Boing Boing 

RIP, Jeanne Robinson

Sincere condolences to Spider Robinson and family on the passing of his wonderful, talented wife: the dancer, writer and choreographer Jeanne Robinson, after a long struggle with cancer. The human race has lost one of its finest members. Spider and Jeanne's family -- including their grandchild -- were able to be at her deathbed when she went, and by Spider's account, it was a sweet and gentle moment for them all.

Obituary: Jeanne Robinson

(Image: Spider_and_Jeanne_Robinson.jpg, Wikimedia Commons/C. A. Bridges; Creative Commons ShareAlike)

MDs ask patients to assign copyright in any web-posting that mentions their care, to simplify censorship

Jason sez, "Doctors are being urged to give their patients a legal form that transfers a patient's copyright over web postings if they mention the doctor or practice online. The doctor can then send a DMCA takedown notice and have the criticism removed from the web without filing a lawsuit. As a fiction writer this worries me greatly, especially since the organization pushing this copyright transfer says it can also be used for fictional posts."

Medical Justice, who came up with this ridiculous scheme, also seriously misrepresents Wikipedia's position on anonymous editing.

When Online Gripes Are Met With a Lawsuit

Go to the doctor, lose the copyright to your writings (Thanks, Jason!)

Toronto's main reference library hosts punk gig

David sez, "I thought you might be interested in this fantastic article about Toronto punk darlings, Fucked Up, playing a free show at the Toronto Reference Library last night. I love the quote in the article, 'Fucked Up admit to getting most of their album artwork from the Reference library and give props to its "solid microfiche collection".'"

When I was 14 years old, I "de-enrolled" myself from the high-school I'd started out at, stopped going to classes, and took the subway to Metro Ref every day, burying myself in a dozen subjects (and yes, seriously raiding the microfiche). It really warms my heart to see these pics.

Fucked Up Make Some Mosh at the Reference Library (Thanks, David J!)

Guatemala: First, volcanic eruption; then, devastating tropical storm

Update, 2pm PT: HOW TO HELP, after the jump. Above, this photo just posted to the Guatemalan Government's Flickr feed shows a spontaneous sinkhole ("hundimiento") 20 meters deep and 15 wide that appeared today in Zone 2 of Guatemala City, after overwhelming saturation of rains from tropical storm Agatha.

Read the rest

McRefugees in Shanghai find refuge in fast food joints

mcrefugees-thumb-500x747-512699.jpg Shanghaiist points us to an interesting article (in Chinese) about McRefugees, residents of Shanghai who spend their nights sleeping in McDonalds because they don't have enough money to pay rent.
...[McDonald's] spokesperson Mr. Lu said the store "doesn't explicitly allow it, but doesn't explicitly disallow it." But for all the stores in the Tianyaoqiao Lu area, KFC has the most serious McRefugee problem. "Because there's sofas there, [McDonalds] only has hard stools. In the winter, people will even bring their blankets and bedrolls into the restaurant."

< This is a loosely connected group. Every night after 10pm, they gradually gather here. All they have is a backpack or a canvas bag, or sometimes nothing at all. They usually sit at the farthest booth from the ordering station, and never order a drink. To entertain themselves, they bring kung fu novels, financial or educational books, and leftover newspapers from other customers. After midnight, they are scattered around every corner of the restaurant. Some in the sofaed partitions, using their books or newspapers as pillows, leaning over tables or even using rows of seats as beds.

A similar phenomenon exists in Japan's internet cafes and fast food joints, too. I once met an internet cafe refugee in Tokyo; he used to wait tables at a bar but was having trouble finding work and didn't want to go home to his parents', so he spent most of his evenings sleeping in internet cafe booths or riding around the Yamanote train line.

