I don't have more to say about Aaron Swartz's death; I knew him a little, but felt his loss keenly. As coverage appeared, however, I found myself concerned about his legacy. Aaron did so much in such a short period of time, but several of his accomplishments have been glossed over in a way that distorts his contributions. Read the rest
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The Library of Congress occupies three massive and ornate buildings in the center of Washington, D.C. But those edifices house just part of the collection, which spans hundreds of miles of shelves across many less-interesting buildings, and extends to media beyond books.
To find the heart of the nation's audiovisual memory, I took a lovely drive in October along ever smaller highways heading southwest from Washington, D.C., to Culpeper, Virginia, where sound recordings, films, and video reside in temperature-controlled vaults beneath Mount Pony.
Passing historical sites like Manassas (where Bull Run is located) , and watching the landscape shift rapidly from government buildings and commercial high rises to strip malls to farms and antique stores, it felt as if I traveled through time as well as distance on the 75-mile trip.
But the library's Culpeper facility is firmly rooted in the 21st century, and its existence owes much to the latter half of the 20th. While the focus is on what's buried inside, it's hard to ignore the beauty of the setting, its landscaping, and the building's architecture; it's the best use of concrete that I've ever seen in interior design, and I say that completely unironically.
Andrea Seabrook had a brilliant career at National Public Radio (NPR), and spent the last several years covering Congress in Washington, D.C. If you listen to NPR, you know her voice, and likely perked up when the anchors threw it over to her to give insight into the latest federal nonsense. Seabrook recently walked away from that rare thing, a stable job in public radio doing precisely what she loves, to start a podcast called DecodeDC hosted by the new Mule Radio Syndicate. She has three episodes of truthtelling in the can so far.
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Kickstarter updated its policies for product design today: a move that will cost the firm money but relieve tension caused by fast promises and slow delivery.Read the rest
We spent $2.5 billion to put
Helvetica Arial on Mars (and incidentally, an SUV-sized robotic science rover), and yet not a cent was devoted to kerning. The Curiosity rover carries a calibration target for its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), an adjustable focus camera designed to take close-up pictures. It's one of 17 cameras on the rover, but it's the only one that has its own target for testing a photo against known colors, brightness, and scale. (Update: The sundial on top of the rover has color swatches for the mast cameras.)
But as a former typesetter, I had to poke fun at the kerning in the word "Target", where the "a" in any design software would be neatly tucked underneath the "T".
NASA is old-school in type, too, as this is Helvetica, not Helvetica Neue. (Update! Readers note this is Arial, as the angle terminators on the upper-case C give it away! Go, go, Microsoft fonts!)
The calibration target includes a 1909 penny as a homage to the practice of using a coin for scale in images. One of the scientists bought the penny from the first year Lincoln appeared on its front, and sent it on its merry mission. The target is now lightly dusted with Martian soil, but still useful for its purpose.
A full size image is available from NASA.
The 1980s had many surreal and outré comic-book stars. I recall particularly following The Tick, Concrete, and Nexus. They were respectively a nigh-invulnerable, possibly mentally ill superhero with a chubby accountant sidekick in a moth-themed flying suit; a writer whose brain was transplanted by aliens (themselves possibly escaped slaves) into a nearly invulnerable rock-like body often performing missions of mercy; and a man (later others, including men, women, and children) picked by a nearly omnipotent being residing in the center of a planet to atone the genocide of his father by being forced to be an almost indestructible and thoroughly powerful superhero, lest he face disabling pain.
You catch the theme here, right? Omnipotence, invulnerability, superhero—all but the Tick reluctant. Into that mix, Flaming Carrot was something altogether different.
Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt are enthusiastic fellows. The makers of the Glif iPhone tripod adapter and Cosmonaut stylus for capacitive touch screens, you can't help but get a contact high from the joy they get out of designing stuff and running a company. I've met and spoken to them several times, and I always end up feeling pumped up about charting one's own course in life.
Glif famously started as a Kickstarter project when the two guys still had full-time day jobs. It was an early success story of crowdfunding, raising far more than they'd set as a goal, and led to them starting a company called Studio Neat, which now has a four-product line-up.
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We told the story of Richard Thompson, the cartoonist behind the fey and subversive comic strip "Cul de Sac," back in April, describing his battle with Parkinson's, and his plans to keep producing the daily cartoon even as the disease progressed. Unfortunately, Thompson says he cannot keep up with the demanding schedule, even using a colleague to handle inking his roughs. The strip's last installment is September 23. Thompson's inker, the cartoonist Stacy Curtis, wrote a tribute as well. Thompson has a gift of combining satire, the blurred memories of childhood, and a delight in life that I'll miss in his strip. I hope at whatever pace he is able, we continue to see new work from him.
I am kneeling on a sun-dappled hardwood floor with stacks of $20 bills in $2,000 bundles in each hand helping to spell out the word "douchebaggery," and thinking: $220,000 just doesn't seem like that much money. I found myself in this position after asking Matthew Inman, the artist behind the cartoon and business The Oatmeal, if I could take pictures when he withdrew the cash he will ultimately hand over to the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation in order to use it to make fun of a Web site that threatened him with legal action.
