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A science joke for your Saturday morning

As told by Mr. Karl Sinfield in the comments section of a Tom Chivers blog post at the Telegraph:


A geneticist, a physiologist and a physicist were summoned to meet a wealthy racehorse magnate. He told them he would give a million pounds to the one who could accurately identify race-winning horses. After six months of hard work, they returned to present their results to the expectant millionaire.

The geneticist said, "I've looked into all the current genetic research, checked blood-lines going back decades, but there are just too many behavioural and environmental factors. I can't help."

The physiologist said, "I've looked at muscle mass, bone volume and density, and all the other factors I can think of, but the problem's too complex. There's just no guarantee of predicting a winner."

Finally, the physicist calmly walks up to the millionaire and gives him an index card. "Here you go," he says "I've found an equation that solves the problem for you."

"Wow," said the millionaire, "That's impressive...I'll get my cheque book."

"Great. But there's one thing you should know," said the physicist. "It only works for a spherically symmetric horse travelling in a vacuum."

(Via Martin Robbins)

Image:Some rights reserved by Tambako the Jaguar

Google-eye view of a nuclear test site

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Yucca Flat was the site of 739 nuclear tests between 1951 and 1992. Once an anonymous stretch of desert, it's now pockmarked with subsidence craters left behind by underground nuclear detonations. Among them is the Sedan Crater, a massive, 1200-feet-wide, 320-feet-deep pit, created as part of "plowshare" experiments—tests meant to demonstrate whether nuclear bombs could be used for peaceful purposes, like excavating new lakes or deep bays.

(Via Sean Carroll)

Protest sign calls for nuance, not pithy slogans

Jeremy S made this spiffy protest sign to carry to today's Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity. I think it needs to be continued on several more signs.

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

TSA demands testicular fondling as an alternative to naked scanners

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg has been experimenting with declining the whole-body TSA scanners at US airports -- and now things have gotten more intimate. The TSA has initiated a new, more humiliating pat-down procedure for people who refuse to show screeners their genitals on the naked scanners -- one that involves testicular cupping:
At BWI, I told the officer who directed me to the back-scatter that I preferred a pat-down. I did this in order to see how effective the manual search would be. When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them -- the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down -- said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. "No way. You think Congress would allow that?"

I answered, "If you're a terrorist, you're going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina." He blushed when I said "vagina."

"Yes, but starting tomorrow, we're going to start searching your crotchal area" -- this is the word he used, "crotchal" -- and you're not going to like it."

"What am I not going to like?" I asked.

"We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance," he explained.

"Resistance?" I asked.

"Your testicles," he explained.

'That's funny," I said, "because 'The Resistance' is the actual name I've given to my testicles..."

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, "Get new gloves, man, you're going to need them where you're going."

For the First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance (via Kottke)

(Image: In Your Face, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nyc_xmas's photostream)

Vending machines of the ancient world

Back in 2006, the Smithsonian talked to John Humphrey, University of Calgary professor of Greek and Roman studies, about the lost inventions of the ancient world, including this Holy Water Vending Machine from the first century AD:
World's First Vending Machine
Inventor: Hero (busy man)
Date: First century A.D.
How it works: A person puts a coin in a slot at the top of a box. The coin hits a metal lever, like a balance beam. On the other end of the beam is a string tied to a plug that stops a container of liquid. As the beam tilts from the weight of the coin, the string lifts the plug and dispenses the desired drink until the coin drops off the beam.
Proof of complexity: Early modern vending machines actually used a similar system, before electrical machines took over.
Quirk: It was devised to distribute Holy Water at temples, because "people were taking more Holy Water than they were paying for," Humphrey says.
Old World, High Tech (via Kottke)

Vintage Hallowe'en product packages

The Dieline packaging blog has a frightfully good look at the monstrous Hallowe'en products of the bygone era. This special seasonal Silly Putty is so up my alley, it's not even funny.

Vintage Packaging: Halloween Goodies

Brain-imaging and neurorealism: what does it mean to "feel something" in your brain?

Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre dissects the reporting of an experiment purporting to show a neurological basis for low libido in women's brains. Goldacre points out that the alternative to believing in a neurological basis for how you feel is to believe that you can feel something without having something happen in your brain.
Interestingly, this odd interpretation is far from new: in fact it's part of a whole series of recurring themes in popular misinterpretations of neuroscience, first described formally in a paper from Nature Reviews Neuroscience called "fMRI in the public eye". To examine how fMRI brain imaging research was depicted in mainstream media, they conducted a systematic search for every news story about it over a 12 year period, and then conducted content analysis to identify any recurring themes.

