Boing Boing 

In Letterspace, No One Can Hear You Kern

We spent $2.5 billion to put Helvetica Arial on Mars (and incidentally, an SUV-sized robotic science rover), and yet not a cent was devoted to kerning. The Curiosity rover carries a calibration target for its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), an adjustable focus camera designed to take close-up pictures. It's one of 17 cameras on the rover, but it's the only one that has its own target for testing a photo against known colors, brightness, and scale. (​Update: ​The sundial on top of the rover has color swatches for the mast cameras.)

But as a former typesetter, I had to poke fun at the kerning in the word "Target", where the "a" in any design software would be neatly tucked underneath the "T". NASA is old-school in type, too, as this is Helvetica, not Helvetica Neue.​ (Update! Readers note this is Arial, as the angle terminators on the upper-case C give it away! Go, go, Microsoft fonts!)

The calibration target includes a 1909 penny as a homage to the practice of using a coin for scale in images. One of the scientists bought the penny from the first year Lincoln appeared on its front, and sent it on its merry mission. The target is now lightly dusted with Martian soil, but still useful for its purpose.

A full size image is available from NASA.

Hacks that never happened

Yesterday, GoDaddy went down, taking with it countless hosted sites. A hacker claimed credit, gaining the attention of the entire tech press. But his story was soon debunked: a DNS configuration mistake was the real cause. At Threat Level, Robert McMillan recounts the greatest hacks that never were.

Nasty smell explained

A peculiar rotten-egg smell covering the Los Angeles region has an explanation: it was brought in by winds blowing in from Salton Sea, a saline lake in Southern California, where a recent massive fish die-off occured. [Examiner]

The iconic M*A*S*H still

Earlier I stumbled across this fantastic history of the iconic M*A*S*H still. It is beautiful and evokes such great memories of a phenomenal show. I have always wanted one in my home.

From M*A*S*H4077THTV.com's Prop Spotlight:

For eleven years, the cornerstone of the Swamp was the homemade distillery. Presumably, Hawkeye and Trapper built it together and it was a daily presence in their lives. Later, B.J. came to love the contraption just as much as Trapper. Over the years it was destroyed — once by Frank, once by B.J. — only to be rebuilt and returned to glory. Hawkeye called the gin it dispensed, often strong enough to curl your toes, the breakfast of champions.

Cupertino tech firm to announce new products tomorrow

On September 12 at 10:00 a.m. PT / 1:00 p.m. ET, Apple's big event kicks off. One never knows exactly what to expect, but all signs point to the iPhone 5 (or whatever they end up calling it). The revised smartphone is rumored to include a larger 4-inch screen, a smaller docking port, updated design, and iOS 6 (which in turn includes new features such as Facebook integration, and new Maps). For liveblog action, I'll be opening 5 browser tabs: GDGT, Verge, Gizmodo, Engadget, Ars.

The streets of Manhattan, transformed into song on 9/11 (music video)

[Video Link]

Joe Sabia of the Youtube CDZA project sends this week's musical video experiment: the streets of Lower Manhattan, turned into music. See a map of where they walked on Google Maps.

Featuring Sam Reider, accordion, Eddie Barbash, saxophone, Mark Johnson, guitar, and Allan Mednard, percussion.

Larry Flynt and Hustler offer $1 million bounty for Romney tax info

Mitt Romney’s personal tax history is exactly the kind of political mystery that porn mogul and free speech advocate Larry Flynt would like to uncover. So he and Hustler are offering $1 million in cash for information on the presidential candidate's “unreleased tax returns and/or details of his offshore assets, bank accounts and business partnerships” in full-page ads in USA Today and the Washington Post. “What is he hiding?” asks the ad. There's a larger scan here.

AT&T blocking iPhone FaceTime on its network is a big blow to Deaf people

Brendan Gramer, who is deaf, writes in Wired News today about how AT&T's recent announcement that it will block FaceTime on its networks affects deaf people, who use FaceTime to converse in sign language.

It’s disappointing that AT&T is standing in the way of innovation that addresses the needs of its deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. Sometimes it takes a while (and some prodding) for technology and technology companies to catch up to and embrace accessibility. In this case the technology is there, but it’s AT&T that’s throwing up the barrier.

A father's note, on 9/11

"84th floor / West Office / 12 people trapped. It is not these words alone that change the narrative of Randy Scott's final moments. The other content on the note is a dark spot, about the size of a thumbprint. It is Randy's blood, and the clue that eventually enabled the medical examiner's office to trace the source of the note through DNA tests and deliver it to his family a decade after he apparently tossed it from the 84th floor."

