Boing Boing 

Ellsberg on Manning

"[President Obama] is involved in a war against leakers, against whistle-blowers."

Totally amazing painter is totally amazing

...And what's amazing is the process. Joe Sabia shares this YouTube video featuring Chilean artist Fabian Gaete Maureira of arte100cia (Arte Sciencia, or "Art Science") that's making the internet rounds today. Via Reddit, here's the artist's blog, and his Flickr stream with finished works. Dude is like Bob Ross on crack. The one below looks like it could be a cover for a horse_ebook!

Twinkie future threatened amid Hostess woes

Hostess Brands, maker of sugary snacks renowned for their immunity to the laws of thermodynamics, and some of which are filled with indeterminate creams, is preparing to declare bankruptcy for the second time in a decade. [AP]

Gweek 034: Giant Jenga!

Our guest for Gweek podcast 034 is fashion designer Diana Eng, who blends technology with clothing in interesting ways. My cohost is our own Boing Boing science editor, Maggie Koerth-Baker.

Read the rest

Congressman drops support for SOPA

A sustained campaign coordinated by redditors has evidently convinced Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), the House Budget Chair, to drop his support for the Stop Online Piracy Act:

"The internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse. I do not support H.R. 3261 in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House."

Reddit successfully pressures Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to back off support of SOPA. (self.politics)

A Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants

Boing Boing reader Kenneth is a weird-and-rare book lover who is painstakingly scanning and posting online some of his favorite obscurities. Among the Golden Guides he's posted (dig the iconic visual style!) is the exceedingly hard-to-find and out of print "Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants" from 1976. I haven't seen it in the wild in ages; it's as rare as an Amanita Muscaria in Siberia. Where, by the way, the native people once ritually drank each other's pee so multiple people could trip off a single 'shroom.

Do check out the rest of his Golden Guide collection, while it lasts.

Update: Pesco has blogged about the "Hallucinogenic Plants" one before.

Fantastic organized crime comic book, Blue Estate: Vol 2 trade paperback


One of my favorite comic book series of 2011 was Viktor Kalvachev's Blue Estate. I described it as "a hardboiled crime series that takes place in modern day Los Angeles. It’s got a sleazy action hero actor with a passing resemblance to Steven Seagal, the Russian Mafia, the Italian Mafia, a geeky fanboy private eye in his 40s, a B-movie actress, drugs, alcohol, strippers, hookers, and seedy establishments. It’s dirty and gritty and a lot of fun, in an LA Confidential way.

The series has been anthologized into two trade paperbacks. Vol 1 (collecting issues 5-8) is available now, and Vol 2 (collecting issues 1-4) is due in stores January 11, 2012. If you missed the comics the first time they came around, these anthologies are a great way to catch up on what called “one of the best comics on the racks today, not to mention one of the best crime comics ever.”

EPA to fracking-polluted village: here's some clean water! 24 hours later: Oh hey, nevermind.

Image: A Dimock, Pennsylvania resident who did not want to be identified pours a glass of water taken from his well after the start of natural gas drilling in Dimock, Pennsylvania, March 7, 2009. Dimock is one of hundreds of sites in Pennsylvania where energy companies have raced to tap the massive Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. Residents say the drilling has clouded their drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable. Picture taken March 7, 2009.

Over the weekend, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reversed a commitment to deliver safe water to residents of Dimock, PA, a small village where natural gas drilling operations have poisoned water supplies. Why? So far, federal officials won't explain why.

Only 24 hours after promising them water, EPA officials informed residents of Dimock that a tanker truck wouldn't be coming after all. The about-face left residents furious, confused and let down — and, once again, scrambling for water for bathing, washing dishes and flushing toilets.

Federal Agency Cancels Water Delivery to Pa. Town - ABC News.

In ProPublica's extensive reporting series on fracking in America, Dimock has been mentioned often. Christopher Bateman's 2010 Vanity Fair piece on fracking in rural Pennsylvania is another good read, and focuses on Dimock.

