Boing Boing 

Snooper's Charter is dead! (for now)

Aw, yeah! The UK Communications Data Bill -- AKA the "Snooper's Charter," a sweeping, totalitarian universal Internet surveillance bill that the Conservative government had sworn to pass -- is dead! Yesterday, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Parliament, announced that his party would not support the bill, and effectively killed it. Though I've been bitterly disappointed with some of the terminal compromises the LibDems have made, this makes me grateful to have them in Parliament. The kind of universal surveillance proposed in the Snooper's Charter was broadly supported by the last Labour government, which radically expanded state surveillance powers, and by the Tories -- thank goodness for the LibDems mustering a scrap of backbone at last!

The only downside is that the Open Rights Group had a whole series of great "Professor Elemental" videos that used pointed, excellent humour to mock and undermine the bill and drum up opposition to it, and now that's all going to go to waste (I blogged episode one yesterday).

Aw, who'm I kidding? This kind of thing never stays dead.

The snooper's charter has reminded Nick Clegg, finally, he is a liberal

Debunking the HTML5 DRM myths

Kyre sez, "The Free Culture Foundation has posted a thorough response to the most common and misinformed defenses of the W3C's Extended Media Extensions (EME) proposal to inject DRM into HTML5. They join the EFF and FSF in a call to send a strong message to the W3C that DRM in HTML5 undermines the W3C's self-stated mission to make the benefits of the Web 'available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.' The FCF counters the three most common myths by unpacking some quotes which explain that 1.) DRM is not about protecting copyright. That is a straw man. DRM is about limiting the functionality of devices and selling features back in the form of services. 2.) DRM in HTML5 doesn't obsolete proprietary, platform-specific browser plug-ins; it encourages them. 3.) the Web doesn't need big media; big media needs the Web. There is also a new coalition of 27 internet freedom companies and groups standing up to the W3C."

Don’t let the myths fool you: the W3C’s plan for DRM in HTML5 is a betrayal to all Web users.

Kickstarting a game based on Gaiman's "Study in Emerald" Cthulhu/Holmes mashup

Zack sez, "Neil Gaiman's award-winning mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft 'A Study in Emerald' gets a Gaiman-approved board game expansion in this new creation from Martin Wallace. The game will only be available through this Kickstarter campaign, and the page for it includes extensive explanations of the rules, game pieces, artwork and the initial and stretch goals for the project."

A Study in Emerald (Thanks, Zack!)

Cool Tools Show & Tell video podcast 002

Welcome to the second episode of Cool Tools’ Show and Tell podcast! Last week, Camille Cloutier-Hartsell and I had a video hangout with Joshua Glenn and Oliver Hulland. We showed each other 18 different things we love, including books, kitchen tools, games, apps, and gadgets.

Since this is a show and tell, I recommend that you watch the HD resolution video here so you can see the things we talked about. But it’s also available as an audio podcast subscription (Here's the iTunes subscription link). Or, you can listen to or download this episode through Soundcloud.

Here's what we reviewed this time

Live sf writing workshop with Resnick and Di Filippo

Tony from StarShipSofa sez, "StarShipSofa is hosting a live writers workshop all in video with SF writers Mike Resnick and Paul Di Filippo. StarShipSofa built its reputation by featuring science fiction from the best authors of our time, from living legends whose works have inspired generations to the rising stars of the genre. StarShipSofa's focus on quality science fiction has brought it an enthusiastic worldwide audience as well as the honor of being the first podcast in history to receive the Hugo Award. Who better to host a workshop for aspiring science fiction writers? If you wish to raise your fiction to the next level, join StarShipSofa and its special guests at this exciting workshop."

The "Lollipop Fort of Death" - a clubhouse on a pole

Dig Derek “Deek” Diedricksen’s dangerous digs!

