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.
A lot of eerie folklore and some community organized archaeology uncover a murder mystery on Philadelphia's Main Line.
Image courtesy the Duffy's Cut Project
If you expect a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis to lead to panic in the streets and every-man-for-himself struggles, then you've probably been surprised by the Japanese response to their country's woes. But, before you start waxing philosophical about how different the Japanese are from your home country, consider what's known about how people—people all over the world—actually behave in disasters. Hint: A lot of the stories you've heard about crime and mayhem are either myths, or overblown accounts that don't represent the vast majority. The London Independent's Johann Hari writes for the Huffington Post:
In her gorgeous book A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise In Disaster, Rebecca Solnit shows how this is how almost everybody responds to disaster, across continents and across contexts. When power grids are destroyed and city grids demolished, social grids light up.
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."
Congratulations to Dean, our Bachelor of Code, who is now also a Bachelor of SCIENCE
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.
Video: Chiefland Star Party Skyscape Time Lapse by William Castleman
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
Read the rest
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.
Looks like they're simply overwhelmed by nasty anonymous and just-registered comments.
Public radio decides it's time to chase trolls away
The folks randomly selected
to get one of three mystery boxes
have started receiving them! Ms. H. blogs her box's contents here
. Ms. B. of California emailed to say she'd gotten hers (she had a special box with only one item). Which leaves Mr. L.
, a resident of Canada who had a bit of a mailing wait and even set up a microblog for his box
: he reports that it's just arrived
, but he hasn't has a chance to open it up yet. One reader speculation, however, I can confirm as incorrect.
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.
UPDATE: A recipient has been selected. Thank you, everyone!
You are planning to make something cool with the last 11 years of Boing Boing posts, right? Here's a quick update on the release from earlier in the week:
• 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 email@example.com or on Twitter.
Eleven years of Boing Boing posts available in [XML], [JSON] and via [FluidDB]
On Tuesday I released the last eleven years of Boing Boing posts all in one file to celebrate Boing Boing's recent anniversary. Large datasets are fun, and we wanted to see how the great minds of our readers would twist all this information into something more awesome.
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.
The system is pretty easy to access using their various wrappers (in Python, for example). You can find the documentation for FluidDB here as well if you're interested in developing an application on top of this database system.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
[How we made an API for BoingBoing in an evening] Thanks Tom!
Found something awesome on the net? Made
something awesome on the net? There are three ways to submit it to Boing Boing!
1: Add it to our Submitterator
. This is the single best way to get our attention! It's the first place we look and public discussion and voting pushes items to the top of the queue.
If it's a photo or an image, you can add it to our Flickr pool
You can submit things privately
through this form.
While stuff sent @boingboing on Twitter might get spotted, please do not
send submissions via personal email or Twitter accounts! Every time you do this, a sniper takes out a unicorn.
(Illustration by the awesomely talented Nick Foster.)
I am signing off as a BB guest blogger. It has been a great deal of fun to post here occasionally and I was very happy to contribute to a site I have been reading for years. Thanks to all the BB editors who write articles provoking thoughts, laughter, and outrage. Particular thanks to Rob Beschizza for helping me craft my pieces
and providing excellent layout work on a number of features.
I will still be a not-so-mild-mannered professor and continue my work with CAPL
to provide free, high quality, authentic images for the foreign language teaching community.
Most of all, I would like to acknowledge to support of my family of three amazing kids and my smokin' hot wife Christy. She is also a foreign language professor and I have never met someone who is simultaneously so intelligent and kind hearted. Much of my work owes a great deal to her support and critical eye. Sláinte!
(image: number of Boing Boing posts per month by author, click to see larger)
Having very recently celebrated Boing Boing's eleventh bloggaversary, we're releasing an update of our previous archival release of Boing Boing posts.
This time, we're releasing a 120.3MB XML file (38.3MB zip) of 63,999 posts for your parsing pleasure. The whole file is released under a Creative Commons license that allows you to noncommerically remix and distribute it in whole or in part -- go crazy!
The first time we released a dump like this, Andy "Waxy" Baio made this breakdown of our blogging activity. More recently, I've been toying with this data behind the scenes and finding some interesting things. We want to see what you can do with it!
Happy (belated) Bloggaversary to us, and thanks to all of you for sticking with us for so many years.
[Download the zipped XML file here]
Image: a few of the remixable design elements, via Wikimedia Commons
It's no secret that I love Wikipedia, which I consider one of the grandest and most radical social experiments of our time, and the very best example of what the free culture movement offers for the world's future. I even love Wikipedia critics. There's nothing I love more than to improve an article after some whiny-baby complains about its quality with a copypasta example. For instance, novelist Jonathan Lethem was bagging on "the infinite regress of Wikepedia [sic] tinkering-unto-mediocrity" the other day. Too bad The Atlantic has no way for readers to fix that typo in the way I updated the article on Blake Edwards' cult classic The Party, which was the object of Lethem's scorn. He seems to miss the point that an encyclopedia article, even one about a screwball comedy, is supposed to be dry, factual, and not especially screwball. Just the facts, ma'am. I also love that his snapshot of the page is no longer that relevant.
In the past I have discussed Wikibumps (like the spike of a million readers who checked out the Salvia article in the week after the Miley Cyrus bong video) and the Click to Jesus game, where you see how few links it takes to get from a random Wikipedia article to the Jesus article. Here are a couple of other good reasons to love Wikipedia and its sister projects which you may not have seen:
• Best of Wikipedia Tumblr page
• Raul's Laws, possibly the best and wonkiest explanation of how Wikipedia works
• Commons Picture of the Year contest winners
I hope you'll swing by, learn some things, maybe improve something (they even have a secure server option). There is still plenty to do, and it will never be completed. At the very least, just marvel at the possibilities for the future of free culture embodied in the project. What are some of your favorite things about it? Please share in the comments.
Frank Chimero makes fun of some of our most cheesy post titles. Merlin Mann elaborates: Boing Boing is "auguring the deliberate perversion of [our] talent in the service of gavaging a profitable but pathologically undemanding audience."
Oh my God, not gavaging! But we're not without our defenders. Speaking of which, if The Awl is not on your daily reading list, you're just not on the Internet yet.
It's true that much here links daily to cultural ephemera, often dozens of times a day. But I'd like to make sure you read some of the awesome original features, blog posts, stories and galleries that we've published lately, including work by some very talented writers. Evidently, these are easy to miss!
Yakuza 3 played, reviewed and fact-checked, by the Yakuza.
The Last Hospice
Seen not heard: how obscure security makes school sucks
Caught Sleeping: Jason Rohrer's latest story
Hajj for Heathens
Less talk, mess rock: The native language of video games
is neither spoken nor written
Being Dead in Pittsburgh
Making the Unreal Real
Death in Space and Cassini: Trip Reset
That Sinking Feeling
Neo-Minimalism and the Rise of the technomads
Leaking Secrets, Leaking Blood
30 mosques in 30 days
Portraits of the Mind
The inner life of Furries
Nomen Ludi (fiction)
Totally awesome space colonies
Charting the frozen continent
I'm particularly proud of Maggie's item on Gliese581g, which went up in this form while others were still blogging the breaking news: Potentially habitable exoplanet discovered. Shame it doesn't exist, lol.
These and more are at our features page. We've also produced hundreds of original video episodes (YouTube channel).