The first theme they identified was the idea that a brain imaging experiment "can make a phenomenon uncritically real, objective or effective in the eyes of the public". They described this phenomenon as "neuro-realism", and the idea is best explained through their examples, which mirror these new claims about libido perfectly.

So an article in the Washington Post takes a view on pain, and whether the subjective experience of it is enough: "patients have long reported that acupuncture helps relieve their pain, but scientists don't know why. Could it be an illusion?" They have an answer. "Now brain imaging technology has indicated that the perception of pain relief is accurate."

Another says that brain imaging "provides visual proof that acupuncture alleviates pain". The reality, of course, is much simpler: for your own personal experience of pain, which is all that matters, if you say that your pain is relieved, then your pain is relieved (and I wish good luck to any doctor who tells his patient their pain has gone, when it hasn't, just because some magical scan says it has).


Sears-Roebuck Hallowe'en costumes of yore

Various Costume selections...

Animaniacs vs Newt Gingrich -- the lost episode

Zack sez, "In the 1990s, ANIMANIACS took stabs at many then-current figures (Bill Clinton cameoed in the theme song for a few years), but one never made it on screen -- a song where Dot, the Warner Sister, does a love song to Newt Gingrich. The story behind the never-animated cartoon and the script are in the link."
DOT (singing)
Dear Mister Gingrich, Or may I call you Newt?

She looks up into the air, thinking, then continues to write.

There's just one little thing which I have to say -- you're cute.

She puts the tip of the eraser against her lips, thinking. She gets and idea and goes back to writing.

So before you start your session To enact your ten point plan,

She puts down the pencil and picks up the picture, staring at it.

Please make this one concession,

She pulls the picture in close to her face as CAMERA TIGHTENS ANGLE. They are framed cheek to cheek.

And be my Congress-man.

Dear Mister Gingrich (Thanks, Zack)

Canada's telcoms regulator gives bloated, throttling incumbent the keys to the kingdom

The CRTC, Canada's telcoms regulator, had handed Bell Canada, the incumbent former state monopoly, a giant, giftwrapped early Christmas present. Bell -- whose infrastructure was built with tax-dollars -- is required to share its lines with independent ISPs, so that there can be competition in Canada's ISP market. Bell itself provides a distinctly inferior sort of retail ISP service, with secret throttling and filtering ("traffic shaping"), as well as bandwidth caps, making Canada one of the worst places to get network access in the developed world.

But Bell's competitors have responded by competitive offerings that deliver a neutral network -- one that gets you the bits you asked for, as quickly as possible. But that's not going to last.

The new CRTC ruling allows Bell to charge the same rates to its resellers that it charges to its retail customers -- in other words, a third party ISP will pay the same to buy a line as one of Bell's customers would (meaning that they have to charge more than Bell charges in order to turn a profit). And Bell will be allowed to impose the same network filters and throttling on these ISPs as it subjects its own customers to.

The Globe and Mail has an interview with Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of TekSavvy, one of Canada's best independent ISPs.

What does it mean for end users, TekSavvy customers or other users of competitive Internet Service Providers?

It means you could get charged in the hundreds of dollars for what you currently pay $35 or $40 dollars for. You could have multiples of your current monthly fee when this all comes through.

Anybody using TV over Internet right now is going to be severely affected by this. I mean, it makes anybody trying to do streaming right now a pretty big concern. Do you keep surfing the Internet? Do you watch TV on the Internet? Just how much gaming do you do because some games now require some pretty big bandwidth? There are far-reaching consequences. Between that and speed-matching, if these are removed it pretty much decimates the entire market space.

CRTC ruling handcuffs competitive market: Teksavvy (Thanks, Scooter!)

SF Bay Area: Survival Research Labs show this weekend!

 Shows Rage Poster2 Survival Research Laboratories will stage a mini-show Saturday, October 30, from 3pm-5pm in Santa Rosa, California. It's free. Two new machines, the Spine Robot and the Baseball Bat Wielding Motoman, will make their debut. The show is part of the Mad Science kinetic/robotic art exhibition at the Sonoma County Museum from October 31, 2010 - February 6, 2011. The SRL performance is titled "An Explosion of Ungovernable Rage."

