Boing Boing 

The beginning of life

Sea urchin egg undergoing mitosis with fluorescent-tagged/stained DNA (blue), microtubules (green).

Cells divide. One single piece of life tugs itself apart and splits in two.

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Shamans of the modern age

Colorful flags snapped in the sea breeze as more than a dozen Korean shamans, dressed in bright colors, danced and chanted prayers in front of a huge cow's head stuck to a trident.

The ceremony on a ship was designed to exorcise demons that threaten fishermen and bring good luck to everybody on board. The presence of several hundred spectators underlined how the ages-old trance rituals were going strong again, having been shunned as recently as 30 years ago.

"People are trying to understand more, learn more, and see more. They are very interested in this," said Kim Keum-hwa, one of South Korea's most famous shamans, who led the ceremony.

Though an ancient practice, Korean shamanism - in which singing and dancing are used in trance rituals addressed to specific gods, often to get an answer to specific questions - had long been suppressed in Asia's second most Christian nation.

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From A to B and Through to Z: Brilliant, grotesque illustrated alphabet


Philip Harris's beautiful illustrated alphabet, From A to B and through to Z is a grotesque wonder of animals acting out different trades, and each drawing is more fabulous than the last. Mr Harris has graciously provided us with five of these, at a high enough resolution that you can really see the awesomeness:

  • D is for Docks
  • M is for Market
  • P is for Performance
  • U is for Underground
  • W is for Worship

Philip Harris Comic "From A to B and through to Z"

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Rasputin's Bastards: epic, psychic cold war thriller

Rasputin's Bastards is David Nickle's latest book, an epic novel from one of horror's weirdest voices. During the cold war, the Soviets established City 512, a secret breeding experiment intended to create a race of psychic supermen. It worked far, far too well. The dreamwalkers of City 512 may have given lip-service to their masters, but in truth, they were occupied with their dreaming, the sleeper agents whom they could ride like loas, the succesive generations of dreamwalkers, each more powerful than the last, and their own power-struggles.

Now the cold war is long past, and the final act is upon the world. The Babushka, one of the great powers of City 512, has established a stronghold in a fishing village in the remotest northern reaches of Labrador. Her enemies are legion, and some of them don't even know what side they're on. The dreamwalkers have always had the power to trap their enemies in false identities and false memories, and the main characters of Rasputin's Bastards are never quite sure who they are, what has happened to them, what is real, and what is poisonous illusion.

Nickle's book is an enormous tale, bewilderingly complex, but with lots of twists and turns that reward close attention. It is grotesque, violent, and exciting, with a supernatural tinge that is his hallmark.

Rasputin's Bastards

Soviet synthesizer bridged occultism and electronic music

You don't play the ANS synthesizer with a keyboard. Instead you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones. Etchings made low on the sheets make low tones. High etchings make high tones. The sound is generated in real-time and the tempo depends on how fast you insert the sheets.

This isn't a new Dorkbot or Maker Faire oddity. It's a nearly forgotten Russian synthesizer designed by Evgeny Murzin in 1938. The synth was named after and dedicated to the Russian experimental composer and occultist Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872–1915). The name might not mean much to you, but it illuminates a long running connection between electronic music and the occult.

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Venezuelan tribe angry at "sacred" stone in Berlin

Wolfgang von Schwarzenfeld's sculptures in a Berlin park were meant to promote world peace, but the 79-year-old German now finds himself at war with a Venezuelan tribe which accuses him of stealing a sacred pink stone known to them as "Grandmother".

The Venezuelan government is championing the Pemon Indians of the "Gran Sabana" region by demanding the return of the polished stone from Berlin's Tiergarten park - putting the German government in something of a dilemma.

With Caracas calling it robbery, and the sculptor arguing that the stone was a legal gift, the monolith is emitting more negative energy than its esoteric fans in Berlin are used to.

Blissfully unaware of the diplomatic tug-of-war, Robert, a Berlin gardener, got off his bicycle to light joss sticks among the stones from five continents that form the "Global Stone Project", awaiting friends for an afternoon shamanic ritual.

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King City: awesomely weird, silly/funny sf comic

King City collects Brandon Graham's magnificent Tokyo Pop comic serial in one mammoth, $11 (cheap!) trade paperback edition, and man, is that a deal.

Take the sprawling, weird, perverse cityscape of Transmetropolitan, mix in the goofy, punny humor of Tank Girl, add ultraviolent gang warfare, the impending resurrection of a death-god, and a secret society of cat-masters whose feline familiars can serve as super-weapons and tactical material, and you're getting in the neighbourhood of King City.

