Boing Boing 

Strangely hypnotic mashups of ambient and live police radio

Mount_Royal_Montreal_Lookout-sm.jpg BB Submitterator idontlikewords mentioned the youarelistening.to websites last week, a soothing mix of police radio chatter and ambient music. Choose from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or my personal recommendation, Montréal. French police chat really blends into the music nicely. You may need to adjust the balance of each stream a bit to find the right mix.

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Image: Mount Royal Montreal Lookout by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

XKCD's radiation dose chart

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[click chart to embiggen] There has been much talk of radiation exposure levels in the news, and here on Boing Boing, this past week. But it can be hard to wrap your head around what those measurements mean, and how they compare to things you may have already experienced in life. Well, it was, until XKCD created this exceptionally helpful chart showing exactly how much radiation exposure you might encounter by doing something like flying from LA to NYC, getting a chest x-ray, hanging out at Chernobyl, living near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, or sleeping next to another human being. This rules.

RDTN.org: crowdsourcing and mapping radiation levels

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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."

If Meat Loaf had a son who did Rebecca Black covers...

...It would be a lot like the Matt Mulholland version of the execrable "Friday." Whenever that song goes back in my head, Matt's version pulls me back from the brink of insanity. Thank you Matt, for proving turd-polishing is not a lost art. Video link. (PS: Sorry for breaking the BB press blackout on she who must not be named.)

Ten Sexy Ladies

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You might know Joshua Allen from the Twitter, where he posts hilariously (and not often enough) under the handle Fireland. Allen is one of the three or four people who make it seem possible that Twitter can spawn something like art. (Others? Tim Siedell, Adam Lisagor and Christian A. Dumais, the guy behind Drunk Hulk. That's my list. I'm sure you have yours.) Now, just to rub it in, he has a new project: Ten Sexy Ladies, in which he rates "everything ever, on a scale from one to ten sexy ladies." And when Allen says "everything ever," you better believe that's exactly what he means. Here he is on "This Thing of ChapStick":

Come closer, mon petit chou. I have generously applied deodorant that smells like a lumberjack fresh out of a clear mountain stream. I have swished mouthwash until it burned my gums like a sexual fire. I didn't floss because come on, really? But I did shave. Everywhere. And I got in there real good with a Q-tip. I am ready to receive your makeouts. (Rating: Two sexy ladies.)
Allen, who in real life is a writer living in Denver, is so prolifically funny that he makes me feel a little ashamed. The only comfort I can take is that sometimes his ratings are, like, way off. I mean, a mere "One sexy ladies" for pennies, which are so fantastically useful as to stagger the mind, as Allen himself admits?

Got chewed out by the boss? On your way out throw some pennies in the recycling bin. He'll be impressed with your lackadaisical approach to finance. This kid knows something I don't, he'll think later that night as he pays a woman to take a straight razor to his neck hair, slowly, so slowly, the only time he ever really feels anything.
Yeah. That's a Six Sexy Ladies right there. Four, minimum. Certainly no fewer than three.

The Silver Lake Badminton And Adventurers Club

[Video Link] - I've just stumbled across the pilot episode of The Silver Lake Badminton And Adventurers Club. I found it very amusing, and not just because I live in Silver Lake (a neighborhood in Los Angeles). From their brief history:

Founded in San Francisco in 1947 by Remi Boncœur, Sal Paradise, and Dean Moriarty, the organization that would become the Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club was originally intended to foster team building and leadership skills amongst intrepid young adventurers through the ancient sport of Badminton.

Headquartered in the Mission, the club boasted amongst its members, Brick Bradford, known for his long toss, shorthand, and jetpack. From the Deep South came the tag team of brute strength and graceful agility, Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski. Finally, there was legendary Tom Joad, who it was reputed, could handle a shuttlecock with more finesse than any player in the greater United States. Badminton appealed to the sporting mentalities of these founding members, but the exclusivity of shuttlecocks did not quench their thirst for the true bones of America. The answer came in the form of a murder, a murder that the adventurers followed down the coast.

