Masterclass in making with Bunnie Huang at the Hardware Innovation Workshop

On May 14-15, Make is hosting its second annual Hardware Innovation Workshop in San Mateo, CA. There's a pretty amazing speaker lineup, but perhaps most exciting is a "Maker Pro Master Class" with Andrew "bunnie" Huang, one of the great hardware hackers of our age. Read the rest

Prison and racial segregation: why a Jewish guy eats with the Aryan Brotherhood

From a 2009 Southern Poverty Law Center report, David Arenberg describes his life as a Jewish guy inside a heavily racially segregated state prison where he faces violence and even death if he doesn't eat with the Aryan Brotherhood. Arenberg uses the essay to jump into a harrowing view into the rise of serious, politicized neo-Nazi skinheads in prison -- guys who make the Aryan Brotherhood look like moderates.

Not that there's anywhere else I could eat. The prison yard is broken down into five distinct racial categories and segregation is strictly enforced. There are the "woods" (short for peckerwoods) that encompass the whites, the "kinfolk" (blacks), the "Raza" (American-born people of Mexican descent), the "paisas" (Mexico-born Mexicans), and the "chiefs" (American Indians). Under the strict rules that govern interracial relations, different races are allowed to play on the same sports teams but not play individual games (e.g., chess) together; they may be in each others' cubicles together if the situation warrants but not sit on each others' beds or watch each others' televisions. They may go to the same church services but not pray together. But if you accidentally break one of these rules, the consequences are usually pretty mild: you might get a talking to by one of the heads (who, of course, claims exemption from this rule himself), or at worst, a "chin check."

Eating with another race, however, is a different story. It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances.

Read the rest

Why "connecting the dots" is the wrong way to think about stopping terrorism

Bruce Schneier has a great op-ed on CNN on why it's stupid to talk about whether the FBI should have "connected the dots" on the Boston bomber. As Bruce points out, it's only in hindsight that there's a neat trail of dots to connect, a narrative we can make sense of. Before the fact, it's a hairy, swirling hotchpotch of mostly irrelevancies, and it's only the "narrative fallacy" that makes it seem like a neat story in retrospect. The risk here is that intelligence agencies and the press will push this fallacy as grounds for taking away more rights and more privacy in order to "connect the dots" next time.

Rather than thinking of intelligence as a simple connect-the-dots picture, think of it as a million unnumbered pictures superimposed on top of each other. Or a random-dot stereogram. Is it a sailboat, a puppy, two guys with pressure-cooker bombs or just an unintelligible mess of dots? You try to figure it out.

It's not a matter of not enough data, either.

Piling more data onto the mix makes it harder, not easier. The best way to think of it is a needle-in-a-haystack problem; the last thing you want to do is increase the amount of hay you have to search through.

The television show "Person of Interest" is fiction, not fact.

There's a name for this sort of logical fallacy: hindsight bias.

Why FBI and CIA didn't connect the dots (Thanks, Bruce!)

(Image: connect-the-dots, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from whitneywaller's photostream) Read the rest

DroneShield: crowdfunded, networked drone detectors

DroneShield is an indieGOGO project from a DC aerospace engineer that aims to build a tiny, net-connected drone-detector/identifier. Based on a Raspberry Pi gumstick computer, it uses a mic to detect the audio signature of nearby drones, and then communicates about its findings over the Internet. The project promises free/open hardware and software specs on its main site. Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar spoke to Chris Kyriakakis, a USC electrical engineering prof, who suggests the project is feasible, but believes it will need an array of mics for accurate identification. But John Franklin, who's running the effort, says the device will produce useful -- if imperfect -- output even with one mic.

The fully assembled drone detector costs at least $69 as a pre-order (as with all crowdfunded project, it's important to remember that you may never get your device). The project goal is to get them down to $20. For my part, I wonder how this would perform against active countermeasures: it's one thing to detect drones that aren't making any effort to remain hidden or fool detectors about which drone they are, but what about a drone that uses some technology (from playing a recording of a different drone to full-on modifications of its engines and blades) to sound different?

In any event, I expect that this is an intermediate step on the way to this thing disappearing into our phones and becoming an app that would make use of its open database of drone acoustic signatures. I can easily imagine a Drone Foursquare made by volunteers who upload drone "sightings" to realtime maps as they move around the world. Read the rest

Looking for mathematical perfection in all the wrong places

The Golden Ratio — that geometric expression of the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, etc.) — has influenced the way master painters created art and can be spotted occurring naturally in the seed arrangement on the face of a sunflower. But its serendipitous appearances aren't nearly as frequent as pop culture would have you believe, writes Samuel Arbesman at The Nautilus. In fact, one of the most common examples of mathematical perfection — the chambered nautilus shell — actually isn't. Even math can become part of the myths we tell ourselves as we try to create meaning in the universe.