Comic noir photo series from Purebred

 Dsc4299 Fnl8 Wlb  Dsc4224 Fnl2 Wlb
In celebration of Halloween, my insanely (insane?) talented pals Stacey Ransom and Jason Mitchell just posted part one of their magnificently creepy comic noir photo series, titled "Within." Part two, titled "Harvest," will be released in time for Thanksgiving. Bravo for beautiful body horror! More at Purebred still + motion production.

DIY Hallowe'en: Little Ewoks and AT-ST (Star Wars)


In the crazy-fun Boing Boing DIY Hallowe'en Costume thread, Boing Boing reader Steve Morningstar says,

My kids are all Star Wars. Last year they went as complimentary costumes. The two youngest were Ewoks while the oldest was an AT-ST walker that chased them all evening. Greatest thing about having creative kids is the costumes that they ask for. Always challenging, always rewarding.
Here are the Morningstar family's blog entries on each costume project for their adorable kids: Little Ewoks, and the big bad AT-ST.


Read the rest

DIY Hallowe'en: Mad Magazine Mascot Alfred E. Neuman


In the thrill-a-minute Boing Boing DIY Hallowe'en Costume thread, Boing Boing reader Pea Hix says,

My mom made this amazing Alfred E. Neuman mask from scratch out of Papier-mâché. The bugs have gotten to it a bit over the years, but i plan on wearing it to a party tomorrow nonetheless. Here she is modeling it.

Read the rest

DIY Hallowe'en: Edward Scissorhands


In the impossibly excellent Boing Boing DIY Hallowe'en Costume thread, Boing Boing reader "everyplace" says,

My friend Ben Gersch's Edward Scissorhands costume, made out of goodwill clothes, pizza boxes and sculpy, is a pretty great example in my mind of DIY.
And boy do we concur. Flickr photos here.

Read the rest

DIY Hallowe'en: Minotaur


In the stonkingly stupendous Boing Boing DIY Hallowe'en Costume thread, husband and wife Boing Boing readers and crafters Celeste and Jacob each wrote in to share this fun HOWTO.

Celeste says,

My husband and I made some cross-culture Greek monsters this year: I am making a Kabuki Medusa costume, complete with home-made kimono and snake geisha wig, but I'm not quite done yet (tomorrow!).

However, my husband's Minotaur costume with a Venetian Carnival flavour was finished tonight and we're rather pleased. We made the bull mask from scratch, him modeling it out of cardboard and plaster and myself painting it. I made the toga as well. Here's the step-by-step process for the mask.

Read the rest

DIY Hallowe'en: William Shakespeare


In the fun-filled Boing Boing DIY Hallowe'en Costume thread, a reader says,

Thanks to the skills of my Mother-In-Law, my 9 year old son has had a series of fabulous costumes. This year he is going as William Shakespeare, and I've humiliated our poor greyhound with a Tudor style dress and "Elizabethan Collar."

In the past he has been everything from Teddy Roosevelt, to Napoleon (trust me - Napoleon is the perfect costume for a 2 year old!)

Here's a slide show of his whole Halloween history.

Read the rest

Jessica Joslin's Hybrids show

Joslin_LG_Clio-and-Loci.jpg Sculptor Jessica Joslin will be exhibiting her fantastic new work at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Hollywood, November 5 - 28, 2010.
La Luz de Jesus Gallery, 4633 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA

Artist Reception: Friday, November 5th; 8-11
Book Signing to precede from 7-8

Jessica Joslin's Hybrids show is a circus of oddities, a mixed-media menagerie of unexpected creatures. A whimsical cat in a red leather harness harness pulls a polycephalic partner on a wooden cart. An exquisite two headed tropical bird with lush brass plumage preens on it's perch and a troupe of monkey-cat hybrids engage in mysterious shenanigans. "Hybrids" is a menagerie of distinctive creations, its frolicsome fauna beckon you to come see the show!

Preview Jessica's Hybrids show.

Marijuana legalization ad to air on Colbert and Daily Show: "If We Vote, We'll Win!"

Anthony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance says: "We are taking ads out for marijuana legalization on the Colbert and Daily show leading up to the November 2, vote in California."