The club is on twitter as well, where hopefully they'll announce more episodes soon! [Thanks Tara]

Nice survey of great title design

A Brief History of Title Design from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.

Last year, Pesco mentioned the new SXSW Title Design Competition. Ian Albinson's presentation video for this year's SXSW "Excellence in Title Design" competition screening summarizes a lot of the really good work in film (and some recent television), from Intolerance, to Enter the Void. Some good films to add to your watch list, too. Link has full list of titles. Video link.

Rejected by Bahrain

RTR2K0NX.jpgPhoto: Anti-government protesters' reflections are seen on a car that was hit by bullets during an operation by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military forces to remove protesters from Pearl Square in Bahrain, March 17, 2011. (REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan)

Bahrain awoke to a violent crackdown by police on demonstrators camped out at the country's iconic Lulu (Pearl) roundabout on Wednesday. That afternoon, I boarded a flight from Doha, Qatar to Bahrain, to see for myself what was unfolding in the island nation I once called home.

Hours later, I found myself on a flight back to Doha, without having been allowed to set foot out of Bahrain's airport in Muharraq.

The flight itself was quite uneventful. The plane - an Airbus A321, with a listed 177 passenger capacity - carried less than 30 people. A short line to immigration meant I was at the desk in minutes. Immigration officer asks, "Where are you coming from? Qatar? OK, 5 Bahraini Dinars."

Thumbing through my passport, he suddenly stops and looks me in the eye. "Wait, where are you from? Who do you work for? ... Please have a seat - over there." I can't be sure if it was the Iraq visa, the India visa, or the numerous Qatar & Saudi visas in my American passport he found suspicious. Or perhaps it was my telling him in Arabic that "my origin" is half Indian, half Hispanic.

So my wait began. There were quite a number of other people on the benches too. Anyone who'd arrived with the intention of driving across the King Fahad causeway into Saudi Arabia was being told they'd have to fly. There is a curfew in effect on Bahrain's main highway from 4pm-4am, and last I heard, the bridge to Saudi was closed indefinitely. This of course, due to the month-long protests against the government by opposition groups calling for democratic reforms, a constitutional monarchy and basic human rights.

After about an hour of waiting, and checking in a couple times to see if there was any problems, one of the immigration officers asked, "You used to work for Al Jazeera, right?"

Read the rest

I turned my 4-year-old daughter into a Dungeons & Dragons geek


I am a huge geek; my wife, however, is not. She, like Luke, could never be turned, so the responsibility for making sure our two little kids end up liking stuff like Star Wars, Tolkien, Final Fantasy, Doc Brown and, of course, D&D is on me.

I still play Dungeons & Dragons with mostly the same group with whom I played with twenty years ago, and game night at my house is as much a social gathering between old friends as it is about killing kobolds and orcs. So naturally, I wanted to hook my kids on D&D as well. They have always been fascinated with what goes on at a D&D game. They love the funny dice, the miniatures, the maps and the stories. I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I was running them through an adventure; I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

By the time my daughter was four, she was ready; she wanted to play. She'd roll dice and tell me that her miniature was attacking another miniature with its sword. She would invent stories about princesses in distress, and evil monsters walking through the woods. Without me doing much, she was already hooked. So I did what any dad would do: I tried playing D&D with her, only to find that no 4-year-old could grasp the complex rules that are part of D&D. While she understood how the game worked as far as telling stories went, the mechanical parts were too complex. So again, I did what any dad would do, I wrote a kids version of D&D for her: rpgKids.

rpgKids is a simple little role-playing game played with a 12- sided die and a regular 6-sided die. The rules are really basic; I made it easy for my daughter to grasp quickly, so we could quickly get to the stories we'd tell together. It's rules-light enough for her to grasp, yet still firmly a dice-based RPG, which makes her feel that she's really, really playing D&D with dad. Most importantly, what rpgKids has really done is bring us closer together.