Make: Deek’s Lollipop Fort of Death

The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Moon (1947) is Margaret Wise Brown's most famous book. It's terrific, without a doubt. It entertained my kids several dozen times when they were little. But I won't shed a tear if I never read it again. Brown's less-well known children's book, The Important Book, is her magnum opus. Goodnight Moon has pleasant rhymes, but The Important Book (1949) is true poetry about perceiving the world around us, and my wife and I both felt moved whenever we read it to our kids.

The title page of the book has a tiny image of a book and an illustration of a cricket:

The important thing
about a cricket is
that it is black.
It chirps,
it hops,
it jumps,
and sings all through the summer night.
But the important thing
about a cricket is
that it is black.

The other pages identify the important things about daisies, glass, water, shoes, spoons, and other common items, celebrating the mystery in the ordinary. Leonard Weisgard's color illustrations are rendered with a kind of quiet surrealism that increases the impact of Brown's writing.

The Important Book rekindles the sense of wonder we were born with.

The Important Book

Sweet, nostalgic film about a magic trick

R Paul Wilson sez, "I've just released a short film about magic and nostalgia. 'The Magic Box' is based on experiences and memories that many of us share and follows a handmade magic trick as it passes from one generation to the next."

This is as sweet as a sweet thing.

The Magic Box

Paul Ryan intern charged with sextortion (he may have also dressed up as Newt's elephant)

The FBI has indicted Adam Paul Savader for "sextortion," alleging that he hacked women's computers, plundered compromising photos of them, and then threatened them with public embarrassment unless they performed private sex shows for him over their webcams. Savader was Paul Ryan's sole campaign intern in the 2012 elections, and Gawker reports that he also served on the 2011 Gingrich campaign, dressing up as Ellis the Elephant, a mascot for the campaign.

Paul Ryan's Campaign Intern Indicted for Cyberstalking (via Super Punch)

Superheroes designed by little girls

Alex Law's "little girls R better at designing heroes than you" is a great, occasionally updated Tumblr that features illustrations of superheroes based on the hero costumes little girls have made for themselves.

Kids are more impressionable than you, but kids can also be less restricted by cultural gender norms than you. Kids are more creative than you, and they're better at making superheroes than you.

This is a mini art project where I draw superheroes based on the costumes worn by little girls.

little girls R better at designing heroes than you (via MeFi)

Mid-century modern kitchen

Now that's a kitchen!

1950 Armstrong Mid Century Modern Kitchen

Cartoonists angry, defensive after inane Miranda strip subverted

Editorial cartoonist Daryl Cagle published this strip.

Then he reran it.

Spot the difference? To Ann Telnaes, this is “a clear case of a cartoon syndicate trying to maximize profits by offering the same artwork but changing a few words to address both ideological sides of an issue. An editorial cartoon is supposed to have a clear point of view.”

Daryl Cagle responds: "I remember when the Miranda decision came down in the 1960′s, on a 5-4 vote. It was controversial for a long time; the only area of the law where “ignorance of the law is no excuse” didn’t hold true. I got a large enough sampling of e-mails in response to the cartoon (and you can see from the Facebook comments as well) that I realized the Miranda decision no longer seems to be controversial – Miranda warning to the suspect with the suspect’s overall civil rights; I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a good thing."

Balls to all of this. The change doesn't address the other "ideological side"; it just illustrates the fundamental meaningless of the strip's emotionally triggering bucketful of images and words. Why stop at publishing it only twice? It could support any punchline just as well.

If you are worried about the hard times your profession suffers, I tell you right now that the very last thing you should be doing is publishing work that could be randomly generated by computers.

Canada Post claims exclusive use of the words "postal code"

Canada Post -- a failing, state-owned Crown Corporation -- not only claims a copyright on the database of postal codes (a collection of facts, and not the sort of thing that usually attracts copyright). They also claim a trademark on the words "postal code," and have sent legal threats to websites that use the words factually, to describe actual postal codes.

