Boing Boing 

Supreme Court says states can limit freedom-of-information requests from out-of-state, Muckrock hacks around it with your help

Michael from MuckRock sez,

The Supreme Court ruled this morning that states have the right to restrict public records access to locals, meaning one more hurdle to would-be muckrakers everywhere. Even in-state requesters are harmed: It means one more bureaucratic hurdle and another excuse for agencies to respond in paper rather than electronically.

MuckRock has helped file requests in all 50 states -- important for projects like the Drone Census -- and we're looking for more volunteers to help ensure transparency from sea to shining sea.

States impacted:

* Alabama
* Arkansas
* Delaware
* Georgia
* New Hampshire
* New Jersey
* Tennessee
* Virginia

If you live in one of the above, fill out a simple form and we can help ensure that sunshine isn't restricted depending on where you live:

To keep filing in all 50 states, MuckRock needs your help (Thanks, Michael!)

Cell model cake

Canadian artist/photographer NicoleWilliam created this cell model cake for her BIOL330 class in 2010. I hereby grant her a retrospective A+. It even comes apart!

Biology Cell Cake (via Geeks Are Sexy)

Ace of Base's Ulf Ekberg saw the sign

When I was a kid, I was the class clown and a bit of a troll. When Ace of Base's The Sign was a hit, me and my mates made up this story that it was really a coded reference to the Swastika, and why are all of you listening to this shameful Nazi music? I ruined it for everyone. Looking back, it's a bit fuzzy—had there been a "legit" tabloid rumor at the time? Were we just riffing on the jaunty Aryan-ness of it all?

Either way, it turns out I wasn't far off. For founder Ulf Ekberg, life is indeed demanding, without understanding.

Pirate pancake griddle

Joe Sandor is looking for $13k on Kickstarter to fund his Pirate Pancake griddle project. It's a beaut. (I wrote about Joe's successful cast iron crepe pan Kickstarter last year).

Pirate Pancake griddle project

EFF challenges bogus 3D printing patents

Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to turn down six broad, bogus patents on 3D printing that could pave the way for even more patent-trolling on the emerging field of 3D printing. They worked with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Ask Patents, as well as with its own supporters to gather evidence on the prior art that invalidates these applications. It's part of a larger project to systematically challenge patents in emerging fields -- next up is mesh networks -- providing a layer of vigilance and common sense atop the reckless and indifferent patent office.

Here are copies of what we submitted to the Patent Office. The good news is that so far, the Patent Office has accepted our submissions (because of that, if you're thinking of making your own preissuance submissions, you might want to use these as a model). Now we wait to see whether our input influences the examiners.

* Fabrication of Non-Homogeneous Articles Via Additive Manufacturing Using Three-Dimensional Voxel-Based Models

* Build Materials and Applications Thereof

* Method for Generating and Building Support Structures With Deposition-Based Digital Manufacturing Systems

* Process for Producing Three-Dimensionally Shaped Object and Device for Producing Same (Ask Patents request for prior art)

* Additive Manufacturing System and Method for Printing Customized Chocolate Confections (Ask Patents request for prior art)

* Ribbon Filament and Assembly for Use in Extrusion-based Digital Manufacturing Systems (Ask Patents request for prior art)

Our work doesn’t stop here. Next we’re going to investigate a number of pending applications that impact mesh networking technology—another area with an extremely active open development community and with tremendous potential. We’ll be asking you to help us again soon. Stay tuned!

Just one more way that EFF is making the future a better one.

EFF and Partners Challenge Six 3D Printing Patent Applications

How Congress flies

You know how aviation is a spiralling horror-show of discomfort and bad service? Well, not if you're in Congress:

At Washington’s Reagan National Airport, they have their own special parking spaces—right up close to the terminal—that they don’t even have to pay for. As Bloomberg Television’s Hans Nichols reports, this perk costs the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority $738,760 in foregone revenue. (The best part of this clip, though, is seeing Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky haul ass to get away from Bloomberg’s cameraman.)