This is the latest episode in a saga that BoingBoing has documented in quite some detail, and which began June 11, when Inman posted an annotated version of a letter he had received from Charles Carreon, a well-known attorney representing FunnyJunk, a user-submitted content site, complaining about a post Inman had made a year ago. Inman complained in 2011 about FunnyJunk's business model, noting, "Most of the comics they've stolen [have] no credit or link back to me. Even with proper attribution, no one clicks through and FunnyJunk still earns a huge pile of cash from all the ad revenue." It's a common problem with sites that rely on submitted items, and each site has different policies on how to manage such unauthorized postings. Inman didn't issue DMCA takedown notices, though he would have been within his rights. He says he's just not interested in engaging in that sort of behavior. (By the way, did you know you have to register an agent with the copyright office to qualify for the safe-harbor provision of the DMCA? Me, neither! FunnyJunk's registration was received May 29, 2012, shortly before its lawyer sent the letter to Inman.)
Crowdfunding has fascinated me since 2009, when Kickstarter, Sellaband, Indiegogo, and others were starting to pick up steam in allowing hundreds to thousands of individuals to contribute relatively small amounts to fund artists and groups recording albums, building products, and making films.
Even after thousands of projects had been funded and completed, it was common to read articles or blog posts stating that crowdfunding was a flash-in-the-pan and a fad. People would become tired of backing efforts, the argument went, and stop contributing. Donor fatigue is a real problem with any fundraising, whether for non-profits or commercial outfits. But it occurs when you pass the hat with the same group of people. What's evolved with crowdfunding is that every project has a unique audience, although some lucky projects break out through word of mouth and mainstream coverage to reach a much broader range of potential supporters.
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Photo: Scott Snider
The phone system doesn't allow us to hear people at a distance in the same way they quite literally sound to us when up close. Alexander Graham Bell's accidental dehumanization has been redeemed in part by a technologically related godchild. And it only took about 150 years.
Photo: Diorama Sky (cc)
I stood at the top of the stairs of a friend's apartment building in Washington, D.C., with a dead iPhone, a burned-out porch lamp, and no idea of how to reach him. This was the culmination of a long drive from the wilds of Pennsylvania, and I was exhausted and out of options.
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The science geekiest show on broadcast television was once Futurama, an animated series co-created by The Simpsons' Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, a Simpsons writer and showrunner. The show has competition now from programs as varied as broadcast's Big Bang Theory, cable's Mythbusters and Eureka, and Felicia Day's Web network "Geek & Sundry."
But, good news, everyone! Futurama is back for another season, starting with two new episodes on June 20 on Comedy Central, where it premiered the last two seasons as well. Thirteen episodes will air on Thursdays at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central). It's possible the final episode in this season...will be its last! Or...will it?
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Do you love nameless, creeping horrors in the deep? Unnaturally! Do you love fonts? Of course, you do. Thomas Phinney, a veteran type designer, is attempting an unholy union of the two by resurrecting the moldering corpse of three typefaces: Columbus, Columbus Initials, and American Italic. Columbus was used for all the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, in which Phinney played a hand (severed?), designing clues for "Masks of Nyarlathotep."
Back the project on Kickstarter for Phinney to create Cristoforo, modern renditions of these three fonts. Pledges at all but the lowest level come with licenses to use the fonts. Phinney's original work is terrific, and I have no doubt that he'll bring a sensitive hand to re-creating these classic faces.
Stereotypes abound of the political cartoonists found in so-called alternative papers: the weeklies full of escort ads in the back and snarky commentary in the front. Matt Bors, on the surface, seems to embody the characteristics.
He's scruffy, doesn't own a suit, and lives in Portland. He expresses withering contempt at politicians, mainstream media, and what he views as hypocrisy. He's never made more than $15,000 a year from his cartoons, and supplements that income with illustration, freelance editorial jobs, and, possibly, blood plasma—at least he did in college; he has the scar to prove it.
The 28-year-old Bors was thus a bit surprised this year, and occasionally nonplussed, when he won the Herblock Prize for "excellence in editorial cartooning," was a finalist (with Oregonian newspaper staffer Jack Ohman) for the Pulitzer Prize, and received a Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award.
Jesus Christ, Matt, when did you fucking sell out?
Cartoonist Richard Thompson's voice was quiet and reedy when we spoke, although the traces of his Maryland upbringing are clear.Read the rest
Mathias Nitzsche had a nifty idea: using Wi-Fi network names to create a connection between the network's owner and those who spot it in their wireless networks list. His aptly named wifis.org site lets you pick a handle and advertise it through your network name, as in wifis.org/glennocschmidt. This creates an account for you on the site, and makes a Web form available at that address that sends email to your Google or Facebook email, whichever you used to create the registration. The visitor never sees your email address. (Nitzsche avoids having his own registration database, which removes some overhead and security risk associated with retaining passwords.)
I contacted Mathias to ask about privacy and security issues, as one might be concerned about email addresses being stored and the association of a Wi-Fi network name with such. He said (and his FAQ notes) that he doesn't reveal information to third parties. While he's based in Germany, his data and application is hosted in the Google App Engine in the United States.