"The Sifr," a global Muslim jam session (music video)

[Video Link]

Aman Ali is one of the guys behind "30 Days Ramadan," a Muslim media project, and he writes:

This one one of our proudest creations. I got 12 of my music friends around the world to put together a collaborative music video. I got a drummer in Morrocco to jam on a cajon drum and sent the beat to MCs/Poets/Singers in Malaysia, Germany, Pakistan, England and a bunch of other places to put this bad boy together. I literally forgot today was 9/11 because I've been so giddy the past few days putting this video together. Hope you enjoy it!

A full list of musicians and crew here.

Mark Dery on "Aesthetics after 9/11"

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Over at Thought Catalog, the inimitable Mark Dery riffs somberly on terrorism, art, Hollywood, and the society of the spectacle where we all have a front row seat:

The reflexive habit — reflexive, at least, in these United States — of falling back on the mythic languages of Hollywood and Madison Avenue when we’re narrating our lives is a fact of life in the Society of the Spectacle. In his essay “This is Not a Movie,” the New Yorker critic Anthony Lane noted TV commentators’ tendency, on 9/11, to resort “to a phrase book culled from cinema: ‘It was like a movie.’ ‘It was like Independence Day. ‘It was like Die Hard.’ ‘No, Die Hard 2.’ ‘Armageddon.’”

Apparently, even the severe-clear horrors of 9/11 weren’t immune to the Stepfordization all around us — the replacement of the immediate by the mediated, the physical thing by its filmic image. Reversing the polarities of the real and the fake gives Americans a big, fat, Baudrillardian migraine because, while European philosophers seem to think of the United States as Disneyland with the death penalty, we pay lip service, at least, to the primacy of hard fact and harbor a romantic attachment to authenticity. (Umberto Eco maintains that our longstanding love affair with the simulacrum — Disneyland, Forest Lawn, Las Vegas — is borne, paradoxically, of the fact that “the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.”

Yet the ontological vertigo caused by the destabilization of the Real is nothing compared to the moral nausea we feel when filmic images insinuate themselves between us and our visceral reactions to real-life horrors, refracting other peoples’ agonies — and, sometimes, our own — through an aesthetic prism.

"The Savage Eye: Aesthetics After 9/11"

Upcoming episode of Gravity Falls features animation by Paul Robertson (episode clip)


[Video Link] My daughter and I are hooked on Gravity Falls, a quirky new cartoon series on Disney about about the goings-on in an occult curio shack in the Pacific Northwest (see Jane's interview with show creator Alex Hirsch here). Now David and his son are hooked, too!

The next episode, which airs Friday, September 14, features Street Fighter style animation by the amazing pixel artist Paul Robertson (some of his art is NSFW).

Here's another clip:

Gravity Falls on The Disney Channel

Stan Lee reinterprets the best four-letter word in the English language for us

Marvel Generalissimo Stan Lee has taken the internet podium (via his YouTube channel, World of Heroes) to let us all know that we've all been taking the phrase "Fuck you" the wrong way this whole time. We should embrace this blunt, two-syllable phrase not as a curse, but a benediction! And if there's anything the world needs right now, it's a little positivity. (via Stan Lee on Facebook)

September 11, 2001 as experienced on the International Space Station

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On September 11, 2001, US astronaut Frank L. Culbertson watched the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks from the International Space Station. He wrote up his experience that day and the days following in a letter posted on NASA's site:

I glanced at the World Map on the computer to see where over the world we were and noticed that we were coming southeast out of Canada and would be passing over New England in a few minutes. I zipped around the station until I found a window that would give me a view of NYC and grabbed the nearest camera. It happened to be a video camera, and I was looking south from the window of Michael's cabin.

The smoke seemed to have an odd bloom to it at the base of the column that was streaming south of the city. After reading one of the news articles we just received, I believe we were looking at NY around the time of, or shortly after, the collapse of the second tower. How horrible…

I panned the camera all along the East Coast to the south to see if I could see any other smoke around Washington, or anywhere else, but nothing was visible.

It was pretty difficult to think about work after that, though we had some to do, but on the next orbit we crossed the US further south. All three of us were working one or two cameras to try to get views of New York or Washington. There was haze over Washington, but no specific source could be seen. It all looked incredible from two to three hundred miles away. I can't imagine the tragic scenes on the ground.

"Astronaut Frank Culbertson Letter from September 11, 2001" (Thanks, Ari Pescovitz!)

If you haven't been sold on Mindy Kaling yet, this New York Magazine profile should do the trick

If there is any one new show that I'm looking forward to watching this fall, it's The Mindy Project, featuring showrunner and star, Mindy Kaling. I've been a fan of Kaling for a long time, but I knew that when her show finally became part of Fox's primetime lineup, I'd probably forget to watch, because I am just not good at appointment television. But after reading this incredibly fun profile of Kaling that appeared in New York Magazine, I'm definitely going to have to make appointments with her and her fictional counterpart. (via Vulture)

Walt Disnizzle Mixtape

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Our dear former comments moderator Arkizzle (aka Arkham.p.77) has released a fantastic "mashup of classic Disney songs vs hip-hop vocals and drum-breaks. It's 77 minutes long, full of little jokes and juxtapositions that will be half gotten by everyone and probably only fully gotten by some bizarre breed of soft-hearted battle nerd. I'm sure there's a Venn diagram in there somewhere, but it seemed to fit a Boing Boingy bill." Indeed, Arkizzle, indeed. Gentlemutants, I give you The Walt Disnizzle Mixtape!