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Note to self: Panda earthquake image not a fake, exactly

Dear Bill: You know that picture of the terrified giant panda clinging to a policeman's leg after the Japan earthquake? The one that, in the terrible early hours of this awful disaster, rocketed all over the Internet, landed on your screen and induced all sorts of anthropomorphic empathy on your part? It's not a fake, exactly; the image is real, but it's five years old, and was taken at a panda research center, and not in Japan but in China, and the guy isn't a policeman, he's a keeper, and it was feeding time, and the panda wasn't terrified but hungry. As you're contemplating the still-unfolding disaster, reserve a little brainpower to ponder on who puts this sort of misinformation out there at a time like this, and why. And try not to let it make you feel worse about this moment in history than you already do.

Losing Parental Control: Reducing the Struggle -- excerpt from Losing Control, Finding Serenity

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Shutterstock image by Larisa Lofitskaya

(The following is the second excerpt from Losing Control, Finding Serenity. Read the first excerpt. Read the second excerpt.)

Victoria never played soccer herself, but she became an avid fan of the sport in a short amount of time. Soccer brought out Victoria's competitive spirit. When her twelve-year-old son, Tim, made the all-star AYSO team, Victoria was only too happy to take him to the two weekday practices and the weekend games. Tim loved playing, and he worked hard to improve his game. He was making steady progress, but this was not fast enough for Victoria. In her mind, Tim was not trying hard enough. She believed that he needed to be more aggressive to reach the "next level." Nothing irked her more than to see another player beat her son to the ball.

And so Victoria, ever the controller, constantly pushed Tim to be more aggressive on the field. Her shouts could be heard above everyone else's. Tim complained to his mom that she was distracting him during the game. But this didn't deter her. During one important tournament game, Victoria loudly criticized Tim in front of the other parents for backing off some bigger opponents. Tim was so embarrassed that he walked off the field crying, right in the middle of the game. He told Victoria he didn't want to play anymore.

Unfortunately, such stories are all too common in childhood sports. To see what's really at stake, just go to a league game in almost any sport and witness who suffers most from a loss and who takes longer to get over it! Here's a clue: it is not the child.

Excessive parental control extends well beyond the playing field. It pervades the classroom, artistic performance, religious observance, childhood friendships, and social activities, all with equally troubling consequences.

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Killing Bill C-393 would be a facepalm of the highest possible order.

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Access to life-saving medicines is not a luxury, but a human right.
~Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
To me, the above statement is one of those things that sound like a no-brainer. Put another way, if I were to ask you whether you thought a person's income should determine whether they live or die from something like HIV/AIDS, then I think you would see that the answer is nothing but obvious. But here I am, in Canada, writing this post, because there is a very real danger that members of my government think that this isn't such an easy decision after all - that maybe wealth and business interests do matter when dealing with such ethical choices, and that there is a hierarchy where certain lives are worth more than others. Let me backtrack a bit, and provide a little context. I'd rather not write a rant, emotional and heart wrenching as this discussion can be - I'd prefer to rely on reason, and not on rhetoric. I want everybody to understand why this is an important issue, one that deserves coverage, and one that deserves our involvement. More importantly, I want everybody to understand why the right thing to do is obvious. To start, let me mention the letters and numbers that make up the label, "Bill C-393." Keep them in your head - at least for a moment. If you're the sort that prefers hearing at least a quick definition, then this one might work:
Bill C-393 aims to reform CAMR and make it easier for Canada to export affordable, life-saving, generic medicines to developing countries.
~Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
If you're thinking that this is a Canadian thing, then think again. Other rich countries are watching how Canada will behave. There's a few in Europe, and apparently even China is curious. In the U.S., the topic appears to be quenched, but the behaviour of the Canadian government could catalyze dialogue. And if you're not from a rich country? Well, you might actually have lives that will be affected by it, millions of lives even.

Read the rest

Fear: Control's Best Friend -- excerpt from Losing Control, Finding Serenity

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Shutterstock image by Bianda Ahmad Hisham

(The following is the second excerpt from Losing Control, Finding Serenity. Read the first excerpt.)