Being a member of Congress also means never having to rush to catch a flight. The airlines allow lawmakers the special privilege of simultaneously booking themselves on multiple flights, so that if they are late or their flight is canceled, they’re guaranteed a spot on the next one. A few years ago, a prominent senator paused in the middle of a conversation with me to bark at an aide, “Book me on the 6, 7, and 8 p.m. shuttles!”

To members of our fly-in-Tuesday-fly-home-Thursday Congress, these perks are a big deal. Most fly a lot, and many fly first class

The Pampered World of Congressional Air Travel [Businessweek/Joshua Green]

(via Digg)

Rumored Statue of Liberty face-recognition supplier harasses and threatens journalist

Slate's Ryan Gallagher caught wind of a new face recognition software being rolled out at the Statue of Liberty. He interviewed a rep from Total Recall, who were reported to be representing Cognitec, the German company whose product, FaceVACS was going in on Liberty Island. Halfway through the interview, Total Recall's director of business development Peter Millius terminated the call, saying that the project was on hold, or possibly cancelled, "vetoed" by the Park Police.

Then it got weird. Cognitec and its lawyers began to barrage Gallagher with emails and letters warning him that if he wrote about this, they'd sue him. When he asked Total Recall for clarification, they threatened to sue him, personally, for harassment. The National Park Service didn't have much to say about the bid, saying "I'm not going to show my hand as far as what security technologies we have." Go, security-through-obscurity! Hurrah for spending tax dollars without any transparency!

Gallagher reported the whole story, including the threats. Whatever merits or demerits Total Recall and Cognitec have as companies, turning into weird, opaque legal-threat-generating machines in the middle of an interview and harassing and intimidating journalists sounds like the kind of thing that should disqualify them from getting any of the American public's money.

“We do work with Cognitec, but right now because of what happened with Sandy it put a lot of different pilots that we are doing on hold,” Peter Millius, Total Recall’s director of business development, said in a phone call. “It’s still months away, and the facial recognition right now is not going to be part of this phase.” Then, he put me hold and came back a few minutes later with a different position—insisting that the face-recognition project had in fact been “vetoed” by the Park Police and adding that I was “not authorized” to write about it.

That was weird, but it soon got weirder. About an hour after I spoke with Total Recall, an email from Cognitec landed in my inbox. It was from the company’s marketing manager, Elke Oberg, who had just one day earlier told me in a phone interview that “yes, they are going to try out our technology there” in response to questions about a face-recognition pilot at the statue. Now, Oberg had sent a letter ordering me to “refrain from publishing any information about the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” It said that I had “false information,” that the project had been “cancelled,” and that if I wrote about it, there would be “legal action.” Total Recall then separately sent me an almost identical letter—warning me not to write “any information about Total Recall and the Statue of Liberty or the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” Both companies declined further requests for comment, and Millius at Total Recall even threatened to take legal action against me personally if I continued to “harass” him with additional questions.

Lady Liberty’s Watching You (via Reddit)

(Image: Statue of Liberty Paris, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from francehousehunt's photostream)

Just look at this whirling maglev banana.

Just look at it.

Mag Lev Banana (Thanks, Philip!)

Winners of The Webby Awards 2013


Our friends at the Webby Awards announced this year's winners and as usual, it's a fantastic mix of familiar sites and also sites I'd never heard of but will now kill my productivity for the week. Here's a taste: Mental Floss won for best cultural blog, NFB took the Net Art prize for "Bear 71," Rainn Wilson's Soulpancake picked up two People's Voice Awards for video, VICE News also landed film and video awards, and One Tiny Hand won in the Weird category. The Special Achievement honorees are a great lot too: Steve Wilhite (inventor of the GIF), Frank Ocean, Jerry Seinfeld, Grimes, and others. Cheers to the winners! The Webby Awards 2013

Video of recursive hand illusions

"Screengrab" by Willie Witte. "None of the visuals are computer generated. All the trickery took place literally in front of the camera."

Keith Haring documentary by Maripol

French artist and fashion designer Maripol directed a new Web documentary about her friend Keith Haring. There are currently three Haring exhibitions in Paris right now, taking place at the Museé D'Art Moderne, 104, and Colette.

