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Anti-vaccine fear versus science

Amy Wallace's Wired feature, "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All" looks at the life and times of Paul Offit, vaccine inventor and advocate, and the anti-vaccine pseudo-science he battles as he attempts to convince parents not to give in to fear and disinformation, and to follow the science that will keep their kids safe.
At this year's Autism One conference in Chicago, I flashed more than once on Carl Sagan's idea of the power of an "unsatisfied medical need." Because a massive research effort has yet to reveal the precise causes of autism, pseudo-science has stepped aggressively into the void. In the hallways of the Westin O'Hare hotel, helpful salespeople strove to catch my eye as I walked past a long line of booths pitching everything from vitamins and supplements to gluten-free cookies (some believe a gluten-free diet alleviates the symptoms of autism), hyperbaric chambers, and neuro-feedback machines.

To a one, the speakers told parents not to despair. Vitamin D would help, said one doctor and supplement salesman who projected the equation "No vaccines + more vitamin d = no autism" onto a huge screen during his presentation. (If only it were that simple.) Others talked of the powers of enzymes, enemas, infrared saunas, glutathione drips, chelation therapy (the controversial -- and risky -- administration of certain chemicals that leech metals from the body), and Lupron (a medicine that shuts down testosterone synthesis).

Offit calls this stuff, much of which is unproven, ineffectual, or downright dangerous, "a cottage industry of false hope." He didn't attend the Autism One conference, though his name was frequently invoked. A California woman with an 11-year-old autistic son told me, aghast, that she'd personally heard Offit say you could safely give a child 10,000 vaccines (in fact, the number he came up with was 100,000 -- more on that later). A mom from Arizona, who introduced me to her 10-year-old "recovered" autistic son -- a bright, blue-eyed, towheaded boy who hit his head on walls, she said, before he started getting B-12 injections -- told me that she'd read Offit had made $50 million from the RotaTeq vaccine. In her view, he was in the pocket of Big Pharma.

An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Saturday Morning Science Experiment: B.F. Skinner Makes A Pigeon Do His Bidding

Another fun experiment you can try at home! Although, given pigeons' tendency to carry disease, I'd recommend training a cat, spouse or younger sibling.

Read the rest

Shareable: stories of sharing and cooperation

Jeremy sez, "Shareable tells the story of sharing. We cover the people, places, and projects that are bringing a shareable world to life. And share tools and tips to help you make a shareable world real in your life. In a shareable world, things like car sharing, community gardening, and cohousing bring us together, make life more fun, and free up time and money for the important things in life. When we share, not only is a better life possible, but so is a better world. The remarkable successes of Wikipedia, Kiva, open source software, Burning Man, Freecycle, and Creative Commons point the way. They tell a hopeful story about human nature and our future, one we don't hear enough in the mainstream media."

Shareable (Thanks, Jeremy!)

Creative Commons Hallowe'en mix

Zoran sez, "The night before Halloween is known as Mischief Night because it is a time for young people to act out and do things that may get them in trouble with neighbors, with the law, and with satan. One of those pranks is downloading music illegally, usually in search of a fitting soundtrack for All Hallows' eve, one that will frighten the trick or treaters. Well this year, we can all focus on bigger and better things, thanks to a set of demonic artists who believe that it is in their interest to give away some of their sonic concoctions for free, because it will help them to cast their spell on a wider audience."

Creative Commons Halloween Mix (Thanks, Zoran!)

Hallowe'en is safe, your kids are safe, the only scary thing is the warnings

Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy has a stirring editorial in defense of Hallowe'en and kids in today's Huffpo:
It's not that I'm cavalier about safety. I'm just a sucker -- so to speak -- for the facts. And the fact is: No child has been poisoned by a stranger's goodies on Halloween, ever, as far as we can determine. Joel Best, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, studied November newspapers from 1958 to the present, scouring them for any accounts of kids felled by felonious candy. And...he didn't find any. He did find one account of a boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix his father gave him. Dad did it for the insurance money and, Best says, he probably figured that so many kids are poisoned on Halloween, no one would notice one more...

