Boing Boing 

Proposed law prohibits TSA employees from dressing like cops


The STRIP Act, proposed in the US House of Reps, would require TSA employees to stop dressing like police officers, because they aren't cops, and when they give orders to travellers, travellers assume that these are the orders of real law enforcement officers, rather than minor bureaucrats:

The bill, which has drawn 29 co-sponsors in the few weeks since it was introduced, would prohibit any TSA employee "who has not received federal law enforcement training or is not eligible for federal law enforcement benefits from using the official job title of officer, or wearing a metal badge resembling a police badge or a uniform resembling the uniform of a federal law enforcement officer."

A TSA official said the badge and uniform represent "the professionalism of our employees and the seriousness of our work."

STRIP Act targets TSA uniform: End 'impersonation' of 'real cops' (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Happy New Year: Plan your safe travel before you're drunk

Happy New Year, Boingers. Have fun tonight, but don't drive drunk. Or tipsy. Or whatever it is you decide to call it when you're inebriated enough that your reflexes and attention aren't operating at top level. Personally, I feel that this is what public transit is for. But if you don't have access to that where you live/party, please designate a driver or look into other transportation options. In some places in the U.S., AAA is offering free transportation services to all comers—whether or not you're a member. It's not available everywhere though. In fact, large swaths of the country are not covered by this program. So don't trust Facebook and just assume you can dial a 1-800 number from wherever you are. Plan ahead! The DOJ has a much-more-comprehensive list of sober ride programs in your area.

When Anonymous met politics


Quinn Norton continues her excellent history of Anonymous for Wired, this time visiting the shift in the movement from pure transgression to political activism, and the way that this played out among Anons themselves:

Anonymous fundamentally produces two things: spectacle and infrastructure hacking. They create scenes the media often can’t resist, but they also tend to be ones that the media isn’t very good at understanding. The rest of the time they create or destroy online infrastructure, much of which never directly gets noticed. Op Payback & Assange combined the two, but were mainly spectacle. None of the attacks disrupted the function of the targeted entities for long, if at all, but that was missed by much of the media, who instead confused people into believing that they wouldn’t be able to use their Visa or MasterCards to buy gas or groceries, thanks to Anonymous.

Anonymous 101 Part Deux: Morals Triumph Over Lulz

The truth is the best bullshit

Instapaper developer Marco Arment nails three companies -- Apple, Google and Facebook -- for spreading bullshit. "Everyone has their bullshit," he writes. "You can simply decide whose you’re willing to tolerate."

Percolate's Noah Brier, however, takes issue with one of Marco's picks; namely, Facebook's claim that "users want to interact with brands." Brier believes that it's true, and offers some evidence why it is so.

It's easy to get snarled up arguing over branding, advertising and whether people like it, hate it, or just play along. But even if Brier is right, I think he's missed the point.

There's a reason Marco calls these slogans "bullshit" instead of "lies." It's because there's a subtle difference between the two. Bullshit creates a particular impression regardless of the truth, whereas lies are explicitly untrue. If you look at each of the items in his list, you'll see that all of them are just as true, literally speaking, as the one that Brier pointed out.

What makes them bullshit is the context—in this case, the economic incentives that each of the three companies have to select these literal truths as marketing messages. Marco's intention, if he'll forgive me for presuming, is surely to point out that each of these messages serve to mislead consumers, not that they are untrue in an absolute sense.

For example, Android is certainly an open-source operating system, and its success is of great value to the free and open-source software movement. Google's incentive to develop it, however, is to increase advertising revenues, a core business which benefits when users disregard their privacy. Moreover, most Android installations are mucked around with by cellular carriers, whose track record on consumer rights is appalling. To those concerned about these issues, Android is a trojan horse for privacy invasion and corporate surveillance. This makes "Android is open" bullshit when aimed, as a marketing slogan, at consumers who could not care less about the context where it's actually true.

It's also true that Apple's app-review rules are in everyone's best interests -- so long as you agree with Apple's definition of our best interests. But Apple's taste in UI convention, inoffensiveness and so on is not shared by all. It's a combination that serves its bottom line: "make good apps, devs, but not ones that make us look bad or compete with us!"

The best example (of bullshit encapsulated by a literal truth) is another of those Marco attributes to Facebook: "We value your privacy."

I can hear your outraged scoffs, but think about it. Of course Facebook values our privacy. It knows exactly how much it's worth. So it's only natural that the users it loves to talk about are the ones who love to interact with "brands".

