Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

An interview with China Miéville

Photo: Ceridwen (cc)

China Miéville is one of the most important writers working in Britain today. The author of ten novels of "weird fiction"—as well as short stories, comics, non-fiction, a roleplaying game, and academic writing on law and ideology—his 2011 science fiction novel Embassytown was acclaimed by Ursula K le Guin, among others, as "a fully achieved work of art" busy "bringing the craft of science fiction out of the backwaters".

We share the same British publisher, Pan Macmillan, and so—ahead of the publication on May 24 of his newest book, Railsea, a fantastical novel set in a world whose "seas" are an endless web of railway lines—I spent an hour with him discussing fiction, fantasy, giant moles, and the limits of contemporary geekdom.

Read the rest

The Butterflies of India: An interview with Isaac Kehimkar

Isaac Kehimkar is an avid naturalist and the author of The Book of Indian Butterflies Isaac's photostream of Indian Butterflies is at Flickr.

Avi Solomon: What early influences drew you to the study of nature?

Isaac Kehimkar: I grew up in Deonar, a suburb of Mumbai. It was a time when black and white television had just started in India with only one channel and no video games in sight. But Nature offered so many options. Deonar was still green and water in the streams was sparkling clean. The Monsoons were my season and catching fish and crabs with local Koli and Agri boys in the rice fields was my favorite pastime. That's the time I even dared (rather foolishly) to catch snakes too! With the rains gone and rice harvested, cricket pitches were soon paved in the rice fields and we played cricket till the rains came again.

Read the rest

Fantasy settings populated by live ants


Russian photographer Andrey Pavlov builds miniature fantasy settings, designed to coax the ants he sets loose upon them to follow certain paths, bringing the scenes to life.

Антрей (Thanks, Derryl!)

ACTA crash-landing in the EU

Michael Geist has more detail on the fortunes of ACTA, the secretive copyright treaty that seems to be crash-landing in Europe, about which Rob posted earlier:

Earlier today, three European Parliament committees studying the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), the Committee for Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) - all voted against implementing ACTA. The rejection from all three committees confirms the lack of support with the Parliament for ACTA. A final European Parliament vote is expected in July with additional committee recommendations coming next month.

The strength of the anti-ACTA movement within the European Parliament is part of a broader backlash against secretive intellectual property agreements that are either incorporated into broad trade agreements or raise critical questions about prioritizing IP enforcement over fundamental rights. This week the Dutch Parliament voted against ratifying the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a move that some experts say could effectively kill ACTA (which is a "mixed agreement") throughout Europe. The opposition to ACTA-style treaties (which obviously include the Trans Pacific Partnership and bi-lateral agreements such as CETA) is part of a growing international trend as elected officials and independent policy officials around the world voice their objection to these treaties.

The implications of this backlash are significant as they points to increasing discomfort with the inclusion of intellectual property chapters within large scale trade agreements. Indeed, intellectual property is invariably one of the major stumbling blocks within these agreements - whether the inclusion of the Internet provisions in ACTA, the TPP IP chapter, and the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement which is facing a major backlash over the IP rules. Note that these are not "anti-IP countries" but rather countries that recognize that trade agreements frequently do not yield intellectual property rules that serve their national interest. The development of global IP norms is important, but it belongs in open, transparent, inclusive multilateral institutions, not secretive trade deals like ACTA, the TPP, and CETA.

EP Committees Reject ACTA As Backlash Against Secretive IP Agreements Continues to Grow (Thanks, Michael!)

Macabre coin-op automaton depicts a mortuary scene

Dug North sez, "The upcoming auction at Skinner features a macabre coin-operated mortuary scene automaton. When a coin is inserted, the doors open revealing four morticians and four poor souls on embalming tables. The morticians move as if busily at work and the mourners standing outside bob their heads as if sobbing in grief."

Video of bizarre coin-operated mortuary scene automaton that is to go to auction (Thanks, Dug!)

Arrêtez-moi quelqu'un! Vowing to violate Quebec's anti-protest law


Arrêtez-moi quelqu'un! ("Someone stop me!") is a site where Quebeckers and their supporters around the world can post photos of themselves holding signs in which they state their intention to violate Special Law 78, which suspends the right to freedom of assembly in Quebec: "Nous nous engageons à continuer à lutter; à rester mobilisé·e·s, en vertu des libertés fondamentales. Si cela nous vaut des poursuites pénales en vertu de la loi 78, nous nous engageons à y faire face."

Arrêtez-moi quelqu’un! (Thanks, PaulR!)

Globe and Mail turns celebrity photos slideshow into commentary on Quebec protests

The caption writer on the Globe and Mail's "Celebrity Photos of the Week" department has some trenchant political fun with the feature. Opening with a picture of the mass demonstrations still rocking Quebec, the writer notes "Thousands of Quebec students march through Montreal to protest university tuition fee hikes. Oh wait. Sorry about that, English Canada. You didn't come here to look at a bunch of self-centred, entitled people who don't know the value of a dollar and obviously crave attention. I don't know what I was thinking. You have no time for those kind of people."

