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Photos of heads in space helmets

From Things Magazine: a grid of photos of heads in helmets. I recognize about a third of the images.

Universal Computer Users

Citing my talk on General Purpose Computing and regulation (and many other works), Olia Lialina describes a "General Purpose User... that was formed through three decades of adjusting general purpose technology to their needs":

General Purpose Users can write an article in their e-mail client, layout their business card in Excel and shave in front of a web cam. They can also find a way to publish photos online without flickr, tweet without twitter, like without facebook, make a black frame around pictures without instagram, remove a black frame from an instagram picture and even wake up at 7:00 without a “wake up at 7:00” app.

Maybe these Users could more accurately be called Universal Users or Turing Complete Users, as a reference to the Universal Machine, also known as Universal Turing Machine — Alan Turing’s conception of a computer that can solve any logical task given enough time and memory. Turing’s 1936 vision and design predated and most likely influenced von Neuman’s First Draft and All-purpose Machine.

But whatever name I chose, what I mean are users who have the ability to achieve their goals regardless of the primary purpose of an application or device. Such users will find a way to their aspiration without an app or utility programmed specifically for it. The Universal user is not a super user, not half a hacker. It is not an exotic type of user.

There can be different examples and levels of autonomy that users can imagine for themselves, but the capacity to be universal is still in all of us. Sometimes it is a conscious choice not to delegate particular jobs to the computer, and sometimes it is just a habit. Most often it is not more than a click or two that uncover your general purpose architecture.

The whole thing is a refreshing addition to the long debate and discussion over users, user experience design, and interfaces.

Turing Complete User (via Beyond the Beyond)

Why forensic science is failing us — and why tonight's NOVA documentary doesn't quite cut it

In 2009, the National Academies of Science published a massive report on forensics. For many Americans, forensics is possibly the most familiar of all the sciences. It's the one we welcome into our living rooms every night, along with TV crime dramas and murder mysteries. But the report's conclusions might surprise you.

For one thing, it's hard to even generalize about the state of forensic science in the United States, because everything from standard practices to accreditation varies widely by sub-discipline, law-enforcement agency, and whether the law enforcement is happening at a local, state, or federal level. Worse, it's not at all clear that some of those sub-disciplines have a sound, scientific basis. For instance, DNA analysis tends to be pretty well-supported by evidence, while fingerprint analysis remains an art, more dependent on the person looking at the fingerprint than on hard laws of anatomy. Of course, the report also found that there simply hasn't been enough research done to determine how scientific most disciplines of forensic science are to begin with. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed trial judges to certify forensic techniques as reliable even though we don't know whether they they are or not — and those decisions have been made in a haphazard, inconsistent way from one judge to the next.

Given how much our legal system relies on this stuff, we should all be feeling more than a little uncomfortable right about now. The state of forensic science, combined with its importance, virtually guarantees that there are innocent people behind bars (or worse) and criminals on the loose.

Tonight, on PBS, NOVA will premier a documentary on the flaws of forensics and how they might be solved. I liked the show and I think it's definitely worth watching. That said, I think NOVA took an angle on this information that made the show less useful (and less important) than it might have been.

Read the rest

Contest to build a human-powered helicopter

NewImage Since 1980, hundreds of young engineers have entered the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. Nobody has won the grand prize of $250,000 for demonstrating "a one minute hovering time, a momentary achievement of 3 meters altitude, and controlling the vehicle within a constrained box -- all in the same flight." But damn, they're sure trying. "Straight Up Difficult" (NPR)

Exclusive: New track from ex-Throbbing Gristle's forthcoming Final Report

Extggggg

(photos by Paul Heartfield) X TG Promo

In 2006, industrial music pioneer Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle and Coil was so taken with Desertshore, a challenging 1970 album by Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico, that he set off on a project to "cover," and I use the term loosely, the entire album. It was a project that would quietly simmer in the background for several years as Sleazy continued to record and perform as part of the re-activated Throbbing Gristle with Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni-Tutti, and Genesis P-Orridge. In 2007, Throbbing Gristle performed versions of some of the Desertshore material live at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. It would be three more years though before Sleazy focused on Desertshore in earnest, preparing to record guest vocalists who would sing Nico's poetry on the reimagined songs. Simultaneously, Chris and Cosey, who Sleazy had recently toured with as the trio X-TG, prepared at their Norfolk, UK studio for a forthcoming visit from their friend who was then living in Bangkok. The plan upon Sleazy's arrival was to finally immerse themselves in the Desertshore production. Then, on November 25, 2010, just a month before his scheduled trip to see Chris and Cosey, Sleazy died in his sleep.