Bullshit [Marco]
On Bullshit [Percolate]
On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt [Amazon]

London, eerily empty on Christmas morning


Every year, Ian takes to the streets of London early on Christmas Morning to photograph the normally thronged streets in their state of eerie emptiness. The project was inspired by the scenes of empty London in the film 28 Days Later. He's posted his third set, from this year's Christmas.

Photos of an Empty London on Christmas Morning (via MeFi)

EA, Sony, Nintendo pull support from SOPA (but their industry association still supports it)

EA and Nintendo and Sony's electronics divisions have renounced their support of the disastrous Stop Online Piracy Act, but their industry association, the Entertainment Software Alliance, still supports it.

However, all three companies are members of the Entertainment Software Association, a group that still remains aligned to SOPA. Although their individual express support of the bill has been removed, these companies still back it by virtue of their association with the ESA. Until the ESA backs off, these companies are still in. They ostensibly went from backing it twice to backing it once.

While it's great to see that companies are realizing SOPA support looks bad for them, simply hiding that support isn't quite as good as actively removing it. These three companies, along with every single publisher on this list, are still culpable for SOPA, and if they respect their audiences, they'd do well to stop.

EA, Nintendo, Sony reduce SOPA support by 50% (via Reddit)

ACLU fights Kafkaesque secret Occupy Boston Twitter subpoena

The ACLU of Massachusetts is representing an anonymous Twitter user who has been targetted by an Assistant DA who is trying to build a case related to Occupy Boston; the court and the ADA have sealed the proceedings, so no one -- not even some of the ACLU staff working on the case -- is allowed to know what is going on:

I had gone to court to listen to our legal team argue a case to protect the First Amendment rights of our client, Twitter user @p0isAn0n, aka Guido Fawkes. That user, who wishes to remain anonymous throughout the proceedings, was the target of a Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney’s administrative subpoena to Twitter, dated December 14, 2011. As we wrote last week, the subpoena asked Twitter to hand over @p0isAn0n’s subscriber information, including our client’s IP address, which can be used to help track down someone’s physical residence...

The known knowns: the scrum of lawyers, defense and prosecution, addressed the judge. I saw the judge speak to the lawyers. Then I saw our attorneys return to their bench, closer to where I was sitting, out of earshot of the sidebar. But the ADA stayed with the judge. He spoke to her, with his back to the courtroom, for about ten minutes. Our attorneys didn’t get to hear what he said to her, didn’t have a chance to respond to whatever the government was saying about our client, about the case. It was frankly shocking.

After those ten minutes of secret government-judge conversation, our attorneys were invited back to the sidebar, whereupon the scrum of lawyers spoke with the judge for another ten or fifteen minutes. Then they dispersed. The judge uttered not one word to the open court. And that was it.

Stunned, I followed a group of reporters outside and listened as Attorney Krupp attempted to answer their questions. It was then I realized that the judge had impounded all the court records related to the case, and mandated complete secrecy governing the proceedings. The public wasn’t even to know whether our motion to quash had been approved or denied.

WTF? (What the Fawkes?) (Thanks, Joy!)

Bohn Aluminum's hypermodernist futuristic wartime ads


Here's a gallery of advertisements from the Bohn Aluminium and Brass Corporation, illustrated in super-modernist, streamlined style by Arthur Radebaugh. They run the gamut from future farms to future vehicles to exploded engine diagrams, with monorails and super-jumbos and transparent curvy refrigerators for all. They're full of wartime pluck, with ad copy like, "When peace is established, a great variety of new products for the housewife will be forthcoming. One of these will be a new refrigerator... When Victory comes, Bohn will continue such work as designing new refrigerator parts..."

Imaging the Future, Arthur Radebaugh, Bohn Aluminium and Brass Corporation, advertisements (via How to Be a Retronaut)

War on General Purpose Computing auf Deutsch

Christian Wöhrl has produced a German translation of my 28C3 talk, The Coming War on General Purpose Computing. Thanks, Christian!

Claude Coats, the background artist who made the Haunted Mansion feel infinite


Long Forgotten, the world-beatingly insightful blog on the history and design of the Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and other parks, has a new lavishly illustrated post up, this one on the contribution of background artist Claude Coats. HBG2, the site's author, makes a compelling case for Coats' draftsmanship and sense of depth and detail being the clinching element of the Mansion's design, the thing that makes it seem so much bigger and realer than it has any right to be. I once read FoxxFur, the blogger at the equally awesome Passport2Dreams Old and New describe the Mansion as a series of scenes in a giant, empty box (contrasting with the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is really a series of towns and scenes that fill the whole ride-space -- but the Mansion feels like it goes on and on, like you could jump out of your vehicle and get lost in its depths.

