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Watch Shuttle Endeavour's final return to earth tonight, at Kennedy Space Center

Above, a video embed for SpaceFlightNow's coverage of Shuttle Endeavour's landing tonight. You can track the trajectory live, using Google Earth—so cool.

Image below, via NASA TV: "This map shows the path space shuttle Endeavour will take to the shuttle landing facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its landing Wednesday at 2:35 a.m. EDT. " Here's the NASA main shuttle mission web page, with updates; SpaceFlightNow also has good coverage in a liveblog with frequent updates.

Here's wishing our astronauts a great landing; welcome home.

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Pentagon has list of "cyber-weapons" for use in computer warfare

At the Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima has a story this evening about a list of cyber-weapons and tools (for instance, malware with which to attack an enemy state's infrastructure networks) for computer warfare. The list of capabilities is classified, and has been in use for several months. Other US agencies, including the CIA, have approved it, and the list is now of the Pentagon's set of weapons or "fires" approved for use against an adversary. Snip:

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"So whether it's a tank, an M-16 or a computer virus, it's going to follow the same rules so that we can understand how to employ it, when you can use it, when you can't, what you can and can't use," a senior military official said.

The integration of cyber-technologies into a formal structure of approved capabilities is perhaps the most significant operational development in military cyber-doctrine in years, the senior military official said.

The framework clarifies, for instance, that the military needs presidential authorization to penetrate a foreign computer network and leave a cyber-virus that can be activated later. The military does not need such approval, however, to penetrate foreign networks for a variety of other activities. These include studying the cyber-capabilities of adversaries or examining how power plants or other networks operate. Military cyber-warriors can also, without presidential authorization, leave beacons to mark spots for later targeting by viruses, the official said.

List of cyber-weapons developed by Pentagon to streamline computer warfare (WaPo)

YouTube unblocks video of 13yo Syrian boy allegedly tortured, killed by government thugs

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YouTube has reinstated access to a graphic, horrifying video of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, a 13-year-old child who is reported to have been tortured, castrated, and killed by Syrian government thugs after being separated from his mother and father at an April protest against the Assad regime. A link to the video is here; it is extremely disturbing and not appropriate for viewing by children. The video was apparently blocked by YouTube due to its shocking content, then unblocked after reporters and human rights advocates petitioned YouTube administrators.

The boy's corpse was returned to his family a month after his arrest. As The Nation reports, they "risked their lives to produce the video."

The New York Times reports that his father was detained after the video went public, and he has since been missing.

The New York Times describes the video:

But the remains themselves testify all too clearly to ghastly torture. Video posted online shows his battered, purple face. His skin is scrawled with cuts, gashes, deep burns and bullet wounds that would probably have injured but not killed. His jaw and kneecaps are shattered, according to an unidentified narrator, and his penis chopped off.
More from The Nation:

By Tuesday, however, the video that shot from the web to Al Jazeera to the streets of Syria -- where people marched carrying signs emblazoned with the deceased child's portrait -- had been blocked on YouTube, the very site where it first launched. The temporary blockage of the brutal video, which YouTube has since restored, is another reminder that the same social media platforms which help spread protests can also seriously hinder activists.

Read the rest

Yelp review for $8 billion Kansas Abortionplex (after the viral Onion article on same)

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Remember the (fictitious, funny) Onion article "Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex"? Now the famed Abortionplex is on Yelp. Free nachos and mojitos after your partial birth abortion, with a Yelp discount code! As noted in a previous Boing Boing post, many people believe the Abortionplex (and other Onion coverage) is real. I can't wait for the credulous Fox News coverage to kick in.

Here's one recent review:

Everyone loves Abortionplex, but true fans know that the real magic is found in the secret menu. A 2x3 lets you sandwich in movie screenings at the theater before, between and after ridding yourself of potential twins. An 8x8? Spend your day easily breezing from Octomom to Oscars noms. Hold the butter on that popcorn though - you're not eating for 9 anymore!

Tell your doc you want The Flying Dutchman if you want to squeeze your abortion appointment in between two pieces of meat, if you know what I mean, and let's face it, you always know what I mean.