For the last two years, Chris and Cosey have sifted through Sleazy's sound files, recorded snippets, and notebooks in an effort to bring Desertshore to life even in the shadow of their friend's death. The album is now complete. On November 26, 2012, the day after the anniversary of Sleazy's death, Desertshore will be released on Industrial Records. Guest artists on the project include Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), Marc Almond, Blixa Bargeld, Sasha Grey and Gaspar Noé.

For more than three decades, Chris, Cosey, and Sleazy seized every opportunity they could find together to informally experiment and push the boundaries of their creative relationships with music and each other. To paraphrase Cosey, their life was their art and their art was their life. Indeed, the forthcoming Desertshore is accompanied by an entire additional album drawn from Chris, Cosey, and Sleazy's 2009/2010 trio sessions in Norfolk. I'm honored that our friends Chris and Cosey, who have been lifelong inspirations to me, provided us an exclusive pre-release remix of a song from the forthcoming companion album that is, indeed, "The Final Report."

Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni-Tutti: "Desertshore/The Final Report"

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson)

Beyonce, owner of very red lipstick, will perform in the Super Bowl's halftime show

In a photographic announcement on her blog, Beyonce let the world in on some important pop culture news: duck-face is alive and well! And she is also going to be the main attraction at the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show on February 3. Actually, that's a pretty good act for the halftime show, what with her widespread appeal among fans of the National Football League. (via Huffington Post) Jamie

Gary McKinnon on the decision not to extradite him to the USA

Following up on yesterday's announcement by the UK Home Secretary that Pentagon hacker Gary McKinnon will not be extradited to the USA (where he faces up to 60 years in prison), the Guardian's Lizzy Davies reports on McKinnon's reaction:

Speaking in the aftermath of the decision, about which his mother informed him late on Tuesday morning shortly before May's statement, Glasgow-born McKinnon said he felt hopeful for the first time in a decade. "I have spent the past 10 years living with a dark and hollow feeling," he told the Daily Mail. "I have always thought that if things went against me, I would just have to end it all and take my own life. Now I just feel that I have been set free."

Referring to his long-term girlfriend, Lucy Clarke, who campaigned against his extradition alongside Janis Sharp, McKinnon's mother, he added: "I had no hopes for a future, no way of making plans, no thoughts of asking Lucy to share my life, no thoughts of whether I could ever have children or get work. It still does not feel real – but only now am I starting to feel as if a shutter has flipped up and lifted in my head."

Gary McKinnon feels 'set free' after US extradition decision

La Colombe Cold Brew: jet fuel in a beer bottle

My hosts at last night's signing at Philadelphia's Indy Hall co-working space did a lot to make me welcome, but most of all, they supplied me with rocket-fuel. The fuel took the form of a bottle of La Colombe Pure Black Cold Brew, a deceptively smooth, dark, chocolately cold-brew coffee that comes in a 12oz beer bottle. Deceptively smooth because this stuff is, as noted, pure rocket-fuel. They gave me a bottle for the road that I cracked in my hotel room this morning before heading to DC, and it practically had me plastered to the ceiling, despite its mellow flavor, and in a very good way.

I drink a lot of cold-brew on the road (I use the radical hotel-room coffee independence method to make cold-brew in breast-milk bags that I put in the minibar fridge overnight) but La Colombe was a cut above even the excellent stuff I make myself.

Pure Black Cold Brew

More on the fake stem cell researcher who faked stem cell transplants

Hisashi Moriguchi probably isn't a specialist in stem cell research. He doesn't have an affiliation with Harvard University. And he most likely has not injected reprogrammed adult heart stem cells into human test subjects. That has not stopped him from claiming all three facts were true, though — and it didn't stop a major Japanese newspaper from believing him. But Science Insider reports that Moriguchi's lies go back further than this one incident. He's apparently been claiming the bogus Harvard affiliation since 2002, and once even erroneously claimed to be a member of a co-author's department at Massachusetts General Hospital — all without getting caught. Maggie

Why do some people say the Earth isn't getting hotter?

If you haven't seen the Skeptical Science website yet, you're missing out.

Via Tom Standage

Cory in Bethesda tonight

Hey, DC! I'm heading to Bethesda today for my Pirate Cinema tour -- I'll be at the Bethesda Public Library tonight at 7PM. Come on out and say hi before I head to Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Toronto and Boston! Here's the full schedule. Cory

How Anonymous broke its own rules to break free

Before the summer of 2011, Anonymous was an amorphous collective of hackers and pranksters ready to pour cold water on members’ nascent political aspirations. By 2012, a growing antiauthority, anticensorship, anti-surveillance sentiment asserted itself, and everything changed.