Flashback to November 2008. Breaking news: investor panic causes Bear Stearns to go belly-up in a few short days. Several weeks later Lehman Brothers goes under. The financial travails reported by the Wall Street Journal and CNN grow more alarming by the day. Huge IndyMac Bank is taken over by the Feds. Large European banks are on the verge of insolvency. Pundits use new and confusing financial vocabulary to describe some of the culprits: Derivatives. Credit default swaps. Mortgage-backed securities.

In short, we are in a full-blown credit crisis, the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression. No one knows when it will end, how bad it will get, or what to do. Everyone blames everyone else, citing a litany of contradictory reasons. Confusion, uncertainty, distrust, and fear abound. Our money may no longer be safe at our own banks. The government is forced to step in to bail out banks and pass emergency legislation that few understand.

Pervasive fear had also entered the life of Reese, a home painting contractor who was finally living the American dream. Three years ago Reese purchased a three-bedroom home with a 5 percent down payment and easy subprime financing. He soon added a swimming pool and outdoor recreation room to the home. He had both an investment account and a retirement account at a large brokerage firm and a savings account at a local bank. His daughter, Kim, just finished her second year of college. Life was good for Reese and his family at the start of 2008.

In the ensuing months, however, Reese took a big hit. The mutual funds and stocks in his brokerage accounts had dropped 35 percent in value. His house decreased 30 percent in value since the beginning of the year. Like many homeowners, he owed more than the house was worth. Moreover, his painting contracts were down 25 percent in October 2008, and November was looking worse. What home-owner wants to continue paying for a house in which he has no equity and when he feels his job may be in jeopardy? Reese cut back on personal and business expenses but was still losing money each month. And how could he tell his daughter that he could not pay next year's college tuition?

Read the rest

The Compulsion to Control: Book excerpt from Losing Control, Finding Serenity

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Control panel photo by Led Chatfield. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

(This is the first in a series of three excerpts from Losing Control, Finding Serenity.)

"Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper." -- Albert Einstein, interview, The Saturday Evening Post, October 26, 1929

Setting Limits is One Thing, But. . .

Life without control in some form would create havoc. Rigid control procedures are essential in such areas as science, medicine, and manufacturing, which require high degrees of efficiency and safety. Most societal and institutional forms of control -- laws, regulations, procedures, and the like -- are also important for our overall well-being and safety. Similarly, in interpersonal settings such as the workplace, the home, and the classroom, appropriate levels of control are necessary to assure productivity, education, and safety.

Most of us, however, feel the pressure to control all aspects of our lives. We take for granted that that's what we should be doing -- what we must be doing to survive. This goes beyond setting limits and standards, and often we don't even realize how far beyond we take it. How often do we stop to question how our compulsion to control may be harming us, whether at home with our children and family, at work, in our friendships, or in our leisure activities?

Young or old, male or female, rich or poor, teacher or preacher -- we all have the compulsion to control. Control is a deeply ingrained part of our human condition. Indeed, it underlies the entire fabric of society. Our workplaces are hotbeds for control as the "survival of the fittest" is played out through intimidation, deception, and the drive to get ahead at all costs. On the world stage, powerful nations control by imposing their values and forms of government on weaker nations. And, of course, war is all about control.

Social institutions of all kinds try to control. Religion is controlling when it tells us what and how we should believe, lest dire consequences come our way. The political arena is rife with control strategies. Misinformation about candidates is broadly disseminated to discredit them and change voters' minds. High-stakes bartering is employed to force through partisan legislation. On the home front, we control our partners and family by telling them what they should do and criticizing their choices. We control our friends by trying to change them. We even control in love by lavishing gifts and doling out kind words to court favor, crying to churn a lover's heart, pushing "hot buttons" to punish, and calculating when and how to bring sexual pleasure to our mate.

