Boing Boing 

Ants that raise insects for meat

It might be time to cross another thing off the list of "Stuff That Only Humans Do." Some researchers think that a species of ants raise other animals (in this case, insects) for the sole purpose of eating those animals. If they're right, it's the first time that this behavior will have been documented in a species other than humans. (There are ants that "milk" other insects, but that's different.) (Via Rowan Hooper)

Video: Dr. Sketchy's Star Wars Anti-Art School Class

[Video Link]

Mark Day of YouTube fame says,

The San Francisco branch of Molly Crabapple's Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School recently offered a nerd-tastic Star Wars-themed life class, of which this video covers just a few of the poses shown. There's also a probably-NSFW 'Special Edition' which features less CGI and more pasties.

Denial of service, sit-ins and the politics of the cloud

Make Magazine's just reprinted my column, "Moral Suasion," in its online edition. It's a discussion of the politics of cloud computing, including denial-of-service attacks against cloud providers who cave to government pressure:
I grew up in the antiwar movement and participated in my first sit-in when I was 12. Sit-ins are a sort of denial of service, but that's not why they work. What they do is convey the message: "I am willing to put myself in harm's way for my beliefs. I am willing to risk arrest and jail. This matters." This may not be convincing for people who strongly disagree with you, but it makes an impression on people who haven't been paying attention. Discovering that your neighbors are willing to be harmed, arrested, imprisoned, or even killed for their beliefs is a striking thing.

And that's a crucial difference between a DDoS and a sit-in: participants in a sit-in expect to get arrested. Participants in a DDoS do everything they can to avoid getting caught. If you want to draw a metaphor, DDoSers are like the animal rights activists who fill a lab's locks with super glue. This is effective at shutting down your opponent for a good while, but it's a lot less likely to draw sympathy from the public, who can dismiss it as vandalism.

Moral Suasion

(Image: Sit-in "Giornata degli studenti", a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from retestudentimassa's photostream)

Humans aren't the only animals that get stoned

stonedreindeer.jpg

It seems like no matter where you try to draw the line between animals and people, the animals keep sneaking a paw (or hoof) over. They make tools. They have sex for fun. They commit murder. And, says neuroscientist David Linden, they also like to get high.

Animals in the wild will also voluntarily and repeatedly consume psychoactive plants and fungi. Birds, elephants, and monkeys have all been reported to enthusiastically seek out fruits and berries that have fallen to the ground and undergone natural fermentation to produce alcohol. In Gabon, which lies in the western equatorial region of Africa, boars, elephants, porcupines, and gorillas have all been reported to consume the intoxicating, hallucinogenic iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga). There is even some evidence that young elephants learn to eat iboga from observing the actions of their elders in the social group. In the highlands of Ethiopia, goats cut the middleman out of the Starbucks business model by munching wild coffee berries and catching a caffeine buzz.

But do we really know whether these animals like the psychoactive effects of the drug, or are they just willing to put up with them as a side effect of consuming a valuable food source? After all, fermented fruit is a tasty and nutritious meal. While it's hard to dissociate these motivations in animals, many cases suggest that the psychoactive effect is the primary motivator for consumption. Often, only a tiny amount of plant or fungus is consumed, so while its nutritional effect is minuscule its psychoactive effect is large

Perhaps the most dramatic example of nonnutritive animal intoxication is found among domesticated reindeer. The Chuckchee people of Siberia, who are reindeer herders, consume the bright red hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria as a ritual sacrament. Their reindeer also indulge. Having discovered the mushrooms growing wild under the birch trees, they gobble them up and then stagger around in a disoriented state, twitching their heads repeatedly as they wander off from the rest of the herd for hours at a time.

The Compass of Pleasure: Bob Dylan and Siberian Reindeer Agree: Everybody Must Get Stoned

Image: Reindeer Buddies Plush Dolls, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from sassypackratstudios's photostream

Wedway PeopleMover: Disney's retrofuturistic transit system


The Disney Parks blog is featuring some fine opening-year 1975 photos of the Wedway PeopleMover, a "mass transit system"-cum-ride in Tomorrowland that is affectionately called the "PeopleCrusher" after its propensity for squishing ill-advised riders who try to hop into oncoming cars. I've always loved the PeopleCrusher, and these photos do a great job of capturing its curvy, groovy, 1970s futuristic glory.

