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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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Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

I've always admired Steve Martin. He's smart, funny, and avoids engaging in the kind of behavior that ends up in celebrity tabloids. (He's also a terrific banjo player.) I recently read his autobiography, Born Standing Up, and now I admire him even more.

This short book is about Steve Martin's career as a stand-up comic, which lasted about 20 years and ended abruptly (by his decision) in the 1980s. Martin starts with his childhood, which is full of wonderful anecdotes about working in the magic trick store at Disneyland as a young teenager, and doing magic and comedy routines at Knott's Berry Farm. Martin highly praises the old vaudevillians and magicians he worked with at the theme parks. These stage show veterans took Martin under their wings and mentored him in the art of timing, patter, trick presentation, and joke delivery. Fortunately for Martin, the Orange County high school he attended didn't assign homework, so he was able to spend every waking minute outside of school at the theme parks, learning his craft. (If he had been required to do as much homework as a student does today, he may very well have ended up working alongside his dad as a real estate agent, albeit a funny one.)

Martin goes on to describe how he went on the road, spending years developing his unique style of stand-up. As he describes it, he was not doing stand-up. Instead, he played the role of a foolish comic doing stand-up. In the 1960s, he experimented with his routines in the small clubs of San Francisco's North Beach, sometimes to a completely empty room, save a bartender.

Martin's rise to fame was gradual. But that all changed in the late 1970s when his brand of quirky humor caught on in a big way (thanks in large part to his frequent appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show). Martin went from filling 100 seaters to 1000-seaters. His success begat more success. In a period of months, his audience grew to arenas filled with 20,000, then 40,000, then 60,000 people. His brand of physical humor was impossible for most people in a mega-sized venue to appreciate. Martin was just a white dot on the stage.

The resulting fame, while not entirely unwelcome, was often a drag for Martin. An admittedly shy and private man, Martin said he felt uncomfortable when people on the street would excitedly recite his jokes back to him and expect him to be a wild and huh-razy guy."

Martin rode the wave for a few more years, but when he realized that he was no longer doing stand-up, but instead had become a kind of party host for giant throngs of people who wanted to hear him deliver the same stuff over and over again, he called it quits and never did another stand up show. Martin says that until he wrote this book, he rarely gave a thought to the stand-up up career that had made him famous.

I think the best way to read Born Standing Up is to listen to the audiobook, read by Steve Martin himself. That way, you get to hear the way he says his stock lines ("Excuuuuse meeee!") and you get to hear his emotions when he talks about his father (a cold-hearted man who wrote a negative review of Steve Martin's movie The Jerk first appearance on Saturday Night Live, in the company real estate newsletter he produced).

I hope Martin writes a follow-up book that covers his movie and music career, too.

[Update] commenter Petzl says:

Speaking of Martin's self-effacing manner, for years he's been (quietly) famous for handing out these cards.

They're brilliant: he doesn't have to give his personalized signature (which must get old after the first 1000 or so); he gives his fan something uniquely Steve Martin to take away, as well as giving them a "funny story"; it allows him to exit cleanly and quickly.

Born Standing Up

Let's go ahead and cast the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? remake

Fantastic news coming out of Comic Con: They are remaking What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?! It's such fun news that there is no way to properly punctuate the end of the sentence! Walter Hill, who just finished directing Sylvester Stallone in the cop drama Bullet to the Head, will direct and write the screenplay, because a movie about an abusive, deranged former child star torturing her crippled sister while both wither away in obscurity is clearly the next logical step in his career. Now that the news is out of the way, let's cast this thing! (And maybe look at more pictures of Bette Davis looking out of her blessèd mind!)

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Fables 17: Inherit the Wind


The latest installment in Bill Willingham's astonishingly, consistently great, long-running graphic novel series Fables is volume 17: Inherit the Wind.

The premise of Fables lets its creators use any mythos, any tradition, any narrative, and mix and match as necessary, and Willingham and his illustrators continue to show that these possibilities are indeed endless. While the long arc of the story continues in this book -- movingly along very snappily and satisfyingly -- the real delight is that what that Oz, Dickens, and highbrow narrative theory all climb around on top of each other in a squirming puppy-pile of greatness.

If you've been following the story for all these volumes, then you can rest assured that the Fables are really cracking along -- but you can also be assured that you'll find all the characteristic funny asides, meandering noodly mini-tales that are there for the sheer exuberance of the thing, and sly asides are not set aside for mere plot.

I'm told that this story definitely has an end, but it's hard to imagine. As Fables subsumes literally every other story ever told, and as Willingham shows no sign of boring with his creations, I can easily imagine reading this until Willingham breathes his last (and may that day come a very, very long time in the future). If he keeps writing them, I'll keep buying 'em.

Fables 17: Inherit the Wind

See also: My reviews of the previous volumes

Crackpots, geniuses, and how to tell the difference

Over at Download the Universe, Ars Technica science editor John Timmer reviews a science ebook whose science leaves something to be desired.

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Oatmeal Spells F U in Money Shots

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.)

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Scientists might have found the Higgs Boson

Back in December, I told you that physicists at CERN thought that by this summer they might be able to say, once and for all, whether the Higgs Boson particle exists.

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Comics Rack: Boing Boing's new monthly comics round-up

Photo: Ryan Hyde (cc)

"Comic books are cheap, shoddy, anonymous. Children spend their good money for bad paper, bad English, and more often than not, bad drawing." -- Dr. Fredrick Wertham, 1950s anti-comic book crusader, quoted from his book,

Seduction of the Innocent.

You know, Dr. Wertham was almost right. If he'd added the words "Ninety-nine percent of…" to the beginning of his blanket assessment, I'd enthusiastically agree with it. I receive dozens of comic book titles in the mail each week (sent to me for review), and I toss almost all of them in the bin because they suck. Once in a while, a gem appears, making it worth opening the packages instead of tossing them straight into the trash.

That's why I'm happy to announce our new monthly roundup of comic book recommendations by Brian Heater. Brian's a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of a wonderful comics blog, The Daily Cross Hatch. In his column, Brian will be presenting lesser-known comics that made it past his crap-filter. Please join me in welcoming Brian! -- Mark

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Raise Every Voice

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.

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Team Human: a high-school vampire novel doesn't suck (it rocks)

Team Human is a new young adult novel from Justine Larbalastier and Sarah Rees Brennan, about an ancient vampire who enrolls at a small town high school, where a beautiful young girl falls in love with him.

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