It's not just the fact that churches and community centers are throwing parties so that kids don't go out on their own. It's not just the fact that Bobtown, Pennsylvania has gone so far as to "cancel" Halloween altogether -- for the sake of "safety." (The authorities there were surprised to find this decision unpopular.) It's not even that those of us who'd like to hand out homemade cookies know they'll be instantly tossed in the trash.

No, the truly spooky thing is that Halloween has become a riot of warnings that are way scarier than the holiday itself. The website recommends that if your child is carrying a fake butcher knife, make sure the tip is "smooth and flexible enough to not cause injury if fallen upon."

As Goes Halloween, So Goes Childhood

Xeni on Rachel Maddow Show: World Wide Web grows wider, more worldly

Update here, with Q&A.

Rachel Maddow, host of all that is worth watching on television, very kindly invited me back to The Rachel Maddow Show tonight for a "Moment of Geek" on the big ICANN news today: starting soon, domain name extensions will be available in non-Latin character sets. Chinese, Greek, Arabic, or any one of the more than 20 official languages in India. In other words, the alphabet you're reading this blog post in will no longer be the default for web addresses.

You can watch the video here.

When Ms. Maddow's team invited me in earlier today, the first thing I did was phone Hong Kong-based journalist and global 'net culture researcher Rebecca MacKinnon (Twitter: @rmack), who was in Seoul attending the big ICANN meeting. She has written extensively on this topic, and helped me parse the news.

First up for the "non-Latin" extensions? Country-specific domain names (.cn for China, for instance). Later on, everything else (.com and the like). Don't expect to see "dot china" in Chinese characters right away, explained Rebecca: starting November 16, registrars can begin to apply, but it'll be a while before the domains show up in the wild.

Some US tech reporters covering the news ran with but what about meeee! headlines. "This is a bad day for the English language," wrote one. Well, someone call the whaambulance -- it's an awesome day if you read in Farsi or Hebrew. It's not about our language, it's about the languages spoken by the next billion people to come online, and most of them don't speak English or write in a language based on our Latin character set.

Read the rest

GG Allin designer toy

Behold: A GG Allin designer toy! Specifically, this fine collectible is an "Extra Filthy Bloody Edition" Allin figurine "loaded into a full color "splatter" box." I remember watching a dub of Hated, the documentary about the transgressive punk performer, on a pre-release review VHS at Mark F's pad in 1994 and being thoroughly disgusted, which, I guess, was the whole point. (Here's the NSFW trailer.) The GG Allin figure, limited to an edition of 500, is 7-inches tall and sells for $16.95 from Aggronautix. Here's what my pal Gil Kaufman wrote about it at
 Images Productimages 12 196525 Aggronautix, the same demented people who have created wobbly-necked figurines of such similarly obscure punk rock icons as Tesco Vee of the Meatmen, Milo of the Descendents and the barely-legal Dwarves, have truly gone all out for the second edition of the Allin figure, which commemorates the scat-loving punk icon in all his messy glory.

From the bloody hematoma on his forehead to the true Manchu beard-mustache combo, bloody cuts on his body and guaranteed-to-offend tattoos, this seven-inch tall likeness of the late punker best known for using the stage as a toilet, performing naked and attacking his fans is for the hardcore only.
"GG Allin Bobblehead... Now With More Blood and Filth"

Recent money-related posts at

200910301512 Here are some of my recent posts about money for

Charts to Help You Succeed in Online Dating: "If you're investing your time and money in an online dating service and want to increase your chances of getting a reply from someone you're interested in, don't tell them they're "hot." Instead, tell them you dig zombie movies."

Strategies for Happiness: "The shift from being a rat racer to pursuing happiness is not about working less or with less fervor but about working as hard or harder at the right activities -- those that are a source of both present and future benefit."

New Boom on Metal Detectors: "A 55-year-old metal detector enthusiast discovered a cache of Anglo-Saxon treasures earlier this month, estimated to be worth $10 million, in a farmer's field in Birmingham, England."

