawning mouth.
"PSYCHEDELIC" FISH PICTURE: New Species Bounces on Reef

Final Nebula ballot

The Nebula Ballot for best sf/f book of 2008 is up -- and I'm on it!
Little Brother - Doctorow, Cory (Tor, Apr08)
Powers - Le Guin, Ursula K. (Harcourt, Sep07)
Cauldron - McDevitt, Jack (Ace, Nov07)
Brasyl - McDonald, Ian (Pyr, May07)
Making Money - Pratchett, Terry (Harper, Sep07)
Superpowers - Schwartz, David J. (Three Rivers Press, Jun08)
Nebula Awards® 2008 Final Ballot

I think it's time for another baby/synthesizer video.

A happy baby making some sweet synth music with stubby lil fingers on a big funky keyboard.

Midas Delight (YouTube, thanks to the person who submitted this but is too ashamed to admit they're obsessed with videos of babies playing synthesizers)

Previously on Boing Boing:
* Naked Baby Plays a Synthesizer (video)
* Yet Another Baby Playing a Synthesizer (video, this time with pants)

Groove Armada / BB Video contest - extended through March 5

GROOVE ARMADA A quick note of update on a previously-announced contest that Boing Boing Video is running with the band Groove Armada and their "record label"/digital music distributor, Bacardi: details on the contest are here in a previous BB post, the news is that we're extending the contest through March 5 with winners to be announced shortly thereafter. How it works: you sign up to download DRM-free MP3s and share with other folks, and by doing so you're entered to win an Apple iPod Touch, courtesy of Boing Boing Video. If you'd like to participate, here's the magic link, and again, all the details on how it works and some notes on privacy/rights issues are in this previous BB post. As for the music: I've signed up to participate, and I've downloaded a number of tracks from the new EP this content is intended to promote. I am digging them mightily. Enjoy.

Browser plugin detects and reports net-censorship

David sez, "On a decentralized network it's much harder to map blockages than to create them. takes a crowdsourcing approach. Install the add-on and click the button when you encounter a site that's down. Herdict aggregates this information, including your geographic location, to draw a map of the Internet's potholes, including the ones intentionally dug by frightened governments. If you have a few spare minutes, you can check sites others have reported as down, determining whether they're blocked in your part of the world as well. ( will take you to that part of the Herdict site.) Herdict is a project of Harvard's Berkman Center (sponsored by Jonathan Zittrain) and obeys all the appropriate privacy rules of the road."

Herdict (Thanks, David!)

Sita Sings the Blues in full online

Robin sez, "You can watch the animated movie 'Sita Sings the Blues', IN FULL online. It will be broadcast in the NYC area at 10:45pm on Saturday, March 7. Feel free to write your local PBS station to see if they will broadcast 'Sita'."
Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by e-mail. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana. Set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as “The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.”
Watch “Sita Sings the Blues” online (Thanks, Robin!)

Today at Boing Boing Gadgets


• Mat Honan finds a bedazzlingly ridiculous thread about ... well, you should just go and see it.
• Joel greeted you from outside Denver.
• In an unused ad, a BlackBerry destroys an Apple.
• There was a secret gathering of the Order of the Lamp
• We hid our spare keys in a sprinkler head.
• Big Dog, the military pack-bot, is back for more creepy robot ballet.
Electrically-heated pants prove snowboarding is the new golf.
• You can buy tiny models of classic Sega arcade games.
• Behold! The world's smallest escalator.
• The iPhone is now free in Japan.
• Some Circuit City liquidators are being nice about testing stuff you've bought before you leave the store.
• Details emerge of Sony's Playstation Portable 2. CEO Stringer got a promotion, and a free hand to restructure the company.
• Small British ISPs declined to work with the self-appointed censors who blocked Wikipedia and The Internet Archive.
• Motorola "launched" a cellphone. Into a field.
• Google banned "Netbook" ads at Psion's behest.
• Would you like a Steampunk empire? Build one out of Lego!
• Datel made a NES-style Wii controller. Cheap!
• Verizon announced the LG Versa.

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