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Make: Talk 007 -- Charles Platt, Electronics Fun & Fundamentals

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Here's the 7th episode of MAKE's podcast, Make: Talk! In each episode, I'll interview one of the makers featured in the magazine.

Our maker this week is Charles Platt. He writes the Electronics Fun and Fundamentals column in every issue of MAKE. He's also the author of the book, Make: Electronics which, in my admittedly biased opinion, is the best introductory electronics book ever written. He has a knack for clearly explaining what so many other people cannot express without using a lot of incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo.

Charles is also a science fiction author and a designer. Here's a fascinating interview with Charles about his work as the art director and graphic designer of the groundbreaking British science fiction magazine New Worlds in the 1960s and 1970s.

Charles has many talents and I am a huge fan of his.

In this episode, I also talk a bit about TED2012, which I attended this week. I was a happy to see a lot of makers on the stage, including Gregory Gage of Backyard Brains, Ayah Bdeir of littleBits, and Bre Pettis of MakerBot. Go team!

Here's are some projects Charles has written for MAKE:

Plastic Desk Set
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Anti Dog-Bite Siren
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Crystal Nightlight
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Extreme Zap-a-Mole

Suit made from a drop-cloth


This "drop cloth suit" was envisioned by artist Hugh O'Rourke and tailored by Sarah Bahr by cutting a pattern out of a well-used, well-loved drop cloth and tailoring appropriately.

I had the great pleasure of collaborating with fellow artist and friend Hugh O'Rourke on a super fun project. Hugh is a painter and sculptor here in NYC, you can view more of his work here. We met during my thesis art exhibit at NYU, as he works at the 80WSE gallery where I exhibited my installation. He knew my passion for sewing clothing and asked me to collaborate with him in making a suit out of his drop cloths from his studio. The idea of the suit came from famous artist Joseph Beuys' own sculpture Felt Suit.

Drop Cloth Suit (via Craft)

Crossing into Syria: a plea from the Free Syrian Army

Journalists entered Syria to see, first-hand, conditions close to the border with Turkey. Snuck in by a Syrian military defector, they stayed for a day and returned with this footage. Read the rest

TED2012: Joshua Foer - Moonwalking with Einstein


[Video Link] At TED2012 I interviewed Joshua Foer, who gave a presentation about his recent book, Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. In his book, Joshua writes about covering the United States Memory Championship for a magazine. Joshua decided to enter the contest himself and learned many ancient as well as cutting-edge techniques to help him memorize long lists of numbers, the order of cards in a deck, pictures of things, etc. He ended up winning the championship.

See all my TED2012 interviews here.

Cthulhoid jello salad


Write-Light dug up this insane, multi-limbed lobster jello salad for the Vintage Ads LJ group. It originally appeared in the Davis Gelatine Recipe Book.

The Call of Cthulhull-o

TED2012: Susan Cain: The power of introverts


As someone with a mild introvert tendency, I enjoyed this talk by Susan Cain at TED2012.

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Our world prizes extroverts -- but Susan Cain makes a case for the quiet and contemplative.
Susan Cain: The power of introverts

See all my TED2012 coverage here.

Tornadoes sweep through central South

Southern Indiana, southern Ohio, most of Kentucky, central Tennessee, northeastern Mississippi and northwestern Alabama are in the middle of a huge storm system. As of an hour ago, there were 22 tornado warnings in this region, affecting 47 counties. Multiple tornadoes have touched down already, though it's not yet clear how many. If you're down there, stay safe. 2011 was the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1953. Hopefully, we aren't looking at a repeat of that kind of spring.

Ornate assemblage clock


The latest from Roger Wood's feverish imagination: a glorious higgeldy-piggeldy of an assemblage clock.

4 superstars of American street art in episode 501 of The Simpsons

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This Sunday night, March 4, the 501st episode of The Simpsons will feature four superstars of American street art: Kenny Scharf, Ron English, Shepard Fairey, and Robbie Conal.

