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Letter to Santa from 1911, found in a Dublin chimney

This letter to Santa was written in 1911, and stashed in the chimney of a house in Dublin, from which it was recovered in 1992 by the house's current occupant, John Byrne. The letter, written by "A or H Howard" (a brother-sister team) survived remarkably well, and is very lovely.

“I want a baby doll and a waterproof with a hood and a pair of gloves and a toffee apple and a gold penny and a silver sixpence and a long toffee.”

Dear Santa Letter sent 100 years ago found up chimney

(Photo: Eric Luke)

Recording of coyotes in my neighborhood

I went out to get the mail this evening and my Los Angeles neighborhood coyotes were very excited. They sounded like enraged monkeys! I grabbed the tail end of the event using my iPhone's recorder. Link to MP3

How Computers Work

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Navy kiss seals the year of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" repeal

Washington Post: "With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta was able to win a raffle that gave her the first off-the-ship kiss, a Navy tradition, with her girlfriend of two years, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell."

Visit site for full photo by Brian J. Clark.

Apps for Kids 001: a new Boing Boing podcast

Apps For Kids is a new Boing Boing podcast. It's about iOS apps that are fun for kids and their parents.

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Will America's public domain treasures finally be freed?

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "John Podesta and I have written an open letter to President Obama calling for the creation of a Federal Scanning Commission, tasking this body with developing a strategy for digitizing .gov. Today, we do not scan at scale and there is a huge untapped storehouse buried in federal institutions such as the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, and scores of others. Our open letter is linked to a White House petition. We hope people will consider these issues and sign the petition."

3D printers as teleporters

Anil Dash has a characteristically great, smart noodle on the future of 3D printing, including several provocative ideas (the emnently sensible notion of not reinventing the printer as a platform for selling expensive consumable "ink" is, alas, a little late, and, hurrah, about to be obviated by the expiry of key patents in 2014-16).

The Teleporter: Every 3D printer should seamlessly integrate a 3D scanner, even if it makes the device cost much more. The reason is simple: If you set the expectation that every device can both input and output 3D objects, you provide the necessary fundamentals for network effects to take off amongst creators. But no, these devices are not "3D fax machines". What you've actually made, when you have an internet-connected device that can both send and receive 3D-printed objects, is a teleporter. I know that sci-fi nerds will point out that this is hardly teleportation, since you're cloning the shape of the original object rather than actually sending the original object somewhere. But sci-fi correctness is not nearly as useful for the 3D printing industry as a totally futuristic concept that can get normal people excited. Imagine a simple television ad with a clean, well-designed (not a kit!) device saying "when you lose the wheel for your kid's toy car, her friend can teleport her a replacement".

3D Printing, Teleporters and Wishes

(Image: Makerbot, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from medialab-prado's photostream)

Handmade Music Factory - great DIY book

As a maker of cigar box guitars, Handmade Music Factory is a book I've been waiting for for a long time. It's written by Mike Orr, a professional carpenter and the owner of Built2Last Guitars.

This beautifully produced, full-color book shows you how to make your own musical instruments. Projects include a washtub bass, a soup can diddley bow, an electrified stomp box and washboard, a variety of cigar box guitars, an ironing board lap steel guitar, and an upcycled tape deck amplifier.

Besides including these detailed step-by-step instructions, Orr's book includes profiles of cigar box guitar builders and a large photo gallery of beautiful instruments made by cigar box guitar aficionados. One of my favorites is a banjo made from the hubcap of a Volkswagen.

If you're interested in getting started in building your own musical instruments, or you have built them but would like to learn additional tips and tricks and find out how others have created their own musical instruments, this is a great book.

Handmade Music Factory

Adam Savage on SOPA: "We're better than that"

James sez, "MythBuster Adam Savage joins the growing chorus of opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act."

Honestly, if a friend wrote these into a piece of fiction about government oversight gone amok, I'd have to tell them that they were too one-dimensional, too obviously anticonstitutional.

The Internet is probably the most important technological advancement of my lifetime. Its strength lies in its open architecture and its ability to allow a framework where all voices can be heard. Like the printing press before it (which states also tried to regulate, for centuries), it democratizes information, and thus it democratizes power. If we allow Congress to pass these draconian laws, we'll be joining nations like China and Iran in filtering what we allow people to see, do, and say on the Web.

And we're better than that.

MythBuster Adam Savage: SOPA Could Destroy the Internet as We Know It

(Thanks, James!)

The Wolfe's Den treehouse

[Video Link] MAKE magazine's Derek "Deek" Diedricksen shows how he built this cool treehouse.

