Boing Boing • Our favorite posts of 2012

Lockdown: The coming war on general-purpose computing

By Cory Doctorow

The shape of the copyright wars clues us into an upcoming fight over the destiny of the general-purpose computer itself. When it comes to political influence and computing freedom, intellectual property is only the beginning.

For Aileen

By Xeni Jardin

There is so much to say about what a beautiful soul Aileen was, what a cruel and ugly and brutal disease breast cancer is, how torturous treatment is, how unjust the financial devastation a diagnosis brings to so many women is—and, most of all, what it means to those of us with cancer to have support in our lives.

The Honeybees are Still Dying

By Hannah Nordhaus

Dramatic headlines announced that the matter was closed: “Disappearing Bees: Solved!” announced a Reuters headline. Ah, if only that were true. Even if neonicotinoids were banned tomorrow, honeybees would still be in big trouble. The eerie mystery of the vanishing honeybees has not been put to rest.

The Mixtape Lost at Antikythera

By Rob Beschizza

Newly-discovered fragments of correspondence, written mostly on paper or papyrus, between the astronomer and geographer Hipparchos of Rhodes and various personages of the classical Eastern Mediterranean, shed new light on the origins of a complex pre-modern mechanism.

The Turn of the Screw

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

The Double Helix is a famous book. It's also an infamous one. Written by James Watson in 1968, it tells the story of how he and Francis Crick figured out the structure of DNA. The catch is that Watson chose to write that story in what was, at the time, a damn-near unprecedented way.

Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations

By Mark Frauenfelder

Dr. Sacks' books explore the human mind, usually through studying abnormal minds and the surprising clues they offer about perception, consciousness, and behavior. Sacks himself has face blindness, Asperger's syndrome, and is slightly deaf, which might explain in part why matters of the human mind are of great interest to him.

What it's like to be on Jeopardy

By Glenn Fleishman

A spam filter almost scotched my chance to be on television. I was scanning through the usual detritus of offers in July 2011 to enhance body parts and transfer large sums of money from people in distant lands, and spotted this subject line: "Jeopardy! Contestant Audition in Seattle"

Hauntologists mine the past for music's future

By Mark Pilkington

What was once a dim memory, a wobbly VHS tape, or a slice of warped vinyl, has become a towering digital midden so huge that it threatens to impede our view of the future. The past is placed on display for anyone to watch, hear, or read in an instant.

A Season in Hell

By Mark Dery

Abdominal surgery begets scar tissue. Which gives rise to adhesions. Which sometimes cause bowel obstructions. Which may necessitate surgery. Which begets more scar tissue, which...

Liberating America's secret, for-pay laws

By Carl Malamud

Did you know that vital parts of the US law are secret, and you're only allowed to read them if you pay a standards body thousands of dollars for the right to find out what the law of the land is?

The Coming Civil War over General Purpose Computing

By Cory Doctorow

Even if we win the right to own and control our computers, a dilemma remains: what rights do owners owe users? Property rights and human rights often represent divergent interests, and, increasingly, we will be users of computers that we don't own.

Fissure opens in chess AI scene

By Rob Beschizza

A dust-up in the Chess computer business shows how traditional ideas of plagiarism blur when a development community is built around a set of technical problems so specific that it's hard to avoid following the leader—and where open source is a risky place to put cutting-edge ideas.

Why official spokespeople should be named by journalists

Heather Brooke

Official spokespeople, by the very definition of their role, have absolutely no reason to be anonymous. Yet one of the more dubious practices of the British press is the way reporters collude with officials by granting them anonymity.

Twitter's early-bird special on censorship

By Rob Beschizza

Silicon Valley is learning the lesson that if you sell yourself on virtue, the business will make you eat your words. Twitter's U-turn on censorship teaches it another one: if you take credit for what activists do with your tools, you'll end up eating their words, too.

Beware officials who hide behind the veil—and those who let them

By Cory Doctorow

When we think of journalists' anonymous sources, we think of whistleblowers, of people ready to risk everything to expose wrongdoing or settle a score. Their ranks should not include officials whose job it is to talk, but who insist on avoiding accountability.

