Boing Boing 

Happy New Decade!

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Farewell, aughts! Illustration above by David Silverman (Thanks, David!).

Fun with fluorescence

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Above: Fluorescent minerals via Wikimedia Commons

If you enjoyed the astonishing fluorescent landscapes in Avatar (or plan to soon), I compiled a few lovely videos of fluorescent phenomena from right here on Earth.

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TSA drops subpoenas issued to bloggers who published security directive (UPDATED)

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According to Chris Elliot, one of the bloggers involved. Link. No word on whether the TSA has also dropped the subpoena issued to the other blogger, Steven Frischling. Both subpoenas have now been dropped, Frischling's too.

Update, Jan 1: Wired has a story here, Associated Press here. One theory: yes, TSA has dropped the subpoenas against the two bloggers, but only because it already got the information it needed from copying data off Frischling's hard drive (more paranoid folk have also suggested that when the hard drive was in the agents' possession, they may additionally have installed keylogger software or similar surveillance apps). The Gmail account information of the leak source, who is reported to be a person employed by the TSA, plus a possible subpoena issued to Google (which has a good track record of protecting user privacy in these cases, but who knows)? That might have been all the feds needed. So this may well be good news for the bloggers, but not for their source.

One Boing Boing reader in the comments says,

Speaking as an attorney, I would advise you not to let this go. Make an ethics complaint against the government attorney that signed the subpoena in DC or the jurisdiction they are licensed to practice law in. You don't subpoena someone, then just "let it drop."
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Did Google get TSA subpoena over the blogged security directive?

Danny Sullivan, with another update on the two bloggers visited and subpoenaed by armed Transportation Security Administration agents, after publishing a security directive emailed to them from a Gmail account. "So did Google get a subpoena, too? The company says it can't comment either way, sending me this statement..."

Come Back With a Warrant doormat

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...apropos of bloggers being bullied into parting with their hard drives: check out this nifty doormat, available at Target for 18 bucks and some change.

Dr. Sketchy's 24-hour life drawing session in Los Angeles, January 2-3,

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Bob Self says:

Dr. Sketchy's Los Angeles is alternative figure drawing cabaret for artists who like their naked inspiration to be served up with some theatrical showmanship. To get 2010 off to an epic start, the Los Angeles troupe is producing a Dr. Sketchy's Marathon that will run continuously for 26 hours beginning at 8:00 PM on Saturday, January 2nd and ending at 10:00 PM on Sunday, January 3rd. Over a dozen models will be posing in and out of costume over the course of the event, and a roster of noteworthy contemporary artists will be in attendance (including Michael Hussar, who will be creating an alla prima portrait late Saturday night). As usual for Dr. Sketchy's, there will be prizes and surprises. The event will be hosted at Nucleus in Alhambra. Admission is $26 in advance via Dr Sketchy's LA, or $35 at the door. Attendees will be issued wrist bands that will allow them to come and go as they please.

Update on bloggers threatened by TSA over security directive leak

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Update, 3:50pm PT: One of the two bloggers reports that the TSA has dropped its subpoena against him.

An update on the case of the two travel bloggers who received holiday visits by armed TSA agents (with matching Homeland Security subpoenas!) after publishing a leaked copy of the "Christmas Day incident" security directive.

Chris Elliot has an attorney now, and more time to respond to the subpoena.

Steven Frischling got his laptop back from the Special Agents who demanded it, then imaged his hard drive, but the laptop no longer works (paranoid commenters suggest one explanation could be the installation of keylogger software, but that's just one of many possibilities.)

Annie Jacobsen of TheAviationNation.com has posted an interview with Frischling here. Why, Jacobsen asks in that piece, is Homeland Security going after these guys so hard?

[I found] my answer in a pre-recorded message at the FBI's Detroit Metro Bureau to which press are referred. The message there states that anyone seeking information about "the Christmas Day event at Detroit metro airport" should call the Department of Justice in Washington.

Wait. A Christmas Day "event"? The FBI makes the attack against Northwest Flight 253 sound more like a shopping sale or a rock concert than the terror strike that it was. Trying to kill 298 airline passengers, destroy an airplane, and crash it into the suburbs of Detroit is now called an "event"? Could the jackbooted TSA visit to blogger Steven Frischling's Connecticut home be just another trickle-down result of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's insistence that terrorist attacks be referred to as "man-caused disasters"?

