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What makes dry quicksand so deadly?

Dry quicksand was a mythical substance — normal-looking sand that could swallow you in a flash. That is, until 2004, when scientists made the stuff in a lab. (Mark told you about that development.)

In this video, geologist Matt Kuchta explains how dry quicksand is different from both wet quicksand and stable sand. Hint: Think "Jenga".

What's climate change making more awesome today?

Remember, climate change isn't intentionally trying to make your life miserable. It's just a trend in rising global average temperatures. That comes along with lots of side effects, some of which do, in fact, make human life pretty miserable. In other cases, though, the effect can be beneficial. For instance: In Antarctica, climate change seems to be increasing the population of adorable Adelie penguins. Maggie

What's climate change ruining today?

Okay, sure, jet travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions (this is situation where a small percentage is actually a really big number, fyi). So this is maybe more ironic than tragic, but it turns out that some scientists think changing climates could have an effect on air turbulence. Specifically, one model suggests it will increase the ferocity and frequency of surprise areas of turbulence that pilots can't see coming. Maggie

Shark painting from men's adventure magazine

Enjoy giant size picture here. (Via Martin Klasch)

Put a GPS on your cat

When one of Caroline Paul's cats disappeared for 5.5 weeks, it inspired her to find out what Tibula (the cat) was really up to when he left home. The process of this is pretty fascinating. The outcome is, well, kind of cat like. What was Tibula doing when he wasn't at home? Avoiding the house and staring at himself in windows, apparently. Maggie

Convertible coffee-table/sofa/dining room table + stools


Julia Kononenko, a designer in Kharkiv, Ukraine, created a clever piece of furniture that converts from a coffee table to a sofa to a dining room table with chairs. It's more small living-space porn for me -- the perfect thing for your 130sqft apartment.

In our apartments we are always in the confrontation with furniture for the living space. It is so important, that the Interior items possess little space, are multi-functional and small in size. I created a sofa for the living room, that can easily be transformed into a small dining-table with 6 padded stools. In terms of ergonomics it gives maximum comfort and convenience to the user. While transforming the sofa, the seat turns into six padded stools, and the backrest - into a countertop. From one small sofa, we can get a dining-table for 6 persones. Transformation furniture - ideal for limited space.

Сonvertible sofa

Rare footage of a "normal person" given LSD in 1950s clinical research

In this video, Sidney Cohen (author of The Beyond Within: The L.S.D. Story, administers LSD under clinical conditions to an unnamed "normal person" (her description), some time in the 1950s. Her description of her experience is really wonderful -- you can tell she's going through something profound and amazing. As Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote in 2011,

The experience she describes includes familiar themes such as gorgeous colors, geometric patterns, microscopic particles suddenly visible, and a sense of transcendence, oneness, and ineffability:

"I can see everything in color. You have to see the air. You can't believe it....I've never seen such infinite beauty in my life....Everything is so beautiful and lovely and alive....This is reality...I wish I could talk in Technicolor....I can't tell you about it. If you can't see it, then you'll just never know it. I feel sorry for you."

Today all this may sound hackneyed, but what's striking about this woman's account is that her expectations were not shaped by the huge surge of publicity that LSD attracted in the next two decades. Although she had not heard what an LSD trip was supposed to be like, her experience included several of the features that later came to be seen as typical—a reminder that, as important as "set and setting" are, "drug" matters too.

Despite the similarity between this woman's description of her experience and testimonials from acid aficionados of the '60s and '70s, her presentation is so calm and nonthreatening that it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society.

'I Wish I Could Talk in Technicolor' (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Pirate Cinema nominated for the Prometheus Award

I was delighted today to discover that my novel Pirate Cinema had been nominated for the Libertarian Futurist Society's annual Prometheus Award, amid a slate of absolutely wonderful books:

Arctic Rising, Tobias Buckell (Tor)
The Unincorporated Future, Dani & Eytan Kollin (Tor)
Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctorow (Tor)
Darkship Renegades, Sarah Hoyt (Baen)
Kill Decision, Daniel Suarez (Penguin)

I was proud as punch to win the award for my novel Little Brother, and I'm very excited to be back on the roster. Many thanks to the jurors.

2013 PROMETHEUS AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCED

Technology design for addressing human trafficking

danah boyd sez, "Researchers who focus on technology's role in human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of minors teamed up to create a short primer for technologists who are trying to do the right thing. This high-level overview is intended to shed light on some of the most salient misconceptions about human trafficking and provide some key insights that will be useful for anyone who is trying to build tools to intervene. This document is to help those who are trying to create innovative solutions recognize pitfalls that they can address in the design of their systems."

Curbing commercial sexual exploitation of children and promoting the rights and safety of children should be a top priority for all members of society. Yet, all too often, myths and public misunderstandings – particularly about technology’s role in CSEC – and a lack of empirical data about the scope of the problem drive political and legal agendas, however well intentioned. These same myths and misunderstandings have the potential to inadvertently affect how technologists approach the problem. As researchers, we feel it’s important to take an evidence based and data-driven approach toward technological interventions so that they are effective, efficient, and limit the additional harm done to victims. With this goal in mind, we offer a series of key findings that should be a part of any serious discussion about using technology to address CSEC in a networked world. We hope that this information is useful for technologists seeking to build innovative solutions. We would be happy to offer more detailed information and data to any technologist seeking to learn more.

Addressing Human Trafficking: Guidelines for Technological Interventions [blog post]

How to Responsibly Create Technological Interventions to Address the Domestic Sex Trafficking of Minors (paper, PDF)

(Thanks, danah!)