Text of ad: "They're hoping we don't vote this year. That's why they don't talk about Prop 19. How it'll force the government to stop wasting money on outdated pot laws. How it'll let the police spend more time locking up real criminals. How it'll bring up to two billion dollars a year to California. But the biggest thing they didn't tell us about Prop. 19 is that the polls show if we vote we win. So vote yes on Prop 19. (And we win.) Yes on 19."

Tramaine De Senna's caulk frosting paintings

My friend and Make contributor Tramaine De Senna made a video of her cool caulk frosting painting process. She also provided the vocals for the soundtrack. I posted her Double Dub video on Boing Boing last year.

Zines - a slideshow history

Teal Triggs has nice things to say about bOING bOING (the zine that predates the blog) in this fun BBC audio slide show.
It is a literary subculture that dates back to science fiction publications in the 1930s but it was the niche music scenes of the 1960s and 70s that really helped the fanzine genre flourish.

In her new book - Fanzines: The DIY Revolution - author and avid collector Teal Triggs explores the history of these publications. She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme how they have changed in recent years to embrace the multimedia age.

Adorable Jawa Costume

Look at this 4 year old's adorable Jawa costume her grandmother made her. This is way better than my juvenile attempt of wrapping myself in an old blanket and stumbling around on my knees.

Last year her brother went as a Tusken raider. Apparently she was jealous and wanted a similarly cool costume this year.

[Jawa video link] [Raider video link] [shamelessly pilfered from Reddit]

Minecraft dev spills future plans

Creator Notch gives a sneak peek at what's coming next for massively-successful indie game hit Minecraft. [RPS]

Rent-seeking in the 21st century: where eBay, free software, Foxconn and the MPAA come from

Over on O'Reilly Radar, Jim Stogdill has a fabulous piece on the economic theory of rents as they apply to technology businesses, open source, cloud computing, spectrum auctions, and other chewy, boingy subjects. This is exactly the kind of economist talk I love: the stuff that makes you slap your forehead and say of course, that's how it works:
Obviously digital distribution has also damaged the traditional channel model of the music, film, and photography markets. The impact of this is that the tail-end of the curve can probably shift business models and still make the same money (by touring, selling FLAC files, whatever). But the head -- where the record companies are -- will struggle to extract rents like they used to. As they realize this, they do what rent holders who are losing always do: dispense patronage from their existing franchise and try to influence the law to make their rents more permanent.

Apple has historically lived on rents derived from superior design, which is a very hard thing to do consistently. So they've earned their rents so far. Recently, they've gotten even smarter. The App Store is an MBA's dream because it combines network effects with classic distribution channel control and slotting fees. It also has strong barriers to exit. Interestingly, Foxconn (and its employees) mostly continue to work at opportunity cost levels of renumeration. Rents stay with the leverage and are not evenly distributed through the supply chain.

Apple also finds itself in the odd position of Karmic enforcer. The software developers that once helped destroy content owners' iron-clad grip on distribution now find themselves selling their creations for 30 percent of $.99. Karma is a bitch.

Google extracts amazing rents through a combination of innovation and network effects, although they have really struggled to duplicate their core search / AdSense monopoly. Innovation is keeping Google ahead of Schumpeter for now, but hasn't yet created a second vortex of network effect monopoly. So Bing is an important threat if its share continues to grow. Emerging and effective competition in the area where you are extracting rents will have a non-linear impact on your bottom line. If all goes well (in a Schumpeterian sense), both Bing and Google's search franchises will be rent free in an economic sense. Good for people buying ads, bad for people that hope Google will keep taking the cash thrown off to innovate in other areas (like creating an Office rent-neutralizing alternative in the cloud). It's like watching a pair of Ultra Kaiju trying to choke each other out over Tokyo.

Points of control = Rents

They Regress the Error

bugs.jpg Scott Rosenberg and company's Media Bugs has expanded its correction-accepting Web site from San Francisco newspapers and publications to the whole United States. The site functions as a public and accountable way to call media to task for errors of fact that aren't always retracted, corrected, or apologized for on the site or in print where they occurred. Scott, a founder of and regular contributor to Salon, treats errors as bug reports, using the same kind of language, tracking, and resolution process familiar to programmers. The site doesn't require that bug reporters have contacted the media outlet already, but it does help. Rosenberg and crew personally follow up with a publication, which often responds. This is all documented in the bug report for public inspection. Media Bugs acts a bit like a consumer advocate. A media site might not respond to little old you, but with the spotlight of scrutiny, editors and ombudspeople are apparently more ready to make changes. Setting the public record straight is one method to improve discourse, by ensuring that largely agreed-upon accounts of reality aren't corrupted. Read the announcement at Media Bugs. Image via Creative Commons from Isolino Ferreira.