Coats was one of the artists Walt pulled out of the studio to work on Disneyland as it neared completion. He had studied architecture as well as painting, and he seemed a natural pick for designing the interiors of dark rides, starting with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Among other things, Coats had a knack for squeezing an amazing amount of ride into a ridiculously small space. He and Ken Anderson must be given the lion's share of credit for Toad. The precise extent of Coats's contributions to the other two 1955 originals, Snow White and Peter Pan, is less clear, but there seems to be little doubt that he participated. Later dark rides in which he was heavily involved include Alice in Wonderland and Adventure Thru Inner Space (which was practically all Coats; notice that there are no characters in ATIS)...

Besides the sheer scale, another difference in this work was the mixture of 2D and 3D. Coats was now doing background paintings with bulges, a sort of bas-relief. He quickly showed himself a master of this technique. This Peter Pan shot is modern (hat tip Daveland), but it preserves the illusioneering Coats and Anderson pioneered at Disney, layering shallow, three-dimensional models against flat paintings...

Every time you feel that strange urge to wander into the labyrinthian depths of the Haunted Mansion and be lost (the pull is especially strong in the first half), that's Claude Coats the background painter, leaving your very self to supply the missing character cell.

We tend to think of immersive environments (especially the Disney ones) as being all about the robotics, character design, sound and ride systems, but the backgrounds are what really make the experience.

Long-Forgotten: Claude Coats: The Art of Deception and the Deception of Art

Sir Jonathan Ive

Apple's design chief, Jonathan Ive, is named a Knight Commander in Britain's new year's honours list. [BBC]

Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election


[Video Link] Here's a great video from Big Think by Penn Jillette called "An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election."

I have tried with friends to say the most blasphemous sentence I can possibly say and it does not come close to the blasphemy of Michelle Bachman saying that earthquakes and hurricanes were the way God was trying to get the attention of politicians.

Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election

Pound On My Muffin (NSFW language, cupcakes)

Behold the inexplicable Shira Miss Muffin, who appears to be Pittsburgh's answer to Rebeccah Black. [Thanks, Heather! Thanks a lot.]

60beat GamePad controller plugs into iOS sound jack


[Video Link] This $50 controller looks cool, and the man in the video seems much nicer than Paul Christoforo. 60beat GamePad controller

Inside the Apple archives at Stanford Libraries

In 1997, Apple gifted the Stanford University Libraries its historical collections of paperwork, hardware, software, artifacts, and other materials documenting the organization since Woz and Jobs founded it in 1976. The Associated Press toured the collection. No, it's not available for public viewing.

Marvel's lawyers get into fanboy flamewar with IRS about human-status of its mutants

A classic fanboy-type argument has real-world tax implications. If the IRS decrees that Marvel's comic book mutants are human, then Marvel will have to pay more taxes.

In the non-fictional world, our world, Marvel is taking the position that mutants are not humans at all. But this isn’t an ideological or a moral stance. Instead, it is a financial one. Toys manufactured in other countries and imported into the US are subject to taxes, but those taxes are lower if the toys represent non-human characters. That has led to Marvel lawyers arguing that an action figure representing, say, Wolverine, is actually “representing animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters).” This argument leads to a good conversation on the questions of humanity and acceptance that have long been part of the X-Men storyline.

Perhaps Marvel can tape a small styrofoam cube to its characters to skirt the rules.

Real-Life Weirdness: Marvel Lawyers Insist Mutants Aren’t Human (Via Neatorama)

Tea infuser meets junkbot


Now in the Boing Boing Shop, the Robot Tea Infuser, because tea is always better with robots.

Now more than ever, it's time to pull your domains from GoDaddy

Todd Wasserman of Mashable says "It's time to cut GoDaddy a Break." Marco Arment (creator of the fabulous Instapaper) disagrees:
Even if you’re OK with their support of SOPA, their sexist and tasteless commercials, and their elephant-killing CEO, they’re still a terrible registrar: their upselling is misleading, sneaky, and sleazy, their control panel is horrendously confusing, slow, and buggy (like the rest of their site), their DNS servers are unreliable and randomly ignore changes you make, their support is terrible, and they often block outbound transfers for no apparent reason. They don’t deserve “a break”.
Now more than ever, it's time to pull your domains from GoDaddy

Chocolate hat of the day


Photo: Aly Song, with Reuters

Friday Freak-Out: The 13th Floor Elevators perform "You're Gonna Miss Me"

Friday Freak-Out: The 13th Floor Elevators performing "You're Gonna Miss Me" on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in 1966. The track is available on the essential album "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators."