Why the fedora grosses out geekdom

By Leigh Alexander

The fedora is the go-to accessory for entitled male nerds whose resentment simmers on dating sites and social networks. But why wouldn’t they cling to a emblem from a bygone age, when impressing women had little to do with gaining their approval?

A medal for completing breast cancer treatment

By Xeni Jardin

I am damaged. I am a different person. I occupy a body and mind that are drastically and permanently altered. I am just beginning to learn how to recover. Every imaginable aspect of my life has changed. But damn, it feels good to be alive.

Music Appreciation: Drone

By Marcus Boon

For many people, a drone wouldn't even be called music, just an irritating noise, like the buzzing of a refrigerator, the hum of traffic, the sound of bees in a hive. For others, it is OMMMM, the sound of the universe in Hindu cosmology, or, put in the language of modern physics, an expression of the fact that everything vibrates, everything is a wave.

XOXO: Maker Love, Not Thwart

By Glenn Fleishman

I have fallen in love with a building, hundreds of people, a MakerBot, a portable toilet trailer, food trucks, and two men each named Andy. Is it possible to fall in love with a conference? If so, I have. The organizers named the conference XOXO for hugs and kisses. This was presented without hipster irony or marketing-speak. They meant it. They delivered.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

By Glenn Fleishman

Roboto is a bespoke sans-serif font, created by a Google employee and used throughout Android’s user interface (UI) as part of the larger user experience (UX) overhaul. The intent is to make Android more intuitive, cohesive, and fluid, and work better on a variety of screen sizes, especially tablets.

Machines that Made the Jet Age

By Tim Heffernan

When Germany surrendered, the Soviets took their best forging facilities. In so doing they got a head start on the Cold War race for supersonic air superiority, and unwitting set in motion a larger, and largely forgotten, industrial revolution that shaped the second half of the 20th century

How a fantasy novel transformed into a covert CIA op

By DJ Pangburn

During the Iran hostage crisis, American diplomats fled to the Canadian Embassy. The CIA concocts an incredible cover story to get them home: they're a film crew scouting locations for an epic sci-fi movie. But they need a core prop, fast: a convincing screenplay.

Every audiophile review ever

By Rob Beschizza

Available in walnut, cherrywood, and as a Riesling.

I Have Your Heart

By Molly Crabapple, Kim Boekbinder and Jim Bat

We're proud to present an animated short by New York illustrator Molly Crabapple, international rockstar Kim Boekbinder, and Melbourne animator Jim Batt. It's the story of a good girl with a bad heart and the boy whose death will save her life.

Nexus 7: a perfect, low-cost, rugged, easy tablet

By Cory Doctorow

My family's taken Google Nexus 7 Tablets on trips, dropped them dozens of times, used them at home, work, and on holiday. The unanimous verdict is that these are just delightful little tablets.

What it's like at CES

By Rob Beschizza

CES is 100,000 anxious people pacing around Vegas in January, looking at electronics that are mostly under glass; attending meetings; and not getting enough done. Finding something to write about in The Forest of Televisions often seems impossible, but there are always gems to be found, deals to be cut, and copy desks to be fed. So off we go, every year.

Ten entertainment things worth anticipating in 2013

By Jamie Frevele

Good news: There is going to be a 2013 after all, and tons of cool stuff is coming in the way of entertainment. Here are ten of the coolest things hitting screens big and small next year.

4chan gets real about software

By Dean Putney

4chan, the Internet's long-time dumping ground and butt of many a joke, is getting serious about software. With a maturing userbase and new developers in-house, the hugely successful image board is making its biggest public-facing code changes in nearly a decade.

Eagle Scouts stand up to the Boy Scouts of America

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

When Eagle Scouts start returning their medals to the Boy Scouts of America, that matters. Especially when these men are making this decision because they think it's the best way to demonstrate the values of being an Eagle Scout.


Robert Anton Wilson Week on Boing Boing

By Mark Frauenfelder

What do Christian fundamentalists have against set theory?