Anti-fear election spot

JT has had enough with fear-driven election ads, so here's "a little 30 second blipvert lifting heavily from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the RGA's own 'Remember November' campaign."

Vote Hope (Thanks, JT!)

Caffeine Kills

caffeine_sucks.jpg What is the lethal level of caffeine consumption? Apparently, it's somewhere below "spoonfuls" of a caffeine supplement that a British man purchased over the Internet. Papers around the world are abuzz (sorry) about the death-by-stimulant of Michael Lee Bedford. The recommended dose on the packet is 1/16th of a teaspoon--I know I have my 1/16th teaspoon measure handy at all times--and he took substantially more. The accounts of the coroner's inquest say his consumption was 70 times the amount found in an energy drink. He even washed down the caffeine powder with an energy drink. He became ill nearly immediately, and died shortly afterwards. Add this to a report in my state of Washington of a party in Roslyn October 9th, when a dozen mostly college students were sent to the hospital with what appeared to be poisoning. The suspicion initially was that someone had slipped roofies or the equivalent into the alcohol. A few days ago, however, the toxicology reports came back and pinned the blame on Four Loko, a caffeine-enhanced malt liquor with 12-percent alcohol. The caffeine apparently masks the effects of the liquor packed into a 23.5-ounce container. It and similar beverages, some sold by major brewers, are nicknamed "blackout in a can," and try to leverage the way in which some people binge drink by following alcohol with Red Bull. I'm starting to develop a list of things that were either unavailable when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, or I was simply too naive to be aware, that I now need to be sure my kids are aware of. When I grew up, making most stupid mistakes with commonly available products didn't lead readily to death. Unless I really was naive. Image via Creative Commons from Bryan Gosline.

DIY Hallowe'en Costumes: Ghost Rider Johnny Angel


In the voluminous Boing Boing DIY Hallowe'en Costume thread, a reader says,

Favorite Halloween costume a couple of years ago for my son was Ghost Rider Johnny Angel. My son wanted to give each house a present, so the night before we spent making paper flowers on pipe cleaners. We made angel wings out of cardboard, broke open a pillow and glued feathers all of them, put him in a leather jacket and a skull mask.

So, then, my husband playing his accordion, I would sing "Johnny Angel" as my son went up to the door of each house with his bucket of paper flowers, and my son would make a gift of one of the flowers to the household. He was so thrilled giving out those paper flowers.

Image here.

Read the rest

A Close Look at Apple's Letterpress Cards

apple_letterpress_macro.jpg Apple embraced its inner Martha Stewart by adding a letterpress option for ordering photo cards from its iPhoto '11 software. The cards are printed in bulk by letterpress with one of a handful of standard designs, and then surprinted on a high-end electrographic system (cough, fancy laser printing) with text and photos. I took photos of a set of samples that Apple sent me of the cards, and some close-ups of the one I liked best to show the debossing (printing pushed into the thick paper). The letterpress work is first rate, but the textured paper doesn't hold laser printing well. The type is spaced oddly between characters--in the parlance, poorly kerned--and looks rather blocky. The cards also have rather trite designs, necessary for mass sales, I suppose. The best is a non-denominational tree (one could argue it's pagan, even) in three colors. It's an odd notion that to get the feeling of authenticity, you're purchasing a mass-produced artisanal item. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that. Letterpress was a commercial art in the past, and now is rather twee and nostalgic, while also requiring the use of metal, oil, ink, and power.

BB commentor fixes hideous Boo Berry cereal illo


Yesterday I posted that awful Boo Berry illustration with the weird lip skin flap. As John Park said: It probably "started as a Fred Flintstone-style pushed upper lip that someone had no clue about as they did the pseudo 3D version."

In the comments BB reader Angry Jim said: "I do not approve of making 2d characters 3d, but if you MUST, at least do it right. I spent a couple minutes in Photoshop and repainted that box. Here's how it SHOULD look. You can tell in that side by side what a travesty the old one was. He looked like a fish!"