Boing Boing 

Sad, hurdy-gurdy Happy Birthday rendition from dying electronic candle

A reader writes, "This was our birthday candle a year ago, one day the candle just started playing again (maybe heat change...) and was pathetically trying to get "happy birthday" to sound right... You can't imagine how badly one candle can get this tune."

It's got a sad, defiant, haunted hurdy-gurdy sound to it, like the ghost of Tom Waits was trapped in it, playing a Casiotone.

Happy Birthday to YOU

Abroad, they know Murdoch well

Alt-history hypothesis: if the news industry was already being subsidized by search-engine exclusivity, Murdoch would be itching to upend the market and go to Google. Slash-and-burn, not desperate weak-partner deals with assimilators like Microsoft, is his way.

Department of Defense orders 2,200 PS3s

Good thing the PlayStation 3 dropped in price. The US Department of Defense ordered 2,200 more of the consoles to crank up their PS3 supercomputer, currently consisting of 336 of the devices in a Linux cluster. According to the official Justification Review Document (cache link) required for the purchase of the PS3s, the game platform, with its IBM Cell microprocessor, is a much better value for the money than IBM's Cell-powered products designed for supercomputing applications. Ars Technica points out that the price difference comes in part because the PS3 is a loss leader for Sony. From the Justification Review Document:
With respect to cell processors, a single 1U server configured with two 3.2GHz cell processors can cost up to $8K while two Sony PS3s cost approximately $600. Though a single 3.2 GHz cell processor can deliver over 200 GFLOPS, whereas the Sony PS3 configuration delivers approximately 150 GFLOPS, the approximately tenfold cost difference per GFLOP makes the Sony PS3 the only viable technology for HPC applications.
"Sony still subsidizing US military supercomputer efforts" (Ars Technica, thanks Rob Rader!)

Bigfoot and Yeti Christmas tree ornaments

 Wp-Content Uploads Icm-Brown-Ornament  Wp-Content Uploads Icm-White-Ornament These handsome Sasquatch and Yeti ornaments for the Christmas Tree are around 4.5" tall and made from glass and resin. They're available from Loren Coleman's International Cryptozoology Museum gift shop. Coming soon on BB, an interview with Coleman about the new public museum!
Bigfoot & Yeti Ornaments

Neutrality takes no side but that of convenience

The Swiss have voted to ban minarets. There's no mincing words over why: the measure is designed to curtail Islam. Hitherto held among the most liberal democracies, Switzerland now faces international condemnation for such a blatant (if superficial) suppression of religious freedom. The measure is a cipher for a deeper weakness: the assumed inability of Swiss culture to withstand the influence of another.

Boing Boing Gift Guide 2009: fiction! (part 5/6)

Mark and I have rounded up some of our favorite items from our 2009 Boing Boing reviews for the second-annual Boing Boing gift guide. We'll do one a day for the next six days, covering media (music/games/DVDs), gadgets and stuff, kids' books, novels, nonfiction, and comics/graphic novels/art books. Today, it's novels!

Makers (Cory Doctorow): Technology lets low-cost providers take market share away from established companies, as Detroit auto makers and Paris fashion house designers have seen. Even high-tech companies have a hard time building sustainable businesses now that good ideas are copied so quickly that they become commodities.

In a time of great change, fiction can sometimes provide better understanding than facts alone. "As the pace of technological change accelerates, the job of the science fiction writer becomes not harder, but easier--and more necessary," he writes. "After all, the more confused we are by our contemporary technology, the more opportunities there are to tell stories that lessen that confusion." L. Gordon Crovitz, Wall Street Journal Full review | Purchase

The Strain: Book One of The Strain Trilogy Someone said The Strain is a combination of The Stand, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and I am Legend, which I'd say is a pretty fair way of describing it. The first chapter is about an airplane that lands at JFK from Germany and goes completely dark on the runway. It's so creepy that when I told my wife and daughter about it *they* got creeped out just from my description. Full review | Purchase

Read the rest

Steampunk terrarium

Professor Alexander's Botanical Vasculum - Steamed 300 watt Moss Terrarium from Etsy seller SteamedGlass is a beautiful blown-glass steampunk Rube Goldberg terrarium: "This is the largest of our "steamed" light bulb terrariums with a bulb measuring 3 3/4" x 7 3/4". It stands 10 1/4" tall as mounted on the SteamPunked stand made of a simulated cherrywood base, copper tubing, chemistry glass, an adjustable 4x magnifying glass and other ornate trimmings. The bulb houses a small solar powered LED bulb that lights itself when all other lights go out and throws a dreamlike shadow pattern on your walls making the perfect night light. It can also be turned on and off with the old fashioned knife switch mounted to the base."