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

HOWTO make a cocktail that looks like outer space

Cory Doctorow

Clint Heidorn's "The Oak Tree" exquisitely-packaged cassette

By David Pescovitz

My Dinner with Marijuana: chemo, cannabis, and haute cuisine

By Xeni Jardin

Nazi rules for jazz performers

By Cory Doctorow

The only good abortion is my abortion

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

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

By David Pescovitz

Skull drill set from the 18th century

By David Pescovitz

Stella Im Hultberg: exclusive preview of new paintings

By David Pescovitz

Five animated mashups we might desperately need

By Jamie Frevele

Amazing underwater experience

By Jason Weisberger

Positive pregnancy test diagnoses man's cancer

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

Massive drug control spending has no effect on addiction rate

By Mark Frauenfelder

My smiley face business card party game

By Dean Putney

What is this language game my daughter and her friends speak?

By Mark Frauenfelder

Headphones I use daily

By Jason Weisberger

Ransom & Mitchell's phantasmagoric photo narratives, San Francisco show

By David Pescovitz

Meet the people who keep your lights on

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

The Last Policeman: solving a murder before an asteroid wipes out life on Earth

By Mark Frauenfelder

Blackout: What's wrong with the American grid:

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

The Send Wonder project

By Jason Weisberger

We left the moon 40 years ago today. Will we ever return?

By Miles O'Brien

Prions and Twitter

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

Gweek 074: Lost at Sea with Jon Ronson

By Mark Frauenfelder

The most disgusting trading cards ever made

By Mark Frauenfelder

My favorite Museum Exhibit

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

Interview with astronaut Rex Walheim

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

Tom Gauld's Goliath: exclusive excerpt

By Mark Frauenfelder

Bill Nye slams creationism

By Jason Weisberger

Yet another reason why I love Gravity Falls

By Mark Frauenfelder

When life hands you cancer, make cancer-ade

By Xeni Jardin

Breaking Bad: Xeni air-drops into the best viewing party in the world

By Xeni Jardin

Interview with Meave and Richard Leakey

By Maggie Koerth-Baker

19 Responses to “Our favorite posts of 2012”

  1. Facebook User says:

    I was trying to find a series of blog posts from a father and son that were sent to US immigration detention, and the father was trying to get an agent to publish the book. Anyone have the link?

  2. I deleted a couple of Fedora comments. If you can’t criticize Leigh’s post without being that personally hostile to the author, or without making sarcastic but nevertheless creepy comparisons to false accusations of pedophilia, you ain’t helping anyone.

    • Benjamin Terry says:

      Imagine kids at a school who don’t like how some other kids dress.  Imagine those kids invent a bunch of reasons to make fun of those kids dressing in the unapproved way.  That is what I believe the author of this piece did, obfuscated in more grown up language.  You decided to take my “High schoolers making fun of a dude’s mustache” comment as creepy, but it could just as easily be any other accusation about someone based upon their appearance or what they wear.  I wasn’t being hostile to the author, but the author unfairly paints a whole class of people wearing a particular clothing item as being entitled agents of the patriarchy.  Isn’t that just silly and unfair on its face?  The final line of the piece is “Funny—a hat emblematic of privilege-denial in geekdom wasn’t even cut for dudes.”  It seems to me that if Leigh is unable to criticize sexist dudes without unfairly slandering a whole swath of people based upon what they wear, she isn’t helping anyone.

      • “Imagine if instead of being about how a fashion accessory came to symbolize the entitlements of a peculiar subculture of resentful, angry men, this article was about schoolchildren being bullied for the clothes they wear. Then it’d be really silly and unfair!”

        • Benjamin Terry says:

          I’ll be honest. I do not know the nature of your disagreement. It’s an analogy. Dissing people based on shaky conclusions you’ve made about them based on their clothing is not nice, whether the target is a schoolchild or Fedora Trump Buffett III. The exercise of associating the fashion item with the subculture is the unfair maneuver in question. We could make judgements about “urban youth and their baggy pants”, “women wearing short skirts”, “guys who wear their baseball caps on backwards” and their supposedly associated subcultures, but it would likely turn into a session of people either trotting out their stereotypes about people, or people saying how unfair it is to stereotype people based on their clothing. I’m just putting myself in the latter camp here. I’m not denying that a subculture of resentful, privileged men with expectations of attention and sex exist. I’m just saying that the “Check out the guy in the Fedora… looks like we have another entitled male nerd on our hands!” maneuver is analogous to the school yard examples we are more familiar with and wrong for the same reasons.