Graham's black-and-white line drawings have the detail of a two-page spread in MAD Magazine and a little bit of Sergio Argones in their style, if Argones was more interested in drawing the battle-scarred veterans of a Korean xombie war who consume each others' powdered bones to drive away the madness.

Despite the fact that this is a very, very funny story, it manages to be more than a comedy. Joe the cat-master's lost love, Pete the bagman's moral crisis, and Max the veteran's trauma are all real enough to tug at your heart-strings, even as you read the goofy puns off the fine-print labels on the fetishistically detailed illustrations showing King City and its weird and wonderful inhabitants.

JWZ wrote "It's the best comic-book-type thing I've read in quite some time. The trade is a huge phonebook-sized thing and it's awesome." He's right.

King City (via JWZ)

Zita the Space Girl: delightful kids' science fiction comic that's part Vaughn Bode, part Mos Eisley Cantina


Zita the Space Girl is Ben Hatke's 2011 kids' science fiction graphic novel about a young girl's adventures on a distant world that she is transported to after clicking a mysterious button that she finds in the center of a meteor crater. It's a pure delight. Zita's friend Joseph is sucked through the portal first, and she bravely pursues him, and finds herself on a world that's half Vaughn Bode, half Mos Eisley Cantina, populated by the motleyest assortment of robots, aliens, and beasts you could ever hope to meet. She quickly collects some powerful enemies -- primarily a tentacle-beast assassin in the employ of the Scriptorians, the planet's indigenous death-cultists, who engineered the kidnap of Joseph so that they could sacrifice him, fulfill an ancient prophecy and divert the doomsday asteroid that's set to destroy their world in a matter of days.

But Zita also finds allies: the immensely strong, none-too-bright steveadore Strong Strong; a rascally rogue of a showman called Piper (he can lull his enemies to sleep with his high-tech tin whistle); a vengeance-minded flying battledroid called One; a giant mouse with a printer around its neck called Pizzicato, and a shaky, neurotic robot called Randy. Together, they must penetrate the badlands, fight off the minions of the Scriptorians, and rescue Joseph, and either avert or escape the asteroid that is hurtling toward them.

Creator Ben Hatke's story fires on all cylinders -- Zita's adventures are funny, exciting, well-paced, and suspenseful. The art is fabulous, expressive and imaginative, and the characters are delightful. The book is recommended for grades 2-5, but I found it to be a great read-aloud for my four year old (I had to translate a lot of the dialogue on the fly, but that's half the fun, and the visuals are so great that they fill in any blanks arising from missed verbal cues).

Our read of Zita was triggered by an early look at the sequel, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, a great followup that comes out in September, and would be a great way to continue a summer reading adventure.

Zita the Space Girl

Game of Thrones: Valar Morghulis

We’ve had a couple weeks to let the Game of Thrones finale breathe, so now we can talk about it, and we can reflect on season 2 as a whole. If you don’t like spoilers, you may not want to read an article about an episode you haven’t seen that concerns a point in the story you haven’t reached.

Have you heard the joke about how Game of Thrones is like Twitter? There are 140 characters, and terrible things are always happening. I didn’t make that up; I wish I knew who did. From reading Twitter (and Facebook, and occasionally actually talking to people), I gather a lot of people found the season 2 finale to be a little disappointing.

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The only good abortion is my abortion

As I write this, it is 1:17 am on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.

I am lying awake in bed, trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

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Drugs Without the Hot Air: the most sensible book about drugs you'll read this year

Cambridge's UIT Press has established a well-deserved reputation for publishing clear, engaging, evidence-based books on controversial subjects. Titles like Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air and Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open remain two of the best books I've read on the relationship between environmental responsibility, climate, material wealth, science and engineering -- books that profoundly changed the way I understood these subjects.

The latest in this series is Drugs: Without the Hot Air (UK), by David Nutt. If Nutt's name rings a bell, it's because he was fired from his job as UK drugs czar because he refused to support the government's science-free position on the dangers of marijuana, and because he wouldn't repudiate a paper he wrote that compared the harms of taking Ecstasy to the harms of horseback riding (or "equasy").

Like the other writers in the series, Nutt is both committed to rigorous, evidence-based policy and to clear, no-nonsense prose that makes complex subjects comprehensible. He begins and ends the book with a look at the irrationality of our present drug policy, recounting a call he had with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who was furious that he'd compared horseback riding harms to the harms from taking MDMA. Smith says that "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." When Nutt asks why not, she says, "because one is illegal." When he asks why it is illegal, she says, "Because it is harmful." So he asks, "Don't we need to compare harms to determine if it should be illegal?" And Smith reiterates, "you can't compare harms from a legal activity with an illegal activity." Lather, rinse, repeat, and you'll get our current drugs-policy disaster.

