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Simon writes, "I recently got a chance to interview and profile the people behind a collaboration between Smithsonian and the Harvard College Observatory who are crowdsourcing the transcription of logbooks for thousands of photographic plates. It's a massive undertaking that will give scientists access to a hundred years of astronomical data."
Read the rest
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Trevor from the Library of Congress writes, "The American Folklife Center at the LOC is inviting Americans participating in holidays at the end of October and early November to photograph hayrides, haunted houses, parades, trick-or-treating and other celebratory and commemorative activities to contribute to a new collection documenting contemporary folklife."
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We the Builders creates massive, 3D printed busts of the likes of George Washington by asking 3D printer owners to print out small pieces of the overall statue and then gloms them together in large, collaged pieces.
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Michael from Muckrock sez, "With a Freedom of Information Act request, MuckRock has received copies of two of the guides Homeland Security uses to monitor social media, one on standard procedures and a desktop binder for analysts. Now we're asking for help to go through it: See something worth digging into? Say something, and share it with others so we know what to FOIA next."
Read the rest
Artist/programmer Lauren McCarthy has undertaken an interesting experiment in networked romance called Social Turkers. McCarthy sets up dates with men using OK Cupid, and uses her phone to stream a live video feed of the outings to Amazon's Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform. The turkers observe the interaction and text realtime suggestions on what McCarthy should do in order to have an optimal date.
She's documented each date, and published the log of the turkers' commentary.
Read the rest
Read the rest
Two minor characters from my novel Makers have apparently come to life and written an article for 3D Printing Industry. These two people are patent lawyers for Finnegan IP law firm, Washington, DC, which I don't recall making up, but this is definitely a pair of Doctorow villains (though, thankfully, I had the good sense not to give them any lines in the book -- they're far too cliched in their anodyne evil for anyone to really believe in).
These patent lawyers are upset because the evil Makers (capital-M and all!) are working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to examine bad 3D printing patents submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office. The problem is that 3D printing is 30 years old, so nearly all the stuff that people want to patent and lock up and charge rent on for the next 20 years has already been invented, and the pesky Makers are insisting on pointing out this inconvenient fact to the USPTO.
This breaks the established order, which is much to be preferred: the UPSTO should grant all the bullshit patents that companies apply for. The big companies can pay firms like Finnegan to file patents on every trivial, stale, ancient idea and then cross-license them to each other, but use them to block disruptive new entrants to the marketplace. The old system also has the desirable feature of arming patent trolls with the same kind of bullshit patents so that they can sue giant companies and disruptive startups alike, and Finnegan can be there to soak up the tens of millions of dollars in legal fees generated by all this activity.
Can't these darned Makers understand? The point of a patent isn't to protect novel, useful inventions! It's to put the brakes on out-of-control innovation and to ensure that the children of the partners at Finnegan can go to a good college! What will happen to GDP if we divert money from the honest business of barratry and allow it to be squandered on making and selling stuff that people find useful?
The America Invents Act changed U.S. patent law to allow preissuance submissions, a mechanism by which third parties can submit patents or printed publications to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) for consideration during patent examination, along with “a concise description of the asserted relevance of each submitted document.” The U.S. Congress intended preissuance submissions to help the USPTO increase the efficiency of examination and the quality of issued patents. Congress did not, however, intend the use of this mechanism to interfere with patent examination. Nor did it intend preissuance submissions to allow for third party protest or preissuance opposition. Yet a segment of the 3D printing (3DP) community, known as Makers, is using preissuance submissions as a sword to oppose 3DP-related patent applications. Perhaps more importantly, they are leveraging the concept of crowdsourcing to do so, potentially creating problems for patent applicants everywhere.