Canada Post disagrees. The crown corporation now argues that the very term “postal code” is subject to a trademark owned by Canada Post. Anyone using the term “postal code,” therefore, does so at their own risk.

“Canada Post has adopted and used Canadian Official Mark POSTAL CODE,” the statement of claim reads. “The Defendants have passed off their wares and services as and for those of Canada Post contrary to section 7(c) of the Trade-marks Act.”

What this means is Canada Post is changing direction in their lawsuit against Geolytica.

Geolytica has argued since the lawsuit began that they did not copy the Canada Post postal code database, but instead built their own based on the feedback of their own users. They crowd-sourced it. This makes Canada Post’s original copyright claim trickier, even if you set aside the facts vs. intellectual property argument.

Canada Post says they hold trademark on the words ‘postal code’

New Ubuntu version hits today!

If it's April, it must be time for a new version of the Ubuntu operating system; a great, free, easy-to-use, highly polished version of GNU/Linux. Ubuntu does two releases a year -- October and April -- and the new release, Raring Ringtail (AKA 13.04) is a consolidation release that adds a lot more polish, performance and stability to the system. I'm happy about this: Ubuntu has been slowly transitioning to Unity, a new graphical interface over some years, and while I've come to really like Unity's featureset, I've also been noticing that it's getting a bit creaky under the hood. A stability and performance release is very welcome.

Ubuntu is my operating system of choice, and has been since 2006 or so. I run it on rock-solid, amazing, lightweight and fast ThinkPad laptops (currently the X230) and I find it to be exactly what I need from an OS: fast, easy, easy-to-maintain, and super stable. Switching to Ubuntu (which runs on pretty much any computer) was a little like remodeling the kitchen: for a couple weeks I kept looking in the wrong place for the menuitem I was seeking (just like I kept looking in the wrong place for the cutlery drawer), then, one day, everything was where I expected it. I don't even notice my OS anymore, in the same way that I don't notice my doorknobs or coathooks anymore. It just works.

And when something goes wrong, it goes wrong very well. I spilled a cup of coffee into my last laptop, an X220, while on tour in February, just as I was leaving my DC hotel for a plane to Boston. I rushed straight to a Micro Center in Cambridge -- where I met not one, but two knowledgeable, helpful and skilled sales clerks! Seriously! -- and bought the X230 I'm working on right now. I then commandeered a pallet of blank CDRs as a worksurface, removed the single screw that holds the drive, and smacked it into the new laptop and pressed the power button. Ubuntu figured out that it was in an all new computer, churned for about 30 seconds, and has worked great ever since.

Now I fear that I've got a problem with my hard-drive (a big SDD that threw a couple rare and suspicious crashes last week during big file-writes) so I'm about to switch to a new drive that should be arriving in the post today. All I need to do to effect this drive-swap is pop the drive in the machine, install Ubuntu on it (it's free to download and you can easily make a bootable USB-stick installer), and feed it a tiny text-file listing all the apps ("packages") I've used Ubuntu to install. It will auto-download the right apps for the new version of the OS, auto-configure them, and auto-install them. Then I copy over my user data and bamf, it's ready to rock. No re-keying serial numbers. No searching out the original install disks. No worrying about whether I have the right version for this OS.

I love living in Linuxland. The operating systems are so boringly useful and undramatic. They work great, and fail better.

Ubuntu 13.04 available Thursday, brings a streamlined footprint to the forefront

Masters thesis on (post)cyberpunk

Krzysztof Kietzman sez, "I studied American literature in Poland and published my Masters Thesis on cyberpunk and postcyberpunk for free under a Creative Commons BY SA license. It is available online and covers the writers William Gibson ('Neuromancer') and Neal Stephenson ('Snow Crash', 'The Diamond Age') and the theme of innocence in cyberpunk fiction. This theme will be familiar to Boing Boing readers, as it appeared in the works of Mark Dery and John Barlow, among others. The thesis explores such topics as American individualism, escapism, religion and Rapture, 'the rapture of the nerds', AIs, etc. One chapter also covers cyberpunk in general."