The "flotilla video": Israeli troops storm boat with aid supplies bound for Gaza Strip

flotilla.jpg In the news today, worldwide controversy around an Israeli commando attack on a "Free Gaza Movement" flotilla carrying aid supplies to the blockaded Gaza strip. NYT story here. Varying reports on how many were killed: 10 according to Israel, and 19 or more according to the activists and some news organizations. Some 600 people were aboard the flotilla including a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor. The attacked ship was some 100km (70 miles) off the coast, in international waters. Above, video of the event.

Analysis and reactions around the web: The Wikinews article is interesting, in part for the clash of perceptions from those who condemn and those who support the actions of Israel's military. This Jerusalem Post article touches on the resulting PR and media offensive out of Israel, and the government's rationalization for what it maintains was a justified and defensive event (and pointed to ties with Turkey and alleged "Islamist" groups). More reading: "Why the Gaza boat deaths are a huge deal," Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy. Condemnation from South African Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. "A Lesson in Information Operations," Center for a New American Security. Ha'aretz: "Israel Lost at Sea." Top Israeli official when Gaza blockade was imposed several years ago: "The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet."
(some links via @ggreenwald @ethanz @NickKristof @seanbonner)

Woman sues Google after being hit by a car while using walking directions

route4-500x489.pngA woman named Lauren Rosenberg is suing Google for $100,000 after she walked onto a highway and got hit by a car while following Google Maps directions on her Blackberry. She disregarded, or didn't see, the warning that says: "Walking directions are in beta. Use caution - This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths." She also apparently didn't use common sense.

From Fortune:

Defendant Google, through its "Google Maps" service provided Plaintiff Lauren Rosenberg with walking directions that led her out onto Deer valley Drive, a.k.a. State Route 224, a rural highway with no sidewalks, and a roadway that exhibits motor vehicles traveling at high speeds, that is not reasonably safe for pedestrians.

The Defendant Google expects uses of the walking map site to rely on the accuracy of the walking directions given....

As a direct and proximate cause of Defendant Google's careless, reckless, and negligent providing of unsafe directions, Plaintiff Laren Rosenberg was led onto a dangerous highway, and was thereby stricken by a motor vehicle...

Woman Follows Google Maps "Walking" Directions, Gets Hit, Sues [SearchEngineLand via Fortune]

Update: Danny Sullivan, who discovered and covered the story, has an interesting follow-up about how mainstream news outlets avoided mentioning his scoop in its own rewritten coverage. I've replaced our link to Fortune with a link to his original item. -- Rob

Julian Assange profiled in New Yorker


Julian Assange is the founder of, a Web site that “collect[s] documents and imagery that governments and other institutions regard as confidential and publish[es] them.” He is profiled by Raffi Khatchadourian in the June 7, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

Assange is an international trafficker, of sorts. He and his colleagues collect documents and imagery that governments and other institutions regard as confidential and publish them on a Web site called Since it went online, three and a half years ago, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from the Standard Operating Procedures at Camp Delta, in Guantánamo Bay, and the “Climategate” e-mails from the University of East Anglia, in England, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo account. The catalogue is especially remarkable because WikiLeaks is not quite an organization; it is better described as a media insurgency. It has no paid staff, no copiers, no desks, no office. Assange does not even have a home. He travels from country to country, staying with supporters, or friends of friends–as he once put it to me, “I’m living in airports these days.” He is the operation’s prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site’s complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key members are known only by initials–M, for instance–even deep within WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries.
Julian Assange profiled in New Yorker

Photo by New Media Days / Peter Erichsen licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 License.

China sets new rules banning confessions by torture

Following the reappearance of a supposedly murdered man in China a couple of weeks ago, the Chinese courts have announced new rules that will discount evidence gathered through torture and intimidation. If implemented right, this could be a big deal. From the NYTimes:
Confessions gained through torture are thought to be common in China, though rights advocates and defense lawyers say such mistreatment gains public notice only when a defendant dies in custody. In some recent cases, jailhouse deaths have spurred protests and alarmed the authorities, who are eager to maintain social stability.

In a rare admission of the problem, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, which carries out investigations and prosecutions, issued a report in 2003 acknowledging that what it characterized as forced confessions had led to the deaths of 460 people and serious injuries for 117 others.