But real pros know that nothing satisfies your hunger for an empty uterus quite as much as well as Animal Style. In this iteration of the classic abortion, after the doctor perfectly vacuums the contents of your uterus, she then fills it with a secret sauce filled with tiny unicorns which will trot around poking holes in your uterine lining and preventing zygotes from taking hold for at least 6 months. But let's face it, even if you're already filled to the brim with tiny unicorns and think you won't be abortion-hungry again for a while, you know you'll be poking around Abortionplex tomorrow on your lunch break. It's too good to stay away!

(thanks, Susannah!)

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PBS Hack and LulzSec: Xeni on The Madeleine Brand Radio Show

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Audio: MP3 Download.

I joined "The Madeleine Brand Show" today for a discussion about the marathon hack of PBS.org by a group calling itself LulzSec, or The Lulz Boat. They've published what they claim was the method used: in short, vulnerabilities in Movable Type, and related weaknesses.

As noted here on Boing Boing in previous posts, the hack was said to be in retaliation for the PBS Frontline "Wikisecrets" documentary, which was perceived by Wikileaks advocates (and whoever LulzSec is) to be unfair to the secrets-leaking organization and to accused leaker Bradley Manning.

Taking a news organization effectively offline to protest the content of its coverage is not exactly supporting free speech—but this was about lulz, not logic. And as I said on Twitter when news of the attack first broke: PBS doesn't operate like CNN or Fox News, with a centralized news production process. Attacking PBS like this because one episode of one show wasn't A+ is like firebombing an entire grocery store because one apple you bit was bad.

Of course, unlike a firebombing, PBS will recover just fine. While the hack was ongoing last night, the organization coped by publishing to Tumblr and interacting more directly on Twitter with viewers. But a bunch of poor IT admins at PBS HQ, and affiliate stations around the country whose logins and passwords were exposed, probably had a really crappy Memorial Day (and will have a lot of cleanup and stress in weeks ahead). None of this helps Wikileaks, Manning, or journalism.

From the show overview:

After hacking PBS.org, Lulzsec posted fake news stories, including one claiming Tupac was alive and living in New Zealand. They also exposed the site's inner workings and posted the login information for PBS member stations across the country.

Boing Boing followed the story closely. First, the hackers posted a story about how Tupac Shakur is still alive. Then the hackers hacked the PBS statement in response to the hack. And recently, the hackers released a statement, documenting how they carried out the operation.

Hackers attack PBS website over Wikileaks documentary (The Madeleine Brand Show, SCPR)

This Guy Has My Macbook: to catch a laptop thief, in photos (update: CAUGHT!)

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Joshua Kaufman says his laptop was stolen, and that it looks like this guy in the photo above has it. Now, the tumblr equivalent of a slow-speed freeway police chase: thisguyhasmymacbook.tumblr.com. The software helping to surveil and document the apparent thief is called Hidden.

On March 21, 2011, my MacBook was stolen from my apartment in Oakland, CA. I reported the crime to the police and even told them where it was, but they can't help me due to lack of resources. I'm currently in the process of contacting the mayor's office. Meanwhile, I'm using the awesome app, Hidden, to capture these photos of this guy who has my MacBook.

UPDATE: They caught him, and the stolen Macbook is going back home! May 31, 8:37 PM PST.

ARRESTED! An Oakland police officer just called me to let me know that they arrested the guy in my photos! BOOYA! The police used my evidence (email which pointed to a cab service) that he was a driver and tricked him into picking them up. Nice work OPD!

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Below, a final photo snapped of the apparent thief, sleeping next to the MacBook before he goes to the pokey.

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Read the rest

Lodsys files lawsuits against app developers

Lodsys has followed through on its threat to file lawsuits against iOS app developers who used certain features of Apple's development platform. Apple claims its own license covers devs; Lodsys disagrees in a new statement of its own. In any case, it had already described a strategy of attacking small businesses that cannot afford legal representation, forcing them into the relatively inexpensive option of paying licensing fees.

