RAW quote: in other words, if you think you know what the hell is going on, you're probably full of shit.

"Whenever people are certain they understand our peculiar situation here on this planet, it is because they have accepted a religious Faith or a secular Ideology (Ideologies are the modern form of Faiths) and just stopped thinking."

-- Robert Anton Wilson

Fnord

Crew of 170 people needed to keep Predator drone airborne for 24h

A Freedom of Information request reveals that aerial drones are rife with expensive technical problems.

The aerial disasters described draw attention not only to the technical limitations of drone warfare, but to larger conceptual flaws inherent in such operations. Launched and landed by aircrews close to battlefields in places like Afghanistan, the drones are controlled during missions by pilots and sensor operators—often multiple teams over many hours—from bases in places like Nevada and North Dakota. They are sometimes also monitored by “screeners” from private security contractors at stateside bases like Hurlburt Field in Florida. (A recent McClatchy report revealed that it takes nearly 170 people to keep a single Predator in the air for 24 hours.)

Nick Turse: The Crash and Burn Future of Robot Warfare (via Warren Ellis)

Why SOPA/PIPA protests should matter to people outside the USA

Michael Geist sez,

While there is little that people living outside the U.S. can do to influence SOPA and PIPA, there are many reasons why it is important for everyone to participate in tomorrow's SOPA protest.

First, the SOPA provisions are designed to have an extra-territorial effect in countries around the world.

Second, non-U.S. businesses and websites could easily find themselves targeted by SOPA. The bill grants the U.S. "in rem" jurisdiction over any website that does not have a domestic jurisdictional connection.

Third, millions rely on the legitimate sites that are affected by the legislation. Whether creating a Wikipedia entry, posting a comment on Reddit, running a WordPress blog, participating in an open source software project, or reading a posting on Boing Boing, the lifeblood of the Internet is a direct target of SOPA. If non-Americans remain silent, they may ultimately find the sites and services they rely upon silenced by this legislation.

Fourth, the U.S. intellectual property strategy has long been premised on exporting its rules to other countries. SOPA virtually guarantees that this will continue.

Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest

Frontline post-Fukushima documentary "Nuclear Aftershocks" airs tonight

[Video Link]

"Nuclear Aftershocks," the PBS Frontline documentary which Maggie described in a Boing Boing review as "brilliant," airs tonight online and on local PBS stations at 10pm. I've seen an advance copy, and I agree that it's excellent—though I'm admittedly biased, since I love everything Miles O'Brien does, and collaborate with him creatively from time to time. A preview of the documentary is above. They have some cool web extras up at the Frontline site, including a map of how much nuclear power each US state relies on.

Physically protest tomorrow to protest SOPA and PIPA

Jonathan from Hackers and Founders sez, "We're planning SOPA/PIPA protests in SF, NYC, DC and Seattle on Wednesday the 18th to coincide with the blackouts."

Recall election in Wisconsin: It's probably on

Wisconsinites needed 500,000 signatures in order to authorize a recall election against Governor Scott Walker. They got 1 million.

A doctor responds to Seth Roberts' guest post about tonsillectomy

We recently ran a guest post by Seth Roberts, detailing the case against tonsillectomies as a regularly prescribed treatment for sore throats. I was able to read Roberts' post before it went up here, and comment on it. And Roberts made several changes to the post, which I had suggested, before it ran.

In general, I'm a big fan of basing medical treatment on evidence, rather than conjecture, tradition, or mythology. And, while I have a big problem with woo-woo (shorthand for attempts at medical treatment that are based primarily on conjecture, tradition, and mythology), I do think it's important to point out that woo-woo doesn't always come from hippies. Local doctors don't always follow the evidence, either. In fact, that's one big reason why "evidence-based medicine" has to be called that, rather than just medicine. So while I didn't agree with everything Roberts had to say, I thought his key point—tonsillectomy as a treatment for sore throats isn't actually strongly supported by evidence—was a valuable one.