You see, in the TSA directive which Frischling's posted online, the TSA was caught calling a spade a spade: "INFORMATION: On December 25, 2009, a terrorist attack was attempted against a flight traveling to the United States."

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Federal judge dismisses charges against Blackwater guards blamed in 2007 civilian shooting deaths

A federal judge today dropped all charges against five security guards with Blackwater Worldwide (now "Xe") security guards said to have been responsible for killing unarmed Baghdad civilians in a 2007 shooting incident.

Nightmare Alley, the musical

  V-3Gbtengj8 Svsv6X5Wrbi Aaaaaaaagak Ofmnhiob5Ta S1600 Nightmare+Alley A musical theater adaptation of one of my favorite fiction books, William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 noir carny novel Nightmare Alley, will premiere in April at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. As my brother Bob wrote when he emailed me this news, "I can't wait to hear the geek sing."

Chocolate guns and ammo

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I learned of Chocolate Ammo today through an ad in a relative's copy of the NRA magazine American Rifleman. Talk about target marketing. (sorry!) From the Chocolate Weapons site:
...Several years ago we started a company called [sic] which manufactured and sold high end chocolate fountains to caterers, hotels, casinos, reception centers and other high end event centers. In addition to selling the chocolate fountains we also sold chocolate...and literally TONS and TONS of it. With our connection in the chocolate industry we had virtually a limitless supply of chocolate, and just as many chocolatiers and chocolate factories who could basically make anything and everything we ever wanted to.  

While I was growing up we spent a lot of time in the mountains fishing, camping, and hunting. On a recent getaway vaction/hunting trip, we were all piled in the car..dirty, grimy - hadn't bathed in days - and we were discussing our existing business, and ways we could help it grow. Someone blurted out  

'We should make chocolate bullets!'

Chocolate Weapons

Miles Davis plays Michael Jackson



Miles Davis covers Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." Yes, really.

Im bou 2 get his sim card

Bou2Gettttt I found this curious note on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. What do you think it means? And why is the phrase written twice? Was the author practicing? Click the image to see it larger.

Island caretaker with dream job stung by jellyfish

In January, I posted about the "best job in the world," six months working for Tourism Queensland as "caretaker" and resident blogger on an island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef with a $100k+ salary. Ben Southall, who landed the job, was finishing his last week there when he was stung by a potential lethal Irukandji jellyfish. He'll be ok. From the AP:
 Wp-Content Uploads 2009 12 R481222 2451436 Earlier this week, Southall was getting off a Jet Ski in the ocean when he felt "a small bee-like sting" on his arm. When he later noticed a tingling in his hands and feet, island staff took Southall immediately to the doctor.

Progressive symptoms of fever, headache, lower back pain, chest tightness and high blood pressure led the doctor to diagnose that Southall had been stung by an Irukandji jellyfish. He was given pain medication and slept off the venom's effects overnight.

"I thought I'd done particularly well at avoiding any contact with any of the dangerous critters that consider this part of the world their home," Southall wrote. "This was not what I'd wanted at all and had caught me little off guard to say the least -- I'm supposed to be relaxing in my last few days on Hamilton Island."

"'Best Job' winner stung by dangerous jellyfish" (AP, thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

"Ouch! A little incident on the beach..." (Southall's blog)

Jane Austen: Proto-Twitterer

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the mail was delivered in and around London up to six times a day. Snail mail was almost Twitteresque, argues O'Reilly Radar's Sarah Milstein. "People today often assume that email, Twitter and other relatively instant communication media have created a slew of brand new communication behaviors. The Jane Austen show at the Morgan suggests just the opposite: our human patterns are surprisingly consistent, and technology evolves to meet us." (Via Tim Maly)

Periodic Table of Beer

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This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I knew more about beer. My usual unit of measurement is the purely subjective, but relatively simple, MPS, or Maggie Preference Scale. (IPAs near the bottom, porters near the top, your mileage may vary.)

Full Chart via Flickr user John602, don't know if that's the original source though.

Body washing with water alone

Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal (a blog about paleolithic diet and exercise) writes that he has been showering without soap or shampoo for the past six months. Here are some of his observations:
Took about two weeks to normalize. That is, I felt my hair was greasy and skin oily up to then.

My skin & hair have never been softer. Never.

If anything, my hair is less "greasy" than ever, yet shampoo hasn't touched it in over six months.

