Reuters: In China, public anger over gov't. secrecy on environment

The environment ministry in China recently told attorney Dong Zhengwei he couldn't have access to two-year old data about soil pollution because it was a "state secret." The incident amplified already-growing public outrage over the nation's worsening pollution problems, and "the scarcity of information about the environment available to them." [Reuters]

Investigating leaks, Harvard secretly searched deans' email accounts

The Boston Globe today broke the news that administrators at Harvard University secretly searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans last fall, in an attempt to determine the source of "a leak to the media about the school’s sprawling cheating case." [The Boston Globe]

Amazing wireless whitespace technology bringing free WiFi to SXSW

Elliot Noss sez,

I thought you'd be interested in something we are helping with at SXSW this weekend. a group of folks are taking advantage of unlicensed radio spectrum to provide high-speed backhaul to local WiFi access points all over SXSW. In Austin, there are 14 of these open channels using whitespace that are available. we are leveraging this. on Tuesday, the FCC will close comments on its plan to auction off many of these "whitespaces. the 'We Heart Wifi' initiative is collecting signatures on the following petition. Even if folks aren't at SXSW, they can sign on:

To all FCC Commissioners:

Please follow through on your proposal to open up a large slice of high-quality spectrum for open networks. Doing so would help create the competition necessary to extend more high-speed broadband—including 'super WiFi' and other future innovations—to more people."

We ♥ WiFi - Ting.com

US lawmaker uses neat flip phone trick to avoid talking to "pesky reporters"

In an article that reads an awful lot like an Onion parody, Politico reports that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "is well known for pulling a flip phone out of his pocket and pretending to hold a conversation."
“I try to teach my colleagues this excellent technique,” he said as he quickly tried to hop into an elevator. “I say, ‘You want to avoid these pesky reporters, talk on your cellphone.’”

When he can’t grab his phone, Schumer will often turn to the closest senator – Democrat or Republican – and start a conversation. It’s considered a violation of protocol to interrupt two members while they’re talking.

“There is a time and place for everything,” said Schumer, who is known to warn freshmen about talking to reporters, sometimes specific ones, in the hallways.

More nifty Senator tricks to avoid the fourth estate: "The silent senators" [politico.com]

Mormon gamer praises Fallout for getting his culture right

"I'm a 31-year-old, fifth-generation Mormon (member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) from Salt Lake City, Utah and I love video games." Skip Cameron, in a guest post at Kotaku. He says pop culture generally mocks Mormon faith and culture, but Fallout got it right.

Oracle CEO Ellison's luxury yacht docks near homeless camp in Hawaii

Larry Ellison, billionaire and CEO of Oracle Corporation, bought 98% of the land on the Hawaiian island of Lānaʻi last year. In 2013, his 288-foot, four floor luxury superyacht "Musashi" and its attendant staff have spent most of their time at port in Honolulu (Oahu), because there are no suitable docks yet for the massive symbol of his massive wealth on the smaller island.

They're actually docked just steps from a homeless encampment, as luck would have it.

Read the rest

Kickstarting an anthology of speculative fiction with marginalized people as heroes

Rose Fox sez,

Daniel José Older and I are thrilled to be co-editing LONG HIDDEN, an anthology of speculative fiction from the margins of history. It's a crowdfunded project; we've already made our initial goal, and now we'd love your help reaching our ambitious stretch goals.

Each story will take place between 1400 and the early 1900s and put a speculative twist on real past events, with marginalized people as the heroes. The anthology will be published by Crossed Genres, which has an excellent history of coming through on crowdfunded projects. We also have a tremendous lineup of talented, well-known authors (Beverly Jenkins, Victor LaValle, Nnedi Okorafor, Ken Liu, Amal El-Mohtar, and many others) eager to submit stories, and will be opening submissions as soon as our Kickstarter is funded.

Over 400 generous people have already boosted us past our initial goal of $12,000. Now we're hoping to push onward to $20,000, which will let us buy ~50,000 more words of fiction--at SFWA pro rates of 5¢/word--and reveal even more voices of silenced dreamers. Further goals include interior illustrations and an audiobook edition.

We're grateful for each and every pledge, from the $1 "Kickstarter high-five" on up, and we have lots of terrific rewards lined up. If you don't want to pledge, we hope you'll consider buying the book when it's out next year and spreading the word in the meantime. In particular, tell your author friends to send us stories! Open submissions are the original crowdsourcing and we can't wait to see what we get. We'd love to give some unknown authors their first pro sales, side by side with some of the genre's brightest stars.

Thanks for helping an awesome project come into being.

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History (Thanks, Rose!)

Print your own "Machine With Concrete" and produce a gear ratio of 244.14 quintillion to 1


A fanciful post to Thingiverse from 3DTOPO allows you to print out your own version of Arthur Ganson sculpture Machine with Concrete , a system of wormgears that produces a gear-ratio of 244.14 quintillion to 1.

This is a printable version of Machine with Concrete. The sculpture is a series of twelve 1:50 worm gears, with each gear reducing 1/50th of the previous gear. With 12 gears, the final gear ratio is a mind boggling 244,140,625,000,000,000,000 : 1 (244.14 quintillion to 1). With the first gear spinning at 200RPM it would take over 2 TRILLION years for a single revolution at the end of the machine, so the final drive shaft can be embedded in concrete or plaster.

I emailed Arthur Ganson a link to this page and he replied "looks FANTASTIC!".

Printed Machine with Concrete (via JWZ)

Best iPad stylus: Pogo Connect

I’ve been using this stylus like crazy and I am in love! It’s a touch sensitive stylus for drawing and painting on the iPad which works incredibly well. Because of its touch-sensitive capabilities, this is the first stylus that allows me to think of the iPad as tool for serious illustration. I love my Wacom tablet, but using this is a completely different and, in some ways, a much more direct way to connect to my work… especially once I’d found the right drawing app. I suggest Procreate, which is designed to take advantage of the Pogo Connect.

