Boing Boing 

Matt Fisher: Progressive Insurance is lying, they did too defend my sister's killer

Yesterday, Mark posted Progressive Insurance's denial that it had represented the driver who killed one of its policy holders, in an effort to getting out of paying a claim. Now, Matt Fisher, the brother of the dead woman, has posted a scathing rebuttal, which begins by noting:

At the beginning of the trial on Monday, August 6th, an attorney identified himself as Jeffrey R. Moffat and stated that he worked for Progressive Advanced Insurance Company. He then sat next to the defendant. During the trial, both in and out of the courtroom, he conferred with the defendant. He gave an opening statement to the jury, in which he proposed the idea that the defendant should not be found negligent in the case. He cross-examined the plaintiff’s witnesses. On direct examination, he questioned all of the defense’s witnesses. He made objections on behalf of the defendant, and he was a party to the argument of all of the objections heard in the case. After all of the witnesses had been called, he stood before the jury and gave a closing argument, in which he argued that my sister was responsible for the accident that killed her, and that the jury should not decide that the defendant was negligent.

PREMIUM FISHER | Today, in response to my blog post... (via Wil Wheaton)

Turning living plants into multitouch interfaces

"Botanicus Interacticus" is a Disney research project that uses an electrode in the soil of a plant to turn the entire plant into a multitouch interface that can be used to control computers and other devices.

Botanicus Interacticus is a technology for designing highly expressive interactive plants, both living and artificial. The technology is driven by the rapid fusion of our computing and living spaces. Botanicus Interacticus an interaction platform that takes interaction from computing devices and places it anywhere in the physical environment. In particular we are targeting living plants.

Botanicus Interacticus has a number of unique properties. This instrumentation of plants is simple, non-invasive, and does not damage the plants. It requires only a single wire placed anywhere in the soil. The interaction with plants goes beyond simple touch and allows rich gestural interaction. Examples include: sliding fingers on the stem of the orchid, detecting touch and grasp location, tracking proximity, and estimating the amount of touch contact between user and a plant.

Botanicus Interacticus also deconstructs the electrical properties of plants and replicates them using electrical components. This allows the design of a broad variety of biologically inspired artificial plants that behave nearly the same as their biological counterparts. The same sensing technology is used with both living and artificial plants.

A broad range of applications are possible with Botanicus Interacticus technology: designing interactive responsive environments and new forms of living interaction devices as well as developing organic ambient and pervasive interfaces.

"BOTANICUS INTERACTICUS": Interactive Plant Technology (via JWZ)

90 Days, 90 Reasons (to reelect Obama)

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90 Days, 90 Reasons is a compelling Web project where each day, an interesting thinker contributes an essay on why President Obama should be reelected. First up was Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard on gay marriage, followed by the likes of environmental activist Adam Werbach on fuel efficiency standards, Roxane Gay on hope and change, and so on. From the "opening salvo":

This initiative will provide daily reasons—concrete, factual, plain—to re-elect Barack Obama, and will also provide likely outcomes of a Romney presidency. Articulating these reasons will be a wide range of well-known Americans, their ranks proving that there is, indeed, a growing movement that acknowledges not only that Obama needs four more years, but that we actually need to participate to make it happen. Romney’s poll numbers are neck and neck with Obama’s, and the Republican party has raised and will continue to raise more money than Obama will or can. The only chance Obama has to win is if we can harness the same populist enthusiasm we did when we made history in 2008.

90 Days, 90 Reasons (Thanks, Jordan Kurland!)

In the future, we will shout at machines (even more than we do today)


New father Charlie Brooker has caught himself shouting at the machines in his life, given the matter careful consideration, and decided that it's OK -- more than OK, really. For Brooker, the future will involve lots of shouting at machines. Makes me wonder if there isn't something to be said for designing machines that understand why you're shouting at them.

I used to play vertical-scrolling shoot-em-ups in which a blizzard of angry pixels swirled around the screen like a synchronised galaxy impersonating a flock of starlings, accompanied by a melodic soundtrack of pops and whistles apparently performed by an orchestra of frenzied Bop-It machines. But at least then you could press pause. Now I find it hard to cope with seeing a banner ad slowly fading from red to green while the The One Show's on in the background, which is why over the past few weeks I've ratcheted down my engagement with anything not made of wood. There's a baby to attend to, and his old man needs a lie down.