Nutt has been talking about harm reduction and evidence-based policy for drugs policy for years, and he often frames the question by pointing out that alcohol is a terrible killer of addicts and the people around them, and a disaster for society. But if he was to synthesize a drug that produced an identical high to alcohol, without producing any of the harms, it would almost certainly be banned and those involved in producing, selling and taking it would be criminalised. We ban drugs because they are harmful and we know they are harmful because they are banned. Drugs that we don't ban -- tobacco, alcohol -- are "harmful" too, but not in the same way as the drugs that are banned, and we can tell that they are different because they haven't been banned.

Nutt has choice words for the alcohol and tobacco industries, who often frame their activity as being supported by responsible choice, and claim that they only want to promote that sort of responsibility. But as Nutt points out, if Britain's drinkers hewed to the recommended drinking levels, total industry revenue would fall by 40% -- and the industry has shown no willingness to regulate super-cheap, high-alcohol booze, nor alcopops aimed at (and advertised to) children and teenagers.

Nutt compares the alcohol industry's self-regulated responsible drinking campaigns to a campaign that exposed students in East Sussex to factual information about the industry's corruption of public health messages, its ferocious lobbying efforts, and the cost of drinking to wider society. It turns out that exposing alcohol industry sleaze is vastly more effective at discouraging student drinking than anything sponsored by the industry itself.

From his discussion of legal drugs, Nutt moves on to factual accounts of the impact of illegal/controlled drugs, from "legal highs" like "meow meow" to opioids to cocaine to prescription painkillers and steroids to psychedelics. Each chapter is a bracing, brisk, no-nonsense inventory of what harms and benefits arise from each substance, the history of their regulation, and the ways in which changes to the means of taking the drugs changes the outcome. Laid out like this, it's easy to see that prohibition isn't ever the right answer -- not for science, not for society, not for justice, and not for health.

There's also a sense of the awful, tragic loss to society arising from the criminalization of promising drugs. A chapter called "Should Scientists Take LSD?" surveys the literature preceding the evidence-free banning of LSD, and the astounding therapeutic benefits hinted at in the literature.

The book closes with the War on Drugs, and the worlds' governments own frank assessments of the unmitigated disaster created by Richard Nixon's idiotic decision 40 years ago. Nutt analyzes the fact that policymakers know that the War on Drugs is worse than the drugs themselves (by a long shot), but are politically incapable of doing anything about it, not least because politicians on all sides stand poised to condemn their opponents for being "soft on drugs."

After this, there is a frank chapter on talking with your children about drugs. Nutt is a parent and has some regrets about how he approached the subject with his own children (one of his sons was stalked by a British tabloid journalist, who tricked him into friending him on Facebook, which gave the journalist the opportunity to gank photos of the young man smoking marijuana). As a parent, this stuff really resonated with me -- sensible advice that focuses on establishing and maintaining trust.

Drugs: Without the Hot Air

Attack of the zombie maples

Last month, I spent several days in Harvard Forest, 3500 acres of woods dedicated to scientific research. The forest is home to dozens of research projects, some short-term, others stretching over decades.

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Fracking and earthquakes: The real risk is injecting liquid underground

The National Research Council published a report today, reviewing and analyzing peer-reviewed literature, federal and state documents, data requested from private companies, and more ...

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Crazy Isn't A Destination: Minds Aren't Lost

Nikol Hasler is a writer, producer, and single mother living in Los Angeles. She was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma almost two years ago, and has undergone surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with another surgery and more radiation still to come. An alumnus of the foster care system, her current work is focused on using her life experiences to assist foster children in a healthier transition to adulthood.

I was dating a man whose mother had gone crazy after the death of her husband. This man was a teenager at the time, and his mother held one of his friends hostage for several days, trying to force the friend to have sex with her. The man was from Spain, and this changed the way I pictured what happened. The light was a different color, the carpeting worn in Spanish ways, the knick knacks glazed and foreign, not the sorts of things you see in prefab homes in Texas. Even in Spain, when a mom holds a teen hostage and tries to have sex with them, there are bound to be knick knacks.

When he told me this story, he was calm about it, and not in the way a person usually reflects about trauma, matter-of-fact and slightly sad. He said she was just lonely. He said she was doing the best she could. He said that all of our parents were doing the best that they could, and we should all remember that.

