DIY: Fiber optic star field on your ceiling

Over at Instructables, Mike Galloway posted a howto for creating a lovely, twinkling star field ceiling using fiber optics. Inspired by a star field ceiling he saw at a movie theater, Galloway decided to install one in his soon-to-be-born baby's room! "How to create a fiber optic starfield ceiling"

Lucy Knisley's zombie invasion poster


Cartoonist Lucy Knisley drew this fabulous poster of a zombie invasion to sell at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Arts Festival in New York. She promises to sell it online soon, too. Make sure to admire the larger version here.

Boing Boing tv: Christmas Cards from a K'iche Maya Pueblo.

(Flash video embed above, MP4 download is here.)

Christmas Cards from a Mayan Village in Guatemala This week, the Boing Boing tv crew is taking a week off, and we've been revisiting some of the episodes that mean the most to us over the past year.

For me, for many reasons, the three episodes we produced from a K'iche Maya pueblo in the Guatemalan highlands were the most personally important. I'll embed one above.

It's about taking a traditional sweat bath, which is something they might well be doing today there during the holidays, provided there's enough water -- that only comes every few days.

Here are all three:

(1) BBtv WORLD: Through the eyes of the pueblo.
(2) BBtv WORLD: Migration, and a Mayan Sweat Bath.
(3) BBtv WORLD: El Molinero.

And other episodes of "BBtv WORLD" about Guatemala are here. But I also wanted to take this opportunity to share something else that means a lot to me. Last night, I scanned some of the hand-drawn Christmas cards from participants in an international non-profit I work with there, and uploaded them to Flickr. These were private cards, sent from folks in the pueblo to project participants in the US (in other words, they weren't for sale or anything, they were just heartfelt communication from one person to another).

I'm sharing some of them here with permission. They're beautiful and very meaningful to me.

Some of the cards refer to the old Mayan gods (for instance, references to "Ajaw", or "Tzaq'ol and Bit'ol", primordial entities who were present at the creation of all things), other cards refer to to Christianity. Some were created by children, others by adults, and the one with the Mayan house and the big Christmas tree and the volcano, thumbnail above? That man is considered the best painter and illustrator in the town. Every one of the cards, all in a stack next to me on my desk here right now, every one reflects soul, kindness, and hope.

To really appreciate them, click on "all sizes" and look at the larger size. The one I received personally read, "Feliz Navidad, y Paz a Todas Las Naciones Del Mundo." I know the woman who drew it, and she's survived so much.

On behalf of the Boing Boing tv team, and my colleagues in the nonprofit that works in that village, I extend that greeting to each of you who reads this blog post today. Friends we know, and friends we do not.

Flickr set: Christmas cards from a K'iche Maya Village in Guatemala

Christmas Cards from a Mayan Village in Guatemala

Christmas Cards from a Mayan Village in Guatemala

Christmas Cards from a Mayan Village in Guatemala

(BBtv + Witness) A Massacre Remembered in Guatemala.

(Flash video embedded above, MP4 Link here.)

Today is the final installment of Boing Boing tv's three-day special series in partnership with the video network WITNESS commemorating the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

In this episode: the story of Jesus Tecu Osorio, a Maya Achí man who witnessed one of the most horrific massacres of Guatemala's 36-year internal conflict, when he was a child -- and what he is doing to preserve the memory of victims, and the rights of survivors.

Here is a snip from the Wikipedia article about that massacre:

In 1978, in the face of civil war, the Guatemalan government proceeded with its economic development program, including the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. Financed in large part by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the Chixoy Dam was built in Rabinal, a region of the department of Baja Verapaz historically populated by the Maya Achi. To complete construction, the government completed voluntary and forcible relocations of dam-affected communities from the fertile agricultural valleys to the much harsher surrounding highlands. When hundreds of residents refused to relocate, or returned after finding the conditions of resettlement villages were not what the government had promised, these men, women, and children were kidnapped, raped, and massacred by military officials. More than 440 Maya Achi were killed in the village of Río Negro alone, and the string of extra-judicial killings that claimed up to 5,000 lives between 1980 and 1982 became known as the Río Negro Massacres. The government officially declared the acts to be counterinsurgency activities.