Professor Alexander's Botanical Vasculum - Steamed 300 watt Moss Terrarium (Thanks, Armand!)

Charity auction for characters names in forthcoming sf novels by great writers

The Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund is a venerable institution that sends sf fans from North America to Europe and vice-versa, to bridge the world's fandoms (there are other funds that bring together fans from other parts of the world). Frank Wu, Anne KG Murphy and Brian Gray are fundraising for this year's fund, and they've solicited many writers -- Charlie Stross, Nalo Hopkinson, David Brin, Elizabeth Bear, Julie Czerneda and Mary Robinette Kowal and me! -- to donate "tuckerizations" in forthcoming works for a charity auction. Tuckerizing is the inclusion of a real person's name in a fictional piece (previous tuckerizations from charity auctions in my novels include General Graeme Sutherland in Little Brother, Suzanne Church in Makers, and Connor Prikkel in the forthcoming For the Win; my god-daughter Ada has also been tuckerized in my story "I, Robot" and in Makers).

TAFF is also auctioning off a first edition of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (!), and John Hersey's "Hiroshima."

It's a great cause, and great prizes that make killer gifts (how cool would it be for a kid to grow up with her name on a character in a wonderful novel?)

TAFF updatery! (Thanks, Frank!)

Some whales double their weight when straining sea-water

How do giant whales get so big eating such little krill? By using their baleen like a parachute and sucking in their body-weight in water in one go, then straining it out:
Since then, Potvin has brought his expertise on parachute physics to these parachuting whales. He and the other scientists have developed a sophisticated new model that tracks the incoming water more carefully. It's a lot of water, the scientists have found: in one lunge, a fin whale can momentarily double its weight.

If a whale simply let the water come rushing in, there would be a tremendous collision-more than a whale could handle. Instead, the scientists argue, the whales actively cradle their titanic gulp. As the water rushes in, the whales contract muscles in their lower jaw. The water slows down and then reverses direction, so that it's moving with the whale. (It just so happens that fin whales do have sheets of muscle and pressure-sensing nerve endings in their lower jaw. Before now, nobody quite knew before what they were for.) Once the water is moving forward inside the whale it can then close its mouth and give an extra squeeze to filter the water through its baleen.

The Origin of Big (via Kottke)

Fine art/graffiti photoshopping contest

Today on the Worth1000 photoshopping contest: "Graffiti Ren" -- scenes from fine art improved with graffiti.

Graffiti Ren 2

CCDs: a great disruptor lurking in the tech

Here's a fascinating rumination on the Bitworking site about how much of the promise of RFID tags is being realized by charge-coupled devices (CCDs -- the sensor in your digital camera) instead. CCDs seems to be subject to Moore's Law, and are falling in price and increasing in capacity at an alarming rate. The potential applications are significant:

Put them on a car and point them out and you have a backup camera. Buy why restrict it to just backing up? Why isn't the rear-view mirror a full panorama of the environment around the whole car stitched together from a dozen CCD cameras?

That's pointing out from the car, point them at the car and the possibilities are different. Put them next to highways to monitor rushhour traffic. Point them at your license plate and you have either an automatic red-light running ticket writing machine, or a new toll system, where a camera based system that reads license plates could be used instead of the current RFID based solutions.

Put them on your house pointing outwards and you have a security system. Point them into the house and you have a system that turns the lights and HVAC off in rooms that are empty. Think how much better it would be than those motion sensing systems in some meeting rooms today, where the lights switch off in the room and everyone waves their hands in the air like a bunch of drunk pelicans trying to get the lights back.