Freemasonry and the high echelons of French cuisine

"There have long been whispers inside the French food world that all the top chefs are members of the Freemasons, and that membership can make or break careers," writes Bon Appétit. "The gossip can, of course, be malicious."

All the contestants for Miss Korea 2013 converted to an animated GIF

NinjaFridge says, "I found this on reddit and it shows the contestants for Miss Korea 2013." Then he made this GIF. I think they all look pretty different from each other, but it's a fun animation anyway. (Via Kristie Lu Stout)

Neatly disassembled typewriter

On the spectacular "Things Organized Neatly" Tumblr, an anonymous submission of a very neatly disassembled typewriter.

SUBMISSION: This is an old typewriter I had the pleasure to dismantle today :) hope you like it!

Startup founder confesses to idiotic plot to hoax tech press

Glenn Fleishman: "This strange man, if he exists, fabricated a story to promote a business that may not exist."

Ricin letter case enters higher realm of surreality

The Elvis impersonator "framed" for sending poison-tainted letters to top policians? BB reader Jonathan Grubb writes to inform us that the case has entered a surreal world which "includes a taekwondo instructor with a band called Dusty & the RoboDrum". Meanwhile, authorities are investigating the "fellow entertainer" while the now-freed former suspect heads off on an interview tour.
He appeared with his attorney Wednesday on CNN. During his detention, he said, investigators "treated me like gold, but they intensely interrogated me for hours. It was nerve-wracking." Then, at the prompting of a mischievous interviewer, Curtis began to sing a Randy Travis tune, "On the Other Hand," and hugged his laughing attorney, Christi McCoy of Oxford, Miss.

A Roku 3 streaming player has replaced my DirecTV

A few weeks back I shut off my DirecTV service and I haven't looked back. Upon realizing how much satellite TV service cost and that I rarely, if ever, watched it, I decided it was time to try streaming as my prime delivery method. The Roku 3 came highly recommended.

I plugged the $99 Roku unit right into my former DirecTV's HDMI cable and was immediately off to the races. Setting up my Netflix and Amazon Instant accounts was a breeze. Picture quality is terrific, at 720p and 1080p. The device itself is pretty responsive and doesn't spend a lot of time between menus or switching "channels."

"Channels" are how Roku organizes content. The Netflix channel loads just like an app and I can page through all the same features and search options as on the AppleTv, iPad, iPhone or webpage. I haven't tried any of the independently available channels yet, as I am very happy with the content available through Roku's catalog. I've been told there is a very, very wide range of stuff available independently.

It has been over a month. The only downside to this transition has been the hundreds of calls from DirecTV failing to woo me back with expensive offers.

Roku 3 streaming player

UK police won't charge man filmed beating up a cyclist

Carlton Reid writes:

Cyclist 'BlackCountryBikeCam' suffered from an unprovoked, violent road rage attack from the driver of a white van belonging to a Birmingham pet shop. The incident was recorded on a helmetcam and this was shown to police. However, as the driver has no previous convictions and admitted his guilt (when told there was video evidence) West Midlands police advised the cyclist to seek a "local resolution", meaning the driver would not be charged with assault.

EFF, FSF, Creative Commons and many others ask W3C to reject DRM conspiracy

John from the Free Software Foundation sez,

Hollywood is making yet another attempt to lock down the Web. Undeterred by SOPA's failure, Hollywood is conspiring with tech giants like Microsoft, Google, and Netflix to try to influence the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). A proposal currently under consideration at W3C would *build accommodation for Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) into HTML itself.* The W3C's job is to keep the Web working for everyone; building DRM into HTML would be a dramatic departure from the NGO's mission.

Today a coalition, organized by the Free Software Foundation and including EFF and Creative Commons, released a joint letter to the W3C condemning the proposal. The coalition is also asking Web users to send a message to W3C by signing a petition>.