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Dead tree book kills copyright lawyer; he blames "the internet"

rubin-penguin.jpg Zick Rubin is a copyright/trademark lawyer who used to teach psychology. His work was notable enough to be cited in the The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology . Unfortunately, that book listed him as having died in 1997, as shown above. Wikia, the for-profit wiki farm, has a Psychology Wiki entry for Rubin which included his death date, citing the Penguin book. Rubin, still very much alive, was doing a little vanity Googling when he learned of his death. He sent a note to Wikia's Angela Beesley, who corrected the article, only to have it reverted. Rubin then wrote a New York Times piece blaming "the internet" for trying to kill him, currently one of their most e-mailed stories.

The New York Times loves stories claiming the internet is full of dopes who generate misinformation when they aren't stealing from others (see the epic Bill Keller/Arianna Huffington beef this week). Psychology Wiki, like the unrelated Wikipedia project, requires a reliable source for any disputed fact, but that is one of those things that's very hard for people outside of wiki-world to understand. Wikipedia's policy is verifiability, not truth. This simple rule is a cornerstone policy, one of the five pillars.

The editor who reverted Angela's change was following policy, though it would have been better to go the extra step and find one of the many reliable sources stating that Rubin has been above ground since 1997. The good thing about the internet is that these changes can be made quickly and easily. So I wrote him a nice proper Wikipedia article today, citing his Times Op-Ed and putting that content into the Creative Commons. So Psychology Wiki is corrected, he has a new Wikipedia entry, and the Penguin dictionary is... still floating around with its misinformation. Can't blame "the internet" any more.

Al Jazeera cameraman killed in Libya, in government ambush of news crew

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Al Jazeera has announced that one of its cameramen, Ali Hassan Al Jaber, was killed after a reporting team for the Arabic-language channel was ambushed by government forces near the town of Benghazi.

The news sparked an outpouring of emotion and support for the network and the slain cameraman.

Wadah Khanfar, the director general of the Al Jazeera Network, announced the death in broadcast remarks, saying "the network will not be silent after death of our cameraman" and would seek to prosecute the perpetrators.

Read a longer account, with archives of tweets from people close to the story, here.

Aftershock: A New Yorker on the dark side of Japan (eyewitness account of quake, from Tokyo)

[Photo: Citizens of Tokyo evacuate the city on train tracks, after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

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Using EXE files to create found audio

Turning data strings like DNA and what-not into audio can produce interesting results. YouTube user r2blend says, "If you import an EXE file into an audio program as audio data, you hear all kinds of cool stuff. The most awesome by far for me was MS Paint." Fisco130 then made a club remix of the MS Paint data audio. Wonder if any scans of great works of art contain secret music? Does malware translate to sad trombone sound, or Rick Astley? [Video link]

Pitch perfect comic parable about sustainability

stmatthew.jpg Just wanted to showcase this marvelous comic by Stuart McMillen (the cover of which you see above and is a nice nod to Hergé). It's called "St. Matthew Island" and asks: "What happens when you introduce 29 reindeer to an isolated island of untouched natural resources?" As a parable (humans being humans, and reindeer being reindeer), it does a great job of gently and effectively illustrating the issue of over consumption . St Matthew Island by Stuart McMillen

Interview with Ted Molczan, citizen satellite tracker

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

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Do It (Tomorrow)

My name is Bill, and I'm bad at GTD.

doittoday.jpgMany, many factors account for this -- let's call it a character flaw. But the biggest is probably this one: My utter inability (or maybe it's just an unwilingness) to see beyond what's right in front of me. This one failing has knocked the pins right out from under every GTD implementation I've ever looked at, and I've looked at 'em all. You know in the cartoons, when somebody's confused and words start circling his head? That's me with a new GTD app. Projects? Next tasks? Near-term goals? Far-term goals? Why, you're just talking gibberish!