          The piece starts out with a sympathetic “Hey, why so harsh to geeky Fedora wearers?”, then moves on to and concludes with “Here is why!” I just don’t buy the universality of the conclusion. I think the association made leads to unnecessary “friendly fire” in addition to being kinda mean.

          • I’m not sure how best to explain it if is isn’t already obvious. But the article is really about the subculture, not the hat. The hat is itself a kind of semiotic victim, subject to popular association with resentful young “nice guys” who feel entitled to attention and sex from women, and the strange subculture that’s formed around their shared experiences of the “friendzone” and their subtle oppression by women.

            The hat has become a metaphor for this, whether we like it or not–there were numerous sites about “Fedora creeps” long before it went up–and the article is about the details.

            Your analogies are substitutions of an interesting and worthwhile target — privileged, misogynist assholes — with ones that are clearly otherwise, such as bullied children, black youths, and harassed women. No-one is fooled by this, even those who are also uncomfortable with the rhetorical device you’re trying to denounce.

            I will say, though, that they’re improvements on the sarcastic “mustachioed pedophiles” comparison made in another, moderated comment.

            I hope you realize that we are doing you guys a favor when we delete that sort of thing!

            Your complaint seeks to reduce the author’s attack on friendzone types to “shaky conclusions you’ve made about them based on their clothing”. But she clearly isn’t exploiting the metaphor quite so crudely as this, and has not judged her targets simply because of their hats.

            Taken in context, the post is not saying “everyone who wears fedoras is bad”; it is saying “the fedora has come to symbolize something bad in particular, and here’s what and why”

            But the hat feels no pain.

            Only those who wear it.

          • Benjamin Terry says:

            This is multiple days late to matter, but the piece, taken the way you present it, at least seems like a decent subject tackled in what I thought was a poor way.  

            I would still defend my substitutions though.  There are members of the classes I substituted (“urban style” black youth, “I dress sexy” women) that actually do conform to the negative stereotypes associated with their clothing.  There are worthwhile targets in those populations just as there are worthwhile targets in the “I wear a Fedora” population.  Clearly there are vast swathes of unfairly painted people in there, though.  The targeted class is not always the one that is hit.

            So the 2 questions now are something like, “Is the person criticizing  this particular class based on their clothing due to a dark, diminishing or mocking motivation, or is it due to an honest belief that the population is so frequently host to the negative traits associated with it?” and the follow-up would be “Even if this is based on honest belief, is using the signifier clothing as a method really all that effective, or does it tend to catch a bunch of people unfairly?”

            The answer to the 1st question, for me, just indicates whether the person is actively mean/bigoted or if they are just misguided, because my answer to the 2nd question is “Pretty much, unless the class is ‘Dudes with swastika tatts’, this method is going to unfairly catch a bunch of people.”  There are people who would argue on that 2nd question, claiming that some of these classes are more accurate than others, but I’m inclined to “Not even go there”.

            Still, those above 3 paragraphs are perhaps irrelevant and the issue is that either I and some other readers misinterpreted what Leigh was saying and/or she could have conveyed her message more clearly.

    • Ashley Yakeley says:

      It was a remarkably mean-spirited piece, and I’m disappointed to find it on this list. I mean, she did compare wearing a fedora to making rape jokes.

      • From the text:

        “Even if you disagree with the hypothesis linking the forever-alone fedora and the friend-zoned nice guy, you can at least see why it explains the high volume of mockery aimed at the hat—and why some defend it in militant tones usually reserved for explaining the right to make rape jokes.”

        Just putting it here to illustrate the not-so-subtle difference between what the author said and what you claim she said.

        • SamSam says:

          Eh, the comparison really is kind of being made there, Rob.

          I didn’t really care so much one way or the other, because I’ve never worn one of the silly-looking hats, but I actually did think it was one of the most mean-spirited posts ever on BoingBoing — and really, really un-BoingBoing-like as far as I’ve come to know BB — so I was a little disappointed to see it on your best-of lists as well.

          It just felt like mean bullying of a nerd subculture.

          • “Eh, the comparison really is kind of being made there, Rob.”

            Uh uh!

            Leigh didn’t compare “wearing a fedora to making rape jokes,” she compared the response to mockery of it to how the right to make rape jokes is militantly defended by people who would never make rape jokes themselves. This distinction is important because it gets to the heart of the oft-expressed “nice guy” delusion that one earns entitlements by obeying politeness codes around women.