Kenny Scharf came up in the East Village art scene in the 1980's and covered the walls at last year's amazing "Art in the Streets" show in L.A.; Ron English hacks popular brand images (think "Super Size Me" posters and 2008's groovy "Abraham Obama"), and favors billboards; Shepard Fairey is...well, Shepard Fairey; and Robbie Conal is the genre's outlaw godfather — a whip-smart, wisecracking political satirist who's been wheat-pasting posters of white-collar bad guys (remember CONTRA DICTION and Cheney as the Energizer bunny?) since before most of today's street artists were zygotes.

Conal says: "I consider it one of the highest honors in the land to be 'Simpsonized.' To me it's the American equivalent of being knighted by the Queen of England.”

The episode, titled "Exit Through the Kwik-E Mart" (get it?) runs at 8PM ET/PT on FOX. The four artists will be guest-voicing themselves.

Previously:

Gritty guerrilla poster artist Robbie Conal's new book features... cute animals!?

Shepard Fairey pleads guilty over "Hope" court case

From the department of Horrible Sounding Ideas That May Actually Be Good Ideas

An acidic tampon? In my vagina? It's more likely to be a reasonable and healthy idea than you might think. (Also: If you aren't reading the Context and Variation blog, you're missing out on the best in lady parts science, and I pity you.)

The (horribly awesome) things that live on Ball's Pyramid

Ball's Pyramid looks like a place where nothing could survive. The remnants of a long-dead volcano, it sits alone in the South Pacific ... a narrow, rocky half-moon some 1800 feet high.

But Ball's Pyramid isn't devoid of life ...

for years this place had a secret. At 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.

What they found is horribly awesome and awesomely horrible and you need to read the whole story, written by NPR's Robert Krulwich.

Via Elizabeth Preston. If you want a hint, she described this as, "a really beautiful story about some really disgusting giant insects."

Individual dolphins identify themselves to new dolphins they meet

Here in the BoingBoing newsroom, we are dedicated to keeping you informed on the latest developments in cetacean friendship. You already know that dolphins and whales hang out and, in fact, play together

Now, some more awesome news: Dolphins apparently have a system of identifying themselves to each other similar to the way you and I use names.

Scientists have actually known since the 1960s that this system existed. Basically, each dolphin creates their own "signature" whistle when they're very young. In studies of captive dolphins, they used this whistle mainly when they got separated from the rest of the group. It was like a way of saying, "Hey, I'm over here!" Or, given the environment, perhaps some version of "Marco! Polo!"

But at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong writes about a new study of wild dolphins that has really increased our understanding of signature whistles and how dolphins use them.

Quick and Janik recorded the calls of swimming dolphin pods using underwater microphones. From 11 such recordings, they worked out that dolphin groups use their signature whistles in greeting rituals, when two groups meet and join. Only 10 per cent of such unions happen without any signature whistles. And the dolphins use their signatures nine times more often during these interactions than during normal social contact. The signature whistles clearly aren’t contact calls, because dolphins hardly ever use them within their own groups. Mothers and calves, for example, didn’t exchange signature whistles when travelling together. And they’re not confrontational claims over territory, because bottlenose dolphins don’t have territories.

Instead, Janik thinks that dolphins use the whistles to identify themselves, and to negotiate a new encounter. The human equivalent would be saying, “My name is Ed. I come in peace.”

Quick and Janik also found that the dolphins don’t mimic each other’s signatures when they meet up. Justin Gregg from the Dolphin Communication Project says, “In other words, dolphins are not shouting out “Hey there Jerry” to each other, they are saying “it’s me, Tim!” He adds, “We really have no idea when or why they use these whistles. This study has uncovered a brand new function for the signature whistle, which makes it rather exciting. They appear to be identifying themselves to social partners after a prolonged separation.”

Read the rest at Not Exactly Rocket Science

PREVIOUSLY

Image: Dolphins, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hassanrafeek's photostream

BookBook for the Mac Book Air 11"

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Due to overwhelming positive feedback from Mark, David, Rob and Joel Johnson I decided to buy an 11" Mac Book Air. I love it but it just felt like I was going to destroy it, shoving it into my travel bag without a case -- the Air isn't delicate but I wouldn't call it a rugged machine.

