Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

Cucumbers encumber man


A farmer carries cucumbers to sell in the markets of Allahabad, India. Photo: Jitendra Prakash with Reuters.

UK MPs recommend laws compelling Google to censor search results

A committee of UK MPs investigating the Internet's role in compromising Britain's privacy laws have concluded that the best way to ensure that court orders demanding suppression of tittle-tattle about the love-lives of celebrities and oligarchs (as well as the criminal misdeeds of giant corporations) is to order Google to censor its search results for British people, to make sure that we don't discover these activities. They have recommended that Parliament pass a law ordering Google to develop censorship programmes for use in the UK. They also want more British people sued for violating UK privacy orders -- which are the go-to legislative vehicle for censoring legitimate criticism by outspending your critics -- on the Internet. Finally, they want advertisers to pull their ads from websites and newspapers that refuse the "voluntary" code of conduct that demands the media kowtow to the courts' secrecy orders.

I like the idea of strong privacy legislation, but the UK tradition of using "privacy" as the rubric for censorship on behalf of the rich and powerful robs these recommendations of any legitimacy.

"Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology," the committee said. "We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced."

The committee gave a clean bill of health to high court privacy injunctions, but said that they should routinely apply to websites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as newspapers. They urged the attorney general to be more willing to launch contempt of court claims against internet users if they are suspected of breaching privacy injunctions online, after it was found that the Giggs injunction was tweeted about more than 75,000 times when it finally collapsed in May last year.

In a series of recommendations on the future of press regulation, the committee said the reformed Press Complaints Commission should have the power to fine newspapers and determine the prominence of printed apologies. It urged advertisers to withdraw funding from newspapers and major blogs that opt out of the reconstituted regulator, and threatened "statutory oversight" from a body such as Ofcom if the industry cannot agree a credible package of reforms.

Google should be forced to censor search results, say MPs

On sci-fi and technology

Dr. Joline Zepcevski, a sci/tech history researcher, quoted by Jeremy Hsu on why much science fiction is as interesting for the technologies abandoned as those newly invented: "Technology is not pre-determined as 'better'—it becomes better when a society deems it to be better or more advanced. With respect to "The Hunger Games," there is no reason why a new society, rising from the ashes of an old society, would necessarily re-invent the same technologies." [Discovery Channel]

A decade ago, you could fly London to New York in a couple of hours. A year ago, America had a reusable spacecraft.

A map to the past

Io9 has a very cool article about archaeologists using satellite mapping techniques to discover thousands of new sites in the Middle East. These places represent 8,000 years of human habitation and might never have been discovered with old-fashioned "eyes-on-the-ground" archaeology. (Via Dr. Rubidium) Maggie

Is responding to food as a reward the same thing as food addiction?

We've had a couple of posts recently about a hypothesis that links the current increase in obesity with an increase in easy access to foods that are designed to trigger reward systems in the human brain. Basically: Maybe we're getting fatter because our brains are seeking out the recurrent reward of food that makes us fat. Scientist Stephan Guyenet explained it all in more detail in a recent guest post.

It's an interesting—and increasingly popular—idea, though not without flaws. To give you some context on how scientists are talking about this, I linked you to a blog post by Scicurious, another scientist who wrote about some of the critiques of food reward and related ideas. In particular, Scicurious questioned some of the implicit connections being made here between body size and health, and eating patterns and body size.

She also talked about another critique, one which came up in a recent article in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience. If people are gaining weight because they're addicted to eating unhealthy foods, we ought to see some evidence of that in the way their brains respond to those foods. After all, brains respond to many physically addictive substances in special ways. But we don't see that with junk food. So does that invalidate the hypothesis?

Stephan Guyenet doesn't think it does. In a recent email to me, he explained that he thinks the food reward hypothesis is a bit more nuanced, and can't really be described as "food addiction". At least, not the same way that cigarettes or heroin are addictive.

Addiction is the dependence on a drug, or behavior, despite clear negative consequences. Drug addiction is associated with characteristic changes in the brain, particularly in regions that govern motivation and behavioral reinforcement (reward), which drive out-of-control drug seeking behaviors. Some researchers have proposed that common obesity is a type of “food addiction”, whereby drug addiction-like changes in the brain cause a loss of control over eating behavior. Hisham Ziauddeen and colleagues recently published an opinion piece in Nature Reviews Neuroscience reviewing the evidence related to this idea.

The review concluded that there is currently not enough evidence to treat obesity as a “food addiction”. I agree, and I doubt there ever will be enough evidence. However, this does not challenge the idea that food reward is involved in obesity, an idea I described in a review article in JCEM, on my blog (1, 2), and my recent Boing Boing piece.

The reward system is what motivates us to seek and consume food, and what motivates us to choose certain foods over others. To begin to appreciate its role in obesity, all we need is a common sense example.