Private parts. Have to address this, of course. This is the biggest benefit of all. Surprised? You'll just have to try it, because I'm not going to elaborate. That's why they call them "private parts." OK, a clue: maybe it's the constant cleansing that's the cause of the sweaty-stinky problem in the first place? If for nothing else, I'm soap free for life on this point alone. I feel as though I've been scammed -- and liberated. I can't explain further. You'll just have to try.

The commenters on his blog share similar soap-free experiences.

Bird furiously pecks at can with photo of bird on it


Do you think the bird would peck at the can even if it didn't have a bird on it?

(Via I have seen the whole of the Internet)

What if the Fed and the TSA switched roles?

Emanuel Derman speculates what would happen if the Federal Reserve and the TSA switched roles.
If a bank failed at 9 a.m. one morning and shut its doors, the TSA would announce that all banks henceforth begin their business day at 10 a.m.

And, if a terrorist managed to get on board a plane between Stockholm and Washington, the Fed would increase the number of flights between the cities.

(Via Marginal Revolution)

Science-fiction science: How long could you survive inside a Tauntaun?

Applying Earth science to science-fiction scenarios might not be easy (or particularly necessary) but it sure is fun. Here, fans take the cutting-open-a-furry-beast-and-using-its-carcass-as-an-emergency-blanket scene from The Empire Strikes Back and attempt to deduce how long Luke Skywalker could have actually survived on the sweet, sweet warmth provided by Tauntaun entrails.

In a normal environment, a carcass gets cold in 8 to 36 hours losing an average rate of 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit per hour. However, the ice world of Hoth is not an average environment. The Star Wars database lists that Hoth reaches nightly temperatures of -60 F. In a frigid, sub-zero environment, body heat can be lost almost 32 times faster. This means a Tauntaun's body heat could drop almost 51.2 F every hour.

The initial estimate is probably off, as it looks like the author is using human body temperatures to figure how warm the Tauntaun would be when it died and how fast it would lose heat, but some of those issues get hashed out in the comments.

Wolf Gnards blog: How Long Could Luke Survive in a Tauntaun?

Argentina: judge orders DNA test to determine if media heirs are orphans of "disappeared"

BBC News: "An Argentine judge has ordered the heirs to a powerful media empire to take DNA tests to establish if they are victims of a forced adoption scheme... Last month, the Congress backed a proposal from the group, allowing the forced extraction of DNA from adults who may be the children of political prisoners - even when they do not want to know." And more here.

TSA subpoenas, threatens two bloggers who published non-classified airline security directive

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(Courtesy of Wired: "TSA Special Agent John Enright, left, speaks to Steven Frischling outside the blogger's home in Niantic, Connecticut, after returning Frischling's laptop Wednesday." Photo: Thomas Cain/Wired.com)

(Update post here, Dec. 31, 2009.)

On Friday, December 25, following the incident in which a Nigerian man attempted to blow up a US-bound flight, the TSA issued an urgent, non-classified security directive to thousands of contacts around the world—airlines, airports, and so on. On Saturday, December 26, airlines and airports around the world further circulated that emailed document and began implementing the procedures described. On Sunday December 27, two bloggers published the content of the TSA directive online (some portions had already been showing up on airline websites). And on Tuesday, December 29, Special Agents from the TSA's Office of Inspection showed up at the homes of bloggers Steven Frischling and Christopher Elliott, and interrogated each on where they obtained the document. Both bloggers received civil subpoenas.

Snip from Wired piece by Kim Zetter:

"They came to the door and immediately were asking, 'Who gave you this document?, Why did you publish the document?' and 'I don't think you know how much trouble you're in.' It was very much a hardball tactic," [Frischling] says.

(...) The agents then said they wanted to take an image of his hard drive. Frischling said they had to go to WalMart to buy a hard drive, but when they returned were unable to get it to work. Frischling said the keyboard on his laptop was no longer working after they tried to copy his files. The agents left around 11 p.m. but came back Wednesday morning and, with Frischling's consent, seized his laptop, which they promised to return after copying the hard drive.

Here's Frischling's post. He says he received the document from an anonymous source known to be a TSA employee, who uses a gmail account (will Google be subpoenaed?). "I received it, I read it, I posted it. Why did I post it? Because following the failed terrorist attack on the 25th of December there was a lot of confusion and speculation surrounding changes in airline & airport security procedures."

Here is Elliot's post about his visit from a friendly TSA Special Agent named Flaherty. "[T]he TSA wants me to tell them who gave me the security directive. I told Flaherty I'd call my attorney and get back to him. What would you do?"