So I bought a Twelve South BookBook, hardback leather-bound imitation book case. It is lovely. It feels wonderful, the texture of the leather is really nice. It feels to be the high-quality I'd expect when spending $80 on a laptop case. Most importantly, it feels like the Air can really take a beating if it's inside this case. I no longer fear the TSA.

The only warnings I have about it would be that the zipper does ride a bit high and can make getting USB and other plugs (like power) in a bit of a task. Sometimes the mag-safe power adaptor gets pushed out by the zipper. I"m pretty sure that, over time, the zipper will get used to being pushed down and these issues will cease.

A fascinating conclusion to an environmental mystery

This is the town of Kivalina, Alaska. Last fall, when the ocean water that almost surrounds the town started turning a gooey orange, people (understandably) got a bit freaked out.

After ruling out the scarier options—i.e.,chemical pollution and toxic algae—scientists eventually pinned the orange tide on the presence of a plant fungus. And they turned up some good news: The fungus wasn't dangerous to people or ocean life.

Now, months later, researchers have identified what, exactly, the fungus is and where it was coming from. There's a fascinating detective story here, because, as Jennifer Frazer points out on Scientific American's Artful Amoeba blog, it's rather surprising that there was a fungal epidemic big enough to turn a whole port orange and nobody noticed it on the plants.

[But] Perhaps someone did.

Last October, David Wartinbee, a professor of aquatic biology at Kenai Peninsula College in Alaska’s south-central Kenai Peninsula, emailed me to say he’d seen something strange, and wondered if it might be the same thing that hit Kivalina. Though his neck of the woods is over 600 miles southeast from Kivalina as the snow goose flies, it’s not inconceivable they could be one in the same in a place so far north.

In early September, Wartinbee traveled 70 miles west to a place called the Twin Lakes by float plane (reputedly the SUV of Alaska). He saw an orange film on the water, and the spruce needles on nearby trees were clearly poxed with something.

You can read the rest of this story (and see Wartinbee's photos!) at The Artful Amoeba.

Image: ArticLandscape, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from uscgpress's photostream

Canada to science: Drop dead

Not long ago, Cory told you about how the Canadian government has been muzzling scientists—refusing to let them speak freely with the press and, thus, controlling what research the public gets to know about. Not surprisingly, it's research on topics that are politically inconvenient to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government—climate change, for instance—that end up getting frozen.

This issue was the topic of a panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Vancouver. And although the Canadian government did schedule a free press breakfast in the same time slot, word of this issue got out to a lot of journalists from around the world who hadn't heard about it before. That means we're likely to start seeing more attention being drawn to this issue.

Case in point: The Harper government and its opposition to the open distribution of scientific information was the subject of a Feb. 29th editorial in Nature—one of the biggest and most-read scientific journals in the world.

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party won power in 2006, there has been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists and other government workers. Researchers who once would have felt comfortable responding freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct inquiries to a media-relations office, which demands written questions in advance, and might not permit scientists to speak. Canadian journalists have documented several instances in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed literature. Policy directives and e-mails obtained from the government through freedom of information reveal a confused and Byzantine approach to the press, prioritizing message control and showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge.

... The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.

Who should know what's happening in your computer? Who should control it?

My latest Locus column is "What’s Inside the Box," a discussion of whether owners, users or third parties should be able to know and/or control what their computers are doing:

The answer to this that most of the experts I speak to come up with is this:

The owner (or user) of a device should be able to know (or control) which software is running on her devices.

This is really four answers, and I’ll go over them in turn, using three different scenarios: a computer in an Internet cafe, a car, and a cochlear implant. That is, a computer you sit in front of, a computer you put your body into, and a computer you put in your body.

Cory Doctorow: What’s Inside the Box

Philip K. Dick: 30 years gone, and a PKD festival!

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Total Dick-Head's David Gill reminds us that 30 years ago today, science fiction author Philip K. Dick "disconnected." Public Radio International's "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" has posted a great selection of interviews about the man whose entire life and work questioned the nature of reality. Hear from Gill along with Umberto Rossi, Anne Dick, and Jonathan Lethem. To The Best of Our Knowledge: Philip K. Dick

In other PKD news, the 2012 Philip K. Dick Festival is scheduled for September 22-23 in San Francisco!