doittomorrow.jpgThis may be why I've embraced Do It (Tomorrow), a dead-simple to-do app for iOS. (Free for the iPhone; a $1.99 universal version adds cloud sync.) Do It (Tomorrow) builds on -- or maybe it takes away from -- the work done by earlier apps like Put Things Off, a simplified sort-of-GTD client that allows you to schedule tasks for today or shove them off indefinitely. The trouble is, even that feels like too much work to someone like me. Here's the uncomplicated beauty of Do It (Tomorrow): It offers two choices: Do it today, or put it off for tomorrow. That's it. In reducing the vista of available time, it allows me to focus on only those things that really need doing right now, or close to it. Do It (Tomorrow) embraces the functioning part of my brain, which can see about 36 hours ahead, and doesn't bother with the rest. It's simple, good-looking and -- for me -- supremely functional.

Virtual Cafe opens to help New Zealand Earthquake victims

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The Christchurch cafe is a site where you can buy virtual items you might find in a coffee shop, from a $2 espresso to a $300 espresso machine. This is a creative and interesting way of raising aid donations: 100% of funds raised go directly to the community in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was hit hard by the earthquake last week. I love this idea, and would love to see this kind of thing catch on. It's an inspired way to encourage people to help out financially after a disaster.

Terminator hand will destroy you (in Rock Paper Scissors)

Forget beating Watson on Jeopardy. I just got dusted by The Terminator in Rock Paper Scissors. Skynet is nigh!

Can kickstarter be the savior of indy comic books?

GeekDad's Dave Banks explores the current state of indie comic's with New Brighton Archeological Society co-creator and writer Mark Andrew Smith.
New_Brighton_Archeological_Society.jpg.jpgFinally, here was an all ages graphic novel that treated kids intelligently and was really entertaining at the same time. So we were surprised to see that the sequel was going to require some Kickstarter funding to get going. Surely a critical darling like The New Brighton Archeological Society didn't need funding to get off the ground, did it?

Unfortunately, as with many creators in the indie scene, the answer from Mark and co-creator Matthew Weldon, is a resounding YES. "We're eight thousand dollars in the red on The New Brighton Archeological Society Book One for coloring and lettering costs... We front the cost of producing the book and promoting the book. The publisher (Image Comics) prints it and the distributor (Diamond) distributes it... In the model we're publishing under, we're the last to recoup."

The recent fundraising success of Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl and others has made Brooklyn-based Kickstarter a game changer in the world of comics -- providing micro-financing to projects that wouldn't otherwise get made in this current state of shifting business models and economic woes.

Support Mark and Matthew! You can donate to the NBAS Kickstarter project and help bring the much anticipated sequel to reality. Or buy the first book.

Dear Oprah: Some thoughts on your credibility.

shutterstock_40765456.jpg (Image: Shutterstock) Now that we're half way through the university semester, I'm finding myself inundated with a lot of marking. Sometimes, I try to tackle this work at home, but being the skilled procrastinator that I am, this will inadvertently lead me into the land of daytime television. It was here the other day that I caught a few minutes of Oprah, and noted that in that short timeframe, I found my reaction changing from a sort of admiration to a feeling best described as a prolonged wince. The reason for this abrupt change of heart was essentially the appearance of Jenny McCarthy in what looked like a correspondence role - she of the celebrity ilk, noteworthy for being a very powerful advocate of some very shaky medical advice. I won't go into too much detail here about her travails, since they've been covered extensively here at Boingboing and elsewhere in the media, but suffice to say, both the medical and scientific communities overwhelmingly take issue with her claims regarding linkage between the MMR vaccine and Autism. Indeed, her opinion has not changed, despite recent studies that showed that much of the data in the Wakefield paper (the scientific article that laid the media groundwork for this linkage) was actually fraudulent in nature.

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The fish pedicure: a foot-holder's-eye view

Had a long layover in the Singapore airport the other day. What to do? Why, I visited the Fish Spa, of course, where for just S$30 (about US$23) I could let hundreds of hungry doctor fish feast on my dead skin cells while I filmed the results and tried not to freak out.

I've only had one human-hands pedicure for comparison. This was every bit as efficient.  And way, way ookier.

