Hey, Portlandians! Brian David Johnson and James H Carrott are doing a talk and signing for their new book, Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology, a fascinating look at the historical significance of steampunk, and an exploration of what the popularity of steampunk today's means about tomorrow's technology, at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell's on March 25 at 7PM.
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Steampunk, a mashup in its own right, has gone mainstream, with music videos from the likes of Nicki Minaj; America’s Next Top Model photo shoots; and Prada’s Fall/Winter menswear collection featuring haute couture, steampunk style. Some steampunk fans revile this celebrity. But James H. Carrott, co-author of Vintage Tomorrows, says that’s just how cultural change happens. “Things get appropriated; they affect the culture in some way or another, and the people who are at the heart of trying to make that change move onto the next key idea.”
So what is steampunk, exactly, and why should we care? Carrott, a cultural historian, says “steampunk is playing with the past.” The world that steampunk envisions is a mad-inventor’s collection of 21st century-inspired contraptions, powered by steam and driven by gears. It’s a whole new past; one that has a lot to say about the futures we want to see.
In Vintage Tomorrows, Intel’s resident futurist Brian David Johnson (@IntelFuturist) joins Carrott (@CultHistorian) in a globe-spanning journey to dig beyond definitions and into the heart of this growing subculture. Through interviews with experts such as Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, and James Gleick, this book looks into steampunk’s vision of old-world craftsmen making beautiful hand-tooled gadgets, and what it means for our age of disposable technology.
This was a fun episode! I spoke with John Glassie, author of A Man of Misconceptions, a non-fiction book about the unusual 17th-century polymath, Athanasius Kircher, and Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein, which recounts Joshua’s yearlong quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top "mental athletes.”
In this episode:
"Utopian for Beginners: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented," a New Yorker article by Joshua Foer
"Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm," a Wired article by Gary Wolf
Atlas Obscura is the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places.
Last week, Brian Krebs (a respected security researcher and journalist who often publishes details about high-tech crime) was SWATted -- that is, someone defrauded his local police department into sending a SWAT team to his house, resulting in his getting confronted by gun-wielding, hair-trigger cops who had him lie on the ground and cuffed him before it was all sorted out.
Krebs, being a talented investigator, is hot on the trail of the people or person responsible for this. And a variety of sources point to a 20-year-old hacker who goes by "Phobia," and whose real name, according to Krebs, is Ryan Stevenson. Phobia was implicated in the attack on Wired reporter Mat Honan, wherein his laptop drive and online backup were deleted, including irreplaceable photos of his child's first year, and eight years' worth of email.
Krebs phoned "Phobia" up and ended up speaking to Phobia and his father. Phobia denied attacking Krebs and insisted that he had nothing to do with the gamer/fraudster clan behind it (though Krebs pointed out that Phobia can be heard speaking in the group's YouTube videos, which document their attacks), but admitted that he had been the culprit in hacking Honan (his father then came onto the line to deny this). The transcript is the most interesting part of the piece:
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BK: Uh huh. And is Honan referring to you in this article?
RS: Uh huh.
BK: Did anything bad ever happen to you because of this?
"The ingredients, weight and longevity qualities of the pants remain the same, but the coverage does not, resulting in a level of sheerness in some of our women's black Luon bottoms that falls short of our very high standards," the company stated. "We want you to Down Dog and Crow with confidence and we felt these pants didn't measure up."
This really deserves its own post. In the comments on the post on Kirtsaeng -- where the Supreme Court just upheld the right to sell used goods, even if they were made abroad -- Shrikant quotes from Heinlein's classic short story Life-Line:
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"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."
Last year I ordered a few Lego limited-edition Moleskines. The "limit" must be very high, as they are still available on Amazon. I don't care, because I never intended to keep them as collector's items anyway. This month, Moleskin published a limited edition Mickey Mouse Moleskine. It has an embossed Mickey on the cover, and includes a pull-out guide to drawing the famous rodent.