This video is narrated by REM frontman Michael Stipe, and is presented with the music of composer Philip Glass. For more on WITNESS, and how they are using video to draw world attention to human rights abuses throughout the globe, visit the recently launched Witness HUB website.

Related: earlier here on Boing Boing, I shared a report I filed for National Public Radio about the group that conducted the exhumations mentioned in this WITNESS video. The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) are technologists, anthropologists, and archaeologists who unearth these mass graves. They work to identify the dead and return the remains to their families for dignified reburial. The process begins with the hard work of the exhumation itself, but they also use DNA forensics and software they develop themselves, so they can identify a greater portion of the remains, and preserve evidence that could be used in criminal trials. FAFG staff routinely deal with death threats from those who do not support their work. Listen to "Group Works to Identify Remains in Guatemala ," and here is the entire NPR special series, "Guatemala: Unearthing the Future." (Image below: Xeni Jardin)

(BBtv + WITNESS) A Duty to Protect: Child Soldiers in the Congo

(Flash video embedded above, downloadable MP4 Here.)

More than 20,000 children have been abducted and forced into armed service by warring factions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1996. Many of these children are sexually exploited; many are forced to participate in or witness atrocities, as a way of life.

In day two of Boing Boing tv's three-day special series in partnership with the video network WITNESS commemorating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, we present this special feature on the lives of the child soldiers in DRC.

In this episode, we'll hear from Bukeni Waruzi of the Child Soldier Project (AJEDI-Ka/PES), who are working to demobilize the boys and girls and provide them with protection, rehabilitation, and psychological care.

If you'd like to support the work of the Child Soldier Project, here's more info on how to assist (they are accepting donations, but there are other ways to help, too).

For more on WITNESS, and how they are using video to draw world attention to human rights abuses throughout the globe, visit the recently launched Witness HUB website.

BBtv: Xeni interviews digital archivist Grace Lile on video and human rights

Boing Boing tv is commemorating the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week in partnership with WITNESS. Founded by musician and activist Peter Gabriel in 1992, the group uses video and online media to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations.

Today, we present this interview with the organization's digital archivist, Grace Lile about video as a tool to fight human rights abuses at home and abroad. She tells us about how WITNESS gathers videos from human rights activists and "citizen eyewitnesses," and why collecting and preserving this footage matters.

Grace also tells us about the recently-launched, which is a sort of gathering place for people who want to get involved.

(Special thanks to Yvette Alberdingkthijm, Sameer Padania, Martin Tzanev, Matisse Bustos Hawkes, and Bryan Nuñez of Witness, and BB Patron Saint Joi Ito.)

BBtv WORLD + 60 Years of Declaration of Human Rights, and Rights of The Mentally Disabled

(Warning: the video embedded in this post contains graphic content that viewers may find disturbing.)

Boing Boing tv commemorates the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week in partnership with WITNESS. Have you read the declaration lately? You can do so here. It is as timely and essential to our world today as it was on December 10, 1948, just after the end of World War II.

WITNESS was founded by musician and activist Peter Gabriel with other human rights groups in 1992. They use video and online media to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. We'll be airing reports from the WITNESS archives this week, and tomorrow Boing Boing tv will present an interview with the organization's digital archivist, Grace Lile. She spoke with us about how WITNESS gathers videos like the one I'm embedding here, and why collecting and sharing this footage matters. She also tells us about the recently-launched, which is a sort of gathering place for people who want to get involved.

Today, as a special edition of BBTV WORLD, we present a video from WITNESS that was produced by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). With this video, they sought to "prevent continued unlawful acts that threaten the rights to life, liberty and personal security of two boys, Jorge, age 18, and Julio, age 17, and 458 others detained in the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital of Paraguay." The two boys were detained in approximately six-by-six feet isolation cells, naked, and without access to bathrooms. Hospital staff said the boys have been detained in these conditions for the past four years.