Orange County Where magazine on newsstands

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The Fall 2012 issue of Orange County Where has a story titled "Wine Bars Take Flight." (Via Photoshop Disasters)

A useful graphic for gadget bloggers

It is often the case, these days, that any given item of consumer electronics will bear a striking resemblance to the popular designs of the segment's market leader. This has led to a certain degree of ennui over the matter: pointing it out every time turns every post into a referendum on Apple, is boring, and so is now increasingly omitted. Others, however, think that derivative design must always be pointed out at risk of doing a disservice to readers: surely it is news, that, in 2012, HP cannot design its way out of a translucent vinyl drawstring bag.

To help matters, I've created this simple graphic. A transparent PNG, it may be overlaid over product shots or coverage to make matters clear without needless ado. You're welcome!

A deeper-than-necessary look: Jeremy Sisto read for Leonardo DiCaprio's role in Titanic

I know, this is a post about Titanic. But hear me out for a moment, because it involves who wasn't cast in one of the lead roles. Jeremy Sisto, the intense, grumbly-voiced actor who is no stranger to delving into darker territory (really dark, see: Six Feet Under and Hideaway) as well as comedy (Suburgatory), played the role of Jack Dawson in Kate Winslet's screen test. You might recall that the role was eventually played by Leonardo DiCaprio, the towheaded dreamboat with the blue eyes that launched a thousand prom dresses in the late 1990s. While Sisto is way more believable as that weird guy who watches girls and sketches them without their knowledge, Titanic probably would not have been the box office smash it was if Jack had been taken in this direction.

After the jump, video of the screen test, and an in-depth analysis of how the real-life tragedy/fake romance of Titanic would have been different with Jeremy Sisto playing Jack.

Read the rest

Connect-A-Cord: extension cord set with 50 1-foot cords

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A godsend! And it's only $8 (UPDATE: It won't be available until late fall).

Handmade Doctor Who chess set

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Emmi Visser made this one-of-a-kind Doctor Who chess set. It's $949 on Etsy and will be gone in 3… 2… 2… "UNIQUE DETAILED Doctor Who chess set" (via Dangerous Minds)

The wonderful horror of hermit crabs migrating

The hills are alive with the sound of scuttling.

This video has popped up on lots of sites already, but I kind of love it and wanted to post here. Plus, it made me curious. Where are all those crabs going? And why?

The answers, upon reflection, are rather obvious. They are going to the sea. They are going there to get laid.

Yes, it's hermit crab spring break—set to an epic classical soundtrack—as thousands upon thousands of land-dwelling crabs travel to the ocean to meet other crabs and have sex with them.

Wondrous, isn't it?

Read more:
Hermit crab mating habits from the book Hermit Crabs, by Sue Fox
Annual migrations and spawning of the common land hermit crab; a research paper documenting this phenomenon as it happens in Puerto Rico. Crab love looks much the same all over the world.

New monthly magazine about exorcism

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Egzorcysta is a new monthly magazine in Poland dedicated to exorcism. Launched by Roman Catholic priests in association with the publisher Polwen, the first issue includes articles like "New Age - the spiritual vacuum cleaner" and "Satan is real." It also includes an exclusive interview with Captain Howdy. OK, that's not true. But the rest is, reportedly. From AFP:

"The rise in the number or exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling," Father Aleksander Posacki, a professor of philosophy, theology and leading demonologist and exorcist told reporters in Warsaw at the Monday launch of the Egzorcysta monthly.

Ironically, he attributed the rise in demonic possessions in what remains one of Europe's most devoutly Catholic nations partly to the switch from atheist communism to free market capitalism in 1989.

"It's indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorized as employment for taxation," Posacki told AFP.

"Exorcism boom in Poland sees magazine launch"

Hiking an abandoned hydroelectric power plant at Niagara Falls

Geology Ph.D. student and volcano blogger Jessica Ball recently took a detour away from volcanoes and into the world of awesome abandoned industrial sites.

Have I mentioned that I LOVE awesome abandoned industrial sites?

Ball went hiking around the former site of the Schoellkopf Power Station—a hydroelectric plant that once turned the force of Niagara Falls into electricity.