If I hang one over my kitchen table will it be able to count calories for me? Can I hang one over my desk and not need to buy a scanner? How about one in the bathroom? How much health information could you extract from an image taken every morning? Could it track my weight? Detect signs of depression? Obviously there are security and privacy concerns.

CCD (via Making Light)

(Image: CCD, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from AMagill's Flickr stream)

Games Workshop declares war on best customers. Again.

Dan sez, "Game publisher and miniature manufacturer Games Workshop just sent a cease and desist letter to, telling them to remove all fan-made players' aids. This includes scenarios, rules summaries, inventory manifests, scans to help replace worn pieces -- many of these created for long out of print, well-loved games. GW did this shortly after building a lot of good will by re-releasing their out of print game 'Space Hulk' to much hoopla. And it's not their first attack on their biggest fans"

No doubt those of you who have supported Games Workshop in the past by creating files for use with their games will have noticed they are all being deleted from BGG at the behest of their lawyers.

So here's a little paeon to the games that I spent many hours creating rules summaries and reference sheets for that are no longer available here. They're still at my personal site, but I don't imagine they'll be there for long.

No doubt they'll be more items on this list before long.

The Games Workshop Files Purge of '09

Eigenharp, crazy sci-fi instrument

The Eigenharp, a crazy, science fiction instrument from Eigenlabs, comes on two forms, the "Alpha" ("Our professional level instrument allows the musician to play and improvise using a limitless range of sounds with virtuoso skill. It has 120 playing keys, 12 percussion keys, two strip controllers and a breath pipe. Available in a variety of custom finishes.") and the "Pico" ("It's ideal as a solo instrument or for playing in a band. With 18 playing keys and 4 mode keys, a strip controller and breath pipe, the smaller Pico has the majority of the playing features of the Eigenharp Alpha. It plays an unlimited range of sounds and is available in two finishes."). Check out the stunning performance of the Bond theme.

Eigenlabs (Thanks, Alan!)

Pub fined £8K after user infringes copyright with its WiFi

A British pub has been fined £8,000 because someone using the WiFi there allegedly committed a copyright infringement. Even though British law exempts people who provide Internet access from liability for their users' copyright infringements, the pub was still fined (the details of this are confused).
Graham Cove told ZDNet UK on Friday he believes the case to be the first of its kind in the UK. However, he would not identify the pub concerned, because its owner -- a pubco that is a client of The Cloud's -- had not yet given their permission for the case to be publicised...

According to internet law professor Lilian Edwards, of Sheffield Law School, where a business operates an open Wi-Fi spot to give customers or visitors internet access, they would be "not be responsible in theory" for users' unlawful downloads, under "existing substantive copyright law".

Pub 'fined £8k' for Wi-Fi copyright infringement (Thanks, Zoran)

DRM versus innovation

Here's a superb essay on the other DRM problem -- DRM isn't only bad for fair use, it's also a disaster for innovation, because it forecloses on the possibility of disruptive new technologies (you can only build on DRM with permission from the DRM maker; no DRM maker is going to authorize a disruptive innovation that could hurt his bottom line). The paper is by Wendy "Chilling Effects" Seltzer, and will be published in the Jan 25 edition of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal.
First I briefly review the history and existing academic debates around DRM to consider why they have so overlooked the user-innovation impacts. The next sections examine the law and technology of digital rights management, particularly the interaction of statutory law, technological measures, and the contractual conditions generally attached to them. I focus particularly on the "robustness rules" in licenses at at this inter- section. I then introduce the rich literature on disruptive technology and user innovation, to argue that these copyright-driven constraints significantly harm cultural and technological development and user autonomy. I conclude that the mode-of-development tax is too high a price to pay for imperfect copyright protection.
The Imperfect is the Enemy of the Good: Anticircumvention Versus Open Innovation (via JoHo)

Boing Boing Gift Guide 2009: nonfiction! (part 4/6)

Mark and I have rounded up some of our favorite items from our 2009 Boing Boing reviews for the second-annual Boing Boing gift guide. We'll do one a day for the next six days, covering media (music/games/DVDs), gadgets and stuff, kids' books, novels, nonfiction, and comics/graphic novels/art books. Today, it's nonfiction!