The video is deeply disturbing. I found it very painful to watch. But the producers, and the people behind WITNESS, hope that by documenting these abuses and making the documentation available to the world in this explicit form, we will be inspired to stop the abuse -- in this case, and in others around the world.

Here is a direct MP4 link, if you prefer to download. Below, a video from WITNESS commemorating the Declaration of Human Rights, and what it means to us today.

(Special thanks to Yvette Alberdingkthijm, Sameer Padania, Martin Tzanev, Matisse Bustos Hawkes, and Bryan Nuñez of Witness, and BB Patron Saint Joi Ito.)

Boing Boing on GOOD: A Mayan Village Reacts to Obama

The folks at GOOD Magazine invited each of the Boing Boing editors to contribute essays to their online edition, and my first submission is now up. I wrote about reactions in a remote K'iche Maya village in Guatemala to the election of Barack Obama.

So, despite many years visiting their homes and sharing their difficult life experiences, we were surprised by their reaction to the Obama election. It was of great symbolic importance. That sudden jolt of aspiration felt around the world? It struck here. Hard. It meant hope. It meant a renewed belief in change, for a people who have survived natural disasters, racism, and 36 years of civil war that many describe as the Mayan genocide. If a black man can enter the Casa Blanca, they are saying, maybe a Mayan person can one day become president of Guatemala. Maybe we will live to see a true democracy here, the thinking goes–a government that represents the rights of Guatemala’s First People, instead of representing their destruction.

There are no landline phones in this village. Some heads of households have cellphones (the inexpensive kind, called “frijoles,” because they’re cheap and bean-shaped), but not everyone has even this basic connectivity. Don Victoriano, the local leader of the international nonprofit, travels to the one nearby internet cafe once a week or so, and pays a few quetzales to correspond with us over a Hotmail account. On November 3, we received an email which read (I’ll translate from the Spanish and K’iche here):

“We are preoccupied with concern over the elections in your country. We are praying for you, so that your country doesn’t suffer such a horrible depresiòn caused by bad governments. We hope in Ajaw [the Mayan creator god] that Obama wins. I don’t know how you feel, but that’s how we feel.”

To understand why Don Victoriano and others felt such intense preoccupation with what happens in America, all you need to do is look at the walls in their homes. They are covered with snapshots of sons who left.

In the Highlands, Hope (GOOD)

BBtv: Tibetan Sovereignty Supporters Hold Historic Meeting in India to Plan Future.

In this special episode of Boing Boing tv (Direct MP4 link for download), Xeni interviews Tibetan sovereignty activists Lhadon Tethong and Tenzin "Tendor" Dorjee from Students for a Free Tibet, over a Skype video chat.

They're in Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government In Exile, and they're attending an historic week-long meeting taking place this week to determine the future of the Tibetan independence movement.

Snip from a New York Times story by Edward Wong about the "Special Meeting":

The conclave is the first of its kind since 1991. The Dalai Lama has called for hundreds of Tibetans to gather in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, to help decide on a new strategy for Tibet.

In a statement released Monday, the government in exile sought to play down speculation that a significant shift in its approach to the issue of Tibetan independence might be near.

“A change in policy need not come from this meeting,” the statement said, according to Reuters. “If a change in basic policy is considered necessary, there is a way that is democratic and which has the mandate of the Tibetan people.”

Lhadon and Tendor are updating the SFT blog here, and they suggest that people interested in following the story check, and the High Peaks Pure Earth blog, with commentary from Tibetans inside Tibet and China. Here is a statement on the "Special Meeting" from the Dalai Lama, who is not personally attending. The Tibetan Government in Exile is producing video reports from the Special Meeting here. Tibetan poet Woeser has published her thoughts on the meeting here. (Special thanks to Laird Brown, and Phuntsok Dorjee)

BBtv WORLD: Roots of Voudun and Slavery's Legacy in Ouidah (Africa)

Today's Boing Boing tv is an installment of our ongoing BBtv WORLD series, in which we bring you first-person glimpses of life around the globe.