Because the alternative is to surround myself with technology designed specifically for shouting at. And that's the more uplifting feature of the horrible future I pictured for this baby I'm talking about, the baby I vowed to never mention in print because to do so would instantly mark me out as a prick: in the future, we'll have specially designed anguish-venting machines – unfeeling robots wearing bewildered faces for older people to scream into like adult babies, just to let out all the stress caused by constant exposure to yappering, feverish stimuli. Tomorrow will consist of flashing lights and off-the-shelf digital punchbags, consumed by a generation better equipped to deal with it than me, which won't matter because by then I will have withdrawn entirely from the digital world: an old man, enjoying his lie down.

It's OK to shout at machines – in fact, in the future some of us will find it necessary (via Making Light)

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

Manufacturing processes beautifully illustrated in cutaway drawings


On the Vintage Ads LJ group, the fabulous Man Writing Slash has posted a set of "industrial cut-aways" by Frank Soltesz -- these being elaborate diagrams showing the details of manufacturing processes and businesses (brewing, making ice-cream, hotels). If you like comic-book villain-lair cutaways, you'll love these.

More Frank Soltesz Industrial Cut-aways

Gweek 064: Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine

Click here to play this episode. Gweek is Boing Boing’s podcast about comic books, science fiction and fantasy, video games, board games, tools, gadgets, apps, and other neat stuff.

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Yo-yoing in space

Ever wonder what happens if you yo-yo in space? Wonder no more. Rather, stare in wonderment as NASA astronaut Don Pettit uses his downtime to demonstrate the amazing phenomenon of micrgravity yo on a very special episode of Science Off the Sphere.

Science off the Sphere: Yo-Yos in Space (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Fran Kranz will star in the directorial debut of Gillian Greene-Raimi, Murder of a Cat

There is so much exciting news involved in this story that I'll just give it to you bit by bit: Sam Raimi is producing a movie called Murder of a Cat, which is about a guy who discovers that his recently deceased cat was leading a double life with another owner. That guy will be played by Fran Kranz, who was most recently seen in that other amazing Joss Whedon movie released this year, The Cabin in the Woods. As if this couldn't get any more fun, he will be directed by Gillian Greene-Raimi, wife of Sam, making her debut as a feature director. This movie was made for the geekiest faction of the internet. This movie was made...for us.

Read the rest

Kindle version of "World's Worst" book on sale for $1.99

NewImageI just learned that the Kindle edition of my book, The World's Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth is on sale at Amazon for $1.99.

Contents include: Least Adorable Pet | Most Disgusting Behavior on a Plane | Most Rotten Cheese | Creepiest Toy Maker | Most Disagreeable Food Additive | Saddest Fate for an Island Nation | Most Disgusting Fruit | Worst Diet | Most Disgusting Beverage | Most Lethal Clutter | Cruelest Food Preparation | Worst Grudge Against Nature | Least Genial Fish | And lots more!

Civil rights implications of Big Data

An excellent editorial by Alistair Croll on the civil rights implications of Big Data contains a number of points I hadn't considered before, as well as great analysis of the way that the Big Data situation arrived:

“Personalization” is another word for discrimination. We’re not discriminating if we tailor things to you based on what we know about you — right? That’s just better service.

In one case, American Express used purchase history to adjust credit limits based on where a customer shopped, despite his excellent credit limit:

Johnson says his jaw dropped when he read one of the reasons American Express gave for lowering his credit limit: “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”

We’re seeing the start of this slippery slope everywhere from tailored credit-card limits like this one to car insurance based on driver profiles. In this regard, big data is a civil rights issue, but it’s one that society in general is ill-equipped to deal with.

We’re great at using taste to predict things about people. OKcupid’s 2010 blog post “The Real Stuff White People Like” showed just how easily we can use information to guess at race. It’s a real eye-opener (and the guys who wrote it didn’t include everything they learned — some of it was a bit too controversial). They simply looked at the words one group used which others didn’t often use. The result was a list of “trigger” words for a particular race or gender.

Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it (Thanks, Bruce!)

Progressive denies defending the person who killed its policyholder

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[UPDATE: Read the comments in Cory's post here. The court records show that Progressive did indeed participate in the killer's legal defense] Adweek has a short item about Progressive Insurance's "social media crisis" resulting from Matt Fisher's claim that the insurer defended his sister's "killer in court in an effort not to pay out the benefit on her policy."