Bangalore's brain museum


Dr Shankar’s Brain Museum in Bangalore is shelf upon shelf of largely unlabelled brains in jars, along with various other bits of anatomical pickle (human and otherwise). Andy Deemer took a visit and provides some lovely snapshots.

I’m not sure that I’d call Dr Shankar’s Brain Museum a museum. There were no explanations, no details, no citations or learning. Just six hundred brains in an otherwise empty room.

On reflection, perhaps “Collection” would be a better word. A fantastic collection of diseased and healthy brains, sandwiched between a Brain Bank and the Hospital Canteen.

Two dozen purple slides showed something. Ten or so brains were marked by a shared label: Intracerebral Hemorrhage. Another row was marked Glioma. Arterial Stroke. Schwannoma. Schizophrenia.

Dr Shankar’s Wonderful Collection of Brains and Other Medical Obscura

Huge payouts for disgraced Rutgers coach and boss

How to make $1,000,000 at Rutgers:

  1. Get a job as a coach or athletic director.
  2. Beat students, throw basketballs at their head, and insult them with homophobic slurs.
  3. Profit!

Rice will get $1.1 million, and Rutgers' athletic director Tim Pernetti (who resigned last week) will get "$1.2 million in salary, plus an iPad, car allowance, and more than two years of health insurance coverage."

Tiki Room mugs


Designer Kevin Kidney's posted more of the awesome Tiki Room stuff he and Jody Daily designed for the Disneyland Tiki Room 50th Anniversary event this summer (he posted his Luau Bowl earlier). This time around, it's a pair of lidded mugs paying homage to two of the idols of the tiki garden outside the Tiki Room in Disneyland: Pele and Tangaroa-Ru.

New Tiki Room Collectibles Coming to Disneyland This Summer (Part 1)

R.I.P. Annette Funicello

Annette Funicello, Mouseketeer and Beach Movie Actress, Dies at 70 (Via tsutpen)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: funny/dark novel about the disintegration of a Microsoft family

Maria Semple wrote a tremendously entertaining work of social satire combined with a mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next right up to the end.

Read the rest

Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research rips off writer, threatens to sue him for plagiarism

Since at least 2001, Colin Purrington, a former Swarthmore Evolutionary Biology prof, has been publishing a great guide to conference posters that is widely read and linked. It's also widely plagiarized, and Purrington sends notices to people whom he catches passing it off as their own work, asking them to remove it. Normally, this works.

But not in the case of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Inc., a company that receives millions in federal grants to fund biotech research. When Purrington sent CPBR an email telling them off for plagiarizing him, they responded by accusing him of being the plagiarist, threating him with massive damages, and demanding that he remove his own work immediately and permanently.

Purrington responded with a pretty good note about the whole awful mess. Though I think he overstates the copyright case here. In particular, he discounts out of hand the idea that reproduction in educational contexts can't be fair use; this is just wrong -- fair use is fact intensive, and educational use tilts the scales in favor of a successful defense. On the other hand, plagiarism (though not illegal) is a cardinal sin in education, and educators who pass off his work as their own may not be breaking the law, but they are unambiguously violating a core ethic of education and scholarship.

But back to CPBR. This is not only plagiarism, it's also copyright infringement, and it's copyfraud -- claiming copyright on something you hold no rights to. It's unethical, it's illegal, and it's fraudulent. CPBR president and chairman Dorin Schumaker (also sole employee -- who, according to its most recent 990, receives $213,964 a year) is not available for comment, and both its attorneys and whomever answers its phone hung up on the Chronicle of Higher Ed when called for clarification.

So: crooks and cowards.

I called the main number for the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research and was told that the president and chairman, Dorin Schumaker, was not available and might not be available for weeks. Schumaker is the only paid employee listed on the nonprofit’s most recent available Form 990 tax filing (her salary, according to the filing, is $213,964). I then called a number listed for a Dorin Schumaker in St. Simons Island, Ga., where the consortium is based. The person who picked up the phone declined to answer questions and hung up when asked if she was Dorin Schumaker. The consortium’s lawyer, David Metzger, also hung up on me. In a follow-up e-mail, he said he was abiding by his client’s wishes.

If they can explain how they created, in 2005, a document that Purrington posted online years before, they’re keeping that explanation mum for now.

Too often in plagiarism cases, the victim never really gets satisfaction. Maybe the offending passage is taken down. Perhaps a footnote is added. The plagiarist might even manage a mumbled apology. But the penalties are often piddling. This is the first case I’ve heard of in which the apparent victim may be the one who gets punished.

Purrington also states that he prohibits "paraphrase plagiarism, which is when you copy sentences and phrases but make minor word changes to mask your theft" -- which, again, overstates the scope of copyright. Paraphrasing material, quoting, and transformative adaptation are, in fact, classic fair use, despite Purrington's statement that he's "lost my patience with people claiming that Fair Use allows them to bypass my copyright. Really, folks?" Well, yes, really: fair use is the right to make uses and copies without permission from the copyright holder. It's not without limits, but it's also not nothing. Incidental copying, copying for the purposes of commentary and criticism, format-shifting, archiving, adaptation to assistive formats, etc -- all potentially fair use. Scholarship depends on fair use and other limitations in copyright, and while Purrington's poster is a great and informative work that greatly assists scholarship, his statements about the scope of copyright and its limitations and exceptions are greatly harmful to it.

I applaud the good work he's done in his guide, and am firmly on his side when it comes to the terrible treatment he's gotten at the hands of the CPBR. But I wish he'd check out some of the equally excellent guides to fair use so that all of the information he disseminates was just as accurate and useful as his conference poster piece.

Adding Insult to Plagiary? [Chronicle of Higher Education/Tom Bartlett]