If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be Okay: How to Know if Your Child's Injury or Illness Is Really an Emergency (Lara Zibners): Apart from a terrific title, the book has plenty going for it. Basically, Even if Your Kid Eats This Book is a detailed guide to everything you don't have to worry about. It has an orifice-by-orifice guide to detecting and removing Lego! A list of things under the sink that won't poison your kid! Sensible advice about how to get rid of dry skin! (Hot bath, then anything greasy from Crisco to Vaseline, then time). Full review | Purchase

Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America In 96 pages, Kurt Andersen describes the United States' previous boom and bust cycles and explains why the bust cycles are essential for innovation and improvement of living standards for everyone. Times of crisis, he says, open new opportunities for making positive changes. Full review | Purchase

Read the rest

Saturday Morning Science Experiment: Gravity Is For Suckers

Astronaut Don Pettit--inventor of the Zero-G Coffee Cup--plays with free-floating, head-sized water bubbles on the International Space Station. Make sure you stick around for the third experiment, where Pettit sticks an antacid tablet into one of the bubbles.

Thumbnail image courtesy Flickr user delicate genius, via CC.

Canadian border guards want to be sure that foreign journalists don't criticise Vancouver Olympics

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's As It Happens radio show covers the story of Amy Goodman's recent' border crossing into Canada. Goodman -- host of the US public radio show Democracy Now! -- was coming to Canada to give a speech at a library, and Canadian border guards questioned her intensely about the subject of her talk, even reading her notes for her speech. They were fishing for something, but Goodman couldn't figure out what, until the guards asked her outright whether she was planning on talking about the upcoming Canadian Olympic Games. When she assured them that she hadn't been, they eventually released her (it had been a 75 minute detention) but stamped a control-order in her passport giving her only 24 hours' stay in Canada.

AMY GOODMAN -- As It Happens

WMV link

(Thanks, Bill!)

Tweets while in furlough land screenwriter Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) back in regular old jail

The web has been buzzing with the odd discovery that Pulp Fiction co-screenwriter Roger Avary was apparently tweeting while serving his sentence in a work furlough program for a fatal car crash. The LA Times now reports that the furlough deal is off, and that Avary was placed back in a regular old jail on Thanksgiving day, presumably because of his tweets. They included details of cavity searches and drug deals witnessed at the furlough facility. His last tweet claimed the "rollup" to jail was punishment for "exercising First Amendment rights."

Stylophone synthesizer at Restoration Hardware

Invented in 1967, the Dübreq Stylophone is a small synthesizer played by touching a built-in stylus to the metal keyboard. It was famously used on David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator." I just spotted it in Restoration Hardware's catalog for $29. I was slightly surprised to see it there, but not too much as Restoration usually has terrific gadgets and toys for sale along with their classic (and costly) American home furnishings. For more Stylophone fun, check out the below video of Brett Domino performing a "1980s Hits Medley" on the device. (UPDATE: They're only $20 at ThinkGeek!)

Dr. John's weird New Orleans psych music

Years ago, I got turned on to the psychedelic New Orleans "voodoo" vibe of Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack, Jr.). His 1968 debut Gris-Gris is a fantastically weird amalgam of R&B, dark psych rock, and NOLA culture. I'd never seen footage of the Night Tripper, as Dr. John is also known, until today. Quite a spectacle. From music critic Richie Unterberger's liner notes for a reissue of Gris-Gris:

 Wikipedia En 3 35 Drjohnnighttripper Gris-Gris was the first record credited to Dr. John, and to most listeners he seemed to have dropped out of nowhere with his mystical R&B psychedelia and Mardi Gras Indian costumes.  The album, however, was actually the culmination of about 15 years of professional experience, during which Dr. John -- born Mac Rebennack in New Orleans -- had absorbed the wealth of musical influences for which the Crescent City is famed.  Gris-Gris's roots reach back well beyond the dawn of the twentieth century, even as the album took in cutting-edge influences such as 1960s progressive jazz, and pushed into territory that no popular musician had ever explored in quite the same fashion.