This triangular treehouse was assembled in the Catskills over two weekends, and stands as one of the larger projects Deek's tackled for the show. His only given parameters for the design: "It must receive a good deal of natural light, and have enough space to sleep two (floor space)".
In February Deek's new book is coming out. It's called: Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts. See more MAKE videos here

TV hosts turn cannibal for their audience

Dennis Storm and Valerio Zeno, hosts of the Dutch TV show “Preojfkonijen" ("Test Rabbits") ate bits of each other's flesh before a studio audience. There is no report whether it tasted like chicken. From NY Daily News:
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“The punchline of the show is to get really simple answers on stupid questions, such as, ‘Can you shave with ketchup’ or ‘Can you drive blind?’” Storm told “And we wanted to find out how human flesh tasted.”

A chef fried a hunk of Storm’s buttocks, and a piece of Zeno’s abdomen, both carved off earlier by a surgeon, in a pan with sunflower oil, skipping salt and pepper to preserve the meat’s natural taste.

Then the daring duo dug in…

“It was just a few centimeters of meat,” (Storm said). “And now I have a good story about that scar.”

"Television show hosts eat each other’s flesh in front of studio audience"

How To: Wrap a baby in swaddling clothes

There is no excuse for crappy nativity scenes. I can't help you with building the manger, though. Ask Mark.

Video Link

Chinese village evicts police, army, Party officials

The ongoing dispute between villagers in Wukan, Guangdong Province and the government of China has escalated. Villagers have evicted all Communist Party officials, all soldiers and all police. The government forces have blockaded the village, effectively laying siege to the rebels, cutting off their food and water. The dispute began as a conflict over land confiscation, but has grown to encompass other grievances, including the suspicious deaths of activists in police custody in which torture is alleged.

Guangdong province is the engine of China's new economy, home to the factory cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The fast growth and the global economic crisis have whipsawed the region, sending literally millions of workers back to the countryside as factories closed overnight, even as new millionaires were minted by boomlets and stock-market bubbles. The frontier attitude of the region has given rise to legendary local corruption as well.

Chinese Authorities Lose Control as Village Revolts

Honey, we have a problem

UPDATE: Hey guys, I screwed up on this one. NPR points out that the story I wrote about here is pretty heavily biased, produced by a website that's run by a law firm specializing in food poisoning cases. And the claims made here don't line up with evidence. Apologies. I normally manage to avoid being suckered in by stuff like this, but we all have bad days. Thanks to those in the comments who pointed out the flaws.

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Turn air miles into train miles

Do you like trains? Do you have a lot of Continental Airlines OnePass miles? Until December 31st, you can turn those air miles into Amtrak GuestRewards points. There are certainly some people this wouldn't make sense for, but I know some of you will be interested, so I thought I'd post it. Call the Continental service center at 713-952-1630 to make the switch. (Thanks to my Twitter Train Buddy rstevens!)

TOM THE DANCING BUG: So... You've Been Indefinitely Detained! Helpful Information From Your U.S. Government!


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Complex Systems Institute claims "bear raid" market manipulation crashed the global economy

A paper from the New England Complex Systems Institute claims that they have found evidence that traders executed a "bear raid" on Citigroup in 2007, precipitating the financial collapse. A "bear raid" is a market manipulation technique in which short sellers conspire to dump huge quantities of borrowed shares into the market all at once, driving the price down (short selling is a stock-trading technique in which shares are borrowed for sale; the short seller makes money when the value of the borrowed shares declines).

"Bear raids" have been considered a risk to markets since the Great Depression, and a financial regulation called the "uptick rule" was instituted in 1938 to prevent the tactic. The uptick rule was repealed in in July, 2007, and the alleged bear raid took place in November, 2007.

On November 1, 2007, Citigroup experienced large spikes in short selling and trading volume. The number of borrowed shares—short interest—increased by approximately 130 million shares to 3.8 times the 3-month moving average. The total trading volume jumped from 73 million shares on the previous day to 171 million shares, 3.7 times the 3-month moving average. The ratio of the increase in short positions to volume was 0.77. This is the fraction of the total trading that day that may be attributed to short positions held until market closing. The total value of shares borrowed on November 1 was approximately $6.07 billion. Adjusted for the dividend issued on November 1, 2007, Citigroup stock closed on November 1 down $2.85 from the previous day, a drop of 6.9%.

The number of positions closed on November 7, 202 million, was 53% larger than the number opened on November 1. The short interest before the increase on November 1 and after November 7 are virtually identical, the larger decrease corresponding to an additional increase in short interest between these dates. The mirror image one-day anomalies in short interest change suggest that the two are linked. We can conservatively estimate the total gain from short selling by multiplying the number of short positions opened on November 1 by the difference between the closing price on November 1 and closing price on November 7 ($4.82), which yields an estimated gain for the short sellers of $640 million.

Evidence of market manipulation in the financial crisis (PDF) (Thanks, Dan!)

