Boing Boing 

Is American invention at risk?

Comedian, commercial director and documentarian Jordan Brady hosts a great podcast on commercial filmmaking called Respect The Process. He recently interviewed Ryan Berman, Chief Creative Officer for San Diego ad agency I.D.E.A. The interview is a smart casual conversation between old colleagues about the modern advertising agency, the challenges of staying forward-thinking, and keeping your team fresh and energized.

Late in the podcast (14m30s), the talk turns to Berman's own documentary film on the current state of U.S. patent law, Inventing To Nowhere, which recently screened at SXSW. Though Berman is quick to point out this was a sponsored project for The Innovation Alliance, a tech-industry lobbying group, it is not branded content. The doc is an impassioned plea for inventor protection under whatever patent reform comes from congress.

The Innovation Alliance website SaveTheInventor.com features a petition declaring:

...we oppose efforts by some multinational companies in Washington, DC to weaken patents and make it harder for inventors and start-ups like us to live out our dream of creating something and calling it our own. With our ideas, willingness to take risks, and hard work, we have just as much right to succeed as they have.
On a lighter note: also check out the hilarious PSA Brady directed, Scooter The Neutered Cat which he made for animal protection group GiveThemTen.org

Interview with man who coined the phrase “the Internet of Things"

Arik Gabbai of The Smithsonian interviewed innovator Kevin Ashton, who coined the phrase “the Internet of Things." He has a new book called How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery.

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Great ideas that changed the world, and the people they rode in on

To inaugurate the publication of his brilliant new book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (also a PBS/BBC TV series), Steven Johnson has written about the difficult balance between reporting on the history of world-changing ideas and the inventors credited with their creation

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Video: Ferdinando Buscema on "The Magic of Breaking Ideas"

At the recent TEDxCaFoscariU in Venice, our co-conspirator Ferdinando Buscema, magician/author/engineer, explores "The Magic of Breaking Ideas." And don't miss Ferdinando's Boing Boing feature, "The Magic of Hacking Reality!"

Thinking about Walt Disney's bench


Grad writes, "According to Walt Disney, the idea for a Disney-themed amusement park came to him while sitting on a park bench."

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Tesla vs. Edison vs. The Great Men of History

Whether you think Tesla > Edison or Edison > Tesla, perhaps you're missing something important. In reality, technology isn't shaped by one guy who had one great idea and changed the world. Instead, it's a messy process, full of flat-out failures and not-quite-successes, and populated by many great minds who build off of and are inspired by each other's work.Read the rest

Honeywell's Kitchen Computer: the 1969 behemoth that didn't sell a single unit


Wired's Daniela Hernandez has an in-depth history of the Honeywell Kitchen Computer, a minicomputer that could track recipes and offer meal plans, which was listed in the 1969 Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog, though none ever sold. Not only were the technical challenges associated with installing one of these were formidable, they were also pitched for solving a problem that wasn't really much of a problem.

I always imagined the design meeting for this going something like:

"I bet rich people would love to have the bragging rights you'd get from having a computer in their house, it'd be like having your own personal Apollo mission."

"Yeah, but what would they use 'em for? Let's ask Poindexter if he's got any ideas."

"Mrr, yes gentlemen, well, you see, computers are very good at tabulating long columns of numbers, solving differential equations, and managing 'data-bases', these being complex records, such as those used for human resources departments to keep track of the various attributes of employees and such..."

"Oh."

"Oh."

"So, uh, these data-bases, is that something you know, normal people might use? Something you'd keep around the house?"

"Oh yes! Your Christmas card list on 3x5 cards, or a list of recipes --"

"Recipes, you say?"

And off they went. Of course, in trying to improve things that worked well already (and without any input from the people whose problems they were notionally solving), Honeywell fell into the pit of "insufficient weirdness" -- imagining a future that was much like the present, only moreso. Computers that organized recipes, not computers that let you take pictures of your lunch and instantaneously share them with friends around the world.

Without a teletype, a programmer would need to enter software into the Honeywell using the 16 buttons on the front panel, each of which corresponds to a bit. A pressed button represented a one, and un-pushed button signaled a zero. “The chances that you would get a program right doing it one bit at a time like that were so low,” Spicer said. “The first peripheral people bought for [the Honeywell] was a teletype so they could speak to it.”