Read the rest

Building covered in coats

This undated photo from an unattributed newspaper shows the facade of a Danish clothier that advertised its overstock coats by covering the building from top to bottom with over a thousand coats. The display was so successful the police had to come and clear the crowd, but the merchant still cleared out his overstock.

Coats Coat Coat Store as Novel Sales Scheme (via Crib Candy)

The coming year in space exploration

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Ariel "Spacehack" Waldman points us to this survey of "the most anticipated space missions of 2012." Yes, the Space Shuttle has been retired but as Ariel has said, "I see it as more of a beginning of an era than the end of one. It’s due time that NASA no longer has a monopoly on space exploration." Above, an artist's representation of the Planetary Society's LightSail-1, a solar sail-powered spacecraft set to launch this year. At left, an illustration of SpaceX's Dragon capsule docking with the International Space Station. The plan is for the commercial outfit to take over space station supply missions beginning in February.

"The 12 Most Anticipated Space Missions of 2012"

The best account on Twitter

Are you following @horse_ebooks? John Herrman explains why you must: "It isn’t a parody account and it doesn’t tell jokes. It’s a spam bot that sells shitty ebooks about horses, and it might be the best Twitter account that has ever existed." [Splitsider]

What metrics-driven games have a hard time measuring

Raph Koster's on a tear these days on the theory and practice of game design. Today, it's a fab little sermonette on why it's not right to sneer at data-driven, "free-to-play" games that use extensive instrumentation to make games that captivate players' attention without a lot of flair or imagination. But Koster has a codicil to his message embracing metrics-driven game design: there is much that is important about games that isn't captured by metrics:

And the more the audience divorces itself from we who make their entertainment, the more important it is that we be clear-eyed about what their tastes and behaviors actually are. And that, in turn, greatly undermines the value of “experts,” — because we are in many ways, the most likely to be hidebound and unable to see past the blinkered assumptions precisely because we built them up with hard-won experience.

But! And it’s a big but.

Sometimes, though, what works only works within the field of measurement. If it turns out one of those useless mewling babies was going to grow up to be Einstein, we would have been pretty dumb to toss him out when he was a sullen teenager (even if he did get good grades). A lot of things fall outside of the typical field of measurement.

* Anything that unfolds over a very long period of time. By the time you have true long-term data on a split-test, you’ve essentially chosen a path through inaction.
* Anything that lies in the realm of emotion is invisible — we can easily see results, but we cannot see, barring a focus group, the whys for a given action. (There are various measurement techniques, such as net promoter score, which try to get at this indirectly).
* Anything that is a short-term loss for a long-term gain. Many sorts of behaviors players might engage in may pay out when considered as a systemic aggregate, even though regarding them as a funnel may show them to be terrible. One example might be character customization — it’s an extra step that likely costs some users in an F2P funnel, but it may also yield far greater revenue over time due to character customization.
* Anything that exists outside of the game proper, where it can be hard to tie cause and effect together. Examples include things like community development, the value of strategy websites built by players, etc.

Koster endeth the lesson with some constructive suggestions for fusing traditional and data-driven game design to get the best out of both.

Improving F2P

(Image: Metrics and UX, sitting in a tree, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from alabut's photostream)

The world, as mapped by frequency of cholera cases

This really fascinating image comes from a Scientific American guest blog post about the appendix. What does the appendix have to do with cholera? Turns out, the more we study the appendix, the more it appears that this organ—once thought to be useless—is actually a storage system that allows your gut to repopulate itself with beneficial bacteria following a bout with a dramatic, gut-wrenching such as cholera.

This theory makes a lot of sense, but it hasn't been proven yet. The blog post, written by Rob Dunn, tells the story of a couple of studies that seem to add further support to the theory. In one, 11% of people with an appendix had a recurrence of Clostridium difficile infection, while 48% of those without an appendix had a recurrence.