Read the rest

Brainwave toys are back

Weird headsets that read people's minds? It sounds like dystopian science fiction, but these gadgets (helped by a little old-fashioned muscle measurement are set to be the holiday season's hot toys. The promised future, of mind games that lapse into punishing tension headaches, is finally upon us.Read the rest

Lamprey Construction Crew

When I posted about the lives of lovable native lampreys a couple weeks ago, commenter Allegra pointed me to some great videos of vegetarian lamprey in Vancouver's Morrison Creek. For the first couple seconds of watching, I honestly mistook the lamprey for water plants. And then they started building nests and spawning. Which plants don't tend to do.

This video shows a group of male and female lamprey building a nest by moving small stones with their sucker mouths. There's more videos of lamprey working together to build nests if you follow the link. Cool stuff! The group that put this together, the Morrison Creek Streamkeepers, also have a photo page that explains how to tell the difference between a girl lamprey and a boy lamprey--if I haven't burned you out on animal sex this week already.

After the Game: What Happens to the Losing Team's Swag?

Somebody is going to lose the World Series. It's true. I have heard this is how these things work. But, when the inevitable happens, where do all their commemorative hats, T-shirts, shoelaces, giant foam hands, etc. go? After all, nobody knows which team will win. To meet the instant, post-game demand, manufacturers have all that championship memorabilia--for both teams--made up and sitting in a warehouse before the final game is even a twinkle in an announcer's eye.

If you guessed that it ends up in a dump, you'd be wrong. Mental_floss investigated and found the World Vision, an international Christian charity, gets the losing gear from baseball, football and basketball.

The merchandise doesn't go to waste, people living in poverty receive new, clean clothes, and the clothing makers recoup some of their losses--they get tax credits for the charitable donations. Why don't the clothes go to needy families in the United States? Overseas donation is part of the agreement between World Vision and the leagues. The farther away the clothing is, the less likely it is to offend a losing player (or heartbroken Buffalo Bills fan).

In fact, fear of fan alienation used to keep the MLB from donating. Up until two years ago, they required all inaccurate championship clothing be destroyed.

Nostril Fight!


Your nostrils will absolutely not be taking any crap from each other. Scientists have long known about binocular rivalry--a sort-of competition between your eyes. If you control a person's vision so one eye sees one image, and the other eye sees a completely different image, the images won't merge. Instead, the person will experience a tug of war between one scene and the other, with neither eye coming out the winner. Turns out, our noses may be doing something similar. In a small, but interesting, study, researchers presented evidence for what they're calling "binaral rivalry"--competition between the nostrils.

Wen Zhou and Denise Chen presented twelve participants with the smell of rose to one of their nostrils and the smell of a marker pen to their other nostril. After each break in the smells, the participants indicated on a visual scale whether they had detected the scent of rose or of marker pen. Just as with binocular rivalry, the participants' perceptual experience fluctuated back and forth randomly between the two scents.

The researchers believe this nostril rivalry is related in some way to the process of adaptation, both in the receptor cells in the nose and in the part of the brain that processes smells. For example, when repeatedly presented with a balanced mix of both smells, the participants' sensory experience fluctuated between rose and marker pen, presumably because of adaptation in the brain: as central neurons tired of one odour, their response to the other became more dominant and back again. The researchers also showed that adaptation occurs in the nose: swapping the bottles of odour around from one nostril to the other reinstated participants' experience of a given smell after it had previously faded through continuous sniffing.

Via British Psychological Society Research Digest.

Image courtesy Flickr user bazusa, via CC.

Dr. Sketchy's Roadshow

(Dr. Sketchy figure model D.D.)

Bob Self says:

Molly Crabapple's DIY alternative figure drawing empire, known as Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, boasts branches in over 80 cities internationally, but there's still a whole lot of world out there.

With that in mind, the crew from Dr. Sketchy's Los Angeles is packing the van and hitting the asphalt to bring Dr. Sketchy's Roadshow to a town near you. Beginning with an inaugural haul around California between November 2nd and 14th, the roadshow will make stops in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Long Beach, Sherman Oaks, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Monterey, San Jose, Sacramento, Alhambra, and two more cities TBD.