Alan Dean Foster: Predators I Have Known - Orinoco crocodile

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Crocodiles. Even when someone tries to make them look funny, as in the Disney version of Peter Pan, they still come off as menacing. Nothing looks more like a carnivorous dinosaur than a crocodile. Then there's their demeanor: they just lie around literally like logs, soaking up the sun, until they're ready to assassinate something. Sharks get all the bad press, but on three continents crocodiles kill people every year: Asia, Africa, and that no-so-safe-as-the-tourism-authority-would-like-you-to-believe land, Australia.

No wonder they live a long a time. Except for eating and reproducing, all they do is eat and swim. Sounds like some ex-neighbors of ours.

Coffee Common: roasters roast one other at TED

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Last week I was excited to announce the birth of Coffee Common, a project of coffee enthusiasts (one of them being me) coming together to improve the experience of coffee for both industry and consumers. I mentioned that to kick off the launch, the project organizers and a handful of baristas from around the world will be spending this week in conjunction with the TED conference talking about (and serving) a few noteworthy selections from a select group of roasters.

We narrowed our list to the roasters we know have beautiful coffees with clarity and balance on their offering menus—and, who would be able to produce, roast and ship enough coffee to meet the needs of the thirsty TED attendees, at their own expense.

Normally, these roasters would consider each others competition, but the Coffee Common project is about collaboration. So we had an idea. We could write a short introduction for each included roaster, or we could assign each participating roaster the task of writing the intro for one of the others - knowing very well that one of the others would be writing theirs as well. This sounded much more interesting to us. After all, your fans can gush about you, but what your competition says may be more telling. So with that in mind...

Intelligentsia - introduced by James Hoffman of Square Mile Coffee
Stumptown - Introduced by Benjamin Kaminsky of Ritual Roasters
Has Bean - Introduced by Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee
Square Mile - Introduced by Trevor Corlett of Madcap Coffee
Ritual Roasters - Intriduced by George Howell of Terroir Coffee
Terroir Coffee - Introduced by Steve Leighton of Has Bean

More introductions will be posted soon. As TED kicks off today and everyone will finally be together in person, we'll be posting interviews, videos and dishing out the info throughout the week on coffeecommon.com and on twitter @coffeecommon.
(photo of Ritual Roasters by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Alan Dean Foster: Predators I Have Known - orb weaver spider

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Humans are such visual creatures. Take away big eyes (baby seals) and fur (most mammals) and often what is left is the ick factor.

Not many creatures have a bigger ick factor than the spider. It seems like the more legs an animal has, the more alien it appears to humans. In that regard the centipede and the millipede have spiders beat. But spiders also have multiple eyes, and poison fangs: the words "poison" and "fangs" being enough to send any creature to the top of most folks' ick list.

Inhabitants of the U.S. and Western Europe have enough issues dealing with spiders of modest size. Those of us who dwell in the American Southwest can speak of silk-spinners boasting considerably more impressive dimensions. You have to go to the tropics of the world, though, to find the size champions of the spider world. Spiders whose legspan easily exceeds that of your open, spread palm. In contrast to the majority of popular feelings they regretfully inspire, these rainforest denizens are often startlingly beautiful.

Alan Dean Foster: Predators I Have Known - giant otter

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There are river otters, and clawless otters, and sea otters, and then there is the giant otter of South America. Six feet long and up to eighty pounds in weight, it is a denizen of the rainforest that is nobody's pool pet. I hold immense respect for any creature whose principal diet is piranha, and who munches solid bone with as much gusto as flesh. Once nearly hunted to extinction for their pelts, giant otters are making a limited but measureable comeback throughout their range, even returning to rivers from which they were originally exterminated.

Cross a seal with a river otter, brush on some canine features, and you have the giant otter. The result is every bit as cute and cuddly-looking as your average otter. It's just important to remember that this kind is the only one that is entirely capable of treating your forearm the way you would a fried chicken drumstick.