SOPA's daddy is now in charge of government science funding, and he hates peer-review

Lamar Smith (R-TX) is the goon who brought SOPA to the nation. Now he's in charge of science funding in the House, and he's got some spectacularly stupid ideas for science as a whole.

Stuart sez, "The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee has drafted a bill that, in effect, would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. For good measure, it would also set in motion a process to determine whether the same criteria should be adopted by every other federal science agency."

Smith's request to NSF didn't sit well with the top Democrat on the science committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). On Friday, she sent a blistering missive to Smith questioning his judgment and his motives.

"In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF," Johnson wrote in a letter obtained by ScienceInsider. "I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value."

In her letter, Johnson warns Smith that "the moment you compromise both the merit review process and the basic research mission of NSF is the moment you undo everything that has enabled NSF to contribute so profoundly to our national health, prosperity, and welfare." She asks him to "withdraw" his letter and offers to work with him "to identify a less destructive, but more effective, effort" to make sure NSF is meeting that mission.

U.S. Lawmaker Proposes New Criteria for Choosing NSF Grants (Thanks, Stuart!)

(Image: Congressman Lamar Smith visits JWST @ SXSW, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nasawebbtelescope's photostream)

Teaching TCP/IP headers with legos

A Hal Pomeranz from 2010 suggests a great way to teach TCP/IP header structure to students: he builds header diagrams out of legos, then mixes them up and has the students reconstruct them.

The use of color here really highlights certain portions of the packet header. For example, the source and destination addresses and ports really jump out. But there are some other, more subtle color patterns that I worked in here. For example, if you look closely you’ll see that I matched the color of the ACK bit with the blue in the ACK number field. Similarly the colors of the SYN bit and the sequence number match, as do the URG bit and urgent pointer field.

Actually I wish I had a couple of more colors available. Yes, Lego comes in dozens of colors these days, but they only make 2×8 blocks (aka one “Lego Byte”) in six colors: White, Black, Red, Yellow, Blue, and Beige.

So while I tried to use Beige exclusively for size fields, Red for reserved bits, Yellow for checksums, and so on, I ultimately ended up having to use these colors for other fields as well– for example, the yellow sequence number fields in the TCP header. Maybe I should have just bought a bunch of “nibbles” (2×4 blocks) in other colors and not been so choosy about using full “Lego Bytes”.

Since 2010, the lego patent has expired and cheapish wire-extrusion 3D printing has become a reality -- and there's cool procedural models for generating arbitrary-sized bricks and labelling them with arbitrary type. Someone needs to make a printable TCP diagramming set on Thingiverse!

Practical, Visual, Three-Dimensional Pedagogy for Internet Protocol Packet Header Control Fields (via Hacker News)

Screwdriver car key

Make a screwdriver car key for that Gone in 60 Seconds feeling.

1963 photo on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show

The Dick Van Dyke Show
is one of my all time favorites (remember the great Twilight Zone-esque walnut episode?), and this 1963 photo from Look magazine makes me happy. Shorpy has a high-res version.

James Gurney's "talking portrait" of 17th Street Locos

My friend James Gurney is the creator of Dinotopia, and he is a sketching fanatic. When I had lunch with him at Bob's Big Boy in Burbank a couple of years ago, he and his wife (also an artist) stayed at the restaurant after the meal to sketch street scenes. He just posted this excellent short video with a sketch he made of some men at the Santa Monica pier.

In 1981 I drew a portrait of two guys on the Santa Monica pier, then asked them to describe themselves into a tape recorder. For the first time, their faces and voices are brought together in a talking portrait.

Talking Portrait: 17th Street Locos

Cute things made from pieces of carpeting

What are these? Even after reading the description, I'm not sure. But they are awfully cute. I'm adding these images to my swipe file for times when I need creative inspiration.
DIFFA + Interface

Yog-Sothoth idol - limited sale

Jason McKittrick sez,

On sale for 24 hours only! After the dreadful events that occurred in the backwater town of Dunwich, Massachusetts further inquiry was launched by professors at Miskatonic University. Searching the charred ruins of the old Whateley home, a badly damaged but still intact wooden lock box was found among the rubble. This box contained a hideous metal sculpture, seemingly ancient occult documents and a small cypher-encoded notebook with the name 'Wilbur Whateley' scrawled on the cover.