To understand why and how Makers are mobilizing to challenge patents through presissuance submissions, one must first understand what 3DP is, and the composition of the 3DP community. 3D printing—more formally known as additive manufacturing—is a technology that creates three dimensional objects from CAD files. There are many legacy and emerging 3DP technologies. Generally, 3DP works by fusing layer upon layer of materials, such as plastics, powder metals, and ceramics, to build a final, fully formed product, much as Athena sprung full-blown from the head of Zeus. This process requires a digital 3D model of the product, stored in a CAD file, and a 3D printer. Digital product models can be obtained by either (1) designing the product with a CAD program; (2) downloading an existing CAD file from the Internet; or (3) scanning an existing product with a 3D scanner to create a CAD file. Further, almost anyone can buy a 3D printer today; they are sold through Skymall and at Staples. Where 3DP was once cost prohibitive for most, ‘prosumer’ and home printers are now available at reasonable prices.
(via Beyond the Beyond)
(Images: Caricature of William Otto Adolph Julius Danckwerts, Caricature of Charles Russell, Leslie Ward/Vanity Fair/Wikimedia Commons)
Marijke Visser from the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy writes with this provocative question:
What could a library do with a gigabit broadband connection? What kinds of services could they do that they can’t without that big of a connection? Thinking way away from the typical services libraries offer now, what are some really big ideas that would need that much connectivity? These services could happen outside the library walls, in relationship to other community organizations and/or government agencies… How would a library hooked up to a gig benefit its community?
Nicholas from the Participatory Culture Foundation sez,
Today our open subtitling platform Amara.org ("a wikipedia for subtitling video") is launching free crowd subtitling for every YouTube user. Want to make your videos accessible to people around the world who speak a different language? Want deaf and hard of hearing users to be able to watch? We hope you do! Just connect your YouTube account to Amara and invite your viewers to help.
Viewers from around the world are in the best position to help translate the video in their language and get you more viewers. Any moderately popular YouTube video will get lots of viewer subtitling help.
Amara's volunteer community is getting big-- some Khan Academy videos on Amara are translated into almost 100 languages! Want to watch Gangam Style in Esperanto? Amara has it. Twitter uses Amara to subtitle their product launch videos, Netflix uses Amara to subtitle movies and tv shows, and TED Talks has more than 11,000 volunteers in their Amara translation community.
If you post any videos to YouTube, Amara.org is how you can enable the world to watch!
(Disclosure: I am a proud volunteer on the Participatory Culture Foundation's Board of Directors)
Update: Drat. It really looks like this is going to be impossible. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with offers and suggestions, but it just won't happen. Sorry about this -- and sorry, New Mexico, I tried!
On the other hand, there is a slightly later flight out of Phoenix that would work, but there's no way to get to PHX in time to make it... Unless you happen to be or know a pilot who wants to help out by zipping me from Albuquerque to Phoenix that night. I can offer a signed super-limited edition of my short story collection With a Little Help, a signed copy of Homeland, and a $100 donation to the southwestern library or literacy charity of your choice in return. Tor will also pick up your fuel costs.
Unfortunately, the alternative is canceling the Albuquerque stop, which I really don't want to do. I've never been to Albuquerque, and was looking forward to it, especially since I know that the nice folks at Alamosa Books really worked hard to get me in. It's a long shot -- everyone else was ready to give up on this when I suggested trying to find a pilot. But the southwest is full of retired pilots, and it's the kind of big sky country where hobby fliers sometimes congregate, so I thought it'd be worth a shot.
Are you game? Please email my publicist, Patty Garcia. Please use the comments below to let me know if I've overlooked another possibility, but please keep in mind that the morning event in NYC can't be moved, and neither can the event the day before. In other words, this is the only night I can appear in Albuquerque, and Alamosa is the only place I can appear.
One more thing, and it should go without saying: I can only accept a ride from a qualified pilot with an up-to-date license and an airworthy, certified aircraft, and we reserve the right to gratefully decline your offer if we're even a little uncertain about either of these facts. I promised my wife I wouldn't risk my life on this tour.
(Image: Stearman Bi-Plane, Jack Herlihy, Pilot, 1929, PA1968.1.39, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from abqmuseumphotoarchives's photostream)
Jeremy sends us the Pop Up DIY Workshop Bicycle Trailer, "a venue that a bicycle can tow and fold down. Can host everything from workshops to gigs. The creators are crowdsourcing its production with rewards ranging from Homebrew beer to Gocco prints."