From the 17th to 19th centuries, millions of African people were sold
 into slavery, transported on ships 
to the Americas. With them came spiritual traditions 
including Voudun, which we now 
know as “voodoo.”
 Its roots are in the Dahomey kingdom 
on the West Coast of Africa, now the country of Benin.

In today’s episode, I 
travel to Benin’s port city of Ouidah,
 one of the most important slave trade ports, 
and a center of the Vodoun religion.

We visit the Temple of Pythons and learn about Voudun religious practices, and witness some of the most important sites in the history of the slave trade.

We walk along a beach that was the single most highly-trafficked embarkation point for West African slaves headed over the Atlantic to the Americas. One million people were forced on to ships here, many transported to Haiti and Brazil, where Voudun transmuted into voodoo and Candomblé.

Outsiders called this region the Slave Coast. Ouidah's residents today call the former boarding platform on this otherwise idyllic beach the Gate of No Return. -- XJ

Link to Boing Boing tv post , with info on how to subscribe to our daily video podcast. and direct MP4 link here.

(Photos: Xeni Jardin, CC license)

BBtv WORLD: Elephant-blogging in Benin with Xeni (Africa)

Today's Boing Boing tv is an installment of our ongoing BBtv WORLD series, in which we bring you first-person glimpses of life around the globe. Today: an ambient exploration of the creatures rustling around in a West African wildlife preserve at dawn.

I traveled to Benin not long ago, and I shot this video on a small handheld digital camcorder. This episode of our daily show is a little experiment in trying to convey what this place feels like, first-person, without too many words.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with downloadable video and instructions on how to subscribe to the daily BBtv video podcast.

The Pendjari Biosphere lies in Benin's remote rural northwest, along the border of Burkina Faso. Despite poaching and environmental damage, it's still home to a diverse number of species -- elephants, lions, monkeys, cheetah, and around 300 species of birds. We traveled here during the dry season, when animal spotting is easiest. Here is what we saw at dawn (the time of day when critters all come out to the watering holes and rivers).

Poaching is still a big problem in this area, and organized trophy hunting for foreign tourists is still legal and in demand here (mostly visitors from France; Benin is a former French colony and French is the official language). Lion hunts are a lucrative trade in this extremely poor region, where most people are subsistence farmers.

But eco-tourism and less-invasive safari experiences are becoming more important to the local economy here, and offer a more sustainable future.

Note: don't miss the epic baboon ball-grab at 0:35, and the mama elephant ripping tree branches off and getting ready to kill us around 1:50. We were too close to her kids, and we were having a hard time leaving quickly. Do not taunt happy-fun elephant.

Related BBtv WORLD episode:
BBtv World: Green tech and internet at the Songhai Center in Benin (Africa)

BBtv World: Green tech and internet at the Songhai Center in Benin (Africa)

In this installment of Boing Boing tv's ongoing BBtv WORLD series, I travel to the West African nation of Benin to visit the Songhaï Center, a green tech project designed to develop a new generation of "agricultural entrepreneurs," and foster economic sustainability.

Benin is nestled between Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria along the continent's midwest coast -- this shore was historically known as the "Slave Coast," and Benin was a major center in export of slave labor to the Americas. Today, Benin's people are struggling with a cultural shift from a traditional, mostly agrarian society, to a more urban, industrialized economy -- and the largely impoverished country depends on foreign aid.

The Songhaï Center was founded in the mid-'80s by Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a Dominican priest and Nigerian native, on a few acres of swampland granted by Benin's former president. What began as an experiment in small-scale sustainable development to fight poverty has since become a popular institution, and a symbol of Africa's potential for self-determination and prosperity.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with downloadable video and instructions on how to subscribe to our daily video podcast.

Aid creates dependence, but small businesses foster independence, the group's logic goes -- and unlike other anti-poverty projects, this one exports more than it imports: specialty food and beverage products produced here (cashew butter, cookies, fruit beverages) are sold and shipped to France and elsewhere around the world.

In this episode, we walk through the main Songhaï Center in Porto Novo, a coastal town near the Nigerian border, and we witness a variety of projects in action -- "integrated farming, biomass gasification, microenterprise and IT for rural communities." Here, agricultural and technical pursuits merge in uniquely African ways.