Grendell’s results do not prove Parker is right. Science does not work that way. More tests, even true experiments, need to be done. Maybe there was something else that differed between individuals with and without their appendixes. Maybe the result only applies to the mostly white population Winthrop hospital serves. Maybe the immune system plays a more important or different role than Parker envisions. These “maybes” are part of what make science beautiful — the idea that each question, each test, and each day, lead to more questions. Every good question is a road that goes on forever, diverging and bounding forward, sometimes quickly, other times more slowly, as new paths emerge and some of the old ones run straight into brick walls.

Where does this leave us? In your body is an organ that appears to be/may be/could be helping out the bacteria in your life so they can, in turn, help keep you alive. If you do not have your appendix anymore, you may be at an increased risk of recurrence and even death when confronted with a pathogen like C. diff., cholera or any of a wild kingdom of other pathogens. This possibility raises the question of what to do if your appendix (or your child’s appendix) becomes inflamed. First things first, you should seek medical attention. As for what the treatment should be, while appendicitis can be deadly, recent studies suggest some, but not the majority, of cases of appendicitis can be resolved using antibiotics, though the topic is an active area of research and little is known about the prognosis for individuals treated with antibiotics for appendicitis later in life7. Might there, some day, be solutions other than surgery and antibiotics, solutions that aim at restoring the sanctuary of the appendix? Maybe. Until then, doctors keep cutting infected appendixes out. When they do, when they hold them up, they hold up a symbol — a somewhat gross, pinky-finger-sized symbol –both of our complex relationship with other species and of how little we know.

Kindergartner breaks leg and gets concussion, teacher makes him crawl over 200 ft of icy ground back to classroom

And doesn't call ambulance. "You’re a big boy — I can’t carry you." Skokie school board officials are remaining mum on the advice of their legal counsel.

Of course, no one will be held accountable except the taxpayers, who will pay the settlement.

News reporter's on-camera mammogram results in breast cancer diagnosis

This sure feels familiar.

A scientific conference presentation no one will ever forget

"He stepped around the podium, and pulled his loose pants tight up around his genitalia in an attempt to demonstrate his erection." — You really, really, really must read the story of Professor G.S. Brindley, the 1983 Urodynamics Society meeting, and the first public demonstration of the first effective medical therapy for erectile dysfunction. NSFW. (Thank you, Miriam Goldstein. I think.)

Map of pig nicknames from 1884


H.W. Hill & Co. of Decatur Illinois, the sole manufacturer of Hill's hog ringers, produced this map called "Nicknames of the States." It is from 1884. The Library of Congress has it for free download in a variety of resolutions. I found my new desktop background!

There is a pig for every state in the union, and each pig sports a triangular nose ring.

The nickname for a Missouri pig is "Puke."


(Via This Isn't Happiness NSFW)

Capital headphones from AIAIAI

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The coolest-looking new headphones announced this week aren't at CES. My friend Jens Martin Skibsted and Lars Larsen from KiBiSi designed the Capital headphones from AIAIAI. Jens says that the adjustment system was inspired by snowboard bindings. Capital headphones

Optical illusions

The Optillusions blog appears to be a collection of optical illusions, but there's something not quite right about it.

The story of the Apollo 11 moon landing, as told through data (video)

[video link]

This data visualization of the Apollo 11 moon mission gathers social and technical data from the 1969 lunar landing in video form. The horizontal axis is an interactive timeline.

The horizontal axis is an interactive timeline. The vertical axis is divided into several sections, each corresponding to a data source. At the top, commentators are present in narratives from Digital Apollo and NASA technical debriefings. Just below are the members of ground control. The middle section is a log-scale graph stretching from Earth (~10E9 ft. away) to the Moon. Utterances from the landing CAPCOM, Duke, the command module pilot, Collins, the mission commander, Armstrong, and the lunar module pilot, Aldrin, are plotted on this graph. The graph is partially overlaid on a composite image of the lunar surface.

