Boing Boing 

Strengthening neighborhoods with ... Facebook!

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Facebook gets a bad rap, but where I live, it has brought neighbors together, and it started because of the things I didn't want to share.

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Relaxing with scientists

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When the Congressional Science committee wants to talk about the cold weather, and when NASA has to defend their budget by explaining why NASA is important, it can make people who believe in facts... a bit tense.

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DIY casting calls

via http://castingcallwoe.tumblr.com/page/4

Casting Call Woe Tumbler

Acting is a crappy business, but the world needs actors, and since we live in a time when digital production and distribution has democratized filmmaking, anyone can be a casting director. Exhibit A is a new tumblr, Casting Call Woes, which has netted a foul-smelling collection of ripe ones from the sea of DIY casting calls.

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Apple Watch will have to nail heart rate

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When Apple releases Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport in April, expectations will be high. Today, over a dozen watches attempt to monitor heart rate through the wrist, using optical sensors to judge changes in blood flow, but only a few actually work well. It's a tricky engineering problem. Comb the reports of the most thorough gadget reviewers, and you'll see that many of Apple's competitors simply don't have their sensors quite working. The watches stop monitoring if the user is cold or moving around (which can sometimes happen in sports.)

Imagine getting to work Monday morning and a project manager demands that you reverse-engineer a difficult technology in a newly minted field. Optical heart rate feels a little like light-bulb filaments in the 1870s: everyone's trying to find a long-lasting one, only a few have the answer. In wearable products, the pulse is an important data stream to power a lot of advanced features.

To date, several companies have completely figured out optical heart rate monitoring for wearables, including Mio and Valencell. Will Apple join them in April, or will its users discover a finicky and imperfect version?

Hose clamps are a billion-dollar business

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One of the most versatile tools and fasteners is the humble hose clamp, invented in 1921 and marketed as the Jubilee Clip. Besides their intended uses in plumbing and automotive, they can be used to fix an exhaust, fasten parts on a bike, and make DIY camera parts. I've used them in prototyping: for instance, quickly holding together parts for a rainwater pump.

Who knew that hose clamps were such big business? Not one, but two reports recently came out on this growing segment: "Global Hose Clamps Market Size, Trends, Forecasts, Market Research Report 2015" and "Global Hose Clamps Industry Report 2015". They both make for exciting reading, through of course, not as gratifying as the masterwork, "The 2009-2014 Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats in Greater China".

NYPD buying nationwide car surveillance database for about half a million bucks

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The NYPD is paying $442,500 for a three-year subscription to Vigilant Solutions' database of 2.2 billion license plate images of cars across America, according to Ars Technica. Advocates in law enforcement say the tool will help find suspects faster. Privacy advocates contend it could dramatically increase the police's ability to catalog and predict the movements of everyday Americans.

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Schools with makerspaces rule. This librarian tells you how build them.

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Renowned expert on makerspaces in school libraries, Laura Fleming, has written a great post about her experience embracing serendipity with curious students. In her class, she passed out some brain-computer-interface gadgets and let kids come up with their own applications. The results were surprising. One student is developing his own technology to help an autistic sibling communicate better.

Fleming's book comes out this month, called Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School. It sounds a little too educator-focused for me, but it's likely a must-have for anyone involved in high-school STEM.

My favorite passage in Fleming's post is about the role of serendipity in making, and seems to get at a lightening-in-a-bottle quality that fires all good invention:

Serendipity is quickly becoming an important component in establishing a vibrant maker culture. As creative producers, students can take an experimental path to solving problems or creating things [without] an imposed curriculum or the pressure of satisfying someone else’s preconceived objectives, but instead influenced by personal goals and interests.

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Snail and slug tape is great for electronics projects

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Whether you're trying to quiet the hum on your old single coil Strat or Telecaster, or create a DIY wireless charging station for your phone, the copper tape sold to repel pests from the garden is an inexpensive and easy-to-manipulate material for the job.

slug_tape2 By the way, slugs actually do HATE copper tape, evidenced by a 2004 paper ("Behavioural response of slugs and snails to novel molluscicides, irritants and repellents") in which scientists placed snails and slugs in little time trails. Citing a slowed pace of .5 centimeters per minute, they concluded that the "copper significantly reduced the velocity of snails."