"Gris-Gris" itself is a New Orleans term for voodoo, and the name Dr. John taken from a New Orleans root doctor of the 1840s and 1850s.  Also known as John Montaigne and Bayou John, he was busted in the 1840s for practicing voodoo with Pauline Rebennack, who may or may not have been a distant relative of our man Mac.  One of Mac's grandfathers sang in a minstrel show, and the latter-day Dr. John adapted one of grandpa's favorite tunes, "Jump Sturdy," into the track on Gris-Gris of the same name.  His onstage costumes and feathered headdresses, the source of shock and delight to audiences since the late 1960s, are similarly adapted from those worn by Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, famed for the infectious tribal percussive rhythms and chants they perform in local parades.

"Gris-Gris" by Dr. John, The Night Tripper (Amazon)

Rumor: will iconic Technics DJ turntables be discontinued?

Ssssssh, what's that sound? Why, it's the sound of a million deejays weeping. Rumors abound that Panasonic may kill off the iconic Technics 1200 turntable. One DJ site compared the (unconfirmed) news with "parents talking about where they were when they heard that JFK was shot, or that man had landed on the Moon." Say it ain't so! (via Jay Smooth)

Roomba: 1, Deadly Snake: 0

What's that Roomba, you say Timmy is stuck in a well? A Roomba vacuuming robot did more than clean the floor for one family in Israel, killing a venomous Vipera palaestinae by, apparently, running over the snake and wrapping the creature around one of its rotating brushes. The family credits the robot for sparing their children and pets from possible snakebite. Good boy. (Via Engadget)

Laser cut Poe (and others!) in stainless steel

Cheap laser-cutting has come to the world's crafters, and Etsy is awash in lovely, precision-cut tchotchkes of all description. Case in point: Edgar Allan Poe in black stainless steel, $26 from FableAndFury (also Frida Kahlo, Vincent Price, Bride of Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi, and Edgar A. Poe Memento cameo necklace in black stainless steel (via Wonderland)

Man hires movers to rob home

A burglar hired a moving company to clean out a three-story home in Nottingham, UK, and arranged for the contents to be sold at a public auction. Police went to the sale and nabbed the perp, who had no prior record according to the article in ThisIsNottingham.

Are Fake Academic Conferences the New Nigerian Prince Scam?

Tired of snaring your Grandma with sob stories about deposed princes and their locked bank accounts, email scammers are branching out. Their new target: Academia. Researchers get invitations to a hot, new scientific conference and are asked to send their personal information in order to register. But when The Scientist checked up on the conferences, the location hadn't been booked, the named speakers didn't know anything about it and the organizer asking for info fell strangely silent. (Full story is free, but you may need to log in.)

National Day of Listening: A Better Use of a Friday


Whether the reasons are ideological, demophobia-based, or a little bit of both, many of us would rather avoid today's mass shopping chaos. As an alternative to Black Friday, Story Corps is promoting today as the National Day of Listening--an opportunity to sit down for an hour with family members and other people you care about, ask them about their lives and preserve their stories for future generations.

At the National Day of Listening site, you'll find helpful How To's for recording and preserving family stories and a question generator, to help you get over that "what the heck do I ask Grandma?" hump.

Your family stories can also become part of the oral history archives at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. To do that, though, you'll have to get hooked up with a Story Corps professional recording session. They've got semi-permanent booths in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta, and they're traveling the country with a portable system all year.

Image courtesy Flickr user Adam Selwood, via CC.

Epoch time: Herschel reveals VY Canis Majoris death throes

"It is colossal. If it was sited at the centre of our Solar System, it would extend beyond the orbit of Saturn." And it is ready to go supernova.

Concordia University has a spy-squad that snooped on novelist for "bilingual interests"

Rob sez,

"Documents recently obtained through access to information legislation show that author David Bernans was being spied upon by investigators at Concordia University in Montreal.

"In this first-person narrative, Bernans chronicles his experience dealing with Concordia's security apparatus, and questions the motivations of a university that spies on and censors its students."

Christ, a university with its own private eye squad made up of failed Fed cops? What's next, a no-fly list for the campus shuttle-bus? Lookit these Keystone Kop bumblers, chasing people around because they're "interested in bilingualism." Hey, Concordia grads, is this how you want your alumni donations being spent?

Read the rest

"Inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious"

A judge in New York has wiped out a $525k mortgage after OneWest bankers misled the court while trying to secure foreclosure.