Betty Crockers through the ages


For all of us who swooned with Bloom County's Milo Bloom as he crushed on Betty Crocker, here's a nice retrospective of the Betties of times gone by.

Betty Crocker Thru' The Ages, Stories Behind 10 Famous Food Logos

Dick Clark's rock house for sale

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Fred Flintstone, er, Dick Clark rather, is selling this Malibu home for $3.5 million. More details at the realtor's page -- top left listing. (via LA Times)

Wool 1-5 Omnibus: gripping Kindle read

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I'm not always the biggest fan of Amazon's recommendations, buying books and toys for my daughter frequently leaves me with a screen of Dora the Explorer and Strawberry Shortcake titles. I was skeptical when I bought Wool by Hugh Howey but figured .99 was a small risk.

This story is terrific. I was completely immersed, watching Howey slowly paint a picture of a society gone wrong through the eyes and discovery of some truly compelling characters. I really don't want to give so much away as each short novella adds more clarity and resolution to the questions of "What the heck is going on here?" and "How did this get so screwed up?" It is compelling in its anthropological analysis of human development and became harder and harder to put down as the you learned, along with the characters, how and why their society performs as it does.

You can buy the Kindle eBook of Howey's first installment via the link above or buy the entire collection of 5 stories (the later ones are much longer than the first) here: Wool 1-5 Omnibus by Hugh Howey

Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls, Sublime Frequencies) interviewed about outernational music

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In 1983, Alan Bishop of avant-garde freak rock band Sun City Girls was traveling through Morocco when he became obsessed with all of the unusual and "exotic" sounds coming from his transistor radio. He recorded hours of broadcasts and later collaged them into "Radio Morocco," a very strange and compelling CD that was the birth of Bishop's Sublime Frequencies record label. Since then, he's released dozens of recordings and videos of psych rock, traditional folk, ritual, and combinations of those from Indonesia, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Syria, and dozens of other locales. The trailer above is from a film by Bishop and Mark Gergis titled "Sumatran Folk Cinema." I recently raved about the label's new collection of Erkin Koray's pioneering Turkish rock from the 1970s. Another great point-of-entry into Sublime Frequencies is the just-reissued Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Sounds of Myanmar (Burma) Vol 1, first released in 1994. The Sublime Frequencies releases are available in the US via Forced Exposure. On a recent episode of the fantastic Expanding Mind podcast, BB pal Erik Davis and Maja D'Aoust spoke with Bishop about extreme travel, otherness, and the "archaeology of global sounds."

Expanding Mind: Alan Bishop

"Cameo Demons: Hanging with the Sun City Girls" (2004) by Erik Davis

Android lets apps secretly access and transmit your photos

Writing in the NYT's BITS section, Brian X. Chen and Nick Bilton describe a disturbing design-flaw in Android: apps can access and copy your private photos, without you ever having to grant them permission to do so. Google says this is a legacy of the earlier-model phones that used removable SD cards, but it remains present in current versions. To prove the vulnerability's existence, a company called Loupe made an Android app that, once installed, grabbed your most recent photo and posted it to Imgur, a public photo-sharing site. The app presented itself as a timer, and users who installed it were not prompted to grant access to their files or images. A Google spokesperson quoted in the story describes the problem, suggests that the company would be amenable to fixing it, but does not promise to do so.

Ashkan Soltani, a researcher specializing in privacy and security, said Google’s explanation of its approach would be “surprising to most users, since they’d likely be unaware of this arbitrary difference in the phone’s storage system.” Mr. Soltani said that to users, Google’s permissions system was ”akin to buying a car that only had locks on the doors but not the trunk.”

I think that this highlights a larger problem with networked cameras and sensors in general. The last decade of digital sensors -- scanners, cameras, GPSes -- has accustomed us to thinking of these devices as "air-gapped," separated from the Internet, and not capable of interacting with the rest of the world without physical human intervention.