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Futurama's Back, Baby: another new season

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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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Send Wonder: the Anything is Possible Bottle

For several years I've been watching Jamie D. Grant's Send Wonder project to both great amazement and joy.

Grant, a fabulous magician, has systematically stumbled into a way to place a sealed pack of cards into a completely unaltered milk-bottle; but he didn't stop there. Grant also started leaving the bottles in random locations around his hometown of Vancouver B.C. simply asking the people who find them to identify when and where they found the prize (which they are welcome to keep). A project he calls "Send Wonder".

Having zero artistic talent, however, I focused on what I know and love- magic. Via a series of events that will never be replicated in my lifetime I'm sure, I stumbled upon a way of getting a sealed deck of cards inside a milk bottle, without altering the glass whatsoever. And, with that, the "Anything Is Possible" bottle was born.
The photo below is of a special deck of White Lions cards, part of a limited edition series Jamie did with magician David Blaine. Over the years Jamie's incredible bottles have found their way around the world, they sit in Eastern European bars, on the desks of celebrities and in the most awesome palace of prestidigitation -- the Magic Castle (of which I am also a member).

I encourage you to keep an eye out for his bottles, they seem to pop-up everywhere.

Amped: Daniel Wilson's followup to Robopocalypse is a wild ride through the Singularity's civil war

Daniel Wilson's latest novel is Amped, a post-apocalyptic high-tech apocalypse cast in the same mold as his spectacular debut novel, Robopocalypse. Wilson is a roboticist by trade, and he combines his background in science and engineering with a knack for fast-paced narrative.

Amped begins on the day that the Supreme Court rules that "Amps" -- people who've had neurological amplification -- aren't entitled to the same rights as "normal" people. Amps are a motley bunch. The amping program started out as a form of "government cheese" -- a welfare handout for the poorest Americans, to help their ADD kids focus in school, to uplift the kids with fetal alcohol syndrome, to give new, functional limbs to shell-shocked veterans rotting in VA beds. Over the years, the amping program is extended to blind people, people with epilepsy, and other people whose disabilities can be overcome with the right combination of new neurocircuitry and physical prostheses.

But, of course, an amp doesn't correct a disabled person's disability up to the level of an able-bodied person. An amped eye isn't a mere substitute for a 20-20 eye -- it blows right past the limitations of our meat-eyes, adding computational pattern-recognition, digital storage, focus at great and close distances, and senstitivity into spectra denied to us poor baseline humans. Likewise amplified cognition, limbs, and so on.

America -- uncomfortable with questions of race and class at the best of times -- goes insane. Suddenly, the privileged elites of America are physically weaker, intellectually slower, and generally less fit than the teeming underclasses whose badge of shame is a tell-tale data-access port on one temple. Laws demanding "equality" for unenhanced humans chip away at the social contract, and a demagogue senator sees a political opportunity and seizes it. The book opens with a front row seat for the Amp's Kristallnacht, and we watch as Owen Gray, the son of a surgeon famed for his R&D efforts on the amp program, races from tragedy to terror. Gray is a schoolteacher whose epilepsy has been treated with an amp, and the book opens with him climbing out on the school roof to try to talk down a formerly learning-disabled amped girl whose machine-enhanced intellect has told her that she will soon be torn to pieces by jealous classmates, who are riding high on a new court ruling that excludes her from the public school system.

When she jumps to her death, Owen is blamed for it. He races to his father's lab, only to find the old man sitting amid a wreckage left behind by a FBI smash-and-grab raid. The political tide has turned. His father orders him to seek out an old colleague in Iowa, and Owen takes to the road. Quickly, he is embroiled in a civil war. As one of the book's antiheroes puts it:

"Look at us. Amps. We're morons smarter than Lucifer. Cripples stronger than gravity. A bunch of broke-ass motherfuckers stinking rich with potential. This is our army. Our people. Strong and hurt. We're the wounded supermen of tomorrow, Gray. It's time you got yourself healed. New world ain't gonna build itself. And the old world don't want to go without a fight."

Wilson has done a very good job with Amped. It's a lot more allegorical and a lot less scientific than Robopocalypse -- the action more about the drama than any kind of rigorous extrapolation. But Wilson taps into something primal with Amped, some of the deep questions about medical ethics, the social effects of technology, and the way that class and politics make technological questions much harder to resolve.

The folks at Doubleday were good enough to provide the first two chapters for your perusal: Chapter 1, Chapter 2.