Of course, the rest of the slideshow is of celebs holding fancy handbags flashing prosthetic dentistry attending red carpet events ("Cannes jury member Diane Kruger hits the Cannes red carpet last week in a dress that hardly resembles at all something Marie Antoinette would have worn") interspersed with protesters getting forcibly taken down and arrested in Montreal, creating an imaginary dialog with the celebs ("Zac, this is a bad person with misguided values. According to some, this Quebecker is no better than a Greek person who lost his job and isn't gracious enough to be pleased that his unemployment is helping Wall Street recover from the 2008 recession").

The Globe's celebrity photo caption-writer does this sort of thing regularly, but this is the best to date.

Celebrity Photos of the Week (Thanks, Emily!)

LAPD wants tapes of 1969 chats between Manson Family member and attorney

Tapes of 1969 conversations between Charles Manson's right hand man Tex Watson and his attorney may give new insight into the Manson family murders. The recordings turned up as part of the late attorney's law firm's bankruptcy proceedings. Watson remains in prison, convicted of Tate/Labianca murders, and his current attorney is fighting against the tapes' release citing, duh, attorney client privilege. From the L.A. Times:

 Wp-Content Uploads 2012 05 Wikipedia En A Ab Texwatson  Wp-Content Uploads 2012 05 Bleed Images Misc Manson5

According to LAPD detectives, the judge granted the motion (to provide the LAPD with access to the tapes) but left open the possibility of a further challenge to their release within 14 days by Watson’s current attorney, who has objected to the disclosure.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the LAPD hopes that when those 14 days are up, detectives can begin scouring the tapes for any evidence of unsolved murders tied to the Manson family. Smith said there were "no specific unsolved homicides" that have led L.A. detectives to seek the tapes and that the recordings are being sought because the LAPD learned of their availability.

"Tapes could shed new light on Manson murders, LAPD says"

Google not guilty of infringement in Oracle/Java suit

The judge presiding over the Google/Oracle suit has ruled that Google didn't infringe copyright by using the Java APIs, though he didn't rule on whether APIs themselves can be copyrighted. Cory

The Mysterious Mr. Hokum

The Mysterious Mr. Hokum is a fascinating story about an enigmatic con-man—and the subtle cons that even the most skeptical tech-savvy marks fall for—told by documentarian and internet archivist Jason Scott.

He died of a heart attack at his expensive, beautiful home outside of Indianapolis. He was well off, he was a beloved member of his community, he was a car collector, he was an ISP owner who had recently sold out, and he had his whole life ahead of him. But instead he found himself dying in his bedroom at the age of 41. ... When Bob Hoquim died, they wanted to contact his nearest family members to tell them that he was gone. What they found was that his identification was kind of strange. His Social Security number wasn't real, his town of birth wasn't real. So the authorities trying to track the story of this man down got access to his shipping container. And when they opened it, that's when everything fell apart. "

African bootleg MP3 street-market


3bute's comic has adapted Chris Kirkley's blog post about an MP3 street-market in Nouakchott, Mauritania. It's a fascinating look at the intersection of traditional developing-world counterfeit/bootleg markets and the digital world:

The market itself is a labyrinthine of stalls, glass display cases filled with “fake” Nokia/Samsung cellphones, sporting two or three SIM cards, cameras, mp3 players, and speakers. Deeper into the market, past the fancier shops, the stalls are simpler. In concrete boxes plastered with glossy hip hop posters and homemade montages, young men lounge behind computers, blasting music from pairs of speakers directed outwards, in an arms race of sonic amplitude. This is Nouakchott’s mp3 market.

This is no amateur operation. Every computer trails a variety inputs: USB multipliers, memory card receivers, and microSD adapters. A virus scan is initiated on each new connection. Each PC is running some version of a copy utility to facilitate the process. The price is a standard 40 ougiya per song, about $0.14; like every market, discounts are available for bulk purchases. The music on the computers is dictated by the owners. Hassaniya music is most often carried by young Maurs, Senegalese Mbalax and folk by Pulaar and Wolof kids. While I’m searching for Hausa film music, I’m directed to the sole Hausa man in the market, a vendor from Niamey. I sit with the vendors, scrolling through the songs on VLC, selecting with a nod or a pass, the files copied to a folder, tallied, and transferred to my USB.

The original post included an MP3 of the street-sounds in the market, which makes for good listening (I've proxied that link through CoralCache to avoid nuking the server).

#5: Down and Out in the MP3 Market (via AfroCyberPunk)

Lockdown: free/open OS maker pays Microsoft ransom for the right to boot on users' computers

A quiet announcement from the Fedora Linux community signals a titanic shift in the way that the computer market will work from now on, and a major threat to free/open operating systems. Microsoft and several PC vendors have teamed up to ensure that only operating systems bearing Microsoft's cryptographic signature will be able to boot on their hardware, meaning that unless Microsoft has blessed your favorite flavor of GNU/Linux or BSD, you won't be able to just install it on your machine, or boot to it from a USB stick or CD to try it out. There is a work-around for some systems involving a finicky and highly technical override process, but all that means is that installing proprietary software is easy and installing free/open software is hard.