I'd love to see a variant on this idea, in which an existing network name could be paired with a unique few letter long code that someone would then append to their network. Look up the code, and you'd get the same result. I admit Nitzsche's idea is neater, encoding the URL and the identifier all at once.
After my first child was born, I found that taking pictures was a problem. The Canon S1 IS I'd purchased was a terrific model, but unwieldy when holding a baby.Read the rest
After killing the TouchPad a near-record 45 days after launch, then discounting it in a clearance sale at as low as $99, HP opted to fire up its production line to make and ship more. A baffling decision, right? The rumor is that a backlog of parts inventory and unhappy suppliers—not informed of the cancellation until the rest of the world knew—make it smarter for HP to assemble more and sell them at a loss.
I tweeted at the time that this was the only case I could recall that a cancelled product by a major electronics manufacturer was taken back on the assembly line for another run. Sure, older models superseded by newer ones have sometimes been brought back into production for short or long periods. But an item that's singing with the choir invisible? A colleague in Australia, Tim McGuire, has a long memory, and a shelf full of back issues of NeXTWorld magazine. He sent me a clip and his permission to share it.
In mid-1993, a few months after CEO Steve Jobs had shuttered the NeXT factory, and was in the process of switching to an all-software company—a path that led to its later acquisition by Apple—the lights were turned back on in its Fremont, Calif., factory. NeXTWorld's rumor columnist, Lt. Sullivan, reported that the U.S. military and another undisclosed customer wanted more machines, and so NeXT was to fire up and spit 1,200 more devices out. (Dear readers, please explain the Lt. Sullivan reference?)
The TouchPad and webOS are unlikely to have the same sort of long-lasting legacy as NeXT. The NeXTSTEP operating system and its use of the Mach microkernel architecture led to a number of decisions that produced Mac OS X, which runs both Macs and iOS devices like the iPhone.
Photo: Rajeev Nair / Ill. Rob Beschizza.
Should we pity a once-popular blog when its time in the sun has come and gone? Not so much. I'm watching the sunset of a moderately high-traffic site I've run for a decade, and that seems the natural course of events. Like the hecatomb of evolution, many blogs rose and then were slaughtered in the crucible of viewer attention (and blogger interest). Those that survive are fitter—or at least live in areas with abundant page views.
A recent glance at my statistics put me in a funk, briefly, until I dashed through Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief, adapted for the fast-paced online age. Denial: The stats must be broken! Anger: This is an awesome site; everyone must be blind! Bargaining: Maybe if I do a redesign? Depression: All that effort, for naught. Acceptance: Hey, what's going on at Reddit?
Smartphone apps make it trivial to snap a photo, upload it to a host, and post a link to Twitter, sometimes in a single step. But by storing a photo on a hosting service to display via Twitter and beyond, you're assigning some subset of your copyright to that sharing site. Since the 1970s, copyright is inherent in the act of creation, no matter whether it's a snapshot or your life's work. There's a conflict when you present some license for your work to parties which you have only a slender thread of a relationship.
All images uploaded are copyright © their respective owners.
This was modified to include a lengthy section on copyright that raised hackles because it seemed to give TwitPic an enormous grant of rights, even while assuring users that they owned their work. The motivation was likely to clarify policies after Agence France-Presse (AFP) used Haitian photographer Daniel Morel's images of the aftermath of the earthquake without permission. Morel uploaded images to TwitPic, which were then duplicated by another person, and AFP distributed them. A lawsuit is long underway. TwitPic's copyright information shown at that time was more ambiguous about who owned what.
Nonetheless, the new copyright terms raise more questions than they bury. One point of contention was a sloppy paragraph that said once you'd uploaded a picture to TwitPic you couldn't license it to the media, agencies, or other parties and have those groups retrieve it (with your permission) from TwitPic. On May 10th, the terms were revised again and that graf removed. Read the rest
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Caroline Spelman. PHOTO: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino One would think from reports today that the UK's secretary of state for the environment and rural affairs, MP Caroline Spelman, had lost her bleeding mind. Spelman has been widely quoted about a new report from her agency, Defra, about the threat to infrastructure from global climate change. It covers the extremes of temperature and the routine occurrence of heat above a normal range for the UK, and more storms and severe weather that could ravage Great Britain. The report is an analysis on what changes need be made to keep bridges from buckling in heat or cracking in cold, and nuclear and fossil-fuel plants from suffering damage from previously unthinkable conditions, as well as quotidian issues like floods polluting water supplies and spreading sewage. It's a ripping read, and, please recall, originates from the Tories, the majority conservative part of a coalition government that completely acknowledges the reality of a range of risk potential from climate change. The Conservatives are no Republicans, no matter what else you may say about them. Nonetheless the report's broader issues were overlooked because of a focus on an exceedingly tiny statement buried in it that Spelman highlighted in a speech unveiling the work. Her prepared remarks have her saying:
Our economy is built on effective transport and communications networks and reliable energy and water supplies. But the economy cannot grow if there are repeated power failures, or goods cannot be transported because roads are flooded and railways have buckled, or if intense rainfall or high temperatures disrupt Wi-Fi signals.
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