We see women hulling cashew nuts; mango soda whooshing into bottles in a soda bottling factory; barnyard critters (including the furry and tasty bush critters known as "sugar cane rats"); people sifting maize flour and baking fresh bread for sale; workers harvesting manioc, papayas, and giant mushrooms; and buzzing activity in the adjacent internet "telecentre."

Each of those parts interlock to form a massive, carefully-engineered, green tech puzzle: scrap metal is welded into parts that would cost too much to buy from overseas. Insects grown on scraps from the restaurant feed fish cultivated in the aquaculture area; water hyacinths at the edge of those pools help filter "black water" in the sewage system; solar panels power the internet cafe; coconut husks discarded in food production serve as a base on which to cultivate giant mushrooms. One area's waste becomes another component's fuel input, and the resulting products cost less than they would through contemporary, Western means.

There are 6 Songhaï Centers throughout Benin, and plans for opening more tech/agriculture hubs in Nigeria, Gabon, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. They offer voice over internet and wifi at current sites in Benin, and plan to expand into rural telephone and ISP services, as the project grows.

-- Xeni Jardin

(Xeni shot the video footage, and the stills in this blog post; special thanks to Leonce Sessou, the center's head of technology.)

BBtv World: Ancient hermit monk caves of Drak Yerpa (Tibet)

Today's edition of Boing Boing tv is a new installment of our ongoing "BBtv WORLD" series, in which we bring you first-person glimpses of life, culture, and human expression from around the planet.

Today, I visit the honeycombed, limestone caves at Drak Yerpa, an ancient religious and historic site near Lhasa, Tibet.

Tibetan Buddhists consider Drak Yerpa (pronounced sort of like “tra-YER-ba”) with its more than eighty meditation caves and temples, to be the “life tree” of Lhasa. In 1959, the Chinese military demolished most of the temples here. Signs of that destruction are etched into walls pockmarked with bullet holes. The few artifacts that saved from that destruction have been hidden for half a century, only recently reemerging for worshippers.

Songsten Gampo, the founder of the Tibetan empire, is believed to have meditated in the very cave we’re walking through in this footage -- way back in the 7th century. A hundred years later, the dark assassin-monk Lhalungpa Pelgi Dorje hid here after killing Tibet’s non-Buddhist king with a bow and arrow (he shot the guy in the eye, then he sped off on a horse covered in black soot). The assassin's black hat was enshrined in a cave here until 1959, when the communist army came in to ransack the site. And Padmasambhava, the holy figure considered “the second Buddha” meditated and practiced tantric yoga with his yogini consort here. She is Yeshe Tsogyal, and devotees refer to her as "the bliss queen."

The pilgrims who walk praying through these ruins are ethnic Tibetans: citydwellers, tribal nomads, traditional monks and nuns. They come to worship at shrines of historical figures and deities, and they pay homage with donations that help cover upkeep of the shrines and to feed the monks who tend to them.

Traditional religious practice is evident here, but ethnic Tibetans and human rights advocates argue that true religious freedom does not exist in Tibet. Displaying a picture of the Dalai Lama, for instance, is a crime that brings harsh penalties. Tibetans who revere him as a spiritual leader don't hear news of him on state-run media, unless it's portraying him as a sort of terrorist.

When we went to these shrines at Drak Yerpa and others throughout Tibet, we were clearly foreigners, and had just come from the part of India where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. Monks would often pull us aside into quieter corners and ask in hushed voice, "Dalai Lama, have you seen him?," motioning to their eyes, asking for word. -- XJ

Link to BBtv episode with downloadable video, and podcast subscription instructions.

Related episodes of Boing Boing tv:
* BBtv WORLD (Tibet): Inside Lhasa
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet report - monks forced to participate in staged videos.
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet's uprising and the internet
* Beijing: interview with pro-Tibet videobloggers in hiding, in China.