Why do some people drink sweetened sodas between meals, rather than plain water? Is it because sodas quench thirst better than water? Is it because people are hungry and need the extra calories? If so, why not just eat a plain potato or a handful of unsalted nuts? The main reason people drink soda is that they enjoy it, plain and simple. They like the sweetness, they like the flavor, they like the feeling of carbonation on the tongue and the mild stimulation the caffeine provides. It’s the same reason people eat a thick slice of double chocolate cake even though they’re stuffed after a large meal. The reward system motivates you to seek the soda and cake, and the hedonic (pleasure) system encourages you to keep consuming it once you’ve begun.

But is this the same as addiction? If I took a person’s cola away, would they get the shakes? Would they break into a convenience store at night to get a cola fix? I’m going to say no.

I agree with Ziauddeen and colleagues that the evidence at this point is not sufficient to say that common obesity represents food addiction, and I appreciate their skeptical perspective on the matter. In obesity, as in leanness, the food reward system appears to be doing exactly what it evolved to do: seek out energy-dense, tasty food, and strongly suggest that you eat it. The problem is that we’re increasingly surrounded by easily accessible, cheap, commercial food that is designed to hit these circuits as hard as possible, with the goal of driving repeat purchase and consumption behaviors. Our brains are not malfunctioning; they’re reacting just as they’re supposed to around foods like this.

The chilling history behind a museum's disembodied uterus

To be fair, there are really only a few ways that London's Hunterian Museum would end up with the uterus of a young woman floating in a jar. Given that the museum is home to surgical specimens, many of which were collected in the days before surgery involved anesthesia, it's easy to guess that the story behind the uterus is not a pretty one.

But at The Chiurgeon's Apprentice blog, we learn that the story is even more grisly than you might have suspected. In fact, it belonged to a woman who committed suicide by drinking arsenic in 1792. She was, at the time, a month or so pregnant. Medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris writes about the autopsy:

In his [autopsy] report, Ogle remarked that her stomach contained ‘a greenish fluid, with a curdy substance…an effect produced by the arsenic’. He also noted that there was ‘an uncommon quantity of blood in the vessels of the ovaria and Fallopian tubes’ and that it was ‘evident, from this circumstance, that conception had taken place’.Nevertheless, when told that the date of her last period had only been ‘a little more than a month before her death’, Ogle began to question whether Mary had been pregnant when she died.

Curious to know the truth, Ogle removed the ‘organs of generation’ and gave them over to the famous anatomist, John Hunter, whose interest in pregnant cadavers was well known. Hunter injected the arteries and smaller vessels of the uterus with a wax-like substance so that ‘the whole surface became extremely red’. The uterus was then split open and the ‘inner surface of the cavity…was examined with a magnifying glass’...

Read the rest of the story at The Chirurgeon's Apprentice

Via Deborah Blum

Image: Poison, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from -cavin-'s photostream

Woodcut maps

I really dig creative work that turns a sense of place into art. That's why I'm really getting a kick out of WoodcutMaps.com, which uses Google Maps to create really great geometric art—some clearly map-like, others much more abstract.

It all depends on what view of the map you choose to have turned into a woodcut. You can do a tight crop, or wide pull-out. Basically, you choose the view that matters to you. They make it art. Above is what my neighborhood in Minneapolis would look like as a woodcut.

At $100 for an 8x8 square, this isn't cheap. But it is very cool and strikes me as something that would make a nice housewarming gift for a special friend, or an anniversary gift for parents who've lived in the same place for decades.

Via Flowingdata and Ryan Sager.

Science, sex, and your hands

Here's an interesting fact about sexual dimorphism: On average, if you were born a male, your hands are a little bit different from those of someone who was born a female. Most men have a pointer finger that is a little bit shorter than their ring finger. Most women have a pointer finger that's about the same length as their ring finger, if not a little longer.

People have noted this differences between the sexes for centuries. But what's it mean? Truth is, we really aren't sure yet. But it is correlated to a lot of awfully interesting things. In fact, some scientists think "the finger thing" (as I like to call it) is a hallmark of prenatal hormone exposure. Because of that, in the scientific literature, you'll find lots of examples of studies that try to find a connection between the finger thing and seemingly disparate traits, such as sexual orientation and gender expression.

We talked about the finger thing on a recent episode of the Sex is Fun podcast—what it's all about, what fingers could be telling us about people, and why it's maybe all just a bunch of hooey. Take a listen!

Also, for the record: My right hand has lady fingers. My left hand does not. How about you?

Sex is Fun

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

Herman Cain's latest ad.

Any questions?

HOWTO build a robotic squirrel-squirting water sentry-gun, with python

Kurt Grandis needed to fight the squirrels in his backyard bird-feeder. So he turret-mounted a Super-Soaker, rigged for computer-control, and used python to program it to detect squirrels (distinguishing them from other critters, such as birds), target them, and squirt them. In this 26 minute technical presentation from Pycon US, he explains how to teach a computer to answer the question, "What is squirrelness?" and to camp on the feeder and target them. The amazing thing is how it takes the infinite patience of a computer to outlast the persistence of a squirrel. Jump to 15:45 for about a minute and a half of pure gold squirrel warfare, complete with Wacky Sax.