The original design created by Matias Chadwick and Nick Ovens, responds directly to my original concept. It needed to be lightweight, compact, demountable, easy to assemble, offer shade and seating and be changeable to suit different community needs. The bicycle and materials fit inside the box, and can be taken across country as checked baggage allowing for affordable national and worldwide project destinations.
The Pop Up Trailer is primarily designed to accommodate workshops in zine / independent publishing, bike maintenance, stencilling, gardening and any other kind of skill share workshops that we find passion for.
Young mutant is reunited with plush Fin Fin, the discontinued 1996 Fujitsu mascot, all thanks to Boing Boing readers
Back at the start of December, I posted Edwin Gore's plea for a plush Fin Fin to replace his grandson's beloved, and lost, toy. You folks came through, and this Christmas, a young mutant was reunited with his long-lost chum, all thanks to you. Edwin says, "Last night my grandson was reunited with his beloved Fin Fin, along with a surprise extra, all thanks to the readers of Boing Boing. Several commenters had asked for video, and since the comments are closed on the original article, I thought I would send this along. Thanks again Boing Boing!"
A reader writes, "Some BDSM enthusiasts have apparently taken over a science surplus website's tagging system to list popularly repurposed science/lab items. I suspect the website's creators did not have that in mind when they 'went social'."
Well yes, but it's also a timely reminder that American Science and Surplus is a trove of pure, unadulterated awesome, at reasonable prices, the kind of thing that makes great gifts for the kinky and non-kinky alike.
"Once lymphedema develops, it is permanent," says my friend Dr. Deanna Attai, a breast surgeon in Burbank, CA. "Physical therapy can help minimize swelling and other complications, but there is currently no cure. Early recognition and prompt treatment definitely makes a difference." Read the rest
Read the rest
Human.io is the new thing from Joshua Schachter, founder of bookmarking site del.icio.us. This time, however, he's not suggesting you share your travels with a few friends—he's suggesting that you turn them into an army.
"If you want to build a flash mob, but have it actually do something useful, this is your API," Schachter said. "It lets you invite your audience to become part of the action."
The concept—developed by Paul Rademacher, creator of legendary Craigslist/Google Maps mashup Housingmaps, and Nick Nguyen, formerly of Yahoo and Mozilla—is straightforward enough: Human.io is a platform for performing "micro-tasks".
First, you publish a simple, crowdsourceble activity, such as voting on something, going to a particular location, or taking photos—anything that might be accomplished with a smartphone's UI and its sensors. Then you tell your readers, followers or friends about it. They start the app, get cracking, and, finally, the results are sent back to you.
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Peter sez, "This blog entry describes how Alan Rice, a student in Ireland, became suspicious about some of the photos displayed as 'Live psychics' to be called at €2.44/min on Irish TV. He used image searches to find photos of some of the 'psychics' on stock photo sites. Other people chipped in and..."
Psychic Pat was in fact a bought stock photo! I quickly tweeted about this and from that I was pointed to the boards.ie thread about the show where I posted the same photos. Things certainly took off from there and some wonderful people there started finding pretty much all the psychics listed on their website from various places around the internet including, from what I gather, a personal Flickr photo. It really begs the question who are you talking to? And in some cases from what I’ve read you only get through to a hold message.
Not only are these “psychics” giving out random pieces of information based on any detail they get from a caller they are exploiting some really vulnerable people who are desperately seeking hope for their current situation. In the brief time I watched last night there was even a call about a missing son for Christ’s sake!
How on earth can TV3 let this deplorable scam be aired and stand over this? It must be stopped from broadcasting and the money (€60 in some cases) returned to the callers.
London's Metropolitan Police have produced an app called Facewatch ID that is billed as a crowdsourcing tool for identifying suspects shown in stills from CCTV footage of last summer's riots. But the 2,800 riot images also include "a further 2,000 images of people wanted by the police for offences not connected to the riots." From the BBC:
Assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, head of specialist crime and operations at Scotland Yard, said: "This is a great opportunity for the public to help us fight crime and bring those who remain outstanding to justice.
"My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smartphones will download this app, and help us identify people we still need to speak to.
