Boing Boing 

Real history from a pretend pirate

Meet Richard Nolan: quartermaster of the Whydah, captain of the Anne, former coworker of Blackbeard—in general, pirate. He is also—at least through Labor Day—my friend Butch Roy.

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Searching for Magic in India and Silicon Valley: An Interview with Daniel Kottke, Apple Employee #12


Daniel Kottke lives and works in Palo Alto, Ca. Here, he talks about the genesis of his 1974 trip to India with Steve Jobs.

Daniel Kottke was one of Apple's first employees, assembling the company's earliest kit computers with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in a California kitchen. In 1974, Jobs and Kottke backpacked across India in search of themselves; now, they are industry legends. Along the way, he debugged circuit boards, helped design the Apple III and the Mac, and became host of Palo Alto cable TV show The Next Step.

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The Eighth Continent: Searching for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

20 AUGUST—34°42' N 140°19' W

In the middle of the night, I dream that I am at the wheel of a great ship, sailing the Pacific Ocean. A hundred and fifty feet of steel, crowned with a dozen broad sails, forces itself forward through the waves. The rigging creaks with the roll of the ship. Water hisses along the lee rail. I adjust the wheel, peering at the binnacle to see our heading.

We’ve been at sea for nearly a week, and for weeks more we have no hope of seeing land. What we do hope to see, though, is something much rarer, something that amounts to a new and dark wonder of the world.

We are aboard the Kaisei, sailing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

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Neal Stephenson's Some Remarks, a remarkable essay collection

Neal Stephenson is a talented essayist, a fact that anyone who read his seminal In the Beginning... Was the Command Line will be aware of. Some of the finest moments in his fiction is really nonfiction, essays that make up part of the story, which some critics take umbrage at. I love it. I happen to love discursive novels. But that said, Stephenson's essays are even more enjoyable than the discursions in his novels, which is saying something.

Some Remarks is a new collection of mostly reprinted, mostly nonfiction. I've read nearly every word in this collection before, some of it multiple times, but nevertheless found it to be a breezy, fast, and thoroughly enjoyable read.

The collection is dominated by Mother Earth Mother Board a "hacker tourist" travelogue that tells the story of the FLAG transoceanic cable, a pioneering privately funded project that was originally published in Wired magazine, which deserves kudos for having the bravery to commission an essay that runs to more than 100 pages in this 300-page book. This essay still stands as a kind of Moby-Dick for undersea cabling, a ferociously detailed, gripping account of an obscure but vital field that manages to be both highly technical and highly dramatic. I found my 2012 re-read of this essay much different from my original reading of it in 1996, in particular because of all the references to politics in middle eastern countries like Libya and Egypt, which have been so much in the news lately. There's a little frisson of history-in-the-making from this essay, as you realize that the establishment of redundant, high-speed network links into the region prefigured a vast, global change that we are still experiencing.

There are many other pieces in this book, including two pretty good short stories (Stephenson readily admits that he's at his best with fiction at much longer lengths), as well as some classic interviews and a speech in which Stephenson lays out a theory of the sort of work that he writes and its place relative to literature and culture.

There's an unabashedly esoteric and absolutely delightful account of Leibniz's metaphysics, and an evocative piece on life as a child in a midwestern college town. In short, there is the sort of highly varied and erudite contrasts that make Stephenson's novels so pleasurable (and important).

Stephenson lightly edited these essays to remove anachronistic irrelevancies, but some of them still stand as perfect reflections of the period in which they were written, time capsules and core samples of the heroic days of the early commercial Internet. This is, in short, a fantastic book and an indispensable companion to Stephenson's canon.

I'm also delighted to note that there's a Brilliance audio MP3CD unabridged audiobook edition.

Some Remarks

(Image: Neal Stephenson Answers Questions, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jmpk's photostream)

Blackout: What's wrong with the American grid

It began with a few small mistakes.

Around 12:15, on the afternoon of August 14, 2003, a software program that helps monitor how well the electric grid is working in the American Midwest shut itself down after after it started getting incorrect input data.