Vintage Walt Disney World: Head Back to 1975 Aboard the PeopleMover

Nuclear waste at Los Alamos protected by firebreak

Eli Kintisch covers climate and energy issues for Science, the magazine sibling of the peer-reviewed journal of the same name. He's got an update on the situation at Los Alamos National Laboratory that explains a little more about why officials aren't terribly concerned that the nearby forest fire will affect barrels of nuclear waste stored at the site. Shorter version: There's already a firebreak between the fire and Los Alamos "Area G".

While the edge of the fire is only a few dozen meters from the edge of the lab's property, it is roughly 13 km from the most sensitive location, the so-called "Area G." That site is a 63-acre storage facility where thousands of drums of nuclear waste sit, many of which are outdoors.

But between the fire and that site is the remnants of a forest that was largely burned during a horrific 2000 fire on lab property. That fire burned "90%" of the flammable material [Note from Maggie: This is referring to wood, grass, etc. NOT nuclear waste.] from the west side of the lab, says Los Alamos retiree Charles Mansfield, who worked as a physicist at the lab for 17 years and also as a forest firefighter, a so-called smokejumper, for 11 years. Mansfield says he's "not very concerned" about the fire reaching spreading east to Area G.

"It would be very difficult for the fire to get that far," he says. Sometimes embers in a hotly burning fire can be lofted as much as 4 miles to start so-called "spot fires." But this requires a forest burning completely, from the ground to the high branches, he says. The area of forest close enough to have a chance to create the heat and updrafts required to bring the blaze to Area G has already burned, Mansfield contends.

HP TouchPad reviewed

Joshua Topolsky of This is my next reviews the $500 HP Touchpad. WebOS is very promising, he writes, but it's not competitive yet: "the stability and smoothness of the user experience is not up to par with the iPad or something like the Galaxy Tab 10.1, even if many of the underlying ideas are actually a lot better and more intuitive than what the competition offers. That, coupled with the minuscule number of quality apps available at launch make this a bit of a hard sell right now."

Olympus Pen EP-3

1572_1.jpegOlympus's latest Micro 4/3 cameras come in three flavors with new 12.3MP sensors, reengineered autofocus systems, 1080i video and up to ISO 12,800. The flashship EP-3 is predictable fare, but the E-PM1 is very small indeed. They're also releasing two new M. Zuiko Digital ED lenses for the mount: a 24mm-equivalent f2.0 model and a 90mm-equivalent f1.8 one. [Olympus]

Go the Fuck to Shul

LOLvis writes in with a link to Tablet Magazine's Go the Fuck to Shul: "Not only a witty response to criticism of Go the F*ck to Sleep ('Imagine if this were written about Jews'), it's funny enough to stand on its own."
It's Yom Kippur, and you're far away,
The last thing I want's to be cruel.
I'm your mother, son, you know I adore you,
But please go the fuck to shul.

You'd only go for a few hours,
Shorter than a full day of school.
You'll probably run into people you know
If you go the fuck to shul.
Go the F**k to Shul (Thanks, LOLvis!)

Richard Dawkins on vivisection: "But can they suffer?"

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The great moral philosopher Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, famously said,'The question is not, "Can they reason?" nor, "Can they talk?" but rather, "Can they suffer?" Most people get the point, but they treat human pain as especially worrying because they vaguely think it sort of obvious that a species' ability to suffer must be positively correlated with its intellectual capacity. Plants cannot think, and you'd have to be pretty eccentric to believe they can suffer. Plausibly the same might be true of earthworms. But what about cows?

What about dogs? I find it almost impossible to believe that René Descartes, not known as a monster, carried his philosophical belief that only humans have minds to such a confident extreme that he would blithely spreadeagle a live mammal on a board and dissect it. You'd think that, in spite of his philosophical reasoning, he might have given the animal the benefit of the doubt. But he stood in a long tradition of vivisectionists including Galen and Vesalius, and he was followed by William Harvey and many others (See from which this picture is taken).

How could they bear to do it: tie a struggling, screaming mammal down with ropes and dissect its living heart, for example? Presumably they believed what came to be articulated by Descartes: that non-human animals have no soul and feel no pain.