Progressive understands Flo is now a liability, at least temporarily, though the company was way too slow to replace her avatar with the corporate logo on its main Twitter account -- leaving Flo to smile maddeningly as she robo-spammed canned responses at people who had read Fisher's story and were horrified.

The article also linked to a statement from Chris Wolf, the claims general manager for Progressive, who points the finger at Nationwide for representing the defendant.

To be very clear, Progressive did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case. He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide.

There was a question as to who was at fault, and a jury decided in the Fisher family’s favor just last week. We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution.

Flo Suddenly a Problem for Progressive in Its Social-Media Crisis

What to do if your car gets broken into and you're the MPAA


In a guest editorial on TechDirt, Harold Feld ruminates on the recent theft of his iPod from the front seat of his car, and imagines what his response to this difficulty might have been like, had he been the MPAA:

1. Berate the cop who answered my call for not stopping the crime before it happened. I would also go around to everyone in my neighborhood and accuse them of "supporting theft" from their failure to set up a neighborhood watch to protect my right to leave my iPod in the front seat of my car.

2. When the cop told me that I could reduce the likelihood of future car break-ins by keeping electronics hidden, I would shout at the cop for "supporting theft." After all, I have a perfect right to keep my iPod in my car, prominently displayed if I want. How dare this cop tell me to change my behavior to avoid getting robbed!

3. Later, I would try to get the cop who advised me on how to avoid future car break-ins fired for "abetting car thieves." I would conduct a public smear campaign in which I accused this cop of being in bed with thieves, fences, and other nefarious dealers in stolen goods because he "supports theft" by advising me how to avoid future car break-ins rather than setting a 24/7 guard on my driveway or preemptively arresting anyone who looks like he or she might steal my iPod. After all, if you really cared about stopping theft, you wouldn't tell me to change my behavior or take steps to protect myself! I have a perfect right to leave my iPod in my front seat, and theft is wrong. So telling me to hide my iPod to avoid a break in means you don't really want to enforce the law.

4. While I'm at it, I will also accuse my neighbors of secretly wanting to steal my iPod. They have motive (who wouldn't want a free iPod?) and opportunity, so they are all prime suspects. I will demand the police conduct a house-to-house search. If they are too busy, I insist the police give ME the right to do a house-to-house search...

If I Were The MPAA... How I Would Deal With My Car Break-In

Mulberry's beastly photo campaign

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UK fashion house Mulberry's latest campaign is a forest fairytale shot by famed British fashion photog and Vogue mainstay Tim Walker. The photos are fantastic but I hope those wild things run like hell given that Mulberry's autumn/winter line is all about the fur. (via SuperPunch)

Gotye's YouTube orchestra remix of "Somebody That I Used to Know"

Gotye created the ultimate remix of his ubiquitous "Somebody That I Used to Know" track strictly from covers and parodies of the song that he found on YouTube. Gotye says he was directly inspired by Kutiman's classic "Thru-you" from 2009. "Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra" (Gotye.com)

Little Printer can now be pre-ordered

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BERG design studio's delightful Little Printer that we first blogged about in November can now be pre-ordered! You use your phone to subscribe to content sources that the Little Printer spews out as a custom miniature newspaper. It's £199.00 for the starter pack including the printer, cloud bridge, international power supplies, cables, and extra paper. Little Printer

And the more makery of you might prefer AdaFruit's "Internet of Things" DIY mini-printer kit!

Great writing advice from this year's Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy writing workshop


Sam J Miller sez, "I just graduated from the amazing Clarion Writer's Workshop, and transcribed over 300 great pieces of advice and guidance from my instructors and fellow students. I did it for the benefit of myself and my Clarion Comrades, but hoped other folks would find it helpful."

I'm a Clarion grad, teacher, and board member -- I'll be back teaching next summer, in fact, after a five-year fatherhood hiatus. This is a great collection of the kind of stuff you learn at the workshop.

“A common way to structure stories is: ESTABLISH NORM. UPSET NORM. COMPLICATE & ESCALATE. CLIMAX. RESOLUTION.”

“Whenever you think you’re going to create a really strong character by putting “I” at the beginning of every sentence, you’re digging yourself a hole. It’s actually harder to bring “I” to life.”

“When it’s broken, you don’t always have to fix the whole thing. You can fix half—you just have to know which half. And that’s not always easy.”

“The problem with people is they have beer and they want egg in it. Things are good and they’re unsatisfied.”

“Opening the vein is where the best writing comes from.”