Apparently the whole copper-slug thing is an urgent question to some people. I admire this guy's testing setup: slugs

15th-Century supervillain

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This devil was painted between 1471 and 1475 by Austrian Michael Packer. The 40-by-35-inch altarpiece portrays the legend in which Saint Wolfgang reached out to old scratch for assistance in building a cathedral. But if you replaced the book with an iPad Air 2, it could be any design consultation between a homeowner and contractor.

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Via Rob's Webstek.

Great life advice from neon bassist

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Sure, the bassist who calls himself MonoNeon does a masterful accompaniment of the Jones Big Ass Truck Rental & Storage ads. But the real gem here is his manifesto at the end. I'll transcribe it below for clarity, because it's honestly very useful and freeing. (Maybe not the thing about the high-visibility clothing.) It doesn't matter if you're not a musician; make appropriate substitutions for things like "southern soul/blues/funk." The principles apply broadly.

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• Write your own vision and read it daily

• Have the southern soul/blues & funk at the bottom and the experimental/avant-guard at the top . .. (YOUR SOUND!)

• Make your life audible daily with the mistakes . . . the flaws . . . er' thang.

• Understand and accept that some people are going to like what you do and some are going to dislike it . .. when you understand and accept that dichotomy . . . move on!

• Embrace bizarre juxtapositions (sound, imagery, etc)

• Conceptualize art. Minimalism.

• Polychromatic color schemes. High-visibility clothing.

• DIY!

• Childlike.

• Reject the worldly idea of becoming a great musician . . . JUST LIVE MUSIC!

The dystopian future of quantified babies

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A group of design students from a Swedish university published an insightful academic paper last year spoofing all the baby health trackers now pitched to parents. The trackers measure things like a baby's breathing rate, heart rate, and sleep, and are made by startups including Mimo Baby, Owlet, Sproutling, and Monbaby.

Is this fear mongering for new moms? Or will these devices actually offer valuable data on infants? I think it's too early to tell. But the paper does a good job of critiquing the design pitfalls of the user experience. It argues such devices could needlessly raise anxiety and remove intuition from parenting.

There's a cool hand-drawn storyboard of a new mom deciding not to go the park with Johnny after she binges on biometric data:

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Also, a good rendering of an epidemiological map overlay that would show all the kids in your neighborhood suffering from excessive booger:

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The beauty of an energy-free treadmill

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I've been coveting the world’s best manual treadmill, the EcoMill ($7,000). But until I have a spare seven grand, I have to run with conventional electric mills. Most use a lot of juice -- between 800 and 1800 watts continuously -- because they have ot lock down a consistent pace with a low-cost mechanism.

At a sleepy little gym and pool complex here in Vermont, on a conventional electric machine this week, the current was so high it overloaded a nearby stereo receiver playing upbeat pop music for a water aerobics class. All of a sudden, seven wet, angry seniors swarmed from the pool. Encircled by bright floaties, they demanded I quit running so the music would come back on. I tried to explain the concept of a blown fuse and how treadmills use high wattage because they can’t rely on the friction like spin bikes and how the world really should invent a cheap electricity free mill. But at that only enraged them, and they gripped the handrails and rocked the machine side to side.

I really want my own EcoMill for the house. Or maybe a human-sized hamster wheel.

 

Don’t video your friends running -- it’s intellectual property theft

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Sports fans visiting huge coliseums are fairly accustomed to having their YouTube videos of the game removed. Expensive sports tickets typically contain prohibitions against shooting vids in the venue (and that’s a debate in itself). But shots of everyday people huffing and puffing over grass in a public space? Come on. A new policy by the nation’s largest running organization -- USA Track and Field -- nixes YouTube clips shot at the races it organizes, most of which are casual amateur events.

When a small running club (of which I’m a member) had its footage removed from YouTube and then called to ask why, the track and field association responded by comparing themselves to the NBA and saying the offending shots (of awkward running people) infringed on its intellectual property assets. The video in question has been linked in this article on the ordeal (Trigger Warning: endless shots of running followed by frank depictions of people dancing badly at some afterparty.)