Now try to imagine all that in late 1960s kitchen. A full H316 system wouldn’t have fit in most kitchens, says design historian Paul Atkinson of Britain’s Sheffield Halam University. Plus, it would have looked entirely out of place. The thought that an average person, like a housewife, could have used it to streamline chores like cooking or bookkeeping was ridiculous, even if she aced the two-week programming course included in the $10,600 price tag.

If the lady of the house wanted to build her family’s dinner around broccoli, she’d have to code in the green veggie as 0001101000. The kitchen computer would then suggest foods to pair with broccoli from its database by “speaking” its recommendations as a series of flashing lights. Think of a primitive version of KITT, without the sexy voice.

Before the iPad, There Was the Honeywell Kitchen Computer

Be thankful for turkey cooking patents


On TechDirt, Canadian Leigh Beadon helps Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with a roundup of all the weird patents the USPTO has granted for preparing turkey. Be thankful that deboning poultry is patentable (and has been repeatedly patented), otherwise, what would incentivize butchers and chefs to innovate?

Luckily, there are plenty of open alternatives for the patent-savvy chef. Who needs those fancy new turkey cutlets when you can use this classic "method of preparing turkey ... in the form of a flat elongated slice or slices of raw fowl free from bones, tendons, membranes and skin." Mmmmmm. This patent was granted back in the 60s, so it's long since expired.

Or you could try this "method of preparing barbecued poultry such as turkey which closely simulates barbecued pork", patented in the early 70s and now free for all to follow in handy flow-chart form...

So Long And Thanks For All The Turkey Patents

Fact-checking US patent-boss's defense of his job



This week, David Kappos, head of the US Patent and Trademark Office, gave a speech at the Center for American Progress where he dismissed critics of the patent system, telling them to "give it a rest already." He insisted that his office was doing a great job, and was the center of American innovation, citing various stats to back up his claim.

On Ars Technica, Timothy Lee does a masterful job of fact-checking the patent boss's claims, driving a Mack truck through the logical flaws in his argument:

"Our patent system is the envy of the world," Kappos said. In his view, the key question in the patent debate is "do we demand today's innovation on the cheap via a weaker patent system that excludes subject matter, or do we moderate today's consumption with a strong patent system so our children enjoy greater innovations?"

This argument ducks the central question in the software patent debate: do patents, in fact, provide a net incentive for innovation in the software industry? Many entrepreneurs say that just the opposite is true: that the disincentive to innovation created by the threat of patent litigation dwarfs any positive incentive effects created by the ability for a firm to get patents of its own.

Empirical evidence backs this up. For example, in a 2008 book, the researchers James Bessen and Michael Meurer found that for nonchemical patents, the costs of patent litigation began to exceed the benefits of holding patents in the 1990s. Software and business patents were particularly prone to litigation.

More recent research has estimated that litigation by patent trolls costs the economy at least $29 billion per year, and that figure may be as high as $83 billion.

US patent chief to software patent critics: "Give it a rest already"

3DS sues innovative new 3D printer company Formlabs & Kickstarter for patent infringement


3D Systems, one of the big, incumbent 3D printer makers, is suing Formlabs, an innovative new 3D printer company that prints in resin (see previous mentions), for patent infringement. They've also named Kickstarter to the suit.

3D Systems' complaint asserts that the sale and use of the Form 1 3D printers sold by Formlabs and Kickstarter infringe a U.S. patent relating to stereolithography. Formlabs sold the Form 1 3D printers to backers of its Kickstarter campaign in September and October 2012.

"3D Systems invented and pioneered the 3D printing technology of stereolithography and has many active patents covering various aspects of the stereolithography process," said Andrew Johnson, General Counsel of 3D Systems. "Although Formlabs has publicly stated that certain patents have expired, 3D Systems believes the Form 1 3D printer infringes at least one of our patents, and we intend to enforce our patent rights."

Many of the key patents in 3D printing start expiring in 2013, and will continue to lapse through '14 and '15. Expect a big bang of 3D printer innovation, and massive price-drops, in the years to come.

3D Systems Announces Filing of Patent Infringement Suit Against Formlabs and Kickstarter

Radio documentary on elections and America's energy future: The Power of One, with Alex Chadwick

BURN: An Energy Journal, the radio documentary series hosted by former NPR journalist Alex Chadwick, has a 2-hour election special out. It's the most powerful piece of radio journalism I've listened to since—well, since the last episode they put out. You really must do yourself a favor and set aside some time this weekend to listen to “The Power of One.”