Artist and art voyeurs need only bring a $10 donation and their favorite drawing supplies. Dr. Sketchy's and the Roadshow's art-centric host venues will provide everything else (top notch models, refreshments, casual networking opportunities, and an all around good time).

Dr. Sketchy's Roadshow

My future cheese cave

Cheesecave 102809 Boing Boing guestblogger Connie Choe is a health and culture writer by day and a professional kimchimonger by night.

If you're not already planning to convert that old fridge into a kegerator, perhaps you should consider making your own cheese "cave." Why? Because cheese deserves your adoration, and you could use another hobby. I am planning to steal my husband's mini-fridge for this purpose (this is probably news to him) because it would be so appropriate for the rock star of dairy products to hang out in a unit that looks like an amp. If anyone can figure out how to effectively lower fridge temperature without purchasing a separate thermostat, I would be happy to send you some amateurish homemade cheese.

Andrew Brandou's psychedelic painting show

 Preview Brandou Brandou-Images Vulpesvulpessm  Preview Brandou Brandou-Images Midnight Blooms 550-1
Pop surrealist Andrew Brandou has a mind-bending new show of paintings opening Halloween evening at the Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City, California. The show, titled "In The Garden of the Mystic," runs until November 18. Above, "Vulpes Vulpes" on left and "Midnight Blooms" on right. From the gallery:
Influenced by 1960’s posters, music and psychedelia, Brandou’s new work takes a walk on the wild side and a more organic narrative ensues. The artist’s iconic flower motifs, skulls, bunnies and boxes transform into a kaleidoscope of stunning psychonautic imagery. Ornate gold leaf accents decorate mind-expanding dreamscapes where the ego merges into the id, fear is released and beauty resides. The exhibition will also include a rare series of limited-edition silkscreens on wood block based on vintage rock posters.
Sneak preview after the jump...

Read the rest

Cheese sculptures


Woman's Day has a gallery of cheese sculptures that can't be missed, from this almost-perverse "Winners Drink Milk" piece, to a phallic Eiffel Tower, to a leprechaun-like Abe Lincoln made from a 1,000-pound block of mild Cheddar cheese.

8 Cutting-Edge Cheese Sculptures

Avalanche caught on helmet cam

Boing Boing guestblogger Connie Choe is a health and culture writer by day and a professional kimchimonger by night.

Whenever I'm hanging out on a chairlift I like to shout that I'm going to go die a cold, snowy death. Mostly so that if I were to actually perish on the ride down I could say, "I told you so." But also because I am genuinely (and in my case, irrationally) afraid that something terrible like this will happen. The guy in the video is an experienced backcountry skier named Chris Cardello. In his words:

When the slide propagated, I tried to remain as composed as possible and make sure my AvaLung was in. As I was getting buried and the slide slowed, I threw one hand up and with my other hand I grasped the AvaLung, which had been ripped out of my mouth during the turbulent ride. While I was buried, I tried to be as calm as possible; I knew my hand was exposed so my crew would be digging me out shortly. I was able to breathe through the AvaLung, but it was difficult due to the snow jammed down my throat.

Podcast about the Mad Gasser and mass hysteria

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We've posted before about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon: In 1944, the small town of Mattoon, Illinois was terrorized by a creepy black-clad prowler who sprayed anesthetic gas in his victims' faces. Or maybe it was all a case of mass hysteria based mostly on myth. The new episode of the excellent Memory Palace podcast features the delightfully weird tale of the Mad Gasser. The Memory Palace: "A Gas Gas Gas"

Oregon once again claims that law is copyrighted

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

Boing Boing readers may remember a year ago when the great State of Oregon asserted copyright over the Oregon Revised Statutes, sending take-down notices prohibiting reuse by Justia and Public.Resource.Org. In a shining example of democracy, the legislature held hearings, heard us out, and unanimously waived copyright on the laws. The results of opening up the law were pretty spectacularly demonstrated when a 2nd-year law student, Robb Shecter, created the beautiful OregonLaws.Org (compare to the official site for a night and day look).