“You have to write things you genuinely are not sure about.”

“Frequently, your back brain is wiser than your front brain.”

“You left yourself a lot of hints that I don’t think you even know about.”

(Thanks, Sam!)

Clarion 2012: Every Brilliant Piece of Writing Advice*

Bigfoot checks

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I don't write many checks, but if I did, I'd prefer Bigfoot checks. (via Cryptomundo)

What is climate change ruining today?

Chocolate and high school football are being affected by climate change, according to two stories published on the Scientific American website yesterday. In the case of chocolate, the cocoa its made from is grown in several countries in West Africa, a region heavily affected by higher temperatures and extreme weather patterns. By 2020, there will likely be a 1.5 million ton shortage in cocoa production. As for football, the problem is the fact that, across the United States, cool weather season is kicking in later in the year than it used to. That affects football practice. Specifically, schools are increasingly concerned about the health risks of forcing high school students to get really physical, while fully suited and padded, in today's warmer Augusts and Septembers. So I think it's safe to say that climate change hates fun. It's a fun-hater.

Rise of the omics

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Wall Street Journal science reporter Robert Lee Hotz posted a funny-cause-it's-true essay about the curious rise in the suffix "-ome" or "-omics," as in foldome, physiome, biome, and sociomics, pharmacogenomics, datanomics, and on and on. In fact, there's even a scientific journal named Omics, and you can track other bio-related omes over at Omics.org. "It sounds futuristic. It sounds computational," said Harvard medical geneticist Robert C. Greenm who studies the incidentalome (seriously!). "When you use the term "omics," it signals you are a new paradigm guy." Futuristic, eh? That's probably why Institute for the Future's exec director Marina Gorbis sent the article out to the whole staff this morning. OK, Marina, we get the hint. Although futuromics does sound cooler than futurism or futurology.

"Here's an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix"

Stan Lee is taking questions on Reddit right now

If you're a Marvel fan, or a non-discriminating fan of comics in general, then you might be interested to know that the Generalissimo Stan Lee is conducting an IAmA over on Reddit right now! Excelsior! (via Facebook)

Free NASA iPad book on space food

There are some topics that inspire an almost universal fascination—weird animal penises, for instance ... or, more SFW-ly, space food. The question, "what do people eat in space?", quickly leads down a rabbit hole of strange preparation machines, esoteric packaging, and futuristic gels. Decades after we gave up on a 1950s idea of what the 21st century would be like, space food remains this sort of weird holdover, combining modern science with the physical/design sensibilities of a different time.

And there's more to it than just freeze-drying some Neapolitan ice cream. Space menus are highly organized things—a function of limited storage space and long missions to the space station. They're also deeply researched. There's no entree, not even a snack, that reaches the space station without a very good reason for it being there. Caloric intake, nutrient content, every aspect has been thoroughly micromanaged.

At Download the Universe, Veronique Greenwood reviews Space Nutrition, a new NASA ebook for iPad that's available for free download online. The book is written with children in mind, but Greenwood says there's enough detail and behind-the-scenes perspective that adults can get something out of it, as well. The formatting is occasionally frustrating (it only works in portrait mode), but for a free book, it's hard to complain too much.

.. the book's primary charm is in the photographs and asides that you can’t find in a Wikipedia article on the subject. One photogallery is full of snapshots taken by excited Nutritional Biochemistry Lab members as they drive to Kennedy Space Center to pick up astronaut blood samples from the ISS, which they use to determine the effects of space flight on nutrient absorption, bones, and muscles. The shots of the Experiment Payload truck that retrieves the samples and of the little blue NASA duffel bags they are carried home in give the process of space research a refreshing physicality.

And spaceflight seen from a food scientist's point of view is endearingly kooky. Crumbs are a big no-no for space foods—they fly around and clog the instruments. Tortillas that last almost a year, on the other hand, are a very exciting development, the authors write, because you would need three hands to make a traditional sandwich with two slices of bread and a slice of baloney in space. The book's history of manned spaceflight missions reads like no other you'll find. Gemini: Shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, pudding, applesauce. Apollo: bread slices, cheddar cheese spread, frankfurters, fruit juice. Skylab: steak, vanilla ice cream.

Read the rest of the review at Download the Universe

A miracle! Adult Swim will air a Moral Orel prequel special in November

Lying is a sin, so I would never bear false witness when it comes to Moral Orel coming back to Adult Swim. Dino Stamatopoulos announced on Twitter not too long ago that his stop-motion show would return for a one-shot prequel special, Beforel Orel, Monday, November 19 at midnight.