The ruins of this power plant were the second station built on the site, and were completed in 1895. Both buildings were constructed by Jacob Schoellkopf, who had purchased a hydraulic canal, the land around it and the power rights in 1877. The plant eventually became part of the Niagara Falls Power Company in the early twentieth century. But by 1956, water that had been seeping through the rock in the gorge wall behind the plant had weakened it. On June 7th, workers noticed cracks in the rear wall of the plant, and at 5 that evening a catastrophic collapse destroyed more than 2/3 of the station. One man died, several had to be rescued from the Niagara River, and debris from the collapse made it as far as the Canadian side of the Gorge.

Before the collapse, the plant was generating 360,000 kilowatts of power for the city of Niagara Falls; afterward plants on the Canadian side picked up the slack, and the destroyed plant was later surpassed by redevelopment of the hydropower infrastructure in the area, including the construction of the Robert Moses Generating Station farther downstream.

Check out her photo-filled tour of the site at the Magma Cum Laude blog

Meet "Big Trash"

Over the long run, keeping stuff like tree limbs and compostable waste out of landfills is good for cities. There's only so much space in a landfill and getting more land is extremely expensive. So why haven't more cities hopped on the curbside composting bandwagon, or at least banned yard waste from landfills? There's probably a lot of factors that go into those decisions, but one, apparently, is the influence of large, private companies that handle waste collection and see the diversion of re-usable waste as a detriment to their income. (Via Chris Tackett)

ENCODE, the media, and what we really know about the human genome

If you've read anything in the past week about ENCODE—a group of laboratories that recently published their latest work on the human genome—then you need to read John Timmer's excellent piece over at Ars Technica.

What ENCODE has actually done, and why it matters, has been widely misrepresented in the mainstream press—largely because of misleading press releases put out by ENCODE, itself. Timmer sets the record straight. It's a long read, but a fascinating one. Highly recommended.

This week, the ENCODE project released the results of its latest attempt to catalog all the activities associated with the human genome. Although we've had the sequence of bases that comprise the genome for over a decade, there were still many questions about what a lot of those bases do when inside a cell. ENCODE is a large consortium of labs dedicated to helping sort that out by identifying everything they can about the genome: what proteins stick to it and where, which pieces interact, what bases pick up chemical modifications, and so on. What the studies can't generally do, however, is figure out the biological consequences of these activities, which will require additional work.

Yet the third sentence of the lead ENCODE paper contains an eye-catching figure that ended up being reported widely: "These data enabled us to assign biochemical functions for 80 percent of the genome." Unfortunately, the significance of that statement hinged on a much less widely reported item: the definition of "biochemical function" used by the authors.

This was more than a matter of semantics. Many press reports that resulted painted an entirely fictitious history of biology's past, along with a misleading picture of its present. As a result, the public that relied on those press reports now has a completely mistaken view of our current state of knowledge (this happens to be the exact opposite of what journalism is intended to accomplish). But you can't entirely blame the press in this case. They were egged on by the journals and university press offices that promoted the work—and, in some cases, the scientists themselves.

Read the rest of John Timmer's story at Ars Technica

Image: Micah's DNA, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from micahb37's photostream

In Search Of… Glenn Miller

On December 15, 1944, big band pioneer Glenn Miller was flying from the UK to Paris to perform for soldiers. His plane reportedly vanished over the English Channel without a trace. There are many theories about what became of Glenn Miller. Some suggest that his plane was destroyed by RAF bombs jettisoned by warplanes short on fuel that were flying above Miller's single-engine plane. Another theory posits that Miller made it to Paris but died from a heart attack while having sex with a prostitute, leading the US government to let his death remain a mystery. Intrigued? For starters, check out the video above, a great episode of one of my favorite TV series. On March 7, 1980, Leonard Nimoy and team went "In Search Of… Glenn Miller."

Fear and Trembling: Prion diseases on Twitter

Even if you don’t immediately recognize the words “prion” or “Kuru”, the history of these pathologies has seeped into popular culture like a horrifying fairy tale. But it’s true: a tribe in New Guinea ate the dead, not as Hollywood-style savages but to respect the dead. Upon death, you took a part of them into yourself. And that included the brain.

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Natural history and the rights of women

Really fascinating talk coming up at the Royal Society in London. Sharon Ruston, a professor of 19th century literature and culture, will be talking about the scientific texts that influenced Mary Wollstonecraft—the pioneering feminist who wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. Wollstonecraft isn't known for a connection to science, but during the time she was writing Vindication, she was also reading and reviewing books on natural history for a journal called Analytical Review. Ruston says those books played a role in shaping Wollstonecraft's philosophy. Sounds cool! Event is September 28 at 1:00 pm. Recorded audio will be available online a few days later. (Via Alice Bell)

Brain Rot: Hip Hop Family Tree, Birth of Profile Records

Read the rest of the Hip Hop Family Tree comics!

Read the rest