The stakes are high in China, which puts to death more people than all other countries combined. The government does not release figures on executions, but Amnesty International estimates the number exceeded 1,700 last year.

Of course, the passing of such a law doesn't necessarily mean that the new rules will be properly implemented, but it's a start.

Chinese courts to bar confessions gained by torture [NY Times]

Microsoft opens Windows 7 restaurant in Taiwan

Microsoft just opened a restaurant in Taipei dedicated to Windows 7. It's called "77 Concept Store," and sells dishes like electronic beancurd for 77 Taiwanese dollars.

Audio clip of prayer time at Dubai airport

Joi Ito took this short audio clip of prayer time at Dubai Airport. He says: "For a lot of people, the first time they hear the call to prayer at the airport it's a weird thing; once you get used to it, it makes you feel like you're actually in an Arab country. And for me, it makes me feel like home." I was also in Dubai recently, and although I'm not religious, I find that the sounds of prayer often give me a sense of peace and regularity.

Spongebob, age 50


via Gary Draws

Beep-it optical theremin in Boing Boing Bazaar

Screen Shot 2010-05-17 At 2.04.18 Pm

Michael Una's Beep-it optical theremin is $29 $35 in the Makers Market / Boing Boing Bazaar.

Beep-it is a handbuilt optical theremin designed by Michael Una.

It outputs a squarewave whose pitch is controlled by the amount of light striking a photoresistor. A single button turns it on or off.

It has a 1/4" out jack for connecting to audio equipment like amplifiers, filters, recording, etc.

Beep-it optical theremin

Installing a swing on the Paris Metro

LaGrotteDuBarbu Saison 02 Episode 1E - MetroQuiBalance from babozor on Vimeo.

Olivier sez, "Last week end, we gently hacked the Parisian subway, modifying the global UI of the subway train by trying to add a swing... it was a semi-fail but at the end an EPIC WIN"

LaGrotteDuBarbu Saison 02 Episode 1E - MetroQuiBalance (Thanks, Olivier!)

Maggie Thatcher performs the Dead Parrot sketch

Here's Margaret Thatcher at the 1990 Conservative Party conference making fun of the Liberal Democrats' new mascot (a parrot), by performing the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch.

The ironies are, of course, glorious. First, because the Tories and the LibDems have just formed the government of the UK. But second, because the Tories voted heavily in favour of the Digital Economy Act, which takes as its premise that this sort of cultural use of creative material is theft and should be vigorously punished (except, presumably, when the villainous Ms Thatcher does it).

Margaret Thatcher does the Dead Parrot Sketch (Thanks, Ethan!)

Ewok song karaoke

It's not a karaoke party until someone sings the Ewok celebration song: yub-nub!

May the schwartz be with you: Ewok Karaoke (via Digg)

MAD publisher William M Gaines on TO TELL THE TRUTH

Zack sez, "William M. Gaines, publisher of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, WEIRD SCIENCE and MAD appears on the game show TO TELL THE TRUTH. This video links to a number of other classic TO TELL THE TRUTH appearances by some oddballs, including con man Frank Abagnale Jr. (in a scene later recreated for CATCH ME IF YOU CAN)."

To Tell the Truth - William M Gaines (Thanks,Zack!)

History of piracy, reviewed by EFF's senior copyright lawyer

Fred von Lohmann, senior copyright attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has just posted a review of Adrian John's monumental, 500-page Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, a thoroughgoing and well-researched history that draws compelling conclusions about the need to view piracy as a business-model crisis, not a moral one. I'm about halfway through Piracy myself, and really enjoying it:
Along the way, you'll be reminded that today's debates have historical roots in controversies over computer hacking, phone phreaking, home taping, and ultimately the 1920s patent-law rebellions against AT&T. This is history every interested copy-fighter, patent reformer, and netizen needs to know. Prof. Johns ends his book by describing the unique thing about our current historical moment: the rise of what he calls an "intellectual property defense industry":