Amazons with a Cause

Why are women first to pay for every crisis? In every society, capitalist, socialist, or transition? It's because the bodies of women are expendable.

I always noticed how women over eighty in Turin looked incredibly well, beautiful and loved and taken care of: desirable, because old and valuable. I connected this to Italy's long-established and sophisticated health care system. Italian hospitals were famous for methods which preserved the dignity of the patients, in tumor cures, especially breast cancer: the "invisible mastectomy" was invented in Milan. Rather than simply intervening in crisis, they were good at illness prevention and attentive follow-ups.

The economic crisis and financial harassment of Italy has reached this safe haven of health and dignity. In Turin, one of the best clinics for cure and prevention of breast cancer is about to be closed. The patients are on the streets, their appointments cannot be scheduled, they are paying for their urgent operations because their doctors cannot help them. The doctors are on the streets too.

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The Likes of Me: a dispatch from Jasmina Tesanovic

"Lunchtime at Rosa House, a woman-run shelter in Zagreb, Croatia. Photo by Center for Women War Victims. From "The Suitcase: Refugee Voices from Bosnia and Croatia."

A couple of days ago, the two former members of the Croatian military won a "not guilty" sentence in the Hague international war crime tribunal.

   I was not present in the general headquarters of the Croatian army while they were deciding on their "Operation Storm" action of 1995.  I don't know if the telephone rang there.  I also don't know if President Bill Clinton personally told them to go ahead with the largest land offensive since World War II, because the CIA would help.  That is what certain Serbian newspapers published recently.

     I have a remarkable lack of knowledge about world paramilitary conspiracies, secret chambers in the Vatican,  mysterious double-agents doing their jobs badly. Generally, the things I know are in the public domain, because  people said these things publicly and I took notes, or because I was just personally standing there.

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My night with the International Space Orchestra: Jasmina Tesanovic


The International Space Orchestra in front of Vacuum Chambers, NASA Ames Research Center. Photo: Neil Berrett.

I never dreamed I would be in a NASA base in California, singing and playing music.

The Ground Control Opera performance by Nelly Ben Hayoun, presented the International Space Orchestra, 50 local technicians and scientists, playing in the city of San Jose at the Zero1 Biennial 2012. The opera reenacts the first minutes of Neil Armstrong's landing on the Moon. It's dedicated to the memory of the recently gone cosmonauts and astronauts, and the endeavors of scientists at ground-control stations, still trying to make our 20th century dreams of spaceflight come true.

My daughter asked me when she mis-heard that I was singing for "NASA": Mom why are you singing to "NATO?" NATO bombed us in Serbia in 1999! I said my dear this is NASA, not NATO, they have planes and rockets but not bombers and missiles! They are searching for habitable planets with the Kepler space probe! Maybe there are other space controllers somewhere out there!

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Titanic Tales: The Costa Concordia

Photo: An oil removal ship is seen next to the Costa Concordia cruise ship as it ran aground off the west coast of Italy at Giglio island, January 16, 2012. Over-reliance on electronic navigation systems and a failure of judgement by the captain are seen as possible reasons for one of the worst cruise liner disasters of all time, maritime specialists say. (REUTERS/ Max Rossi)

When I read hastily the headlines on Jan 14—a shipwreck in Italy, seventy missing, three known dead—I immediately thought: it must be the Africans again. The refugees, the clandestine, the invisible, the nameless, the unwanted… Those "less-than-human" people coming from all over the world to the Italian coast, looking for a safe haven from dictatorships, from hunger.

My Somali Italian friend Suad, who works with her community In Italy now, urges her people in Somalia NOT to take that dangerous ride: even if you survive the trip, what waits for you in Italy can be fatal. Italy is in deep economic crisis today, on the verge of bankruptcy and social disorder. The new government struggling to remain a G8 power while the euro and United Europe are at stake. Italy also struggles to overcome a big moral value crisis after twenty years of Berlusconi's reign of sexism, racism, indolence and corruption.

But I was wrong about the Africans. It was a fancy cruise ship full of wealthy foreigners that wrecked unexpectedly near the island of Giglio.

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