"We need Londoners to browse through the app every week or so as new images will appear regularly. This is a fantastic way for Londoners to help us to fight crime."
Our Avram takes to Making Light to tell the remarkable story of a model who found herself sitting next to a lecherous married man on an airplane, and who crowdsourced a name-and-shame campaign for him on Twitter that uncovered his identity. Avram makes the point that this is more science fictional than most science fiction:
Ms Stetten is a twenty-something model living in New York (though possibly not a native). Yesterday she was on a plane when the fellow sitting next to her, wearing a wedding ring, tried hitting on her. She turned him down, and tweeted about it. He kept at it.
Over the course of the conversation, Brian mentioned not just his first name, but also that he’s an actor, and born in Oklahoma. Eventually he brought up that he’d just been working on a project with Matthew McConaughey, and that’s all it takes nowadays. Inside a minute, one of Stetten’s followers had found him on the IMDB.
Things got worse for Brian from there — lied about his marriage, turned out to be lying about being “clean and sober”, etc. The story’s been picked up by a Hollywood gossip site, so I imagine he’s got some ’splainin’ to do back home. I’m interested in this not so much for the sake of schadenfreude about some actor I’d never heard of (although it is fun) as for the implications for science fiction. How much have you read recently that gives you that glimpse of the possibilities of heavily networked societies? How many authors (other than Charlie Stross) are really writing about the possibilities of a crowd-sourced panopticon? And how many are still living in the ’70s?
Floydwebb sez, "I was covered by Boing Boing when I was challenged by the Black Dragon Fighting Society in a fight over my fair use right in making this film. I am in the final days of the Kickstarter Campaign. After 7 years, 4 countries, and with a 3 year court battle behind me, I really need the global community's help to complete this project."
Count Juan Raphael Danté is a forgotten pioneer—and oft considered father of mixed martial arts. He masterminded one of the largest cash heists in history, styled hair at the Playboy Club, and sold used cars in mob-run Chicago, on the side. I met the man behind the urban legend in 1964, at the 2nd World Karate Tournament, when I was a bullied 11 year old child living in a Chicago housing project. Now I'm telling his all-true but still unbelievable story, with a feature-length documentary film, entitled "The Search for Count Dante."
Matt Richardson's "Descriptive Camera" sends your pictures to Amazon's Mechanical Turk and jobs out the task of writing a brief description of each image, then outputs the text on a thermal printer. It's a camera that captures descriptions, not pictures.
The technology at the core of the Descriptive Camera is Amazon's Mechanical Turk API. It allows a developer to submit Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) for workers on the internet to complete. The developer sets the guidelines for each task and designs the interface for the worker to submit their results. The developer also sets the price they're willing to pay for the successful completion of each task. An approval and reputation system ensures that workers are incented to deliver acceptable results. For faster and cheaper results, the camera can also be put into "accomplice mode," where it will send an instant message to any other person. That IM will contain a link to the picture and a form where they can input the description of the image.
The camera itself is powered by the BeagleBone, an embedded Linux platform from Texas Instruments. Attached to the BeagleBone is a USB webcam, a thermal printer from Adafruit, a trio of status LEDs and a shutter button. A series of Python scripts define the interface and bring together all the different parts from capture, processing, error handling, and the printed output. My mrBBIO module is used for GPIO control (the LEDs and the shutter button), and I used open-source command line utilities to communicate with Mechanical Turk. The device connects to the internet via ethernet and gets power from an external 5 volt source, but I would love to make a another version that's battery operated and uses wireless data. Ideally, The Descriptive Camera would look and feel like a typical digital camera.
Michael Geist sez,
Canada Post has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Geolytica, which operates GeoCoder.ca, a website that provides several geocoding services including free access to a crowdsourced compiled database of Canadian postal codes. Canada Post argues that it is the exclusive copyright holder of all Canadian postal codes and claims that GeoCoder appropriated the database and made unauthorized reproductions.