            These things are clear if you stop assuming a general concrete relationship between man and hat: the associations are intentionally specific to certain contexts. I urge anyone who finds this a mean-spirited attack on male nerds to re-read it, bearing in mind the undeniable fact that there was already a lot of talk of creepy guys and their Fedoras at the time, and that the author is explaining, from a female perspective, what the accessory has come to symbolize in a particular social milieux.

            Also, while this is an interesting issue and there’s space for disagreement, trying to tell us what is and isn’t “Boingy” is just a bit daft. You’re welcome to form an abstraction based upon the blogging of 5 or 6 people and their occasional guests, but trying to hold everyone collectively responsible to the result will lead only to further disappointment.

            Leigh’s attack on subculture–defined by its bro-dom and insinuating misogyny–is “bullying nerds”? Pull other one, it’s got /r/mensrights on it!

          • SamSam says:

            Also, while this is an interesting issue and there’s space for disagreement, trying to tell us what is and isn’t “Boingy” is just a bit daft.

            I was simply saying it didn’t feel Boing Boing-like to me personally, based only of years of reading BB and forming a general opinion of you. You could also say it would be a “bit daft” of me to object if you turned into a Monday Night Football site, whose only images were page 3 girls — you could certainly do so if you liked, but people might still personally feel it wasn’t very Boingy…

            You can say the article was Boingy, that’s perfectly fine, but no one would ever have confused it for an article written by any of the regular team. I guess that’s the point of guest editors, though…

          • Ashley Yakeley says:

            “Leigh’s attack on subculture–defined by its bro-dom and insinuating misogyny–is “bullying nerds”? Pull other one, it’s got /r/mensrights on it!”

            Fedora wearers = nerds = bro-dom = misogyny = /r/mensrights = oppression, therefore you can be as mean as you like to them!

        • Ashley Yakeley says:

          Apparently, men who defend wearing fedoras do so in militant tones, similar to men who defend rape jokes.

          The implication of “defending in militant tones” is that the thing being defended is in fact indefensible. That’s why one uses a “militant tone” instead of a reasonable tone. The suggestion is that wearing a fedora is just as indefensible as making a rape joke. That’s why one has to use the same shrill “militant tone” to defend the act.

          If this is a difficult point for you, ask yourself, what kind of defence of a fashion choice would ever be militant? Something like “DAMMIT I THINK IT SUITS ME!”? Is this the same tone — in any sense — as someone defending a rape joke?

  3. My favorit post was the Caturday post about the Cat Olympics. I will admit however, I’m heavily biased since this post was about my Flickr photos.

  4. SamSam says:

    Some of your CSS stylings may have changed since these were posted — or rather the position of your comments in the cascade may have changed: your Roboto post has unreadable comments because of the “color: white” in the body tag.

    Speaking of the position of the comments in your DOM…. This is probably something that only affects me, so I know there’s no way it’s ever going to change any time soon, but if you’ve ever used any web-clipping software, like EverNote, to save cool stuff, you’ll probably know that nowadays they let you save pieces of web pages instead of the whole page. This works by DOM elements, of course. Unfortunately, your most recent site redesign means that the post’s content is no longer in its own element — .post-content contains both the post and all the comments… 

    Ah well, like I said, this probably affects only me, although really you might think that in a semantic definition of a page, having a post in its own element would be a natural thing. I’m guessing that’s why the comments in Roboto are white, and why all our comments here are centered ;)

    • I’m gonna go back through all the old features and fix the CSS soon.

      We’re planning to leave Disqus eventually once we have a better internal system — it will be much more simple DOM-wise, just a nice stack of plain old divs just like the post’s own div.

      • SamSam says:

        Good to hear! It sounds like Disqus has been a pain to deal with, but in general I’ve always been a fan of your site designs.

  5. kokuaguy says:

    I can’t believe that after all the years I’ve spent schlepping around on the net I’m only now encountering the wonders of boing boing. And this list of “the best of 2012″ is the perfect introduction. The fedora piece is probably the last one I’d have chosen to begin reading, but after seeing all the comments about it, I’m looking forward to digesting it and joining the fray. 

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