As piracy has grown and diversified, so a counterindustry has emerged, dedicated to combating it. The coherence and scope of this industry are relatively new and remarkable. In previous centuries, particular groups or industries mounted efforts against piracy; but they did not generally regard them as fronts in one common cause. Now they do. ... So the first implication is that we need to appreciate the historical significance of this industry of antipiracy policing and apprehend its consequences, at every social level. The second implication follows from that. Measures adopted against piracy can sometimes impinge on other, equally valued, aspects of society. Indeed, it is possible that they must do so, given the nature of the task. When that happens, however, they can trigger deeply felt reactions. The result is a crisis, with the potential to create a moment of genuine transformation.

If that's right (and I think it is), then opposing the "intellectual property defense industry" is not the same thing as opposing "intellectual property." Rather, it is about insisting on values like civil liberties, privacy, and autonomy, and not allowing antipiracy enforcement to trample them.

Required Reading: Adrian Johns, Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (review)

Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates

(Thanks, Fred!)

Highlights from Maker Faire 2010

Highlights from Maker Faire 2010, filmed and produced by Kent Weakley. Music courtesy of Andy Graham.

Gary as I knew him: Richard Rushfield

coleman.jpg (Image: whatchutalkinbout, a Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user bbaltimore)

"Even in death, as we can see on Twitter today, the joke of being Gary Coleman is what the world sees first." Blogger and author Richard Rushfield has posted a thoughtful—neither maudlin nor mocking—remembrance of child star Gary Coleman, who died yesterday. Rushfield attended a Los Angeles area school with Coleman in the mid-1980s.

Of all the bad hands people have been dealt in life, of the people who I have known up close, compared to the starving in Mongolia, Gary had as about a rotten combination as anything I'd seen. I won't give the details, but there was very much a horrifying tragedy about his life, a desperation that I think at age 16, was too big for us his classmates to comprehend or take in.

This was a kid who had been shoved on stage before he knew what the stage was; who had been farmed out by his parents to a network that used this child and his instant catch phrase as their trained seal while entirely depriving him of the life of a normal child. At this phase, Strokes had moved from NBC to squeeze once last season's worth of blood out of it on ABC. We didn't know then how the parents were systematically pillaging the fortunes their son was bringing in, but I do recall a sorta uncomfortable feeling about his father coming to pick him up in a massive, I believe Rolls Royce every day. And then there were his health problems which kept him in more pain than any of us knew and ultimately forced him to drop out before graduation.

But despite all this, there was this sense of some incredibly energetic mind trying to do things, striving, searching for his way, as all teenagers are, but with far fewer guideposts. On one end of the spectrum was the day he came to school dressed in an elaborate and impressive astronaut's uniform. On the other end, he was writing screenplays - something back then that teenagers didn't really do - which he carried around in his briefcase, spinning plans for a writing/directing career.

Given all that he had to deal with, its not surprising that he was never able to find the way through all the clutter of his life, the baggage of being Gary Coleman, to live out his dreams. How many of us after all do, with far less clinging onto us.

Gary as I knew him (Rushfield Babylon)

Talking copyright, For the Win and iPads with ABC News

Last week I did a quick, fun interview with ABC News in New York, outside one of the bigger Apple Stores. We talked For the Win, the iPad, and copyright reform. The ABC folks were good enough to put the video online and make an embed available, too.

Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

giant_12.jpg Dennis Hopper, star of Easy Rider, Blue Velvet and Super Mario Bros., is dead at 74. [Reuters. Photo from Giant, via Flatland]

Design for America winners remix open government feeds

The Sunlight Foundation has announced the winners in its Design for America contest, where the public were invited find cool things to do with the US government's open data feeds. They had 72 entries, all extremely clever and provocative.

The transformation of complex process into great imagery was also something we hoped for here at Sunlight. The "How A Bill Becomes a Law" category didn't disappoint. Every entry in this category was amazing. The one that won in the end was the one that combined beauty with complexity. It's beautiful, and too big to embed on this blog. But check out the whole thing. It's amazing.
The Design for America Winners (Thanks, Nicko!)