Read the rest

A useful blog for people interested in alternative medicine

Until 2011, Dr. Edzard Ernst was the head of one of the few university departments doing real, unbiased research on the effectiveness and safety of alternative medicine techniques. That's important, because you can't just dismiss weird-sounding stuff out of hand, but you also want somebody other than the practitioners of that weird-sounding stuff conducting research and analyzing the data. Now retired, Ernst recently started blogging, and I wanted to point you to his new home on the Internet. He can be a bit snarky and caustic (especially with chiropractic and homeopathy). But in general he's a fair, reasonable, and knowledgeable source on what works and what doesn't. Definitely worth a bookmark. Maggie

Did the average Neanderthal know she had a brother-in-law?

In an interview with The Houston Chronicle, paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin hits on an interesting point that I don't think we (the media and laypeople) consider enough when we talk about our closest ancient relatives. Although we have an increasingly deep picture of Neanderthal anatomy and genetics, that doesn't necessarily tell us a great deal about their biology.

Truth is, for how little we understand the wiring and functioning of our own brains, we understand even less about the Neanderthal mind. It's quite possible that they could mate with us, but couldn't think the same way we do. And it's those unseen, unstudied differences that could really account for the vast disparities that we see between how humans lived and how their Neanderthal neighbors lived.

The picture we have so far is that the Neanderthals are sort of opportunistic, good at hunting middle- to large-sized mammals. They have a territory in which they probably go through a cycle of habitation in different places, basically when one place is exhausted they move to another one. What we don't see with Neanderthals is long-distance exchanges with other groups. What we see with modern humans in the same areas is different. For example, we find shells in Germany coming from the Mediterranean or from the French Atlantic Coast. It means there was a network of people. So, the question is, what kind of relationship did a Neanderthal have with his brother-in-law? Humans did not just live with their families and their neighbors, but they knew they had a brother-in-law in another village, and that beyond the mountain there is the family of their mother, or uncle, or something like that. There is a large network of groups that, if necessary, could help each other. I think this is where we would like to go to find differences between Neanderthals and modern humans.

Read the full interview at The Houston Chronicle

Via Marc Kissel

Image: Neanderthal Silhouette, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from erix's photostream

Why you should care about the planet found orbiting Alpha Centauri, even though it's not a good place to live

Last night, astronomers with the European Southern Observatory announced that they'd found a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B — an orange star a little smaller and a little less bright than our own Sun. That's important, because, while more than 700 planets have been found outside our solar system, this one — Alpha Centauri Bb (yeah, I know) — is by far the closest. To give you an idea of what we're talking about in distance here, imagine that we are Kansas City and Mars is Toledo. Alpha Centauri Bb is like Tokyo — but you have to get there the long way around and nobody has invented the boat or the plane yet. Basically, it's closer than any other planet we know of outside our solar system, but not really close close. Just 4.37 light years is still more than 25 trillion miles, which is still a long ways away.

Likewise, Alpha Centauri Bb is classified as an "Earth-like" planet, but that shouldn't give you any ideas of colonizing it Zefram Cochrane-style. Bb is way too close to its star for that — closer, even, than Mercury is to our own Sun.

But you should still be excited about this. Terrible, filing-cabinet name aside, Alpha Centauri Bb is jeffing epic. Until now, we didn't think our closest neighboring solar system had any planets at all. And because of the way planets work, writes Lee Billings at the Centauri Dreams blog, this single find means we're much, much more likely to discover other Centaurian worlds. Billings is a former guest blogger here at BoingBoing and his work on exoplanets is second to none. I highly recommend reading his full piece:

Anyone in the Southern Hemisphere can look up on a clear night and easily see Alpha Centauri — to the naked eye, the three suns merge into one of the brightest stars in Earth’s sky, a single golden point piercing the foot of the constellation Centaurus, a few degrees away from the Southern Cross. In galactic terms, the new planet we’ve found there is so very near our own that its night sky shares most of Earth’s constellations. From the planet’s broiling surface, one could see familiar sights such as the Big Dipper and Orion the Hunter, looking just as they do to our eyes here.

Read Lee Billings' full post about Alpha Centauri Bb, and keep an eye on the Centauri Dreams blog for further updates/analysis.

Read Phil Plait's take at Bad Astronomy

A helpful NASA primer on distance in space

• In the late 1980s, NASA considered sending an unmanned probe to Alpha Centauri B. It would have taken 100 years to get there, using nuclear explosions to create thrust.

Image: Marco Lorenzi via NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day