More about the data presented, and the story told, at the project's Vimeo page. The project comes from the MIT Laboratory for Automation, Robotics, and Society, and was directed by David Mindell. Via Maria Popova. As noted on Flowing Data, my only disappointment is that they didn't get to the "One small step for [a] man" part!

Additional credits: Visualization Design by Yanni Loukissas, and Francisco Alonso served as Research Assistant.

Wide awake during brain cancer surgery

This fascinating video from the Mayo Clinic explains how 28-year-old Mary Meixner went through "awake surgery" during which surgeons used an intra-operative MRI to target her brain tumor.

At the end of the operation, she slept. Then, she says, "I woke up and I was so excited, and I was like, yes! I'm not dead! I can talk! I can think! Because you never know, right?"

Transcript here (PDF).

(via @thespeachgal)

The crab-cam: Charming video of father-daughter science project

I love both the idea and the lessons behind this project writer Mike Adamick took on with his daughter during her winter break from kindergarten.

Emmeline wanted to know what life was like underwater for the crabs she and her dad caught in San Francisco Bay. So the two of them brainstormed and figured out a way to answer her question. Together, they built a "crab cam," using an iPhone attached to a crab net.

The results were underwhelming.

But here's the awesome thing. Instead of throwing in the towel, Mike used the experience as a way of showing his daughter was scientific inquiry is really like. Sometimes, your experiments don't work. And, when that happens, you go back to brainstorming, figure out how to improve the experiment, and try again. Because that's the awesome thing about science: Even failure teaches you something.

In the end, Mike and Emmaline were able to improve their experiment, and Mike turned the whole thing into a really sweet and funny video. Great work!

Video Link

MakerBot Replicator new 3D printer

Our friend Bre Pettis has introduced the MakerBot Replicator, his company's latest open source 3D printer. It can print much larger objects than the cupcake-sized creations spewed by previous models, and with the optional Dualstrusion feature, it does two colors. The fully-loaded Replicator is $2k. Congrats, Bre! "Introducing The MakerBot Replicator"

Why you shouldn't take Nexium

The sciencebloggers are abuzz after a WSJ editorial mentioned Nexium, a heartburn medication, repeatedly by name, implying that it is some kind of wonder drug. Nexium was developed by AstraZeneca because its flagship anti-heartburn med, omeprazole (sold under brand names like Prilosec or Losec) was going off-patent. I take omeprazole for reflux, and it works just fine. I've never tried Nexium, and now I'm glad I steered clear of it, as it is an absolute ripoff in every sense of the word: a compound that never should have been granted a new patent, whose "improvement" over omeprazole was demonstrated by cooking the research.

In clinical trials the only difference between Nexium and its off-patent parent drug are modest improvements in some symptoms at distant time points; however, it is standard in these trials to compare 20mg of Nexium to 20mg of Omeprazole. In other words, the trials that have justified the use of this drug compared to the generic only show that when two times the amount of the active compound is used (1 nexium = 2 omeprazole), a slight improvement in some symptoms (87% vs 90% for cure of gastroesophageal reflux disease at 8 weeks) is achieved.[1-2] This is a result that is certainly not worth 4-8 times the cost.

Based on patent law AstraZeneca should never have been able to patent esoomeprazole as a new drug since they had already patented the same active ingredient when they patented prilosec. They effectively patented the same drug twice, thus doubling the time their drug can avoid generic competition. However, in order for the scam to work they had to pull one over on the regulators (coincidentally they spent millions in lobbying congress the year before Nexium was approved), then advertise the hell out of Nexium to make it appear it was somehow superior to it's chemically identical sibling drug Prilosec.

Why no one should take Nexium and it should never have been approved

(Image: Nexium, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tomsaint's photostream)

Accessorizing with cats

Photos of famous people with cats thrown jauntily over their shoulders: It's my new favorite cat meme. Visit Heather Archuletta's Facebook collection for more shots like this. Besides Frank Zappa, she's got David Bowie, Freddy Mercury, and more.