Computer mouse made from biological mouse's ribcage

I know nothing about this (do you? Add a comment) -- it doesn't look functional, but it sure is a fascinating object.

mouse (Thanks, Dana!)

Librarians do Gaga

In this smashing video, students and faculty from the University of Washington's Information School perform a Lady Gaga remix ("Catalog") with enormous humor, verve, and grace. Librarians are so goddamned awesome. Seriously.

Librarians Do Gaga (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Clarion sf writing workshop Write-a-Thon

The Clarion Writing Workshop at UCSD La Jolla is having its annual write-a-thon, in combination with Seattle's Clarion West and Australia's Clarion South: "From June 27 to August 7, 2010, Clarion supporters can tap into the creative energy of the renowned six-week Clarion workshop, encourage this year's Clarion students, and help secure the financial future of Clarion, all without leaving home. The first annual Clarion UCSD Write-a-Thon will take place at the same time as this year's Clarion Workshop. Write-a-Thon participants embark on a six-week writing journey alongside the 2010 students-in-residence, supported by friends, family and fans."

I'm in. I'm writing 1,000 words a day, five days a week, on Pirate Cinema, the YA novel I've got due next Christmas. You can pledge to support me and my $500 fundraising goal for Clarion. Clarion helped make me into a better writer -- and it's done the same for hundreds of others. Fundraising is an increasingly important part of Clarion's viability. With major cutbacks from our host organization -- the bankrupt UC system -- it's fundraise or die.

I hope that you'll participate in the Clarion Write-a-Thon, either as a writer or a donor (or both!).

Participate in Clarion 2010 without Leaving Home!

(Disclosure: I am proud to volunteer as a board-member for The Clarion Foundation, a 501(c)3 charity that supports the Clarion workshop at UCSD)

Mars Attacks wall graphics in Boing Boing Bazaar

These fantastic Mars Attacks wall graphics are in the Makers Market / Boing Boing Bazaar. I have Card # 21 (Prize Captive) on my office wall now (child included for size reference). The graphics come in your choice of sizes ranging from 1-foot to 6-feet in length.

LTL PRINTS has been working with Topps for the last six months, and we have launched giant wall graphics featuring a number of their classic brands, including Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and Hollywood Zombies, along with several collections of sportscard wrapper wall graphics (Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey, from the 1950s to the present). Our most recent wall graphics launch with Topps, Mars Attacks, is my personal favorite. Originally released in 1962, the Mars Attacks trading cards were drawn by renowned comic book artists Wally Wood and Bob Powell, and painted by legendary pulp artist Norman Saunders. Kids loved them, but the cards prompted parental concerns due to the sensational storyline and over-the-top graphics.

After LTL PRINTS had launched over 500 Wacky Packages wall graphics and received some pretty nice feedback from our customers, we asked Topps if there was any chance that we could launch the same sort of thing for Mars Attacks. They said YES, and went into their archives and re-scanned the master versions of each of the 55 cards in the original trading card series.

LTL PRINTS is currently working with artists, designers, and brands from around the world to bring their 'content' to empty walls globally, and over the last 6 months we have launched hundreds of premium wall graphic collections (e.g. Popeye, Betty Boop, Dilbert, Peanuts). We are working with digital designers like Susan Kare and Yiying Lu, legendary aerosol and street artists like Vulcan and Chor Boogie, and painters like Casey O'Connell. Next week, LTL PRINTS launches a new KIDS WALL GRAPHICS catalog that features giant wall art from Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit, giant dinosaurs from the Natural History Musuem, panoramic wall murals of animals in the wild, and Paddington Bear. And our next major consumer launches include Marilyn Monroe and Star Trek wall graphic collections. Simply: LTL PRINTS is working to create a new medium for creative expression. Our goal is to bring amazing content to empty walls around the world.