Read the rest

Pirate bath-towel


The Neatorama store has got a particularly deluxe version of the kid's pirate bath-towel, complete with hook, parrot and belt (it's cooler than the one Poesy runs around the house shouting "arrr!" in after bathtimes!).

Pirate - Hooded Towel

Jet-powered wasp: public domain clip-art


The fine Phil Are Go site has done the Internet the favor of close-cropping the jet-powered wasp from a 1952 Saturday Evening Post public domain Shell ad. It's a heck of a nice bit of clip-art!

Pratt & Whitney - A bit waspy.

Free download of Little Brother audiobook

The Random House audiobook edition of my novel Little Brother is a free MP3 download this week through Sync, a program that develops the audience of teen/YA audiobook listeners (it's paired with Kafka's The Trial, which is pretty cool). The file itself can only be downloaded with a proprietary downloader from Overdrive, which I couldn't run under WINE on my GNU/Linux system, so I'm not sure how the process goes, but once you've actually gotten the file, it's yours to keep for personal use as a plain-vanilla MP3 with no DRM.

Car-crash-themed art show opening in NYC this Friday

Burnlab sez, "Detroit-based artist & designer Bethany Shorb's solo gallery show opening at Devotion Gallery in New York this Friday is a culmination of three years of car crash themed work [after a crash that only modern safety engineering allowed her to not to leave this world prematurely] in a variety of media - from screen printing the visages of Isadora Duncan, James Dean & Lady Di on deployed airbags, to quotes from Ballard's "Crash" assembled from car lettering scavenged from junkyards."

Rep.licants.org mostly just sends elizatweets @ people you follow

replicants.jpg Replicants is a service that promises to "enhance your virtual self" by automatically tweeting stuff just like you would. I turned it on for a few hours to see what it actually does, expecting a stream of generic messages roughly aligned with my interests. What it actually does is this: send vague and overly familiar tweets @ people you follow. Neat! But yeah, turning this off now.

MySpace cost Murdoch at least $1B

Ars Technica's Anders Bylund does some guesstimating about the total losses incurred by Newscorp in their purchase of MySpace, coming up with a figure of at least $1B, including operating losses since the acquisition.
So all things considered, MySpace has cost Murdoch's empire something like $1.3 billion. Even if my assumptions are way off, the final cost can't be less than $1 billion. That fiasco isn't putting Murdoch out of business: News Corp turned a $2.9 billion dollar profit in the last four quarters and generated $2.2 billion in free cash flow, for example. But it still stings as Murdoch's dreams of an end-to-end interactive media empire falls apart. And his shareholders have been trailing the broader market as well as rivals Viacom and Disney over those five painful years.
Doing the math on News Corp.'s disastrous MySpace years

Publishing in the Internet era: connecting audiences and works

My latest Guardian column, "Publishers and the internet: a changing role?" looks at how today it's possible to "publish" a work without distributing it, without duplicating it, without doing any more than connecting a work with its audience, sometimes without knowledge (or permission) from the work's creators:
In a world in which producing a work and getting it in front of an audience member was hard, the mere fact that a book was being offered for sale to you in a reputable venue was, in and of itself, an important piece of publishing process. When a book reached a store's shelf, or a film reached a cinema's screen, or a show made it into the cable distribution system, you knew that it had been deemed valuable enough to invest with substantial resources, not least a series of legal agreements and indemnifications between various parties in the value chain. The fact that you knew about a creative work was a vote in its favour. The fact that it was available to you was a vote in its favour.

Partly, this was the imprimatur of the creator and publisher and distributor and retailer, their reputation for selecting/producing works that you enjoy. But partly it was just the implicit understanding that no company would go to all the bother of putting the work in your path unless it was reasonably certain it would recoup. So "publishing" and "printing" and "distributing" all became loosely synonymous.

After all, it was impossible to imagine that a work might be distributed without being printed, and printing things without distributing them was the exclusive purview of sad "self-publishers" who got conned by "vanity presses" into stumping up for thousands of copies of their memoirs, which would then moulder in their basements forever. But just as the internal functions of publishing were separated out at the tail of the last century, this century has seen a separation of selection, duplication, preparation and distribution. Every work on the internet can be "distributed" by being located via a search-engine without ever being selected or duplicated or prepared.

Publishers and the internet: a changing role?