The World Health Organization, cell phones, and cancer—what's actually going on

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Today, I was surprised to see posts popping up on Twitter implying that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research into Cancer had declared radiation from cell phones to be a cancer risk. As you've read here before, and as sources like the National Cancer Institute have reported, the evidence linking cell phone use and cancer risk is actually pretty slim. So I was waiting to hear about some new study or analysis. Instead, it looks like this is really a story about context.

If you don't have the context, it's easy to look at the headlines and assume that the WHO just told you to stop using your cell phone. But, add context, and the news looks very different. In fact, with context in place, it appears the WHO isn't saying cell phones are dangerous, and isn't saying anything you haven't heard before.

Science blogger Ed Yong works for Cancer Research UK. He wrote up a very nice explanation of what the WHO announcement really means.

It means that there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer, but it is too weak to make any strong conclusions. Specifically, IARC's panel said that the evidence that mobile phones pose a health risk was "limited" for two types of brain tumours - glioma and acoustic neuroma - and "inadequate" when it comes to other types of cancer.

The Chairman of the group, Dr Jonathan Samet, said, "The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk."

IARC classifies different things according to whether they are likely to cause cancer, from tobacco to viruses to certain jobs. They are the gold standard for this sort of thing. They have five possible categories of risk:

Group 1 is the highest, reserved for things like smoking, asbestos, alcohol and so on. It means that there's extremely strong evidence that the thing in question causes cancer.

Group 2A includes things that are "probably carcinogenic to humans". Here, the evidence is "limited" in humans, but "sufficient" from animal studies.

Group 2B - this is the one that mobile phones now fall under - means something is "possibly carcinogenic to humans". It means there is "limited evidence" that something causes cancer in people, and even the evidence from animal studies is "less than sufficient". Group 2B means that there is some evidence for a risk but it's not that convincing. This group ends up being a bit of a catch-all category, and includes everything from carpentry to chloroform.

Basically, this is where we start talking about semantics, and the difference between official, bureaucratic categories and how people actually talk about risk in everyday life. When you hear someone say, "Using your cell phone probably won't give you cancer. The evidence supporting that idea is very weak," they are, more or less, saying the same thing that the World Health Organization is saying. Only the WHO has also added the (very reasonable) assertion that more research is needed if we want to say anything definitive about cell phones and cancer.

Image: Hello Operator, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from derekolson's photostream

Early 20th century solar panel

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This GE demonstration project powered a small motor and was built before 1939.

Via GE's Tumblr

What is a jellyfish?

Steven Haddock of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (let's all pause a moment to reflect on kismet of that surname/job combination) made this video about the wide world of creatures that we call "jellyfish." It's a great summary of the extreme diversity encompassed under one, catch-all name, and does a really nice job of explaining relationships between different species and families of jelly-like creatures.

And let's not discount the stop-and-gawk value. Check out 1:27 for a Hydromedusae that looks strikingly like Darth Vader's helmet. You'll also meet shell-less snails, jelly worms of the sort you don't find at the candy store, and even colony-dwelling creatures thousands of individuals strong.

Video Link

Video of waterspouts off Australia

Seen here is amazing video recorded yesterday of waterspouts off Australia's New South Wales coast. Waterspouts are a columnar vortex, often in the form of a tornado, occurring over a body of water. They're sometimes thought to be responsible for Fortean "falls," such as fish or frogs dropping from the sky onto dry ground. "Dramatic water tornado appears off Australia coast" (The Telegraph)

Politics + science = fun

Just because science sounds silly doesn't mean it's worthless. MSNBC's Alan Boyle breaks down recent political attempts to attack the National Science Foundation. TL;DR: Yes, the jello wrestling at an Antarctic research station was a mistake, but funding a towel-folding robot is actually important and not really a major drain on the federal budget.

ADAPT: An interview with Tim Harford and an excerpt from his new book

Tim Harford is a Financial Times columnist and the presenter of Radio 4′s More or Less, which won the Royal Statistical Society’s 2010 award for statistical excellence in broadcast journalism. He is also the author of several books, including The Undercover Economist.