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Meet the people who keep your lights on

Power was restored today in India, where more than 600 million people had been living without electricity for two days. That's good news, but it's left many Americans wondering whether our own electric grid is vulnerable.

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Call your Senator today and stop the Cyber Security Act of 2012: it legalizes spying on your email, chats, photos, social behavior, and location for any purpose


Tiffiny from champion SOPA-fighters Fight for the Future says:

This year, grassroots movements defeated SOPA in the US and ACTA in Europe. We might be able to make another bad-idea bill, CISPA, go down in flames too (or get the privacy protections we've been fighting for). CISPA-- which already passed the House -- would give government access to all your personal data with no restrictions on what they could do with it. The Senate version of CISPA, which is slightly better but could be made much, much worse is going to final vote today.

If you have a secret --

Or think it's creepy that the government listens in on your cell phone calls, knows your location right now, reads your emails, all without a warrant? A bill going to vote today in Congress would make all of this government spying legal.

Millions of us aren't aware of this bill or don't realize how far they go.

That's why we're sharing this link: doyouhaveasecret.org

We took some time to try to capture exactly what's so dangerous and disturbing about having secrets at all.

This year, grassroots movements defeated SOPA in the US and ACTA in Europe. We might be able to make another bad-idea bill go down in flames too (or get the privacy protections we've been fighting for).

This could be the year for internet freedom and the open internet to prevail above huge amounts of lobbying dollars. And racking up wins on SOPA, CISPA, ACTA -- that'd be unprecedented. Millions of people could help make that happen.

Do you have a secret? (Thanks, Tiffiniy)

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being British

Photo: Shimelle (cc)

The epithets attached to the Olympic opening ceremony piled up: eclectic, spectacular, monumental, shambolic, parochial, world-beating, hideous, embarrassing, filmic, and even inspiring. In its parts, the spectacle was all of these things because of the whole, which formed a gush of free-floating anxiety, a confession on a therapist’s couch.

Many commented on the ceremony’s focus on times past, in what viewers outside of Britain took as a flamboyant history lesson or, less charitably, as a statement of a country with no future. This was, however, no simple portrayal of past events, but a raid conducted to shore up a particular view that exists at this time; a malaise suffered here and now.

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vN: a science fiction novel about robots, perverts, power and privilege

vN, Madeline Ashby's debut novel, drops today. I'm an immense fan of Ashby's work (I actually published her first story) and vN did not disappoint.

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Win tickets to San Francisco's Outside Lands music festival!

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Osl12 Logo Final Highres It's almost time for Outside Lands, the massive music festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. This year's festival, August 10-12, features the likes of Foo Fighters, Beck, Sigur Ros, Regina Spektor, Explosions in the Sky, Yacht, Tame Impala, Die Antwoord, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Franz Ferdinand, Norah Jones, Metallica, and dozens of other diverse acts. Wanna go? Our friends at Outside Lands provided a pair of 3-day tickets for the festival, a $450 value, to give to someone in the BB community. Here's how to win them:

Snap a photo that is quintessentially "summer." Then pick a song from one of this year's Outside Lands artists that epitomizes the image. (Or start with the song and then take the photo!) Next, post the image and the song title/artist to Instagram with the hashtag #OSLBOING. And if you're not into Instagram, you can post the image and song title/artist to Twitter using the #OSLBOING hashtag. Or if you really don't like either of those options, post the image and the song/artist to Flickr or anywhere else and link to it in the comments thread below. You have until 11:59pm PT on Tuesday (7/31). On Wednesday (8/1), I'll post our three favorites. Those three finalists will all receive Boing Boing t-shirts! And Friday (8/3), we'll announce the winner of the Outside Lands 3-Day Tickets! Please only one entry per person.

Good luck!

More men join the ranks of Former Eagle Scout

On Monday, I published a letter from my husband, Christopher Baker, to the Boy Scouts of America. In that letter, Baker returned his hard-earned Eagle Scout award and explained that he no longer wanted to be associated with an organization that discriminated against gay teenagers and GBLT parents.