Energy policy, defining how we use energy to power our economy and our lives, is among the most pressing issues for the next four years. In this special two-hour edition of BURN, stories about the power of one: how, in this election season, a single person, place, policy or idea can — with a boost from science — affect the nation’s search for greater energy independence.

The documentary examines how "individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in this Presidential Election year, and redefining America’s quest for greater energy independence." It was completed and hit the air before Hurricane Sandy, but the energy issues illuminated by that disaster (blackouts, gas shortage, grid failure, backup power failure at hospitals) further underscore the urgency.

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Viruses to the rescue

Technology Review's list of 35 Innovators Under 35 includes Timothy Lu, an MIT researcher who is engineering viruses designed to seek out and destroy biofilms — bacterial colonies that stick together on a surface, like bits of pear suspended in the world's most disgusting jell-o salad. Biofilms have been implicated in human disease, especially chronic infections like those that can happen in the urinary tract and inner ear. But the first place Lu's biofilm-eating viruses will likely be put to work is cleaning out ducts in industrial HVAC systems. (Via Carl Zimmer)

Student disciplined for improving campus course-selection system


Timothy Arnold, a student at the University of Central Florida, produced a app called U Could Finish that automated the process of hunting for vacancies in popular courses. After the app was the subject of a popular Reddit post, the administration at UCF punished Arnold for doing this, on the grounds that it had overloaded their servers. As a persuasive presentation from Arnold and friends documents, this claim is not very plausible. Nevertheless, the project has been terminated and Arnold faces three semesters of academic probation, a paper in which Arnold must explain why what he did was naughty and why the system's administrators are good people, and a coaching session on making good life sessions.

The Reddit post on the shutdown is full of good examples of universities that rewarded students who improved their systems rather than reacting with immediate and thorough reactionary discipline.

UCF student penalized for writing program to simplify searching for open university classes (ucouldfinish.com)

Declaration of Internet Freedom

I've signed the Declaration of Internet Freedom, a short, to-to-point manifesto for a free and open Internet. It's attracted some very august signatories, including Amnesty International, Hackers and Founders, Global Voices, Mozilla, the NY Tech Meetup, Personal Democracy, Fight for the Future, Yochai Benkler, danah boyd, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Aaron Swartz and Jonathan Zittrain. You can sign it too, and talk about it here or on Reddit.

We stand for a free and open Internet.

We support transparent and participatory processes for making Internet policy and the establishment of five basic principles:

* Expression: Don't censor the Internet.

* Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks.

* Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to connect, communicate, write, read, watch, speak, listen, learn, create and innovate.

* Innovation: Protect the freedom to innovate and create without permission. Don’t block new technologies, and don’t punish innovators for their users' actions.

* Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used.

Declaration of Internet Freedom

Fewer options, better healthcare?

Over at Discover, Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn makes an interesting point about flaws in our current healthcare system. Historically, we've put a lot of effort into innovation, and not enough into building solid bases of evidence about which treatments actually work. Her argument: Americans would be better off if we had fewer options when it came to medical care. The assumption she's making (and it's not out of line) is that if we did more of the kind of large-scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies that offer useful evidence about effectiveness and safety, then many of the treatments options we now have would turn out to be useless.

Horror stories from the history of surgery

Sometimes, it's a little mind blowing when you remember just how recently medicine passed from the world of art/magic/tradition and into the realm of science. There's plenty of reason to argue that the transformation still isn't complete today, but I'm really mesmerized by stories from the 19th century, when every surgery was something of an experiment and the same, cutting-edge doctor could vacillate between modern techniques and medieval bio-alchemy in his treatment of the same patient.

Until that time, the prevalent method of cataract treatment was “couching,” a procedure that involved inserting a curved needle into the orbit and using it to push the clouded lens back and out of the line of sight. Warren's patient had undergone six such attempts without lasting success and was now blind. Warren undertook a more radical and invasive procedure—actual removal of the left cataract. He described the operation, performed before the students of Harvard Medical School, as follows:

"The eye-lids were separated by the thumb and finger of the left hand, and then, a broad cornea knife was pushed through the cornea at the outer angle of the eye, till its point approached the opposite side of the cornea. The knife was then withdrawn, and the aqueous humour being discharged, was immediately followed by a protrusion of the iris."