That said, I R NOT A MEDICAL EXPERT. And neither is Roberts. Steven Novella, however, is a medical doctor and a clinical researcher. He has a very good blog post up that points out some important flaws in Roberts post. Here's the gist of what he has to say: Roberts seems to have misunderstood some of the studies he linked to, and assigned too much importance to others. "Evidence" can mean a range of different things. Some evidence is better than others. Just because a study was published doesn't mean it's evidence worth paying attention to. And it is very easy for people to get confused by this distinction when they start trying to treat themselves with the help of Google.

For instance, Roberts provided a laundry list of potential complications of tonsillectomy and asked why the evidence-based Cochrane Review didn't talk about any of them. The problem:

He seems to take the approach of listing any possible hypothesized risk as if it is established.

Read the rest

New MAKE podcast: Make Talk

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Make-Talk Here's the first episode of MAKE's new podcast, Make Talk. In each episode, I'll interview one of the makers from the pages of the magazine.

We created Make Talk because we wanted to find out about the people who write the how-to articles in MAKE. As you might guess, MAKE's makers are often as interesting as the projects they build. In Make Talk, you'll find out why they make things, how they acquire skills, where they go for inspiration, and what's on their workbenches.

Our Maker this week is Steve Hoefer of Grathio Labs. Steve's uniquely appealing projects in MAKE include the Dizzy Robot, the Secret Knock Gumball Machine (above). He also wrote a how-to article in MAKE 29 about a device called the Tacit that allows you to feel objects at a distance. Steve is one of my favorite makers, and in this interview, you'll find out why!

Download Make Talk 001 as an MP3 | Subscribe to Make Talk in iTunes | Subscribe via RSS | Download single episodes as MP3s

In praise of skeuomorphs

I reflected today on the fact that my four-year-old makes a "click" sound when she's playing with a toy camera because that's the MP3 that my phone plays when I take her picture. A number of people pointed out that this is an example of a skeuomorph, "a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original." The Wikipedia entry on the subject's fascinating in the extreme:

* Decorative stone features of Greek temples such as mutules, guttae, and modillions that are derived from true structural/functional features of the early wooden temples
* Ornamental pylons framing modern bridges, such as the twin 89 metre pylons at each end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They do not support anything, and are there only to frame the structure itself and make it look more like a traditional bridge.
* An early pottery butter churn, at the Jaffa Museum, shaped rather like an American football, imitating the shape of its predecessors, which were made of hide.
* Injection-molded plastic sandals that replicate woven strips of leather
* Artificial film grain added to digitally-shot movies to give a softer, more expensive effect and the expected "shimmer" of the grain pattern between successive frames
* Various spoke patterns in automobile hubcaps and wheels leftover from carriage wheel construction

Skeuomorph

(Image: Chevy Volt Skeuomorph, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tylerbell's photostream)

2600 to go PIPA-dark, too

Emmanuel Goldstein sez, "The websites for 2600 will go dark on Wednesday, joining many others around the world in protest against the potentially devastating effects of bills like SOPA and PIPA."

Yahoo co-founder, former CEO Jerry Yang resigns from board and "all other positions"

Yahoo announces that Jerry Yang has resigned from the internet company's Board of Directors "and all other positions with the company, effective today." Yang has also resigned from the Boards of Yahoo Japan Corporation and Alibaba Group Holding Limited, effective today. Yahoo's official statement is here.

Photo: Co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo! Inc. Jerry Yang applauds during the announcement of a commitment pledge at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 22, 2010. (REUTERS)

The greatest running shoe never sold, by Bob Parks

My friend Bob Parks has a great story in Bloomberg Businessweek about the sad fate of a new kind of running shoe that promised to be better than any other running shoe on the market.

Screen Shot 2012-01-17 At 1.51.24 Pm(Photo by Daniel Shea) Three days before the 2002 Chicago Marathon, Hann bought industrial carbon fiber fabric and baked it in his kitchen. Once the fumes dissipated, he cannibalized the uppers of a pair of New Balance 763 running shoes for his proto-types. As he hacked off layers of EVA foam from the sneakers with a table saw, his hand slipped and the blade cut deeply into his thumb, embedding bits of blue foam into the wound. Hann rushed to the emergency room, then assembled the shoes the next day.