GeoCoder, which is being represented by CIPPIC, filed its statement of defence yesterday. The defence explains how GeoCoder managed to compile a postal code database by using crowdsource techniques without any reliance on Canada Post's database. The site created street address look-up service in 2004 with users often including a postal code within their query. The site retained the postal code information and gradually developed its own database with the postal codes (a system not unlike many marketers that similarly develop databases by compiling this information). The company notes that it has provided access to the information for free for the last eight years and that it is used by many NGOs for advocacy purposes.
While GeoCoder makes for a fascinating case study on generating crowdsourced information, the legal issues raised by the case should attract widespread attention. Key issues include whether there is any copyright in postal codes, questions on whether Canada Post owns copyright in the database if there is copyright, and a denial that the crowdsourced version of the database - independently created by GeoCoder - infringes the copyright of the Canada Post database.
Last Monday, I spoke to the Boston Skeptics about energy, infrastructure, and my new book, Before the Lights Go Out. After that talk, I met Erik "Skippy" Sund, a guy who is about to embark on an amazing adventure that he's hoping to crowd-source.
Erik is planning on traveling across the United States by train. His itinerary starts in Boston, heads south to Florida, west to Texas, up to Colorado and west to California, north to Washington, and the back East, through Illinois and and Ohio. It's not a commuter trip. It's not even like my recent train experience—where I chose to choo-choo directly home from a conference in Vancouver. Instead, Erik is trying to recreate the American travel epic, a story as old as the founding of this country.
The impetus behind this trip consists of some assumptions about the way we have come to travel the world around us.
1. Traveling is simply the utilitarian process of getting from point A to point B and is not regarded significantly as an event in itself. I hope to flip this assumption by showing the benefits of choosing a transportation method that encourages a greater interconnectedness with fellow passengers and the environment.
2. We accept that in the United States we have freedom of movement. As a developed country this implies access to a well organized, affordable and user-friendly transportation infrastructure. I intend to explore the infrastructure and see how it affects the lives of travelers. In particular I will be traveling frugally and in a minimalist nature, taking only 2 carry on bags and riding coach.
3. American cultural identity is forever in flux and can only be defined by its point of observation in time through sharing personal stories.
Along the way I will be interviewing people, recording observations and conversations. I hope to collect, curate, circulate, and communicate every detail of this trip. Once the trip is finished I will start process for editing the blog as a book. As soon as that is ready I will post the books as a .pdf available under creative commons licensing to the blog. After that I will be doing a print-on-demand run of the book for interested parties.
A side project on this trip will to be create a series of fictitious travel stories a Crowd Sourced Narrative. This will either be compiled as a novel, a series of short stories, or as a compilation of ideas available for public use.
It's an interesting and ambitious project. Erik thinks he needs about $5000 to make it happen. If you're interested, you can donate to the project through Indiegogo. One of the best rewards comes with a $50 donation: A piece of random, weird, wonderful Americana mailed to you from a whistlestop, somewhere during Erik's travels. Awesome!
Read more on Erik's Posterous, where he's blogging his plans for the trip.
Robert sez, "The gamified EyeWire project, now in open beta, is about using human computation to help trace the neurons in a retina. Tracing the neurons will help nail down the computation that goes on inside the retina leading up to the optic nerve, and lead to better methods of brain mapping. Come and help explore the eye's jungle!"
Game 1: Reconstructing Neurons
The first step of the challenge is to reconstruct the tree-like shapes of retinal neurons by tracing their branches through the images. You will accomplish this by playing a simple game: helping the computer color a neuron as if the images were a three-dimensional coloring book. The collective efforts of you and other players will result in three-dimensional reconstructions of neurons like this. Playing the game does not require any specialized knowledge of neuroscience — just sharp eyes and practice. If you like, you can stop reading this page, and proceed to detailed instructions for the game here or simply start playing. On the other hand, if you’d like to know more about the scientific plan, read on.
Game 2: Identifying Synapses
Reconstructing neurons involves tracing their branches, which are like the “wires” of the retina. This by itself is not enough for finding connectomes; we also need to identify synapses. This kind of image analysis will be accomplished through another game that will be introduced on this website in the near future. The identification of synapses will involve subtleties, due to limitations of the dataset, as will be discussed in detail later on.