Thanks, Joanne Manaster!

Time-lapse video of lab-grown snowflakes

Back in December, researchers at Caltech posted a research paper to arXiv that attempts to explain why the shape and structure of snowflakes change significantly depending on relatively small shifts in temperature.

In order to study this, they had to grow snowflakes in laboratory conditions. It was not an easy thing to figure out how to do. On his Snowcrystals page, physicist Kenneth G. Libbrecht show you how it's done.

There are many ways to grow snowflakes, but my favorite starts with something called a vapor diffusion chamber. This is essentially nothing more than an insulated box that is kept cold on the bottom (say -40C) and hot on the top (say +40C). A source of water is placed at the top, and water vapor diffuses down through the box, producing supersaturated air. The cold, supersatured air at the center of the chamber is ideal for growing ice crystals.

While working with this diffusion chamber, we rediscovered a wonderful technique for growing synthetic snow crystals that was first published in 1963 by meteorologist Basil Mason and collaborators [1]. One starts by putting a wire into the diffusion chamber from below, so that small ice crystals begin growing on the wire's tip. Then apply a high voltage to the wire, say +2000 volts, and voila -- slender ice needles begin growing from the wire.

Video Link

Virtual sweatshops versus CAPTCHAs

KolotiBablo, a Russian service, pays workers in China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam to crack CAPTCHAs -- it's a favorite of industrial scale spammers. This company's fortunes represent an interesting economic indicator of the relative cost of labor (plus Internet access and junk PCs) in the poorest countries in the world, versus skilled programmer labor to automate CAPTCHA-breaking (or automating a man-in-the-middle attack on CAPTCHAs, such as making people solve imported Gmail account-creation CAPTCHAs in order to look at free porn).

Paying clients interface with the service at, a site hosted on the same server as Antigate charges clients 70 cents to $1 for each batch of 1,000 CAPTCHAs solved, with the price influenced heavily by volume. KolotiBablo says employees can expect to earn between $0.35 to $1 for every thousand CAPTCHAs they solve. The twin operations say they do not condone the use of their services to promote spam, or “all those related things that generate butthurt for the ‘big guys,’” mostly likely a reference to big free Webmail providers like Google and Microsoft. Still, both services can be found heavily advertised and recommended in several underground forums that cater to spammers and scam artists.

Virtual Sweatshops Defeat Bot-or-Not Tests

Tallest mountains in the solar system

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Mount Everest's got nothing on Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in our solar system. At 15.5 miles high, it's also the largest volcano on Mars, covering the size of Arizona. Smithsonian listed the the top ten tallest mountains in the solar system. Earth barely made the list with Mauna Loa. And you thought Everest was our tallest? It's the highest peak, but mountain height is actually measured from base to peak and Everest's base is way above sea level. "The Tallest Mountains in the Solar System"

Gathering of the Bronies

At The Awl, Kase Wickman covers the first major Brony convention, an "explosion of wild color ... the glitter, the rainbows, the homemade pony-mane hooded sweatshirts, all of it bright and sparkly enough to send any pop culture-aware preteen princess into spasms of jealousy."

Overnight holidays at a nuclear plant

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The Philippines' National Power Corporation is offering tours and overnight beachside holidays at its Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, built in the 1980s but never fired up. It's been "uranium-free" since 1997 and is now marketed as an ecotourism site. From National Geographic:

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The trip back in time takes about three hours by car from the Philippine capital, Manila. The entry fee—150 Philippine pesos (about U.S. $3.50)—includes use of a nearby private beach.

The first part of the tour involves a presentation on the plant's safety features, including its apparent ability to withstand an earthquake as strong as the one that shook Japan's Fukushima plant on March 11, 2011.

The rest of the tour includes a guided walk through the guts of the unused plant. "Tourists can see the reactor, steam generators, control rooms, turbine-generators, etc.," National Power's Marcelo said.

"Nuclear-Resort Pictures: Come for the Reactor, Stay for the Beach"