Boing Boing 

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


(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/

(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

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!

Read the rest

What makes "feminine" handwriting?

"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

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


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


Nate Silver of 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

Graph compares price of inkjet ink to other liquids


ReflectionOf.Me posted a graph that shows how much HP printer ink costs compared to human blood, vodka, crude oil and other precious liquids.

I am not Frodo: A Facebook conversation


I read Lamebook sometimes, but I've never seen anything there that made me snort tea out my nose. Until now. It begins in the magical kingdom of Facebook, with a "What Lord of the Rings Character are You?" quiz ...

Fair warning: There is some NSFW language and liberal doses of the stupid, preteen usage of the word "gay".

Lamebook: FroDOH!

Obama moves to limit secrecy of government documents

President Obama is taking steps to modify rules around the secrecy of government documents, and the length of time for which documents may remain secret. Secrecy experts like Steven Aftergood are cautiously optimistic, but not yet convinced this is good news.

Schneier on this week's air-terror-scare, and TSA response

Bruce Schneier: a voice of reason, as usual.
Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It's rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.

The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. However, our elected leaders don't think this way: They are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats.

Is aviation security mostly for show? (CNN guest editorial)