Image: Golden Ratio, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from ernestduffoo's photostream Read the rest

When all the cool kids were hijacking airplanes

Between 1968 and 1973, somebody hijacked a commercial airliner nearly every week. Read the rest

Speed-aging bourbon with the power of technology

When bourbon ages, what's actually happening is that daily fluctuations in temperature are changing the pressure in the barrel, forcing liquid in and out of pores in the oak. At NPR, Alan Greenblatt writes about an entrepreneur who has figured out how to mechanically recreate this process — speeding up the time it takes to age bourbon from months or years, to a matter of days. This may or may not be an appropriate use of technology, depending on your bourbon ideology. Read the rest

Casio Pathfinder Solar Atomic Watch

I’ve owned a Casio Pathfinder Solar Atomic series watch for about 5 years. The best things about it: 1) it’s solar powered (I don’t like replacing batteries) and 2) it’s linked to an atomic clock.

I only have to change the time zone when I travel, which can be done at the push of a button.

It's waterproof and does the things most digital watches do (alarms, stopwatch, etc.). It also has a compass, barometer, altimeter, and thermometer, all of which get used when I go backpacking. The compass gets used the most. The barometer is good for predicting weather changes.

I have one small gripe about this watch. It recently needed to be repaired because it displayed “OPEN” on the front. A metal plate inside had shifted. I was able to fix it easily with a PH000 screwdriver.

Its a very tough watch that has been through a lot. After 5 years I still enjoy it immensely. -- Carl Mixon

Casio PAW1100-1V Pathfinder Atomic Solar Watch $145 Read the rest

Baby humans are premature, fetal apes

My dad calls the first few months of a baby's life "the necessary larval stage". I've heard other people refer to it as "the fourth trimester". Basically, newborn human babies are pretty useless, as far as baby animals go. This is especially true in comparison to baby apes, who come out of the womb at a much higher level of development. Scientific American has an excerpt from an upcoming book by Chip Walter that talks about this fact and its connection to two key moments in human evolution — the development of bigger brains (and thus, bigger heads) and walking upright (which has the side effect of creating a narrower birth canal). Read the rest

This Antarctic documentary looks beautiful

Antarctica: A Year On Ice looks like it's going to offer a damn fine supply of polar landscape porn.

Be sure to stick through to the final scene of the trailer, which is awe-inspiring in an entirely different way. Read the rest

Labs of the heroic age of science

On IO9, Vincze Miklós has rounded up a beautiful gallery of photos of vintage science labs, from the Renaissance to Pasteur and Edison and ENIAC. Labs like these are the source of the shared dream of what science looks like that dominates our contemporary consciousness, even though most labs today look very different (science, like many other tasks today, looks like: a person with headphones and bad posture typing at a laptop and periodically clutching at her wrists).

Incredible Pictures of Early Science Labs Read the rest

Jews are the best magicians

A Jewish sorcerer

"The Jews have the greatest powers of sorcery, and they make use of this tool," top Iranian official Mehdi Taeb said last week.

He's right, we do.

"Iranian official: Jews used sorcery against Iran" (Jerusalem Post) photo by Ransom & Mitchell Read the rest

What happens when you mix global disease and authoritarian governments

When SARS emerged in China in 2002, the Chinese government tried to cover it up, waiting months to inform the World Health Organization. In fact, the WHO first heard about SARS from a Canadian monitoring service that picked up and translated Chinese reports of a "flu outbreak". Something similar happened this week. Only this time, the disease was a different coronavirus related to SARS and the transparency-deprived government was that of Saudi Arabia. Maryn McKenna writes about how the WHO (and everyone else) recently learned of seven new cases, and five deaths, via an Arabic language press release published at 10:30 at night ... likely weeks or even months after the deaths happened. Read the rest

Kevin Mack's new 3D printed sculptures

My friend Kevin Mack will be in an upcoming art show at PS Zask Gallery to exhibit his mind-bending 3D printed sculptures.

My sculptures are created digitally using a variety of tools and processes. They are then produced as 3D printed objects in nylon and bronze. I also create high resolution computer renderings of them, which are like simulated photographs. These are produced as 2D digital prints on a variety of surfaces.

Recently I created a simulation of the nylon material used in 3D printing. The image above is a "physically based" computer rendering of my sculpture, "Frank's Flowing Self Awareness". Notice the scattering of the light through the translucent nylon material. In computer graphics, this property is called sub-surface scattering (SSS).

The concept behind all this is the dissolution of traditional boundaries through technology. I'm making art that is simultaneously 2d, 3d, sculpture, painting, photography, photorealistic, abstract, real and virtual.

Here's a video of me interviewing Kevin last year: Read the rest

Smartphone app gives public access to Malibu's illegal "private" beaches

For decades, the unimaginably wealthy residents of Malibu's oceanfront mansions have been using sneaky tricks to prevent the public from accessing the beautiful beaches in the area. But, as reported in USA Today, "The California Coastal Commission, a powerful state environmental agency, says the law allows everyone to frolic in the waves and the damp sand below the point of the highest tide."

That doesn't stop the rich and famous from doing everything they can to obstruct access to this 27-mile strip of pristine beaches. Below, a few examples of their illegal handiwork. Read the rest

Clickable musical genre map

"Every Noise At Once" is a fun, clickable map of musical genres where you can hear samples of the bands. Read the rest

Rat dressed as mutton in China

"More than 900 people have been arrested in China for selling fake or tainted meat in the last three months, state media say. ... In one case, the suspects made fake mutton from foxes, mink and rats after adding chemicals." [BBC] Read the rest

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