Into the collapsed orbit of this unanesthetized man, Warren inserted forceps he had made especially for the event. However, he encountered difficulties that necessitated improvisation:

"The opaque body eluding the grasp of the forceps, a fine hook was passed through the pupil, and fixed in the thickened capsule, which was immediately drawn out entire. This substance was quite firm, about half a line in thickness, a line in diameter, and had a pearly whiteness."

A bandage was applied, instructions on cleansing the eye were given, and the gentleman was sent home. Two months later, Warren noted, inflammation required “two or three bleedings,” but “the patient is now well, and sees to distinguish every object with the left eye.”

That's from an amazing essay on the history of surgery published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Read the rest

Innovation Under Austerity: Eben Moglen's call to arms from the Freedom to Connect conference

Last week saw the latest installment of David Isenberg's Freedom to Connect conference in Washington, DC. One of the keynotes came from Eben Moglen, formerly chief counsel of the Free Software Foundation, now the principle agitator behind the Software Freedom Law Center. Eben's keynote is one of the most provocative, intelligent, outrageous and outraged pieces of technology criticism I've heard. It's a 45 minute lecture with a 45 minute Q&A. I ripped the audio and listened to it while walking around town today and kept having to stop and take out my headphones and think for a while.

I found out about it via a message forwarded to me by the Open University's Marian Petre from the ACM's SIGCSE mailing list, where Adelphi's Stephen Bloch cherry-picked some of the best quotes from the talk, which I've pasted in below to give you a taste of what awaits you, should you be willing to give Eben such a generous chunk of your time. I think it was a very good use of my time.

Innovation under austerity is not produced by collecting lots of money and paying it to innovation intermediaries. [Several examples of disintermediation: TV, encyclopedias, book publishing, music recording, magazine publishing] Disintermediation -- the movement of power out of the middle of the net -- is a crucial fact about 21st century political economy.

Intermediaries that did well in the past ten years are limited to two categories: health insurers in the U.S., owing to political pathology, and the financial industry. Health insurers in the U.S. may be able to capitalize on continuing political pathology to remain failing and expensive intermediaries for a while longer, but the financial industry crapped in its own nest and is shrinking now and will continue to do so.

The reality that disintermediation happens and you can't stop it becomes a guiding light in the formation of national industrial policy. The greatest technological innovation of the 20th century is the thing we now call the World Wide Web. That innovation both fuels disintermediation by allowing all sorts of human contact to take place without agents, and is itself a result of disintermediated innovation.

The browser made the Web very easy to read. We did not make the Web easy to write. So a little thug in a hooded sweatshirt made the Web easy to write, and created a man-in-the-middle attack on human civilization. That's the intermediary innovation that we should be concerned about. We made everything possible... and then intermediaries to innovation turned it into the horror that is Facebook. It's intermediated innovation serving the needs of financiers, not the needs of people.

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"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": Awesome DIY transportation

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

I don't have much information on this piece. I don't know who made it, or when. But I do know that it is a hand-made wooden bicycle, produced by a clearly incredible everyday artisan somewhere on the continent of Africa. It's also Mike Lynd's favorite exhibit at the Birmingham, England, Thinktank Science Museum, where the bicycle is part of a larger section dedicated to transportation innovations.

A quick Google search tells me that a tradition of hand-made bikes with wooden parts exists in lots of African countries. I found a video of a man in Malawi riding a bike he built from recycled metal tires attached to a 2-by-4 frame; cart-like wooden bikes built in Rwanda and in the Congo to carry goods and belongings over long distances; and some stories on Jules Bassong, a wood sculptor who toured his native Cameroon on a wooden bicycle he made in 2008.

Tomorrow is American Censorship Day: FIGHT SOPA!

Nicholas from Fight for the Future says,

Hundreds of sites have been joining American Censorship Day, taking place tomorrow, November 16, including the EFF, Boing Boing, Reddit, Creative Commons, Hype Machine, and many, many, many more. The momentum is building really fast!