Well, those copyright assertions are back, this time by the Attorney General, who asserted ownership over the (for real!) Attorney General's Public Record and Public Meeting Manual. I spent last week in Oregon meeting with law school faculty and giving lectures at 3 universities on the topic of who owns the law.

The results have been compiled into a formal pleading which we are submitting to the Attorney General for his consideration. He seems like a good guy, and we've asked him to issue an official Attorney General Opinion on when the state may assert copyright, covering not only his Public Meeting manual, but also the Secretary of State's Administrative Rules, the Fire Marshall's Fire Code, and the Building Codes. We have quite a few of those documents already on line, so there is an actual issue on the table and we're hoping he'll do the research and make a ruling.

The Oregon Question (Thanks, Carl!)

Robot that can play Rock Band on the iPhone

Thank goodness someone built a robot that can play Rock Band on the iPhone. I was getting worried sick about it. Joe Bowers writes:

Rock Band has been released on the iPhone, and even though its a lot of fun, I would rather have something play it for me. Preferably a robot! The light sensor sends data to an Arduino, which is waiting for a spike in the data. The Arduino runs the sensor data through some averaging filters, and sets a threshold for on and off. The iPhone touch screen isn't like most PDAs. It uses a capacitive touch screen. I had some conductive foam laying around, its usually used for shipping sensitive electronics. If I used something non conductive, like a plastic pen, the foam would do nothing to the screen. My solution to this was to put thin copper wires into the foam (I also used these wires to attach the foam to the servos)... Add all of the above together into a modified Pelican case, with a lot of hot glue (non glittery) and you have a robot that will gladly beat all your difficult songs, sit back and sip some fine tea.
I love the ghostly sound of Blondie playing in the video.

iPhone Rock Band robot

NASA to irradiate monkeys


"NASA to Start Radiating Monkeys," noted Chris Baker (of Wired), "The kind of headline that should be followed by 'NASA to Fire PR Firm.'"

The experiments will bombard squirrel monkeys (like the lil guy above) with radioactivity to explore the possible effects of radiation in space on human astronauts. Warning: eventually, revenge will come. Oh, and then there's this possibility.

[Photo: "Here's Looking at You!" by ifijay, via Flickr, CC license here. ]

Russian boy accordion genius

Enjoy Вивальди "времена года" Лето-3часть, the Russian boy accordion genius. It's all in the head shake. Once you get that down, the rest is easy.

Web Zen: goth zombie monster a-go-go zen

9 levels of hell for the living
polka haunt us
goths in hot weather
zombie boogie
zombie wedding cake topper
ghoul a-go-go
dead man's party
movie villain pumpkins
mummy sausage wraps
halloween jell-o
bloody brain shooter
a hierarchy of monsters

previously on web zen:
halloween zen 2008

Permalink for this edition. Web Zen is created and curated by Frank Davis, and re-posted here on Boing Boing with his kind permission. Web Zen Home and Archives, Store, Twitter.

Money Mules

mule.jpg Kevin Poulsen at Threat Level has a great item up about the growing menace of "money mules." The term refers to bank customers who've been conned into unwittingly laundering cash that hackers have stolen from business bank accounts. The con and the funny phrase have been around for a while, but the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation issued a new warning to American financial institutions about the increasing spread on Thursday. Snip:
Using specialized Trojan horse malware, cybercrooks have been intercepting web-banking credentials from the computers of small and midsize businesses, and then initiating wire transfers to mules around the country. The mules are consumers who’ve been lured into fake work-at-home scams, in which their employment involves receiving money transfers and then forwarding the funds to Eastern Europe, either directly or through other mules.

The scheme has exploded in the last year, with the FBI estimating losses at $40 million so far, according to a recent story from reporter Brian Krebs, who’s been closely following the attacks.

FDIC Warns Banks to Watch for 'Money Mules' Duped by Hackers [ Threat Level via @glennf ]

[ Image: Bank Safe Online UK ]

Makers Canada/US tour dates

As promised, here's the details on the short Canada/US tour for my novel Makers in November:

November 12, 7PM
Toronto, ON, Canada
The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy
239 College Street, 3rd Floor, +1 416 393-7748
Books by Bakka Phoenix
(you can pre-order signed copies from them if you can't make it).