6 myths of microfinancing

Over the years, I've been really impressed with the stuff I've heard about microfinancng charities like KIVA. The idea of helping people in developing countries launch and support small businesses, changing their lives and the lives of their children, makes a lot of sense. And the personal stories that go with microfinancing are pretty appealing.

I'm starting to re-think my opinions on microfinancing, however, after reading some of the research done by, an organization that casts an evidence-based eye on what different charities do and whether they actually get the results they claim.

It's not that microfinancing is bad, per se, GiveWell says. It's just that the system doesn't measure up to the hype. And if you've got a limited amount of money to spend on helping other people, there might be more effective ways to do it that produce more bang for your buck.

GiveWell has written a ton on this, but I'd recommend starting with a blog post of theirs from a couple of years ago called 6 Myths About Microfinance Charities that Donors Can Live Without. This piece provides a succinct breakdown of what questions you should be asking about microfinance charities, and provides lots and lots of links for deeper digging. The myth that surprised me the most:

Myth #6: microfinance works because of (a) the innovative “group lending” method; (b) targeting of women, who use loans more productively than men; (c) targeting of the poorest of the poor, who benefit most from loans.

Reality: all three of these claims are often repeated but (as far as we can tell) never backed up. The strongest available evidence is limited, but undermines all three claims.

HOWTO keep your data safe at the US border

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a new guide, "Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices," which explains how the law, good technology choices, cryptography and backups can be combined to keep your data safe while you travel, especially when crossing into the USA, where customs officials reserve the rights to search your laptop and mobile phone without a warrant and keep whatever they find.

"Different people need different kinds of precautions for protecting their personal information when they travel," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen. "Our guide helps you assess your personal risks and concerns, and makes recommendations for various scenarios. If you are traveling over the U.S. border soon, you should read our guide now and get started on taking precautions before your trip."

Over the past few years, Congress has weighed several bills to protect travelers from suspicionless searches at the border, but none has had enough support to become law. You can join EFF in calling on the Department of Homeland Security to publish clear guidelines for what they do with sensitive traveler information collected in digital searches by signing our petition. You can also test your knowledge about travelers' privacy rights and help spread the word about the risks by taking our border privacy quiz.

"We store detailed records of our lives on our laptops and our phones. But the courts have diminished our constitutional right to privacy at the border," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "It's time for travelers to take action and protect themselves and their private information during international trips."

Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border: A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices

Boy pulls own tooth by tying it to the round in a nerf gun, yanking trigger

In this video, an enterprising young fellow ties his loose tooth to the projectile in his Nerf Big Bow and fires the weapon, taking his tooth out in one glorious, nearly painless instant.

Pulling a tooth using a Nerf gun (via Geekologie)

Obama Girl creator does an anti-SOPA anthem

Leah Kauffman, who wrote and sang the "I Got a Crush on Obama" song (it was lipsynched in the video by a different woman who became the "Obama Girl"), has recorded and performed a new anthem in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, called "Firewall." It's not my kind of music, but I love the sentiment. Declan McCullagh interviewed Ms Kauffman about her motives.

New 'Firewall' song protests SOPA copyright bill (Q&A)

Shufflin' grandpa -- country dance meets electronic music

Jason Kottke rounds up a series of YouTube clips of "old styles of dancing set to contemporary music" including this Shufflin' Grandpa doing fast-footed country dancing with a dubstep contemporary electronic soundtrack.

Shufflin' grandpa

ICanStalkU twitterbot nags Twitter users about disclosing their location

ICanStalkU is a twitterbot Twitter-analyzing service that seeks out Twitter users who transmit their location in the photos they tweet and generates responses like "ICanStalkU was able to stalk @XXXXXXXXXX at,139.510166667," with the stated purpose of "Raising awareness about inadvertent information sharing."

I generally like the idea of helping people understand that their software may be disclosing information about themselves that they're not aware of, but I find this method a little tiresome. On a few occasions, I've deliberately turned on location data when sending out an image (for example, when tweeting an image of a public event or artwork and wanting to conveniently attach a location to the tweet so others can find it) only to get chided (not by bots, but by other Twitter users) who sent words to the effect of, "Some privacy advocate you are! Why are you sending location data with your images?"

I've also been nagged by someone's twitterbot that wanted to tell me off for including my email address in a tweet, because the author had decided that this would make me more vulnerable to spam (I have one email address and it's been public for about 15 years now -- there's no spambot that doesn't know it by now). It's nice that people want to help others understand the wider context of their actions, but there's a fine line between helping and nagging.

Adding location data to a photo of something in public -- a protest, a spectacle, a store -- isn't necessarily a privacy breach. Nor does it necessarily give information about the photographer's location (photographers might choose to post the images later, long after they've left that location). And location metadata on photos can be very useful. It would be great to see more nuance from ICanStalkU.

I Can Stalk U - Raising awareness about inadvertent information sharing (Thanks, Avi!)