Here at Boing Boing, I linked to Frischling's leak post on Monday, December 28. Two days earlier, I'd flown home to the US on an international flight during which I personally experienced the procedures detailed in the directive. I tweeted what I experienced of those procedures before, during, and after my flight on the 26th. Thorough physical patdowns and secondary hand luggage screening pre-board, no leaving your seat or electronics or putting anything on your lap during the final hour of flight, and so on. Attendants on my flight explained that the stepped-up procedures came from a just-issued TSA security directive. As soon as airlines and airports began implementing the directive—and that began before the bloggers posted their copies—the contents of the directive were no secret. So why the strong-arm tactics?

Read more: New York Times story, Wired News story, and Huffington Post.

Related: Just weeks ago, a TSA contract worker posted an improperly redacted sensitive screening manual on a government website.

Surrealistic cartoon by illustrator Jean-Philippe Masson

Muzorama from Muzorama Team on Vimeo.


This fun video by illustrator Jean-Philippe Masson (aka Muzo) was produced in just 6 weeks. Its sense of absurdity reminds me of Betty Boop cartoons.

Snail with vanishing spots

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The flamingo tongue snail Cyphoma gibbosum appears to have a shell decorated with bright spots (top of image). Amazingly though, the spots aren't actually part of the shell, but rather the animal's flesh! When the animal retracts into its stark white shell, so do the spots (bottom of image). The Cyphoma gibbosum is the star of the latest CreatureCast video from Dr. Casey Dunn's laboratory at Brown University. RISD animator Chris Vamos, who was also a student in Dr. Dunn's invertebrate zoology course, created the video. Watch it after the jump!

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What makes "feminine" handwriting?

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"Masculine" writing? "Feminine" writing? Why?

Every culture with a gender binary imposes gender onto all aspects of human appearance and behavior. This is done in order to reify that binary and make it appear to be "natural," rather than arbitrary. As an example, let's look at handwriting. Most people can make a better than chance guess at someone's gender identity based on a handwriting sample. But why?

A couple of years ago, a reader asked me how she could make her handwriting more "feminine." I had a general sense that in the US, "feminine" handwriting is neater, more loopy, and in its most mockable form has little circles or hearts dotting each letter I. It turns out it's much more complicated than that, and the entire field of inquiry can easily devolve from legitimate forensics into quackery like "graphology" and "evolutionary psychology." The section has become the most popular part on my how-to site for transgender people, as there is considerable general-market interest in the topic, even in our age of texting and IMs. I include 30 handwriting samples (worth reading because they are cute aphorisms). Learn about gradient, structure, concavity, and maybe even make your chicken-scratch a little more legible, no matter what your gender.

Handwriting and gender cues (via Transsexual Road Map)

AbeBooks' Weird Book Room

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AbeBooks has a fantastic virtual Weird Book Room. I was thrilled to discover that I only have three of the books on the page: Mannix's The History of Torture (highly recommended!), The How And Why Wonder Book of Guns (useful!), and the Gangsta Rap Coloring Book (a gift!). Oh, how I love thee, Abe. Abe Weird Book Room (Thanks, Vann Hall!)

Beautiful microscope images

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You're looking at a water flea, as captured by Dr. Jan Michels of the University of Kiel, Germany. It's the top-prize winner in the 2009 Olympus BioScapes contest—a competition focused on images taken via microscope. The winners gallery is full of gorgeous pictures in striking, day-glo purples, greens and reds. Worth browsing, for both art and science nerds.

Olympus BioScapes 2009 Winners Gallery

Collin Cunningham explains Ohm's Law


Here's MAKE's Collin Cunningham explaining Ohm's Law: Voltage = Current X Resistance.

Baby in overhanging cage, London, 1934

200912301059 1934 photo of a baby in a wooden and wire cage hanging out of a window a few stories up. It looks secure.

Man throws his bike at purse snatchers riding a scooter


According to the YouTube description for this video, a guy threw his bicycle at a pair of purse-snatching thieves who were speeding away on a scooter, causing them to crash and become quite upset.

Odds of being a terrorism victim on a flight

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Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com collected the data for this handsome infographic designed by Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo. It shows your odds of becoming an airborne victim of terrorism. Maybe the new TSA rules will decrease the odds of being a terrorism victim from 1 in 10,408,947 to 1 in 10,408,948. Let's hope so!

The True Odds of Airborne Terror Chart