With the help of Prof. Henry Armitage, the notebook was deciphered and it was revealed that the metal sculpture was an idol of Yog-Sothoth, a multidimensional being that had been worshiped by the Whateley family for generations. Several metallurgical tests of the idol yielded no definitive answer as to what material it had been fashioned from and led scientists to conclude that the origin of the material to be non-terrestrial.

The Idol of Yog-Sothoth is hand cast in solid resin and individually signed and numbered by artist Jason McKittrick: Measures 5" x 3", $50+shipping.


Real Stuff: The Great Outdoors

A NSFW story from Real Stuff #1 (Fantagraphics, December 1990).Read the rest

Man loses life savings on carnival game

"[Henry] Gribbohm says he attended a Manchester carnival run by New Hampshire-based Fiesta Shows and wanted to win an Xbox Kinect at a game called Tubs of Fun where contestants toss balls into a tub. When he practiced he says it was easy, but something changed when he started playing for the prize and the balls kept popping out." -- CBS Boston

Read this comment at the Art of Manliness about crooked carnival games and crooked game operators.

Well-dressed psychoanalyst in NYC

This wonderfully dressed woman comes from an early February post to the Humans of New York Tumblr, a collection of well-put-together individuals indeed.

“Artist?” “Psychoanalyst.” (via Crazy Abalone)

Chimp fight at the LA Zoo

UPDATE: I replaced the original video with Cowicide's "Thus Spake the Chimp with a Stick" version.

Daniel Richter makes an appearance at 0:57. (Via Unique Daily)

UPDATE: Rob made the movie poster. Can't wait for the summer premiere!

Review: Sam Adams' Spring Thaw beer pack

Sam Adams sent over its Spring Thaw variety pack of specialty beers. It took us a while to get to them—they're already rare on the shelves—but I'm glad we did, because it's a fun lineup with only a single dud, and I'd like to encourage more of you to send us alcohol.

Read the rest

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, a Kindle Serial

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: the Thirteenth Rib by David J. Schwartz is the first Kindle Serial I've tried. Serials are one time purchases episodically delivered as the author completes shorter installments.

Kindle Serials hold the hope of performing like an old time radio show. I enjoy looking forward to them.

Very much in the vein of the Magicians by Lev Grossman, Gooseberry Bluff is set in a future where magic is real and taught. The first episode hooked me as a Federal Bureau of Magic agent is sent undercover to investigate a community college professor's disappearance, apparently related to a larger demonic summoning/terrorist plot.

Schwartz uses 30-40 page installments to develop the story very well. I hope this format catches on.

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: the Thirteenth Rib by David J. Schwartz

Brace yourselves, tick season is coming

At Outside magazine, Carl Zimmer has a great long read on why the tick population in the United States is increasing — and why scientists are having so much trouble controlling both ticks, and the diseases they spread.

Inner monologues — out loud

At the Brainwaves blog, Ferris Jabr writes about a fascinating project. Anthropologist Andrew Irving talked random strangers on the streets of New York City into putting on a headset and speaking their inner monologue out loud as he followed behind them with a camera. The result is something that approximates what it might be like to be able to hear someone else's thoughts.

A woman worries about where she can find a Staples and contemplates her relationship with a friend who has cancer. A man deals with his emotions over two close friends (or, possibly, roommates, or lovers) having a baby together. Another man flits between internal discussions of totalitarianism, speculation about other people on the street, and his own attempts to figure out which direction he's heading. In general, it's all a mixture of engaging and mundane, swirled together.

There are other videos in the series, as well. You can watch them at Brainwaves.