BBtv WORLD (Tibet): Inside Lhasa

Today's episode of Boing Boing tv is a new installment of our "BBtv World" series, in which we bring you first-person accounts of life around the world. In this episode, I travel to Lhasa during an annual Tibetan Buddhist festival.

Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with discussion, downloadable video, and podcast subscription instructions.

The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Lhasa is just how close to the heavens you are. Literally. The average elevation in Tibet is 16,000 feet. The fact that this place is known as the “Roof of the World" makes sense as your newcomer lungs and blood struggle to adjust to the altitude.

Beijing says Tibet is historically part of China, not a sovereign nation. China’s army invaded Tibet in 1950. Years of bloody conflict followed. In 1959, Tibet’s traditional spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India. China has governed over Tibet since then.

During the fourth lunar month in the Tibetan calendar, ethnic Tibetans celebrate the annual festival of Saga Dawa. Tibetan Buddhists believe that on the full moon in this month, in various years of his life, the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, and died.

A large armed police presence surrounded the festival during the year I shot the footage you'll see in this episode. When we asked one pilgrim why, she said “Because when too many Tibetans gather in one place, they are afraid we’ll rise up.”

In 2008, Saga Dawa fell on the heels of a violent government crackdown on pro-independence protesters throughout Tibet, during the run-up to the Olympics. Thousands of armed troops filled Lhasa and outlying towns, and large numbers of "suspects" were rounded up and jailed. Widespread reports of human rights abuses filtered out, despite a virtual communications blackout. This year’s Saga Dawa festival also fell near the anniversary of the Tiananmen democracy protests, and authorities cited fears that this would inspire more protest in Tibet.

While first-person accounts were hard to come by, there were many reports of ethnic Tibetans being blocked from the traditional pilgimage route around Lhasa in the name of state security.

Previously on Boing Boing tv:

* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet report - monks forced to participate in staged videos.
* Vlog (Xeni): Tibet's uprising and the internet

Previously on Boing Boing blog:

* Hacking the Himalayas (Xeni Tech / NPR)
* Tradition vs. Change in 'Lhasa Vegas'

BBtv WORLD: Through the eyes of the pueblo. (Guatemala)

Watch this episode in Flash above, or download here: MP4 link.

BBtv WORLD is our recently-launched series on Boing Boing tv featuring first-person views of life around the globe. This third episode in our series is the last of a three-part report I filed from a K'iche Maya community in Guatemala.

Few foreigners come to this village at 10,000 feet in the highlands. Most glimpses we have of remote indigenous communities like this are through the lenses of outsiders -- like myself. But how better to see their story than through the eyes of the people themselves?

Before I left the US for this pueblo a few weeks ago, we asked two companies that produce small, inexpensive, USB camcorders -- Pure Digital (makers of the Flip) and RCA (makers of the Small Wonder) -- to donate a few devices. I brought them to the village, so that some of the adults and young people here could explore what is possible with the tools of video storytelling in their own hands.

Today's BBtv WORLD is the result: stories shot by the K'iche people in this village. The world they see around them, through their own eyes and in their own language.

Some of what the children shot really surprised me. They caught on right away, faster even than the adults, and quickly taught each other how to record and play back video. Some of them seemed to transform into instant YouTube stars -- new alter-egos showed up out of nowhere. One boy we'd come to know as quiet and well-mannered over the course of many previous visits here shot himself throwing gang signs against the sunlight, like shadow puppets, while he walked a path that leads to a Mayan altar. Another girl who was very shy with us in person recorded video of herself making outrageous silly faces, and speaking in a boisterous, confident voice to her new handheld lens.

When I downloaded the footage from their devices, I felt as if I were seeing this place, and these people, for the first time.

Previous BBtv WORLD episodes:

Sponsorship note: The BBtv crew wishes to thank Microsoft for underwriting this episode, and generously supporting the launch of the "BBtv World" series. In this ongoing video series, we will be looking at the intersection of social causes & technology around the world from a number of perspectives. Through their new "i’m Initiative," Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world’s most important social causes when users email or IM with tools such as Windows Live™ Messenger and Windows Live Hotmail®. For more information, visit or