Hann believes his prototype was responsible for shaving 17 minutes off his record in the marathon. He immediately made more. A member of his pace group wore them, reporting her legs felt “full of energy.” Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running in Naperville, Ill., delivered a tougher critique: “pretty good,” he said, but “a bit slappy.” The transitions between midstance and toe-off were “rough.” A shard of carbon fiber came loose, slicing Hartner’s calf.

All the same, Hartner, who has a master’s in biomechanics, took Hann’s concept seriously. When New Balance owner Jim Davis visited the shop, Hartner said he should check out Hann’s shoes. Hann met with New Balance and secured an investor, who contributed $300,000. Hann and the investor made prototypes in Korea, paid an attorney to patent the shoe, and hired an exercise laboratory to test it. The facility found that runners in Hann’s prototypes consumed an average of 2.2 percent less oxygen. That may not sound like a lot, but it pointed to a significant reduction in energy when running long distances.

The greatest running show never sold, by Bob Parks

Free PDF of the first Diesel Sweeties comic collection


The delightful R. Stevens is distributing the first Diesel Sweeties webcomic collection as a DRM-free, free PDF, in celebration of his birthday. "Pocket Sweeties, Volume 1," is a sterling example of the demented, bitter humor that Rich pulls off so well, and we're a lucky Internet for getting this great gimmee from him. He's got loads of merch and books for sale, too.

diesel sweeties: DRM-free ebooks

Pocket Sweeties, Volume 1 (PDF), Torrent

(via CNet)

MPAA issues statement slamming SOPA/PIPA "blackout" protests as "dangerous gimmick"

Former Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA), pooh-poohs the January 18 internet blackout protests over SOPA and PIPA:

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

PDF link to entire statement.

On Wednesday, January 18, Boing Boing will be participating in the dangerous gimmick.

(Image: Shutterstock)

Why the ‘Check Engine’ light must be banned

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"Check engine" lights suck! Jason Torchinsky of Jalopnik asks you to sign a whitehouse.gov petition to "require automakers to replace the nearly useless Check Engine Light with a display that actually explains what's wrong."

The continued use of a generic, uninformative "check engine" light in cars keeps car owners in the dark about the condition of their vehicle, and ensures they stay dependent and subordinate to car dealers and mechanics. The frustrating thing is it doesn't have to be that way.

Let's look at exactly what the "check engine" light does in a car, and how it works. To understand it, first we need to understand what On Board Diagnostics (OBD) are — I know for many Jalops this is review, but bear with me.

Every car sold today has an on-board computer system that monitors many, many sensors and conditions in a car's drivetrain, and reports back when there is an error. This has its roots, of all places, in the 1969 Volkswagen Type III, one of the first cars with electronic fuel injection. The "electronic" part of that meant that there was a crude computer brain that managed the system, and could scan for error conditions. Other manufacturers soon had their own systems, and by 1996 an actual, standardized system, called OBD-II, was developed and mandated by law for inclusion in all cars sold in the USA.

OBD-II is actually a terrific system. A global standard for helping to diagnose car issues, with standard connectors and error codes? What's not to like?

What's not to like is that when something goes wrong, all the average motorist sees is that little drawing of an engine bisected by a lightning bolt. And all that tells them is basically nothing. The "check engine" light is the MIL (Malfunction Indicator Light) of the OBD-II system, and illuminates whenever a fault is detected. To see exactly what sort of fault takes a "special scanner" that plugs into the OBD-II connector. These scanners are almost always owned by mechanics or dealers. Independent people can buy scanners as well, or cables to connect laptops, smart phones, etc., but people who will do that are not the ones who need to worry about the check engine lights.

Why The ‘Check Engine’ Light Must Be Banned