Cory Doctorow: First of all, some context — what’s the thesis of Adapt, and how does it refine, extend or improve upon The Undercover Economist?

Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist was a book about the economic principles behind everyday life, from the way Starbucks prices drinks to the rise of China. Adapt isn’t primarily an economics book at all — it’s a book about how complex problems are solved. (If ideas from economics help, great. But sometimes they don’t.)

That said, the two books start from a very similar place: describing the amazing complexity of the economy that produces the everyday objects which surround us. In Undercover it was a cappuccino, and in Adapt I describe a memorable project in which a student called Thomas Thwaites attempts to build a simple toaster from scratch. But in Adapt this complexity isn’t just a cause for a “wow, cool” moment — it’s a headache, because it’s a measure of the obstacles facing anyone who wants to solve problems in this very intricate, interconnected world.

Ultimately Adapt argues that the only way forward is experimentation, which can either be formal or ad hoc. Whether we’re talking about poverty in Nigeria or innovation in Boston, solutions tend to evolve rather than be designed in some burst of awesome genius. And then the question is — what do we need to encourage those experiments?

Read the rest

Meanwhile, scientists are still debating arsenic-based life

Scientists don't get bored with a question just because the press does. Last December, research claiming to have found evidence of "arsenic-based life" on Earth touched off a firestorm of controversy, as many scientists weighed in, via blogs and magazines, on why they thought the research, and its conclusions, were flawed.

Last week, the debate moved into traditional science media, as the journal Science, which published the arsenic life paper, published eight critiques of it, as well as a response to the critiques by the authors of the original paper. One of the critiques was written by Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist who was also one of the first scientists to post a critique of arsenic life in blog form.

These critiques don't completely end the debate. The original researchers recently released their ostensibly arsenic-based bacteria to other scientists, who will now try to replicate the results. But the critiques have changed the discussion in some subtle, and important, ways. For instance, New Scientist and The Washington Post pointed out that, in responding to the critiques, the original researchers have changed their conclusions from having found "proof" to having produced a "viable interpretation." In other words, they haven't backed down, but they have copped to being less certain.

Viktor Wynd's cabinet of curiosities shop

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On a recent trip to London, Strange Attractor's Mark Pilkington introduced me to Viktor Wynd, a curator and proprietor of The Last Tuesday Society/Little Shop of Horrors, a fantastic gallery cum wunderkammer in London's East End. Upstairs is the art gallery, while the dark basement is packed -- and I mean stuffed, to the point of total claustrophobia -- with countless curiosities, from odd stuffed beasts to bizarre books, a box of the Rolling Stones' rubbers to a sealed box allegedly containing some of the darkness that Moses brought upon the Egyptions in Exodus. It's not always clear whether Wynd's place is a museum or a shop. And in many ways, that's the point. Fortean Times' Richard Freeman paid him a visit (photo by Etienne Gilfillan):
“I wanted to see how a contemporary wunderkammer might look,” he says. Was it meant to be a sort of successor to the late, lamented Potter’s Museum of Curiosities?

“I think we’re more of an homage to childhood memories of the Pitt Rivers, the Horniman Museum and the John Soane Museum,” he says, “Although in my mind it’s really a miniature version of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, or Peter the Great’s cabinet of curiosities.”

So we find a collection of skulls from the victims of Dayak head hunters in Borneo, some dating back to the 12th century. The oldest human skull in the shop is a partially fossilised 10,000-year-old specimen from Papua New Guinea, with a section missing where the fatal axe met the bone.

Just as impressive is one of only two shrunken heads of a Caucasian in Europe. No one knows who the moustachioed white man was, a missionary or an explorer, but he met his end in Ecuador over 100 years ago. Now his scalp and face, shrunken with hot sand, sit in a jar, eyes and mouth sewn shut. Many of the exhibits remind us of our own mortality – perhaps none more so than the preserved erect penis of a man hanged 300 years ago.

"Viktor Wynd and his Little Shop of Horrors"