Amped

Of hermit crabs and home sales

In 2005, my husband I bought a house in Birmingham, Alabama. I was working for mental_floss and we thought we'd live there for a few years.

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The Luvilee Jubilee: underwhelmed by opposition to Her Majesty's Big Day

There was little surprise at Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, but that's probably the point. Dutifully present were the Queen, the rain, the warm beer and the National Health Service glasses and teeth (I can say this, I’m British) and, surreally, hundreds of photographic Queen masks handed out for free. Parts of the crowd looked like a monarchist V for Vendetta; R for Regina?

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Trinity: the birth of nuclear weapons in graphic novel form


Jonathan Fetter-Vorm's Trinity is a nonfiction book-length comic for adults about the birth of nuclear weapons. It covers the wartime events that spawned the idea of a nuclear weapons program, the intense period of wrangling that gave rise to the Manhattan Project, the strange scientific town in the New Mexico desert that created the A-bomb, the tactical and political decision-making process that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the unspeakable horror experienced by the people in those cities and the existential crises the Nuclear Age triggered for scientists, politicians, and the world at large. Though this is primarily a history book, Trinity is also a pretty good nuclear physics primer, making good use of the graphic novel form to literally illustrate the violence of atoms tearing themselves apart, and the weird, ingenious, improvised mechanisms for triggering and controlling that violence.

I think Trinity is a very good book. It manages to be short and straightforward without being crude or lacking nuance. Fetter-Vorm does a great job of bringing the personalities involved in the bomb's creation to life, and to show the way that human relationships -- as much as physics -- resulted in the bomb's invention and use. He walks a fine, non-partisan line on the need to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, opting instead to lay out the facts in a (to my eye) fair and neutral way that neither argues that the bombing was a necessity, nor that it was a callous whim from a military apparatus that wanted to test out its latest gadget.

More than anything, though, Trinity is unflinching in counting the human cost of the bomb. The pages given over to the aftermath in the bombed cities are, if anything, understated. No gross-outs here. But they manage to convey so much horror that I had to stop reading so I could finish my lunch. Also wrenching, in its own way, is the section on the impact that the news from Japan had on the Trinity scientists and their families. Fetter-Vorm does a credible (and disturbing) job of putting you in the shoes of people who wanted to "end the war," but who found no respite in the war's end, as they struggled with the feeling of blood on their hands.

Trinity illuminates a turning-point in human history, and does so with admirable pace, grace, and skill.

Trinity

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NYT-“MEN invented the internet”

What a steaming turd of an opening line in David Streitfeld's otherwise serviceable New York Times piece about the Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins sexual harassment lawsuit, and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley.

Here's the opening graf (bold-ing, mine):

MEN invented the Internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolized Mr. Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died. Nerds. Geeks. Give them their due. Without men, we would never know what our friends were doing five minutes ago.

You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT.

Radia "Mother of the Internet" Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.

"Men are credited with inventing the internet." There. Fixed it for you.

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Off the Grid, Still In the Box: where's Cable TV headed?

The cable box can make channel serfs of us all. It's big, it's bulky, it has an interface an Excel spreadsheet might salute, and it sucks down too much electricity. It's one reason why cable TV bottom-feeds in customer-satisfaction surveys--only airlines and newspapers score lower in the University of Michigan's research.

But for a still-sizable majority of American viewers, the cable box is How They Get TV, and nobody can fix it except for their cable operators.

The industry's just-finished Cable Show in Boston featured exhibits by dozens of networks hoping to see new channels added to cable lineups, plus a few starry-eyed demos of technology we may not get for years. (Disclosure: A freelance client, Discovery Communications, owns quite a few channels.) But it also revealed modest hope for "clunky set-top boxes"--to quote an acknowledgment of subscriber gripes in National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell's opening speech.

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An interview with China Miéville

Photo: Ceridwen (cc)

China Miéville is one of the most important writers working in Britain today. The author of ten novels of "weird fiction"—as well as short stories, comics, non-fiction, a roleplaying game, and academic writing on law and ideology—his 2011 science fiction novel Embassytown was acclaimed by Ursula K le Guin, among others, as "a fully achieved work of art" busy "bringing the craft of science fiction out of the backwaters".

We share the same British publisher, Pan Macmillan, and so—ahead of the publication on May 24 of his newest book, Railsea, a fantastical novel set in a world whose "seas" are an endless web of railway lines—I spent an hour with him discussing fiction, fantasy, giant moles, and the limits of contemporary geekdom.