Read the rest

New bill to protect your webmail and location privacy needs your support

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) of 1986 is an ancient law that governs the privacy of the files you keep on servers, including your webmail and other private stuff. The 1986 law assumes that any file left on a server for more than six months is abandoned, and gives law enforcement the power to retrieve it without a warrant. Many attempts have been made to update this, but the nation's law enforcement apparatus always kicks up a huge fuss when anyone proposes closing this glaring loophole.

Now there's a new, bipartisan bill from Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) that will update electronic privacy law for the bold world of the 1990s (at least!). The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Rainey Reitman has more:

We’re pleased to see Representatives Lofgren, Poe, and DelBene take up this crucial issue, but the current draft isn’t a perfect solution to all ECPA woes. For example, the bill has room for improvement on the issue of evidence suppression for email content collected without a warrant. We hope this already promising bill can be further improved through amendments.

By introducing this reform bill, the 113th Congress has an opportunity to enact powerful protections for everyday Internet users – which would be particularly appreciated, since all too often Congress uses its power to try to undermine our digital civil liberties.

If you agree that the government shouldn’t be snooping through inboxes without a warrant, then please sign our petition, which will automatically send an email to Congress demanding they reform ECPA.

New Bill Would Ensure Law Enforcement Gets a Warrant Before Reading Email

How to get ahead in robotics

Swiss social psychologist Bertolt Mayer views 'Rex', a two metre tall artificial human, at the Science Museum in central London February 5, 2013. Mayer, a who uses a prosthetic hand himself, was used as the model for the 'bionic man', whom the British roboticist designers claim is the world's first complete bionic man, featuring artificial organs as well as fully functioning limbs. It will be on public display until March 11. Photo: REUTERS / Toby Melville

Happy Birthday to the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin

С ДНЁМ РОЖДЕНИЯ, comrade Yuri Gagarin! I traveled with another space-man to Moscow a couple years ago to celebrate your achievements.

Archival video here at NASA.gov. Below, "The Columbus of The Cosmos" on BBC TV, July 11 1961.

Read the rest

US Ninth Circuit says forensic laptop searches at the border without suspicion are unconstitional

An en banc (all the 11/20 judges together) decision from the 9th Circuit has affirmed that you have the right to expect that your laptop and other devices will not be forensically examined without suspicion at the US border. It's the first time that a US court has upheld electronic privacy rights at the border, and the court also said that using an encrypted device that can't be casually searched is not grounds for suspicion. The judges also note that the prevalence of cloud computing means that searching at the border gives cops access to servers located all over the world. At TechDirt, Mike Masnick has some great analysis of this welcome turn of events:

The ruling is pretty careful to strike the right balance on the issues. It notes that a cursory review at the border is reasonable:

Officer Alvarado turned on the devices and opened and viewed image files while the Cottermans waited to enter the country. It was, in principle, akin to the search in Seljan, where we concluded that a suspicionless cursory scan of a package in international transit was not unreasonable.

But going deeper raises more questions. Looking stuff over, no problem. Performing a forensic analysis? That goes too far and triggers the 4th Amendment. They note that the location of the search is meaningless to this analysis (the actual search happened 170 miles inside the country after the laptop was sent by border agents to somewhere else for analysis). So it's still a border search, but that border search requires a 4th Amendment analysis, according to the court.

It is the comprehensive and intrusive nature of a forensic examination—not the location of the examination—that is the key factor triggering the requirement of reasonable suspicion here....

Notwithstanding a traveler’s diminished expectation of privacy at the border, the search is still measured against the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement, which considers the nature and scope of the search. Significantly, the Supreme Court has recognized that the “dignity and privacy interests of the person being searched” at the border will on occasion demand “some level of suspicion in the case of highly intrusive searches of the person.” Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152. Likewise, the Court has explained that “some searches of property are so destructive,” “particularly offensive,” or overly intrusive in the manner in which they are carried out as to require particularized suspicion. Id. at 152, 154 n.2, 155–56; Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. at 541. The Court has never defined the precise dimensions of a reasonable border search, instead pointing to the necessity of a case-by-case analysis....

The court is led by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who is a fan of my book Little Brother (which features a scene where DHS officials force a suspect to decrypt his devices, on the grounds that his encryption itself is suspicious), and was kind enough to write me a blurb for the new edition of the book. I'm not saying that Little Brother inspired Kozinski to issue this decision, but I'm delighted to discover that something I've been pushing through fiction since 2008 has made it into law in 2013.

9th Circuit Appeals Court: 4th Amendment Applies At The Border; Also: Password Protected Files Shouldn't Arouse Suspicion

Brazilian Birds: ambient internet radio station of bird calls in the Amazon

My new ambient-sound-while-working internet radio jam: Brazilian Birds.

(Photo: Toucan eye, a Creative Commons image from doug88888's photostream)

George W. Bush, painter of puppies and semi-nude bathroom self-portraits

"He started off painting dogs. I think he said he painted 50 dogs," says painting teacher Bonnie Flood of her student, George W. Bush.

"He pulled out this canvas and started painting dogs and I thought, 'Oh my God, I don't paint dogs!"

There's video. As you may recall, images of the former president's paintings also showed up in a series of hacked emails published last month by "Guccifer." Those images included "purported self-portraits of the 43rd president in the shower and the bath."

Washington Post Art and Architecture Critic Philip Kennicott critiques the work here. The hacked work, not to be confused with the work of a hack.

Read the rest