November 16, 7PM
Cambridge, Mass
Harvard Bookstore
1256 Massachusetts Avenue

November 17, 7PM
New York City, NY
Borders Columbus Circle
10 Columbus Circle (@59th St and Central Park West)

November 20, 11AM and 1PM
Philadelphia, PA
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street

November 20-22
Philcon, Cherry Hill, NJ

If you're with the press and you'd like to arrange an interview, please contact Justin Golenbock (USA) ( or Katherine Wilson (Canada) ( x271).

Legendary punk drummer Chuck Biscuits is undead

biscuits.jpgA number of news sites and blogs erroneously (or hoaxily?) reported the death of Chuck Biscuits (Wikipedia), who has performed over the years for bands including Black Flag, Circle Jerks, DOA, and Danzig. The reports were all wrong. He will live to bang on de drum again. Apparently the whole thing was a prank on a particular journalist. Or not. All I know is the photo in this post was taken by Glen E. Friedman, who broke the news about the fact that everyone who broke the other news was wrong. Oh, and: this blog post is an elaborate excuse to post the Danzig "home video" above, in which Mr. Biscuits confesses his love for sugary breakfast cereals. His addiction to the likes of Quisp and Boo Berry ("the caviar of breakfast cereals") is the stuff of punk legend. (thanks, Sean)

The Blue Flash: Nuclear Accidents and the Origins of Superhero Origins

There's been an accident. The young scientist--or, perhaps, his lab assistant or friends--stands stunned. He knows he's been washed in a massive dose of radiation.

Read the rest

Guy in Egypt orders "artificial hymen kit" over the internet, blogs about it

hymen.jpgNews reports earlier this month created a global stir around an odd "made in China" product marketed to the Middle East - cheap artificial hymens. They're intended for use by brides who feel compelled to fake virginity, in countries where not being a virgin at marriage is a very big, very bad thing. Conservative Egyptian politicians wanted to ban the product. One curious (male) blogger in Egypt decided to order one.

Mohammad Al Rahhal picked up the contraband gyno-goods at his local post office in Egypt:

it had been opened by various puzzled customs and postal employees who, at a loss, defined the product in writing as "containing an unknown red liquid" - and awaited my description.
Al Rahhal told inspectors it was "cinematographic make-up," and took his hymen home.

Marwa Rakha over at Global Voices has more from Al Rahhal's product review (he explains how it works, sort-of NSFW if only for use of anatomically specific language). Also, a report at the UK Guardian.

Spoiler: Al Rahhal's verdict? This thing, and the thinking behind it, are totally stupid. "Morality is worst interpreted by anatomy," he says. Bravo, dude.

Vote for the best Sesame Street segments

Dave sez, "As part of Sesame's 40th anniversary, we have a 5-week poll in which Sesame Street fans can vote for their all-time favorite segment over the past 40 years. Each week for four weeks, fans will vote for their favorite video from a selection of pre-selected 40 videos. In the fifth and final week of voting, fans will choose from the 40 highest overall ranked videos from the previous 4 weeks. At the end of the 5th week, through out the 6th week, and onwards, we will feature the winning video and 39 ranked runner ups."

Vote - Best Sesame Ever (Thanks, Dave!)

Homebrew backyard railroad recreates Disneyland

Kirby sez, "The December 2009 copy of Garden Railways magazine features an article about the Castle Peak & Thunder Railroad, a Disneyland Park themed, 1370 sq. foot, 1:24 scale model backyard railroad. The CPTRR, like its inspiration, is located in Anaheim, CA. It was built by Dave Sheegog, an architect who was a former Cast Member on the Canoes at Disneyland. He built replicas of all 5 Disneyland Steam locomotives and purchased a Casey Jr. locomotive. He scratch built all scenery to match Disneyland including replicas of the Main Street Train Station, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Sleeping Beauty Castle. Parts of Storybook Land, Big Thunder Mountain, Primeval World and the old Skull Rock are also included."

Castle Peak and Thunder Railroad (Thanks, Kirby!)