This is a major reversal. For many years now, free/open OSes have been by far the easiest to install on most hardware. For example, I have installed Ubuntu on a variety of machines by just sticking in a USB stick and turning them on. Because the OS and its apps are free, and because there are no finicky vendor relationships to manage, it Just Works. On some of those machines, installing a Windows OS fresh from a shrinkwrapped box was literally impossible -- you had to order a special manufacturer's version with all the right drivers to handle external CD drives or docking stations or what-have-you. And the free/open drivers also handled things like 3G USB adapters better than the official drivers (not least because they didn't insist on drawing a huge "WELCOME TO $SOME_STUPID_PHONE_COMPANY" box on the screen every time you connected to the Internet.)

At issue is a new facility called UEFI, which allows a computer's bootloader to distinguish between different operating systems by examining their cryptographic signatures. In theory, this can be used to alert you if malicious software has modified your OS, putting you at risk of having your passwords harvested, your video and sound secretly captured, and your files plundered. But rather than simply alerting users to unsigned ("I have found an unknown operating system and I can't tell if it has dangerous software in it, continue? [Y/N]") or changed OSes ("Your computer has been modified since the last time it was turned on, and now has a version of Windows that can't be verified") Microsoft and its partners have elected to require a very complex and intimidating process that -- by design or accident -- is certain to scare off most unsophisticated users.

Fedora has opted to solve this problem by paying to receive Microsoft's blessing, so that UEFI-locked computers will boot Fedora without requiring any special steps. The payment is comparatively small ($99). When you multiply $99 by all the different versions and flavors of free/open operating systems, it adds up to a substantial revenue stream for Microsoft cost to, and drag upon the free/open software world.

What's more, free/open OSes that don't pay the $99 Microsoft tax will not boot at all on Microsoft-certified ARM-based computers, because Microsoft has forbidden it partners from booting an OS that hasn't been signed by Microsoft, even if the user takes some affirmative step to install a competing system.

This is a tremor before an earthquake: the hardware vendors and the flagging proprietary software vendors of yesteryear are teaming up to limit competition from robust, elegant and free alternatives.

Here's Fedora's Matthew Garrett explaining their decision:

We've been working on this for months. This isn't an attractive solution, but it is a workable one. We came to the conclusion that every other approach was unworkable. The cause of free software isn't furthered by making it difficult or impossible for unskilled users to run Linux, and while this approach does have its downsides it does also avoid us ending up where we were in the 90s. Users will retain the freedom to run modified software and we wouldn't have accepted any solution that made that impossible.

But is this a compromise? Of course. There's already inequalities between Fedora and users - trademarks prevent the distribution of the Fedora artwork with modified distributions, and much of the Fedora infrastructure is licensed such that some people have more power than others. This adds to that inequality. It's not the ideal outcome for anyone, and I'm genuinely sorry that we weren't able to come up with a solution that was better. This isn't as bad as I feared it would be, but nor is it as good as I hoped it would be.

What about ARM

Microsoft's certification requirements for ARM machines forbid vendors from offering the ability to disable secure boot or enrol user keys. While we could support secure boot in the same way as we plan to on x86, it would prevent users from running modified software unless they paid money for a signing key. We don't find that acceptable and so have no plans to support it.

Thankfully this shouldn't be anywhere near as much of a problem as it would be in the x86 world. Microsoft have far less influence over the ARM market, and the only machines affected by this will be the ones explicitly designed to support Windows. If you want to run Linux on ARM then there'll be no shortage of hardware available to you.

Implementing UEFI Secure Boot in Fedora (Thanks, Deborah!)

CISPA—time to kill this sucker


Zak from Fight for the Future/Privacy is Awesome sez,:

It's only days before the Senate votes on its version of CISPA, and the SECURE IT Act. The bill would open all your data up to the government, no matter how personal. Good bye privacy, hello police state. Since the vote is soon, anything we do at this point has a big impact, so if you care about your privacy, stand with us and take these actions:

The first thing you can do is change your Facebook cover photo to show your friends the creepy records government will be keeping on us if CISPA passes.

There's another thing you can do to send your message even stronger. Visit a Senator's office and deliver this explanation of how CISPA and SECURE IT would trample our privacy, or mail it in if you can't visit in person. Tons of people will be doing this. It's the best way we can educate our senators; a disturbing number of them don't really understand what they're about to vote on.

Toddler kicked off plane after iPad deprivation tantrum

A family from Washington state had to cancel an island vacation when their flight was grounded after their 3-year-old son pitched a tantrum.

The toddler had been quietly playing with an iPad while waiting for the plane to take off, the father said. When the iPad was taken away—you know how all electronics must be stowed during takeoff and landing—all hell broke loose.

Read the rest

Generate your own Malcolm Gladwell best-seller with this handy website

Malcolmgladwellbookgenerator.com is a source of high LOLs. (via @onthemedia)