Guatemala: Rios Montt genocide trial resumes amid legal uncertainty, polarized political climate

Ixil witnesses inside the courtroom, Tue. Apr. 30, 2013. At center, Maria Sajiq of Nebaj, Quiché, Guatemala. Ms. Sajiq was among the survivors Miles O'Brien and I interviewed in Nebaj recently, for a forthcoming PBS NewsHour report. (Photo: Xeni Jardin)

I am blogging from inside the Supreme Court of Guatemala, where Judge Jazmin Barrios has just re-started the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez after a two-week suspension, during which a series of obscure legal battles took place.

As Amy Ross at the OSIJ's blog accurately explains, the historic trial reconvenes "in an environment of complex legal challenges, powerful political forces, and intense emotions."

Listen to a live audio stream of today's proceedings here.

My live-tweets from the courtroom are below.

Read the rest

Feynman graphic-novel biography out in paperback today

Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick's Feynman, a stupendous biography of Richard Feynman in graphic novel form that went to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, is out in paperback as of today! Here's my original review from 2011:

Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick's Feynman is an affectionate and inspiring comic biography of the legendary iconoclastic physicist Richard Feynman. I've reviewed Ottaviani before (I really liked T-Minus, a history of the Apollo program, as well as his Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists) and I expected great things from Feynman. I wasn't disappointed.

Feynman is primarily concerned with its subject's life -- his personal relationships, his career triumphs, his mistakes and misgivings. From his work on the Trinity project to the Feynman lectures to his Nobel for his theory of Quantum Electrodynamics, Feynman paints a picture of a caring, driven, intelligent, wildly creative scientist who didn't always think through his actions and sometimes made himself pretty miserable as a result. But the Feynman in this book is resilient and upbeat, and figures out how to bounce back from the worst of life.

Feynman's technical achievements are mighty, but very few people understand them (Feynman claimed that he didn't understand them). But the way he conducted his life was often an inspiration. The authors even manage to wring sweetness from his tragic romance with his first wife, Arline, who contracted terminal tuberculosis before they married, meaning that their marriage was conducted without any intimate physical contact lest he catch her sickness -- but for all that, they clearly loved each other enormously and made one another's lives better.

Feynman is notorious for his irreverent outlook and his willingness to look foolish while he learned new things, an extremely admirable ability I often wish I possessed in greater measure. The bongo-playing, doodling, pranking Feynman who tried to get out of accepting his Nobel prize and drove Freeman Dyson across the country, staying in flophouses and looking for excitement leaps off the page here.

The authors pass lightly over some of Feynman's more problematic shortcomings, such as his inconsistent sexist attitude towards women. They show us Feynman gallantly mentoring his sister in physics while all the authority figures in their lives insisted that this wasn't a fit subject for girls; they show us Feynman working on physics problems five nights a week at a local strip-bar; but they don't dip into his embarrassing writings on convincing women to have sex with him, in which he comes across as a sexist pig. He was surely a product of his times, and he was surely imperfect, and that explains his attitude, but it doesn't excuse it.

But this isn't a whitewash. Imperfect and warty, Feynman is still an inspiration.

The authors don't shy away from technical subjects entirely, either. They make a really good run at depicting Feynman's supposedly lay-oriented lectures on Quantum Electrodynamics. To be honest, I've never really been able to wrap my head around QED, and, having read Feynman, I'm still pretty fuzzy on the subject -- but I feel like I'm a little closer to getting it.

Like all great biography, Feynman is an enticement to read more of his works. I haven't read The Feynman Lectures (an introductory physics course that Feynman wrote and delivered late in his career -- an unheard-of undertaking for a physicist of his stature) in years, but I'm going to start listening to the audio of his lectures. And I'll be shoving Feynman at everyone I can get to read it.


RIP Number 10

Number 10 — a Yellowstone Park elk famous for fighting with other elk, grade-school volleyball nets, and R.V.s — has died. Estimated to have been between 15 and 18 years old, he apparently lost a battle with a vehicle.

Giant binder-clip handbag

Peter Bristol created this binder clip bag in 2007 and now he's looking for manufacturing partners: "The binder icon functions so well as a bag you can almost take it seriously. Constructed of wool felt and aluminum tubing."

Clip Bag (via Super Punch)