Milo Danger made an AR-15 (without a 3D printer). He says it's legal make your own rifle, as long as you make it without the help of others.
Last week, we brought you the wonderful news that a district court in San Francisco had struck down the law that allowed the FBI to issue its own "National Security Letters" (NSLs) -- secret search-warrants with permanent gag orders. Now, Matt Zimmerman, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who brought the case on behalf of an unnamed telco), explains in depth what EFF asked the court to recognize, how far they got, and what happens next:
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The court made five critical findings. First, Judge Illston quickly rejected the government's dangerous argument that NSL recipients had no power to review the constitutionality of the statute. The government had suggested that the court could only review specific problems with specific NSLs, meaning that larger structural problems with the statute would remain untouched. As the court correctly noted, however, the statute specifically allows a court to determine whether an NSL is "unreasonable" or "unlawful" which includes determining whether the statute itself is unconstitutional.
Second, the district court found that the statute impermissibly authorizes the FBI to limit speech without constitutionally-mandated procedural protections. The Supreme Court articulated the scope for such protections in 1965 in Freedman vs. Maryland, a case in which it struck down a Maryland licensing scheme that required films to be submitted to a government ratings board prior to public showings. The problem with the statute wasn't necessarily its substantive reach as it was possible that films could be banned without violating the First Amendment -- if, for example, they met the First Amendment definition of "obscene." Instead, the court was concerned that the procedures for challenging a ban stacked the deck against theater owners...
Canada's Conservative government has issued new regulations to librarians and archvists governing their free speech in public forums and online media. According to the Harper government, public servants owe a "duty of loyalty" to the "duly elected government" and must get permission from their political officers managers before making any public utterance -- or even a private utterance in an online forum that may eventually leak to the public, to prevent "conflicts" or "risks" their departments.
The Tories have also rolled out a snitch-line where those loyal to the party line can report on their co-workers for failing to maintain ideological purity.
“Once you start picking on librarians and archivists, it’s pretty sad,” says Toni Samek, a professor of library and information studies at the University of Alberta. She specializes in intellectual freedom and describes several clauses in the code as “severe” and “outrageous.”
The code is already having a “chilling” effect on federal archivists and librarians, who used to be encouraged to actively engage and interact with groups interested in everything from genealogy to preserving historical documents, says archivist Loryl MacDonald at the University of Toronto.
“It is very disturbing and disconcerting to have included speaking at conferences and teaching as so-called ‘high risk’ activities,” says MacDonald, who is president of the Association of Canadian Archivists, a non-profit group representing some 600 archivists across the country.
Regular readers will remember that Canada's librarians and archivists led a charge to save Canada's National Archives when the Harper Tories broke up the irreplaceable collections and flogged them off to private collectors at fire-sale prices. Read the rest
The US Supreme Court has handed down a verdict in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, one of the most important copyright cases of the century. In it, the publisher John Wiley & Sons sought to block the import of legally purchased cheap overseas editions of its books by arguing that "first sale" (the right to resell copyrighted works) only applies to goods made in the USA. However you feel about cheap overseas editions and their importation into the USA, this was a disastrous legal theory. Practically everything owned by Americans is made outside of the USA and almost all of it embodies some kind of copyright. Under Wiley's theory, you would have no first-sale rights to any of that stuff -- you couldn't sell it, you couldn't even give it away. What's more, the other "exceptions and limitations" to copyright would also not apply, meaning that it would be illegal to photograph anything made outside of the USA (no di minimum exemption) or to transform it in any way (no fair use, either). Thanks goodness the Supremes got this one right!
Here's some choice bits of the decision (PDF)
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These intolerable consequences (along with the absurd result that the copyright owner can exercise downstream control even when it authorized the import or first sale) have understandably led the Ninth Circuit, the Solicitor General as amicus, and the dissent to adopt textual readings of the statute that attempt to mitigate these harms. Brief for United States 27–28; post, at 24–28.