MIT and the future of open-source education

MIT has long offered thousands of undergrad and graduate level course materials for free online. This month, they announced plans to significantly update and expand that effort, creating an open-source education system called MITx that will basically allow anyone to virtually take an MIT class, participate in laboratories, and get individual assessment on whether or not they've learned the material. The school even has plans—not fully worked out yet—to offer some kind of certificate of completion to people who take classes this way and can show that they've mastered the subject. MITx will open in spring of 2012. I'm looking forward to checking out this great resource! (Thanks to Chris Hayden!)

Why tornadoes and hailstorms are more common during the workweek

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A new study suggests that in the summertime, tornadoes and hailstorms in the eastern US occur significantly more often during the middle of the week. Why? There's more pollution during the workweek due to commuting and other factors. From National Geographic:

…Moisture gathers around specks of pollutants, which leads to more cloud droplets. Computer models suggest these droplets get lofted up to higher, colder air, leading to more plentiful and larger hail.

Understanding how pollution can generate more tornadoes is a bit trickier. First, the large icy particles of hail that pollutants help seed possess less surface area than an equal mass of smaller "hydrometeors"—that is, particles of condensed water or ice.

As such, these large hydrometeors evaporate more slowly, and thus are not as likely to suck heat from the air. This makes it easier for warm air to help form a "supercell," the cloud type that usually produces tornadoes and large hail...

The pollution-storm pattern is not seen in the western U.S. because the air is too dry and the cloud masses too high and cold for air pollution to influence weather the same way, said study co-author Daniel Rosenfeld, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

Overall, the research "provides yet another good reason for reducing air pollution," Rosenfeld said.

"Why Tornadoes Take the Weekends Off in Summer"

Bukkakepool

The English seaside resort of Blackpool is currently coated in a mysterious white gunge, blowing in from the Atlantic ocean on storm-force winds. "We know it happens occasionally and can disappear again quite quickly so we will be looking further into what triggers it," said a spokesman for Britain's Environment Agency.

Stephen Hawking needs a new technician

Maintain
Sam Blackburn is the technician who for five years kept Stephen Hawking's communication systems running. Now Hawking is looking for a new Technical Assistant. To get a sense of the job, New Scientist interviewed Blackburn.

 Hawking Stephen's voice is very distinctive, but you say there might be a problem retaining it?

I guess the most interesting thing in my office is a little grey box, which contains the only copy we have of Stephen's hardware voice synthesizer. The card inside dates back to the 1980s and this particular one contains Stephen's voice. There's a processor on it which has a unique program that turns text into speech that sounds like Stephen's, and we have only two of these cards. The company that made them went bankrupt and nobody knows how it works any more. I am trying to reverse engineer it, which is quite tricky.

Can't you update it with a new synthesizer?

No. It has to sound exactly the same. The voice is one of the unique things that defines Stephen in my opinion. He could easily change to a voice that was clearer, perhaps more soothing to listen to – less robotic sounding – but it wouldn't be Stephen's voice any more.

"The man who saves Stephen Hawking's voice" (New Scientist)

"Think you could be the next Technical Assistant?" (hawking.org.uk)

Printer malware: print a malicious document, expose your whole LAN

One of the most mind-blowing presentations at this year's Chaos Communications Congress (28C3) was Ang Cui's Print Me If You Dare, in which he explained how he reverse-engineered the firmware-update process for HPs hundreds of millions of printers. Cui discovered that he could load arbitrary software into any printer by embedding it in a malicious document or by connecting to the printer online. As part of his presentation, he performed two demonstrations: in the first, he sent a document to a printer that contained a malicious version of the OS that caused it to copy the documents it printed and post them to an IP address on the Internet; in the second, he took over a remote printer with a malicious document, caused that printer to scan the LAN for vulnerable PCs, compromise a PC, and turn it into a proxy that gave him access through the firewall (I got shivers).

Cui gave HP a month to issue patches for the vulnerabilities he discovered, and HP now has new firmware available that fixes this (his initial disclosure was misreported in the press as making printers vulnerable to being overheated and turning into "flaming death bombs" -- he showed a lightly singed sheet of paper that represented the closest he could come to this claim). He urges anyone with an HP printer to apply the latest patch, because malware could be crafted to take over your printer and then falsely report that it has accepted the patch while discarding it.