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The Butterflies of India: An interview with Isaac Kehimkar

Isaac Kehimkar is an avid naturalist and the author of The Book of Indian Butterflies Isaac's photostream of Indian Butterflies is at Flickr.

Avi Solomon: What early influences drew you to the study of nature?

Isaac Kehimkar: I grew up in Deonar, a suburb of Mumbai. It was a time when black and white television had just started in India with only one channel and no video games in sight. But Nature offered so many options. Deonar was still green and water in the streams was sparkling clean. The Monsoons were my season and catching fish and crabs with local Koli and Agri boys in the rice fields was my favorite pastime. That's the time I even dared (rather foolishly) to catch snakes too! With the rains gone and rice harvested, cricket pitches were soon paved in the rice fields and we played cricket till the rains came again.

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CISPA—time to kill this sucker


Zak from Fight for the Future/Privacy is Awesome sez,:

It's only days before the Senate votes on its version of CISPA, and the SECURE IT Act. The bill would open all your data up to the government, no matter how personal. Good bye privacy, hello police state. Since the vote is soon, anything we do at this point has a big impact, so if you care about your privacy, stand with us and take these actions:

The first thing you can do is change your Facebook cover photo to show your friends the creepy records government will be keeping on us if CISPA passes.

There's another thing you can do to send your message even stronger. Visit a Senator's office and deliver this explanation of how CISPA and SECURE IT would trample our privacy, or mail it in if you can't visit in person. Tons of people will be doing this. It's the best way we can educate our senators; a disturbing number of them don't really understand what they're about to vote on.

Pop and politics collide at Europe's awesomely trashy song contest

You know the Ameri-centricism Europeans make fun of? I might have been an example of that, having not really heard of the Eurovision Song Contest until 2010 – and even then, the only reason I’d heard a thing about it was because of the Epic Sax Guy meme, spawned by Moldova’s hilariously neon-infused, incredibly euro-centric performance that year.

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Makies: custom-made, 3D printed action dolls


My wife Alice quit her job a year ago to found Makies with some friends in London and Helsinki. Makies is a 3D printing startup. The company's mission is to create toys and dolls from "playful" digital environments (games, social systems, stuff like that). Essentially, the idea is that you create digital people, along with their clothes and accessories, and play with them online, and at the press of a button, you can order these things as physical objects that get custom produced by a local supplier and shipped straight to you. The idea is to build a business that inspires makers, hackers and crafters -- for example, the dolls' heads are designed to take an Arduino Lilypad, should you have such a notion.

After a lot of experimentation and design iteration, they've gotten to the point where they can reliably produce and ship 10-inch custom action dolls using suppliers here in London, and they want to alpha test it against the real world, so they're selling 100 of these dolls to see how the whole thing works. There are just a few left now -- Alice didn't want me to blog this until all the people who'd signed up for the mailing list and all the friends and family had had a crack at the inventory. You can also play with the doll creator without buying the actual doll. They've learned a ton in a just a few days, and they're looking for more of your feedback.

Makies

Dispatches from Harvard Forest

I'm currently attending the Marine Biological Laboratory's 10-day science journalism fellowship. As part of that, I get to do some hands-on science experiments and get a better perspective on how the work of science is done and how data is collected.

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Game of Thrones S2E8: It's family stuff

Ravens are a big deal in the Game of Thrones universe. They’re used to transmit information from one place to another, and often seem to be portents of death. This week’s episode begins with a whole dead basket of ‘em, as Prince Theon, in his latest act of swaggering idiocy, has killed all of Winterfell’s birds so that no one can send word to Robb Stark.

Of course, sending notes tied to birds is generally a slow and imperfect form of info transit, especially in the world of this story, which is well-established as massive and hostile to easy passage. I’ve previously written that one of the reasons the series appeals in our current clime is its bold, dialog-provoking approach to patriarchy and sexuality – I wonder if its lavishing upon the preciousness of information and the incredible conveniences we now enjoy in the internet age is another?

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The Dictator

Unless you've recently had a bag on your head to be specially renditioned, are related to murdered Israeli athletes, don't like lesbian kisses, cock, dildo or pussy jokes, and unless you think that cancer, torture, dwarves, Jews, Arabs, infanticide, paedophilia, prostitution, incest, rape, anti-Semitism, casual racism or misogyny are inappropriate subjects for jokes, then it really is hard to find that much to be offended by in The Dictator.

Except, maybe, the pinko-commie rant towards the end implying that the USA is as 'good' as a dictatorship. Shocking.

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