Rules of Connection
Playing either of the above games will produce information that will be valuable for understanding how the retina functions. How exactly will the information be used? To answer this question, we should confront the issue of variability. We expect that every retina will be wired somewhat differently. In that case, would mapping the connections in one retina tell us anything that is applicable to other retinas? We expect that retinal connectomes will obey invariant rules of connection, and it is these rules that really interest researchers. Many of the rules are expected to depend on neuronal cell types, i.e., of the form “Cell type A receives synapses from cell type B.” Some such rules are already known, but the vast majority remain undiscovered.
EyeWire – Help Map the Retinal Connectome (Thanks, Robert!)
Dan Gillmor's next project, "Permission Taken" - the theory and practice of "going free" with your technology
Dan Gillmor has posted the outline of "Permission Taken," a new project he's taken on to explain what he's gone through in his journey from using proprietary systems to open and free ones. Gillmor -- one of Silicon Valley's best-respected columnists -- is a sophisticated technology user, and he's always understood that there is value to going free/open, as well as costs in terms of learning how to do things differently. Over the years, Gillmor's experience with technology and technology companies started to tip the scales for him, so that the value outweighed the cost. "Permission Taken" is part philosophical treatise, part practical guide. It looks really interesting and incredibly useful. Dan sent me an earlier draft of this outline for comment and I was immediately impressed. Now, he's inviting public comment from everyone.
Not many years ago, I was a happy acolyte in the Church of Apple. I spent most of the day using a Macintosh laptop. I used an iPhone. I had a Facebook account with hundreds of “friends,” and used Google’s search engine almost exclusively. While I worried about misuse of my information by third parties, I didn’t do much about it. I was so in love with technology that I adopted the latest and greatest without considering the consequences.
I still love technology, and believe it plays a transformative role in our lives. But as I’ve learned more about how it works, and how powerful interests want it to work, the more I’ve realized the need to make some changes.
So, today, I’m writing this on computer running Linux, the free and open operating system. I own an Android smartphone, “hacked” to remove restrictions the manufacturer and carrier would prefer to impose. I have closed my Facebook account, and use search engines in much different ways. And I am much more cautious about what I’ll allow third parties to know about me and my activities.
By making these and many related choices, I have made parts of my life slightly less easy, or at least less convenient. But I have gained something more important: liberty. I use the devices I purchase as I choose; I decline to live in the increasingly restricted environments that so many technology and communications companies have imposed on their customers. And to the extent that I am able, I’m preventing snoops, corporate and governmental, from watching my every move without my consent. On balance, I believe, I’ve made my life better.
That’s why I’m doing this project: to help you make your own decisions.
Public Mapping Project (Thanks, Dave!)
The redistricting process is one of the most important -- yet least understood -- aspects of the US political system. It's full of smoke-filled back room dealmaking by political insiders with little public input. The result? Districts are often drawn by the policial parties themselves -- usually the majority party -- AKA gerrymandering. Because of this, district lines are altered by lawyers and politicians in ways that don't accurately reflect the citizens. It's a rigged process and the public has the power to get involved and keep government in check, but we need to first learn more about how it works.
The Public Mapping Project is an open-sourced software tool created to help the public better understand the redistricting process. It also enables users to make their own congressional maps which can be submitted to local government. Users as young as 10 have been drawing maps that are widely recognized to be better than proposals from the state. The tool was designed by Michael McDonald of George Mason University and Micah Altman of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at, Harvard.
Colleges and universities throughout the country are now using this software to launch student mapping competitions. For example, next month Fordham University will host a New York state redistricting competition where teams of students throughout the state will design their own congressional and state legislative districts. These maps will then be judged by a panel of experts, the winning ones sent to Albany for consideration.
Glyn from Open Rights Group sez, "The UK government is asking for you feedback on patent filings. Some applications have under 10 days remaining on the website and need your comments. So if you know of any prior art on Automatic document generator using templates; The Automatic or semi-automatic use of profile for a set top box; or any of the other patents on the system please provide feedback. If some thing is preventing you from providing feedback, please leave comments explaining the problem."