If you want a giant vinyl sticker of a football helmet, big clip-art flowers, or almost-lifesize cutouts of the latest boy band, there are loads of companies out there offering these sorts of wall graphics. And they are selling tens of millions of dollars worth of these big vinyl stickers each year. LTL PRINTS is taking a slightly different approach. Rather than using vinyl, we are printing on a premium material that is called 'self-adhesive repositionable fabric paper', and will stick to almost any surface (walls, windows, even ceilings), and can be removed and re-hung 100 times without leaving a mark or damaging your walls. By combining this new material and production with the worlds greatest content, we are attempting to literally create a new medium for creative expression.

Mars Attacks graphics in Boing Boing Bazaar

Pseudo-science and airport security


The Pomona College student who was detained by airport security after they found Arabic flashcards in his carry-on luggage was originally pulled aside for questioning because of Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT), a pseudo-scientific program that's supposed to teach TSA employees how to identify deceptive or hostile behavior in travelers.

Or, rather, SPOT is supposed to help pick out people who are trying to hide their cruel intentions. The pushy, cranky guy behind you in line who's yelling at his kid = no. Sneaky terrorists trying to look innocent = yes.

The problem, of course, is that there's no evidence this system works any better than a lie detector. Which, just to be perfectly clear, means it doesn't work.

"Simply put, people (including professional lie-catchers with extensive experience of assessing veracity) would achieve similar hit rates if they flipped a coin," noted a 2007 report1 from a committee of credibility-assessment experts who reviewed research on portal screening. "No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent," declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group.

The TSA does track statistics. From the SPOT programme's first phase, from January 2006 through to November 2009, according to the agency, behaviour-detection officers referred more than 232,000 people for secondary screening, which involves closer inspection of bags and testing for explosives. The agency notes that the vast majority of those subjected to that extra inspection continued on their travels with no further delays. But 1,710 were arrested, which the TSA cites as evidence for the programme's effectiveness. Critics, however, note that these statistics mean that fewer than 1% of the referrals actually lead to an arrest, and those arrests are overwhelmingly for criminal activities, such as outstanding warrants, completely unrelated to terrorism.

I'm in favor of reasonable security measures at airports. But, from my perspective, a big part of defining "reasonable" is providing objective evidence that the measure actually does any good.

Nature: Airport security: Intent to deceive?

Image courtesy Flickr user nedrichards, via CC

What happens when you let smart teenagers play with their passions


Love this: Two and a half years ago, a high school freshman called up a cell biologist and asked him to "give her a try in his lab.' This month, Raina Jain of Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, won the International BioGENEius Challenge—a sort-of mega science fair—with a project to test which type of surfaces are best for growing the precursor cells that could one day be used to create bone implants.

Kudos to Dr. Matthias Falk, of Lehigh University, for giving Jain that proverbial try. I wish more high schoolers had the opportunity to poke their noses around laboratories and learn about the things they think are cool in a way that allows them to go as far as their brains can reach. This is just simply something you can't get in a high school class that has to teach the basics to everybody.

The fact that Jain's folks are a doctor and a materials scientist probably helped a lot on cluing her into potential opportunities. It's not something that would have ever occurred to me as a possibility when I was that age. Hopefully, this post will inspire other young brains to reach out to older ones—and vice versa.

Image provided by Flickr user x_ray_delta_one

Scientists disagree. You should not be surprised.

Ardipithecus ramidus—the skeletal proto-human also known as Ardi—was discovered almost 18 years ago. The first scientific reporters were published last year. And now, other researchers are coming forward to challenge the way Ardi's discoverers interpreted the evidence about her habitat and place in the human family tree. But here's the kicker—these challenges aren't a scandal. In fact, this is the normal way that science, of all sorts, happens. I point this out, because I think it's a basic fact that the public doesn't really understand, and that we—the science reporters—often forget to clarify. Science works because scientists disagree. They challenge each other's ideas, find better ways to interpreting the data and eventually come to conclusions that bring us closer to truth. (Story via Cort Sims)