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The wonder of small things

From a public perspective, biology in the oceans, like biology on the land, tends to favor the charismatic megafauna. Stop by your local aquarium and you'll find masses huddled around the seal pool or the shark tank.

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Gunman kills at least 12 in movie theater at "The Dark Knight Rises" screening in Aurora, Colorado

A Colorado gunman walked into a 12:30 a.m. showing of the The Dark Knight Rises, tossed a gas can into the crowd, then began shooting. At least 12 are dead, according to reports, with another 50 hurt.

The police took him into custody and are searching for explosives at his apartment. Redditor iteg3r collated an exhaustive timeline based on local police scanner broadcasts, tweets, and TV bulletins as the night unfolded.

In claimed video of the aftermath (right), a bloodied patron is seen leaving the theater amid confusion and chaos.

Update (830am ET): Local Colorado news provider 9News.com has a live stream of coverage that's more informative and watchable than what the US cable news networks are doing.

At least 12 have been killed, and at least 38 are confirmed wounded, according to Colorado law enforcement. Victims include a 3-month-old baby. The shooter, according to eyewitnesses speaking to local TV news reports, ran in to the theater, lit a "gas can," shot into the ceiling, then into the crowd.

President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the First Lady have cancelled presidential campaign activities today. Obama: "This is a day of prayer and reflection for the victims."

A suspect is in custody: James Holmes, a 24yo white male who is said to have been wearing a gas mask, a bulletproof vest. According to law enforcement, at least four types of guns were used in the shooting, including an "AK-type" assault rifle, a shotgun, and two handguns. The suspect also used a canister of what is presumed to have been tear gas.

Among the dead was Jessica Ghawi (aka Redfield), a young female sports reporter who narrowly missed being killed at a shooting rampage in a Toronto shopping mall last month. She blogged about that experience here.

I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.

Her final tweet is below, sent last night just before the massacre.

Defunded - a heartbreaking look at the state of oceanic research

This week, I'm reporting from the Aquarius undersea research base in Key Largo, Florida. The habitat is the world's last undersea research base. Because NOAA is pulling funding from the 22 year old facility in September, this week's mission is its last scheduled one.

This is a video of oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle that was taken a day or two ago. She's being filmed on Aquarius a Red Camera that is in a waterproof housing tethered to an internet connection in the base. Sylvia's helmet, which is a custom variation of a helmet that working divers use, is equipped with a point of view camera and audio comms. The entire thing was streamed over Ustream a few days ago. This section of the video is of her answering the broad and simple question--Why should we care about the ocean?

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Kathe Koja's The Cipher, brilliant horror novel, back as an ebook

I've mentioned Kathe Koja's fantastic, erotic, terrifying debut novel The Cipher before, and celebrated her recent return to horror after a long stint of writing amazing YA novels.

Now I'm delighted to report that The Cipher is back in print as a $3.99 DRM-free ebook, thanks to the good folks at Roadswell, a new ebook imprint.

The Cipher

Full Body Burden: Memoir about family secrets, government secrets, and the risks of industrial pollution

Image: A worker at Rocky Flats handles a piece of plutonium using gloves built into a sealed box. The plutonium was bound for the innards of a nuclear bomb.

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Breaking Bad Season 5: Xeni air-drops into the best viewing party in the world, in ABQ (video)

[Video Link: Our episode recap and review, with a room full of ABQ locals.]

My aviator boyfriend Miles O'Brien and I are flying in his plane from California to the east coast this week, before I start 6 weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer. When you fly in a single-engine plane like his, you have to stop every 4 hours or so for fuel. When we woke up Sunday, the day the first episode of the new season of AMC's BREAKING BAD would air, we thought: hey, why not plan today's stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the show is based? And why not try to find some fellow fans, and invite ourselves into a ABQ BrBa premiere viewing party tonight?

So we did. I put out the call on Twitter, and hours later, a fellow fan in ABQ named Shanna Schultz tweeted back, come on over.

"Booze-wise we're making an asston of blue jungle juice in honor of the blue meth," Shanna said, "plus we'll be grilling."

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