This day of protest is against a new bill in Congress called 'SOPA' that could pass this month. It would create the first ever United States Goverment website censorship system, using DNS blocking. Sound familiar? It’s the same technology Libya and China use to prevent their citizens from seeing undesirable websites. The bill would chill innovation, create huge liability for startups, and would set a terrible global precedent for government censorship of the Internet.

If you have a website big or small, please, please join us tomorrow to stop censorship-- you can sign up and learn more at http://americancensorship.org.

American Censorship Day November 16 - Join the fight to stop SOPA

Real cost of patent trolling

Kim sez, "Tech investor Brad Feld has a blog entry up summarizing and linking to a great paper by some BU School of Law students, in which they research the social & fiscal real world costs of patent trolls. From his site: '... a phenomenal paper titled The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls. Rather than be politically correct and refer to NPEs simply as 'non-practicing entities,' they cut through all the noise, define what a patent troll is, and go through a detailed and rigorous analysis of the private and social costs of patent trolls."

Regarding money:

* From 1990 – 2010 NPE lawsuits are associated with $500 billion dollars of lost wealth to defendants.
* In the past four years, NPE lawsuits are associated with an average of $80 billion per year of lost wealth to defendants.
* Very little of this loss wealth represents a transfer to inventors.

The litigation has distinctive characteristics:

* It is focused on software and related technologies.
* It targets firms that have already developed technology.
* Most of these lawsuits involve multiple large companies as defendants.

The authors suggest that these lawsuits exploit weaknesses in the patent system. They conclude that the loss of billions of dollars of wealth associated with these lawsuits harm society and state “while the lawsuits increase incentives to acquire vague, over-reaching patents, they decrease incentives for real innovation overall.”

The Real Cost of Patent Trolls

How SOPA will attack the Internet's infrastructure and security

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is continuing its series of in-depth analysis of the Stop Online Piracy Act, the most dangerous piece of Internet legislation ever introduced, which is set to be fast-tracked through Congress by Christmas. Today, EFF's Corynne McSherry and Peter Eckersley look at the way that SOPA attacks innovation and the integrity of Internet infrastructure.

In this new bill, Hollywood has expanded its censorship ambitions. No longer content to just blacklist entries in the Domain Name System, this version targets software developers and distributors as well. It allows the Attorney General (doing Hollywood or trademark holders' bidding) to go after more or less anyone who provides or offers a product or service that could be used to get around DNS blacklisting orders. This language is clearly aimed at Mozilla, which took a principled stand in refusing to assist the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to censor the domain name system, but we are also concerned that it could affect the open source community, internet innovation, and software freedom more broadly:

* Do you write or distribute VPN, proxy, privacy or anonymization software? You might have to build in a censorship mechanism — or find yourself in a legal fight with the United States Attorney General.

* Even some of the most fundamental and widely used Internet security software, such as SSH, includes built-in proxy functionality. This kind of software is installed on hundreds of millions of computers, and is an indispensable tool for systems administration professionals, but it could easily become a target for censorship orders under the new bill.

* Do you work with or distribute zone files for gTLDs? Want to keep them accurate? Too bad — Hollywood might argue that if you provide a complete (i.e., uncensored) list, you are illegally helping people bypass SOPA orders.

* Want to write a client-side DNSSEC resolver that uses multiple servers until it finds a valid signed entry? Again, you could be in a fight with the U.S. Attorney General.

Hollywood's New War on Software Freedom and Internet Innovation

Why we get the future of tech wrong

John Naughton's Association for Learning Technology keynote, "The elusive technological future," is a no-holds-barred, kick-ass talk about the systems, blindspots and biases that keep us from understanding where tech has been and where it's going. John's the Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University, and he's the author of the excellent From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, What You Really Need to Know About the Internet.

"The elusive technological future" - John Naughton at ALT-C 2011 (Thanks, Seb!)

On eve of Endeavour's last launch, "Shuttle Ennui" (Xeni on The Madeleine Brand show)

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Download audio (MP3), or listen to the show here.


I joined The Madeleine Brand Show on the radio today for a chat around what some jokingly refer to as "shuttle ennui," felt by many at NASA (and others whose livelihoods depend on NASA) as the space shuttle program ends.

We so often think of things as large as America's space program as abstractions, and for good reason. Billions of dollars, thousands of people, huge human-made machines that shoot fire and climb toward the stars. But NASA is made of people. And along with all of the NASA employees and contractors whose work relates to the shuttle program, everyone from the Cape Canaveral donut shop owner to the journalists who cover space are affected by the program's end. Right now, to put it simply: everyone's bummin'.