Cui's tale of reverse-engineering is a fantastic look at the craft and practice of exploring security vulnerabilities. The cases he imagined for getting malware into printers were very good: send a resume to HR, wait for them to print it, take over the network and pwn the company.

Cui believes that these vulnerabilities are likely present on non-HP printers (a related talk on PostScript hacking lent support to his belief) and his main area of research is a generalized anti-malware solution for all embedded systems, including printers and routers.

Just in case this has scared the hell out of you (as it did me), be assured that there are many lulz to be had, especially when Cui described his interactions with HP, who actually had a firmware flag called "super-secret bypass of crypto-key enabled."

Print Me If You Dare

Lego's old line of toys for girls

 

A couple of weeks ago, Mark told you about Lego's new line of products aimed at girls. It includes new minifigs that look more like dolls and cutesy playsets with names like Heartlake City. This week, Cory introduced you a little girl who is very frustrated with excessively gendered toys.

I played with a lot of Legos when I was a little girl. And, while I certainly liked dolls, that wasn't really what I used Legos for. (And, frankly, going shopping, playing house, and being "just like me" wasn't what I used dolls for. In my experience, games of playing house tend to involve a lot more violent interaction with pirates, Darth Vader, and Nazis than advertising to girls would lead you to suspect. First you put the baby to bed, then you defend her with your mad karate skills, right?) Ads like this old one from 1981 appeal to me a whole lot more than modern girlvertising. I've seen this ad passed around the Internet before. But the contrast with those recent reminders of who advertisers and toymakers think girls are strikes me as particularly timely. 

Thanks, L0!

Interview with jolly old Maurice Sendak



[Video Link] "Go to hell. Go to hell."

Read the rest

BREAKING: U.S. Congress clueless, ignorant

Miller-McCune's Emily Badger:

When members of Congress earlier this month considered the Stop Online Piracy Act — better known to anyone who actually hangs out on the Internet as #SOPA — the most notable feature of the debate turned out to be the sheer ignorance of the elected officials discussing it. One after the other, members of the U.S. House of Representatives professed — nay, bragged about — approaching this weighty legislation from the vantage point of someone who is not “a nerd” or a “tech expert.”

Maybe pride in ignorance of their own legislation is an emotional defense mechanism, related to not having taken a significant role in writing it.

Hurd harassment lawyer letter posted


ILLUSTRATION. Photos: Shutterstock, HP.

All Things D's Arik Hesseldahl posts the lawyer letter that got Mark Hurd fired by HP:

Hurd asked her to stay the night. Fisher’s reply: “Absolutely not. I barely know you and you are my boss.” An hour later, after more alleged pressure from Hurd, Fisher said she wanted to leave and did, the letter said. Asked to dinner with Hurd again the next night, Hurd admitted, the letter said, that he “didn’t handle that right,” but then proceeded to tell her how many women liked him, including the singer Sheryl Crow. Fisher was the lucky one, the letter said Hurd told her.

His new employer, Oracle, points out that the alleged victim recanted her claims the day after receiving a settlement.

Danish company helped Iran with surveillance program that identified journalist who was arrested and tortured

RanTek, a Danish company, is reportedly supplying Iran with censor/spyware technology, which was part of a larger effort that was used to identify a dissident journalist who was arrested and tortured.

Until he was arrested, he worked for Mehr, the official Iranian news agency. He received information from all over the country about protests and demonstrations, information too controversial to be used in the news agent's official work. Instead he published it through other channels, e.g. Facebook. However, after the elections in June 2009, when people took to the streets in protest against Ahmadinejad's election victory, it was clear to the Iranians that the Internet is in no way safe.

Nearly 4000 people were arrested solely on the basis of monitoring of their private internet traffic«, says Farahani.

Now it seems that the Danish company RanTek helps the Iranian regime with the monitoring of the Iranian population. The day before Christmas the Bloomberg news agency reported that the Danish IT company re-packages and sells surveillance equipment to Iran. Ironically, the equipment originally comes from the Israeli manufacturer Allot Communications, which means that the Israelis through a Danish intermediary have helped their mortal enemies.

Eksperter: Dansk firma hjælper med iransk overvågning (Danish)

Danish company helps Iran spy on citizens (English)

(Thanks, Henrik!)