But increasingly these things are networked -- we carry around location-sensitive, accelerometer-equipped A/V recording devices at all times (our phones). Adding network capability to these things means that design flaws, vulnerabilities and malicious code can all conspire to expose us to unprecedented privacy invasions. Unless you're in the habit of not undressing, going to the toilet, having arguments or intimate moments, and other private activities in the presence of your phone, you're at risk of all that leaking online.

It seems to me that neither the devices' designers nor their owners have gotten to grips with this yet. The default should be that our sensors don't broadcast their readings without human intervention. The idea that apps should come with take-it-or-leave-it permissions "requests" for access to your camera, mic, and other sensors is broken. It's your device and your private life. You should be able to control -- at a fine-grained level -- the extent to which apps are allowed to read, store and transmit facts about your life using your sensors.

Et Tu, Google? Android Apps Can Also Secretly Copy Photos

Video of lizard leaps

This fantastic video reveals how Agama lizards use their tails to balance as they leap through the air. The footage, combined with analysis of a "robot lizard" made from an R/C car outfitted with a mechanical tail and gyroscope, helped UC Berkeley scientists understand the physics of how the reptile controls its movement mid-jump. Their work supports a long-held theory that velociraptors used their tails as "dynamic stabilizers" when launching into an attack. Apparently, Jurassic Park had it right. "Measuring the leap of a lizard"

UPDATE: Tom Libby, the lead researcher on this project, points us to his lab's press Web site, a Nature video, and an IEEE Spectrum article with much more information on the robot.

Proposed US law bans protesting near anyone who rates a Secret Service detail

HR437, "the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011" makes it illegal to protest in the vicinity of anyone who rates a Secret Service detail (even if you aren't aware of the person's presence), thus sparing politicians and VIPs the ugly and unseemly spectacle of having to confront voters who disagree with their policies. Only three Congressmen voted against it.

On top of that, the punishment can be pretty severe. You can get up to a year in jail for being found guilty of these things, and that jumps up to 10 years if you are carrying a "deadly or dangerous weapon."

As Amash notes, there are legitimate safety concerns to be aware of, and there are issues with doing something that significantly impedes government regulations. But it's really not difficult to see how this bill could very, very easily be stretched to be used against those doing standard protesting against significant political figures.

Chipping Away At The First Amendment: New 'Trespassing' Bill Could Be Used To Criminalize Legitimate Protests

Time moves on: Kodak to end slide film production

Yesterday Kodak announced that it will no longer produce any slide film. Having ended production of the legendary Kodachrome in June 2009, they will now cease production of their 2 remaining products Ektachrome and Elite Chrome. Kodak's lovely Ektar line, as well as Portra (sadly, I don't take people pictures) will continue.

Slowly but surely, time marches on.

PetaPixel: Kodak Kills Off its Color Reversal Films

Danger: massive falling pinecones

 News Image 3864472-4X3-340X255 Mayor Diane Blackwood of Warragul, east of Melbourne, Australia, has issued a warning about massive pine cones falling from a tree in the town center: "They are the size of a watermelon, falling literally out of the sky from potentially 20 metres high. So you wouldn't want to be under one, I tell you."
"Warning over watermelon-sized pine cones" (ABC.net.au, via Fortean Times)

Marketing marriage of the month: The Lorax and HP

Teaming up with The Lorax and HP isn't just a chance to help clear the Earth of environmentally voluminous trees: print your sustainability stories with the latest PhotoSmart, where each color comes in its own plastic ink cartridge to save cash! [Hp MagCloud via Matt Haughey]

Standalone scanners "uniformly disappointing", says Consumer Reports

After testing 4 popular models of standalone photo scanner, Consumer Reports determined that they all "pretty much stink." If you want a decent scan, stick with the old flatbed.

Antique photo of flying child

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Tiny Baby Sloth gets the Onesie Treatment (VIDEO)

(Video Link) In which a baby sloth is shaved and swaddled. 

Key quotes:

Sloth milk is hard to come by.

There's an art to swaddling slippery sloths.