Today, the countdown began for the final launch of shuttle Endeavour, scheduled to lift off Monday morning 8:56:26 a.m. EDT. She'll head to the International Space Station to deliver an array of supplies, including spare parts for the robot DEXTRE ("The Canada Hand"). This will be the 36th shuttle mission to the ISS, STS-134. Last month's launch attempt was scrubbed when problems were discovered in fuel line heaters. One more shuttle launch is scheduled for June, the STS-135 mission with shuttle Atlantis. But that's it: the end of the shuttle era—and the end of tens of thousands of skilled American technology workers' jobs.

I've spent much of the last few weeks wandering around Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center, with Miles O'Brien and the SpaceFlightNow crew, talking to people about how the end of the program impacts their lives. Along the way, I met a number of Boing Boing fans at NASA, and contractors and space nerds who are part of our greater family of happy mutants. Hear more about what I observed in the radio segment.

Do tune in to SpaceFlightNow for Monday's launch webcast with Miles O'Brien, David Waters and astronaut Leroy Chiao. It really is the best launch coverage there is.

Space fans may also enjoy tuning in to SomaFM's "Mission Control," NASA audio plus trippy ambient electronica, live Monday from JSC. A fun related post from them here.

Related: Flickr galleries of iPhone snapshots I shot on my recent space adventures. KSC (Florida), and JSC (Texas). Above and below, a few of those pix: Shuttle patches behind the counter, at the cigar store where reporters covering launches (including Miles) buy stogies for liftoff luck; a door at nearby Merritt Island airport; the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at KSC; and an obligatory spaceman smooch I snuck at JSC.

vab.jpg

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Space suits, NASA Johnson Space Center (snapshots)

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Here are more iPhone snaps of cool things, people, and funky ephemera spotted during a visit to JSC (photos: Xeni Jardin).

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Rare photos of Mercury astronauts on 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard's historic flight

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May 5, 2011, is the 50th anniversary of the historic flight by Alan Shepard which made him the second person, and the first American, in space. LIFE has published a photo gallery of rare, never-before-published photos of Shepard, Glenn, Slayton, Grissom, and the rest of the Mercury astronauts, along with observations by LIFE photographer Ralph Morse (dubbed "the 8th Mercury astronaut" by John Glenn)

When Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in April 1961, a stunned America asked, How did the Russians beat us? And more importantly: Will we ever catch up? Three weeks later, on May 5, the second question was emphatically answered when 37-year-old Alan Shepard blasted off from Cape Canaveral on his own historic flight -- a feat that made the New Hampshire native the first American in space, and marked the moment the U.S. caught, and surpassed, Russia in the Space Race.

Photo gallery here.

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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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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.

Float: ultralight rubber-band-powered duration model planes

Float Documentary Trailer from Phil Kibbe on Vimeo.

These beautiful dragonfly-like model planes can float for up to half an hour under the power of one single-wound rubber band. Check out the trailer for Float posted by Phil Kibbe. Amazing craftsmanship and techniques! Video link. (via devour.com)

LED bulb cast from burnt out original

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Sean Michael Ragan of MAKE says: "If you can't find a reasonably-priced LED replacement for that burned-out appliance bulb, you might do what Andy Brockhurst did: Wire up an LED cluster, yourself, and embed it in resin cast into a mold taken from the original bulb."

EDGE World Question 2011: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"

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Each year, über-big-think-literary-agent and EDGE founder John Brockman poses a question, and collects and publishes the answers. This year:

WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?
The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world.
My response to the EDGE 2011 Question is here ("Ambient Memory And The Myth Of Neutral Observation").

Here is the index of all participants, more than 150 of them, including Brian Eno, J. Craig Venter, George Dyson, Kevin Kelly, Clay Shirky, Evgeny Morozov, Linda Stone, and Richard Dawkins (who will be returning soon as a Boing Boing guestblogger, I'm happy to report!).

News coverage so far includes: The Atlantic, Wired UK, New York Times, Sueddeutsche Zeitung , Newsweek, Die Welt, The Guardian , Publico.

(Image: RUDBECKIA, Katinka Matson)