According to MTV Geek, the story will focus on how Orel Puppington became such a devout little gent as well as the circumstances of the birth of his brother, Shapey. Why is Shapey something of a mystery? Because he's Orel's half-brother. And since we know that Orel's parents, Clay and Bloberta, have a rather tenuous relationship, this probably means that we'll get a better look at the unholy goings-on outside the Puppington household.

But mostly, it's going to be a ton of fun to see exactly what made Orel become the most dangerously optimistic person ever.

'Before Orel' the 'Moral Orel' prequel dated for November [MTV Geek]

Brain Rot: Hip Hop Family Tree, Harlem World!

Read the rest of the Hip Hop Family Tree comics!

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3D printing buildings and other structures with soil and binder

Stone Spray is a promising-looking 3D printer that is intended to produce building-scale structures by combining soil with binder from a spray-nozzle. Unfortunately, all the meaty tech information is locked up in a weird "book" player that doesn't work well on my screen, but you can get a general idea from the video above (I recommend scrolling at 10-20 second intervals and turning off sound).

Stone Spray Project

United Airlines loses a 10 year old girl

Bob Sutton writes about a horrible ordeal his friends Annie and Perry Klebahn had in late June and early July when United Airlines "lost" their 10 year-old daughter, who was traveling as an unaccompanied minor.

Here is the headline: United was flying Phoebe as an unaccompanied minor on June 30th, from San Francisco to Chicago, with a transfer to Grand Rapids. No one showed-up in Chicago to help her transfer, so although her plane made it, she missed the connection. Most crucially, United employees consistently refused to take action to help assist or comfort Phoebe or to help her parents locate her despite their cries for help to numerous United employees.

The emergency was finally solved, he says, when the parents reached a United employee who was also a mom, and agreed to help them not as a United employee, but a fellow parent who had empathy.

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Military spy blimps used in Afghanistan will now patrol US-Mexico border

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military and border-patrol officials are teaming up on a new initiative to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan war zones to the Mexican border.

Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if a 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.

The project is part of a broader attempt by U.S. officials to establish a high-tech surveillance network along the border and find alternative uses for expensive military hardware that will be coming back from Afghanistan, along with the troops.

In other words, hardware recycling. Read more: Battlefield Blimps to Patrol U.S.-Mexico Borders (WSJ).

Image: REUTERS. A US military blimp carrying surveillance imaging equipment flies over eastern Afghanistan, September 2011. Devices like this are being tested along the US-Mexico border.

How to compound bad business with bad social media: @Progressive's crummy job explaining the company's legal defense of a policy-holder's killer


Last night, Mark wrote about Matt Fisher's experience with Progressive Insurance, the insurer for his late sister, who was killed in a traffic accident. Progressive tried to deny Fisher's claim (the other driver was underinsured, but Fisher's Progressive policy included coverage for underinsured third parties) In order to collect full benefits, Fisher's family has had to sue the other driver, and, incredibly, Progressive paid its lawyers to defend the driver that killed its policy holder.

Understandably, the Progressive Twitter account has attracted a lot of negative attention. But whomever is running the social media strategy at Progressive has gotten stuck in a loop. No matter what you tweet @Progressive, you get the same bland PR-speak non-answer assuring you that Progressive has looked into it and everything is just fine, nothing to see here.

Wil Wheaton's got an audio interpretation of what the @Progressive account sounds like to him:

[Flash 9 is required to listen to audio.]

Dear Progressive Insurance PR Bot

WTFNASA?

A website that auto-generates answers to the question, "What the fuck has NASA done to make your life awesome?" (via Rob Sheridan)

Steve Jobs' Palo Alto burglarized in "totally random" attack

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the Palo Alto home where deceased Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once lived was burglarized in a "totally random" attack last night. More than $60,000 worth of "computers and personal items" were allegedly stolen, and a suspect has been taken into custody. (via Steve Silberman)

Thailand: politician accidentally kills woman with machine gun in restaurant

CNN reports that a Thai politician accidentally shot and killed his ex-wife with a submachine gun in a restaurant in northern Thailand. "Senator Boonsong's gun was accidentally fired off while he was trying to keep his pistol into its case." The shot went "straight in" to his female dining companion. Other news organizations report the deceased as his cousin, or his secretary.