Militarizing Your Backyard with Python: Computer Vision and the Squirrel Hordes (via Naked Capitalism)

TSA gets Bruce Schneier booted from House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing

Bruce Schneier was invited to testify about the TSA to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but at the last minute he was disinvited, after the TSA objected to having him in the room.

On Friday, at the request of the TSA, I was removed from the witness list. The excuse was that I am involved in a lawsuit against the TSA, trying to get them to suspend their full-body scanner program. But it's pretty clear that the TSA is afraid of public testimony on the topic, and especially of being challenged in front of Congress. They want to control the story, and it's easier for them to do that if I'm not sitting next to them pointing out all the holes in their position. Unfortunately, the committee went along with them. (They tried to pull the same thing last year and it failed -- video at the 10:50 mark.)

The committee said it would try to invite me back for another hearing, but with my busy schedule, I don't know if I will be able to make it. And it would be far less effective for me to testify without forcing the TSA to respond to my points.

Congressional Testimony on the TSA (Thanks, Bruce!)

7 days until the release of “The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist”! (…plus your chance to win an autographed copy today)

…and the countdown continues.

201203261453


Alvin says: "We found this drawing tucked away at the bottom of one of Mr. Clowes’s drawers…"

The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist will be available April 1st. Order a copy today from your local bookseller, the publisher, or Amazon. OR: Enter our contest for a chance to win a copy of the book autographed by Clowes. Throughout the countdown, one winner will be picked at random every day, so check boingboing.net for the daily code. To enter, send an email to artofdanielclowescontest@gmail.com with your mailing address (only US mailing addresses are eligible and no PO boxes please) and put in the subject line today's contest code: harrynaybors. Winners are being posted here.

Fun pencil holder hack for Lego Moleskine

201203261345


In the latest episode of the Gweek podcast (Number 45), I talked about the new line of limited edition Lego Moleskine notebooks. The front cover has a Lego plate built into it. When I brought up this feature, my co-host Michael Pusateri had a great idea -- attach a pencil to a Lego brick so you can stick a pencil on the cover!

After the show, Michael went to work on the idea and made it! Here's a photo (above). I believe he had to pull the ferrule off the pencil and shave down the end of the pencil a bit, because the pencil's diameter is a little too large for the allowable hole you can drill into a Lego brick. (Read the comments where Michael explains how he made it.)

Below, some photos of the Lego Moleskine that I took. (figure not included.)

Lego-Moleskine-1Lego-Moleskine-2


Lego-Moleskine-3Lego-Moleskine-4

HOWTO make yourself into a doll

VenusAngelic, a prominent, 15-year-old member of online ball-jointed-doll fandom, describes how she uses cosmetics to make herself look like a doll, narrating it in a kind of whispering, Asian-inflected voice. I confess that this isn't my subculture or interest, and VenusAngelic's opening remarks, "Hello my dolly molly inky pinky cotton candy clouds!" are not the sort of thing that I'd be likely to say to other people. But VenusAngelic's cultural identity seems to me to have the kind of deeply transgressive edge that characterizes the best teenaged subcultures, the kind of thing that evokes panicked, hostile, knee-jerk reactions from grownups. The YouTube comments on her video are a kind of pure, distilled youtubidity -- vile, misogynist, patronizing, incoherent -- which suggests that she's touching a nerve.

Use moisturiser to create a base that makes your skin look smooth like porcelain. Press the moisturiser with lifting strokes into your skin. Be gentle with your skin, the facial skin is the most sensitive, so make sure your hands and face are clean so you don't transfer bacteria into your pores and avoid breakouts.

When the cream is absorbed, apply a second layer. Wait until the second one is absorbed by your skin too, and apply the third and last layer. Applying more than one layer of moisturiser is more effective.

This part is optional, but listen: Before we start applying any makeup, insert circle lenses. It's wrong inserting them after the makeup is done, as you risk that powder could come in touch with your lens, and you'd end up with a bad eye infection. Or, of course, your eye makeup and mascara would risk getting messed up.

How to look like a doll (make up) (via Neatorama)

From barn to bibliothek, a library emerges from history

Most libraries aren’t found in barns, but Jackson (N.H.) Public Library happily makes its new home in one. It’s not just any barn, either. Built in 1858 as part of the town’s first inn, the barn was dismantled and stored away in 2008. At about the same time, the library was looking to open a new facility. As the recession made following through on an architect’s design fiscally impossible, the library partnered with the Jackson Historical Society, itself looking for a way to re-erect the barn.

Jackson Public Library is one of several recent libraries to adapt existing non-library buildings (including a factory, a roller rink, and a department store) as new homes. In addition to generally costing less than a new building, and the potential historic value, the practice helps rejuvenate neighborhoods. See the library in a roller rink (and more) at Reused Libraries Rejuvenate Communities [atyourlibrary.org]

— posted by Greg Landgraf, American Libraries