The coalition says, "Ratifying EME would be an abdication of responsibility; it would harm interoperability, enshrine nonfree software in W3C standards and perpetuate oppressive business models. It would fly in the face of the principles that the W3C cites as key to its mission and it would cause an array of serious problems for the billions of people who use the Web."

I wrote about this in detail in the Guardian in March.

Keep DRM out of Web standards -- Reject the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) proposal (Thanks, John!)

Lauren Beukes's Shining Girls: a serial killer thriller with a time-travel twist

Lauren Beukes's latest novel, The Shining Girls, ships in the UK today (the US edition is out on June 4). The Shining Girls is a departure from Beukes's earlier cyberpunk-inflected fiction, being a supernatural thriller that's one part Hannibal and one part House on Haunted Hill, tautly written and sharply plotted.

Shining Girls is the story of a serial killer named Harper Curtis, a savage psychopath who hunts the alleyways of a stinking Hooverville in Depression-era Chicago. Curtis is your basic remorseless nutcase who reels from one act of callous violence to another. Until he happens upon a boarded-up house where he seeks refuge from the people he's wronged and a chance to rest up and lick his wounds from an unsuccessful encounter. And that house isn't just a house, it's the House, an unexplained and inexplicable haunted place that slips through time back and forth between the Depression and the early 1990s. In this house is a room, filled with the trophies of murdered girls and their names, written on the wall in Curtis's own handwriting. Curtis learns that his destiny is to travel through the ages, killing the girls he's already killed, taking the trophies he's already taken.

One of Harper's victims is Kirby Mazrachi, but unlike the rest (and unbeknownst to Harper), Kirby survives his vicious attack. As Kirby matures, her obsession with the man who nearly killed her takes over her life, and she wrangles a job interning for the Chicago Sun-Times reporter who covered her attack all those years ago. She wheedles him into helping her pick up the details again, and slowly they begin to unravel the weird and awful truth.

Deftly told from many points of view and in many timezones, Shining Girls is a tremendous work of suspense fiction. What's more, it's a fabulous piece of both time-travel and serial killer fiction, using the intersection of those two themes to explore questions of free will, predestination, and causality in a mind-melting, heart-pounding mashup that delivers on its promise.

The Shining Girls

Putin: US and Russia security services should "combine efforts" in wake of Boston bombing

In a move absolutely no one expected because things like this never happen after high-profile incidents of mass violence, Russian President Vladimir Putin today "urged closer cooperation between other countries' security services after the Boston Marathon bombings," reports CNN, Said Putin, "If we combine our efforts, we will not suffer blows like that." []

Report: Salaries of mining union leaders in South Africa paid by mining companies

Just one year after the "Marikana massacre," an investigative report in South Africa's Daily Maverick reveals "a furtive conflict of interest, with mining houses footing the bill for top National Union of Mineworkers office bearers’ salaries...unionists are being paid high salaries by the very people from whom they are supposed to protect their members. The 'arrangement' is just about to end, in spite of union leaders' unhappiness and an unpredictable labour and political backlash."

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer

Peggy Orenstein has a hell of a piece in the New York Times magazine on "pink ribbon culture," and her frustration (which, as a woman with breast cancer, I fervently share) about how much progress has been made:

Read the rest

Guatemala: court begins to untangle genocide trial standstill

Miguel Salay and Mariano Castillo have a solid update up for on the confusing status of the genocide trial currently on hold here in Guatemala:
A week ago, the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt appeared headed to a historic conclusion. Today, it is at a standstill, the result of procedural missteps that have cast uncertainty over the process. The country's Constitutional Court on Tuesday began to answer some of the legal questions that are holding up the trial. But the biggest one -- whether the trial proceedings will be annulled -- remains to be clarified.

Read the rest at

And more in our Boing Boing archives of my trial coverage from Guatemala.