What is the Conference on World Affairs? I like Tim Lloyd's concise description: "The Conference on World Affairs is the democratic version of TED."
Founded by a University of Colorado professor who was inspired by the formation of the United Nations, CWA brings together a broad swath of interesting people. There are artists, musicians, scientists, journalists, and more. This year, the lineup includes people like Jello Biafra, Andy Ihnatko, and David Crosby—as well as less instantly recognizable names, like Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women, SETI's Seth Shostak, and conservative political scientist Robert Kaufman. All the speakers are mixed and matched into panel discussions, based on the speakers' areas of expertise—and on topics that they're just interested in, even if they aren't experts.
But here's the best part: The Conference on World Affairs is free and open to the public. If you're anywhere near Boulder this week, I highly recommend dropping in for some of the sessions. The full program is online.
It's that time of year again, when everyone is allowed to think that they're funny (including us) even when they are totally not funny at all. Share the best April Fools' jokes on the net in this thread!
Let's get the ball rolling with Comic Sans Pro, a press release from Monotype. Nice!
In June of 1832, the 57 Irish migrant workers arrived at the docks of Philadelphia. Their job was to lance a flat path for the track through steep, hilly terrain. In railroad parlance, this is known as a 'cut' and thereafter that stretch of track would be known as Duffy's Cut. Six weeks later, they would all be dead.
This is so cross-cultural -- from Haiti to New Zealand -- that it is probably part of an evolved instinct inherent to our species, and it's not hard to see why. We now know that 60,000 years ago, the entire human race was reduced to a single tribe of 2000 human beings wandering the savannahs of Africa. That was it. That was us. If they -- our ancestors -- didn't have a strong impulse to look out for each other in a crisis, you wouldn't be reading this now.
Yet there are a few examples stubbornly fixed in the popular imagination of people reacting to a natural disaster by becoming primal and vicious. Remember the gangs "marauding" through New Orleans, raping and even cannibalizing people in the Super-Dome after Hurricane Katrina? It turns out they didn't exist. Years of journalistic investigations showed them to be racist fantasies. They didn't happen. Yes, there was some "looting" -- which consisted of starving people breaking into closed and abandoned shops for food. Of course human beings can behave atrociously - but the aftermath of a disaster seems to be the time when it is least likely.
This information is essential for knowing how to respond to disasters. There is a fear that the Japanese government is with-holding information about the dangers of the nuclear meltdown because they don't trust the people to react sensibly and calmly. There is no way of knowing, yet, whether this is true. But understanding this crucial history should guide the government to tell the truth and trust the people. As Solnit puts it: "If you imagine that the public is a danger, you endanger the public."
That analysis also fits with Amanda Ripley's 2008 book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes. So far, I've only read parts of this book—enough to make me completely rethink a short story I was planning out for my writing club—but it's very high on my list of books I must read in their entirety asap.
This seems to be one of those places where "common sense" simply isn't. On the whole, humans respond to disasters more like the Japanese people responded to this one, and less like what we imagine from movies and nightmares.
One issue that has emerged during the nuclear crisis in Japan is that there isn't always a reliable source for radiation levels from specific areas. RDTN.org has just launched, an experiment to help address that need. The site allows people to submit their own reads, and maps them out next to data from official sources and measurement dates. This way, anyone can quickly get an idea of what is happening on the ground, first-hand. The site is brand new but should be very useful going forward.
Also worth noting and specific to what is going on in Japan right now, JapanStatus.org is "a dashboard of accurate, sourced information on the situation in Japan following the March 2011 disaster."
Dear readers! URL shorteners' popularity with spammers means we've blocked some of the big ones (at least temporarily) to cut down on the spammation. Sorry for the inconvenience! While we plan a long-term fix, just use normal URLs. You are welcome to use anchor tags in BB comments, too.
The skies have stories to tell. Some of the stories make for interesting puzzles, particularly sightings of previously unseen objects in earth orbit. My friend Ted Molczan is part of a small but dedicated group of private citizens who track satellites, with a special focus on unannounced/secret satellite launches. 2011 has already been an interesting year for the group, who post their findings at the SeeSat-L website (satobs.org) and others. Ted presented compelling evidence that he had spotted a possible Prowler satellite that may have been secretly launched in 1990 on space shuttle launch STS 38. Today, Greg Roberts of their group found the USAF's X-37B OTV 2-1 spaceplane, launched into a secret orbit on Saturday. Ted was kind enough to share his philosophy, techniques, and consumer-grade equipment, all of which is easily available for interested citizens wishing to get involved.
Do you consider yourself a government transparency activist?
Ted: "I see myself as a hobbyist who enjoys solving technical puzzles that help to increase public knowledge of space flight, and improve the transparency of activities taking place in Earth orbit."
How do you respond to your critics within government intelligence agencies?
Ted:"The most common criticism is that by publishing the orbits of intelligence gathering satellites, we may enable adversaries of the U.S.A. and its allies to
NPR is sick of spam and trolls and has switched to auditioning commenters before accepting their submissions. Only after establishing themselves over multiple comments will their comments begin appearing automatically when posted. Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica:
This new policy has been a while in coming. In October, NPR noted that the site had grown to 350,000 registered participants, and thus needed a little help moderating comments, particularly with trolls who come "to wreak havoc in discussions." Hence, the media organization brought in Canadian-based ICUC Moderation Services to assist.
What's in the box? We had so many wonderfully humorous explanations of why you need to know that it's a shame there aren't enough boxes to go out to everyone. Alas, the window of opportunity is now closed; the recipient has been picked. Thank you all so much for your interest in such a trivial mystery! Its resolution is now out of my hands.
Inside this box lies hundreds of dollars worth of stuff: gadgets, CES swag, gris-gris. It belongs to one of our followers on the social networks, but I'm not sure who. Trusting chance, I'll mail it off tomorrow evening after selecting one at random. If you want a shot at getting it, do any of the following:
Follow us on Twitter
Or on Facebook
Then retweet this post with the #whatsinthebox hashtag, or comment below to tell us why you absolutely must know what is in the box.. The recipient will be selected from the hashtag search and commenters here.
• So far, the XML file I posted last week has been downloaded 2,500 times. Woo! We're very excited to see what you all do with it.
• macartisan on Twitter noticed some validation errors in the original XML file, and others of you saw similar issues. Fortunately, ntoll at FluidDB fixed these errors while working with the data. The XML file has been updated so you won't have to worry about wonky characters while parsing it.
• ntoll also converted the file to JSON for those of you who don't want to deal with XML. That file is available for download as well, and has some extra goodies like better category organization and a list of URLs and domains mentioned in each post.
• The FluidDB for Boing Boing has finished parsing. You will now be able to access all 64,000 posts through their API. ntoll is also adding the URL and domain information from the JSON file to the API. He'll be doing a write up with some examples and explanations on how to use the API soon.
If you've got some time this weekend, and want to play around with a huge collection of text, URLs and other interesting information, we'd love to see what you come up with. You can send me your projects directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.
Eleven years of Boing Boing posts available in [XML], [JSON] and via [FluidDB]
We were not disappointed. This morning I found out that ntoll over at FluidDB collected all the information in the XML file into their centralized database system. ntoll's post on the FluidDB Boing Boing repository explains a little bit about the structure of their system and how to access it as an API for use in other web applications, programs or plugins.
Clearly, this is a very interesting project with a lot of far-reaching implications for developers and interested people looking to play around with the Boing Boing archives. I'm looking forward to seeing what new applications of our data come out of this.
If you're working on something neat with this data, you can let me know directly either at email@example.com or via Twitter.