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Glaucus atlanticus: For once, the Internet is not lying to you

This is actually a real life animal.

I know. I didn't believe it either. When it turned up in my Facebook feed, via my Aunt Beth, I assumed that this had to be a hoax photo. Had to be. I mean, just look at it. This animal looks like it should appear in pretty photos forwarded to you by your aunt that later turn out to be the result of a photoshopping contest on Something Awful, right?

But then it was on Wikipedia, too. And I thought, "Okay, it's still the Internet. Somebody is clearly just getting really elaborate in their trolling."

And I suppose that's true. If by "somebody", what I mean to say is "natural selection".

This is the Glaucus atlanticus. It is a type of nudibranch—shell-less mollusks known for their extravagant shapes and colors. It is venomous. And I am now almost completely convinced that it's not a joke.

Read the rest

A handwriting font for doctors

Link to larger size. Created by Orion Champadiyil (web, Twitter).

(via Steve Silberman)

Minneapolis: Home of the first (annual?) Internet cat video film festival

Well, it's been a quiet week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my hometown. The heatwave broke. There was a giant tomato fight downtown. And the Gonzo Group Theater is performing Aristophanes in the middle of the lightrail construction zone. But out on the Internet, everybody is talking about the fact that Minneapolis will, on August 30, play host an Internet cat video film festival.

Yes, a film festival of Internet cat videos. Curator Katie Czarniecki Hill is accepting nominations through July 30, so you should totally submit your favorite.

But I also wanted to talk briefly about the context of this, because it's awesome, and you should know about it. Czarniecki's Cat Video Film Festival is part of a summer-long program at the Walker Art Center (our fabulous modern art museum) called Open Field. If you're not familiar with Minneapolis, the Walker sits at the base of a big hill. Part of the lot is covered with art museum, and part of it is given over to a broad, grassy slope*.

That's where Open Field happens. What's Open Field? Partly it's just a reminder that this big public greenspace exists behind the Walker and, hey, maybe you should come hang out there. But it's also sort of an ad-hoc, crowd-sourced, summer-long festival space, where both Walker artists-in-residence and average folks can stage unique community events, skill-shares, workshops, and projects. Today, for instance, you could go down to Open Field and team up with a group of knitters and fiber artists who are building an interactive fabric installation; join the band Dear Data for a low-key acoustic campfire sing-a-long; watch your own (and other people's) old, film-based home movies and learn about film preservation; and participate in an interactive workshop about the history and future of print-letter writing and the post office.

Basically, you should know this—Walker Open Field: It's like a Happy Mutant smorgasbord.

See the Open Field Schedule, including the Cat Video Film Festival

*And an absolutely awesome installation piece that takes the form of a semi-hidden, ancient-temple-looking room cut into the side of the hill. Seriously, go check it out. Preferably after dark because it's most awesome then.

What it's like to be the subject of a conspiracy theory

Michael O'Hare is a public policy researcher. He teaches at UC Berkeley and specializes in the arts and the environment. He does not sound like a very threatening guy. But, since the early 1980s, Michael O'Hare has been the subject of another man's obsessive quest to find the true identity of the Zodiac Killer.

Let's be clear. Michael O'Hare is not the Zodiac Killer. He's got a pretty good alibi—namely the fact that he was nowhere near California when the murders happened. In fact, his name only entered the field because an enthusiast named Gareth Penn analyzed some of the famous Zodiac cryptograms and somehow came up with the name "Michael O". How that led Penn to O'Hare isn't exactly clear, but however it happened, Penn has spent the last 30 years telling anyone who will listen that Michael O'Hare is the Zodiac Killer.

And that has made O'Hare's life rather ... interesting. This weekend, I ran across a 2009 essay, written by O'Hare, describing his experience as the unwitting subject of somebody else's conspiracy theory. This is old, but I wanted to share it because it's such a rare perspective on this kind of thing. In the age of the Internet, it's easy to read up on conspiracy theories covering just about any topic. For most of them, you can also find extensive debunking sources. It's much less common for somebody at the center of the story to talk about what that experience has been like. Totally fascinating.

The decades since Penn fixed his sights on me have not been a living hell, much as that would spice up this story. They have been an ordinary life, punctuated by one or another flurry of fuss from Penn, sometimes involving pages of numbers (for example, the data pages from my PhD thesis) with this or that sequence picked out, circled, and "decoded" into words that fit somehow into Penn’s model of the crimes.

My favorite episode was the phone calls. Sometime in the 1980s, I started getting them at two and three in the morning. When my wife or I answered, a male voice would say something vaguely threatening like "I’m coming north, and I’m going to get you soon!" .... The calls were supposed to be transmitting coded messages via numbers—in particular, the time of the call! Apparently, Penn’s assumption was that when the average person is aroused by the phone in the middle of the night, the first thing he does, before woozily answering, is to note the time of the first ring on the digital clock he keeps by the bed—which is, of course, synchronized with the clock in the Naval Observatory. If your clock (or his) is off by just a couple of minutes, the call that was supposed to register as "2:14"—code for "Got you dead to rights this time"—will be misinterpreted as "2:16," which I think means "The Sox can’t make the playoffs without a closer." (Sadly, I’ve lost the magic decoder ring I got in exchange for cereal box tops as a child, so I can’t be sure.) The story got even better years later, when I discovered that a Penn skeptic had been calling him at home at times that figured into Penn’s theory, whereupon Penn assumed the calls came from me and "returned" them to my house, so he thought he was having a conversation with me, all in three-digit numbers.

Read the rest of O'Hare's essay at Washington Monthly

F&*#ing Internet, how does it work?

For the next 60 years or so—basically, until everyone roughly my age has died off—former Alaskan senator Ted Stevens will be widely remembered (and mocked) for once describing the Internet as "a series of tubes".

But here's the thing. It's easy to make fun of Ted Stevens. It's harder (much harder) to explain quickly and at a relatively simple level—for lay people with no tech background—what actually happens when they call up a web page.

That's why Greg Boustead and the nice folks at the World Science Festival put together this short video, explaining the basics of the Internet, specifically the basics of packet switching. The video should help the average person understand the Internet just a little better and it has been run by several experts for accuracy, Boustead says.

I have to admit that when I had to screen it for "father of the Internet" Vint Cerf, who invented this process, I was more than a little nervous, certain he would pick it apart. When he replied with "This is so good - can I please use it to explain the concept of packets at public lectures," needless to say, I was over the moon.

So, the Internet. It's not a big truck. It's not a series of tubes. It's more like a bus full of tourists.

Video Link

Like “Kardashians,” but dumber: Gay-hating Evangelical gun nut ‘reality’ TV

Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds introduces us to Call of the Giles, which he describes as a "gun-totin’, Bible-quotin’, homo-hatin’, and obviously over-compensating for sumpthin’ macho, macho man douchebag Doug Giles and his “kickass” Christian family’s low-brow version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians."

NYT-“MEN invented the internet”

What a steaming turd of an opening line in David Streitfeld's otherwise serviceable New York Times piece about the Ellen Pao/Kleiner Perkins sexual harassment lawsuit, and gender discrimination in Silicon Valley.

Here's the opening graf (bold-ing, mine):

MEN invented the Internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolized Mr. Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died. Nerds. Geeks. Give them their due. Without men, we would never know what our friends were doing five minutes ago.

You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT.

Radia "Mother of the Internet" Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir. Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.

"Men are credited with inventing the internet." There. Fixed it for you.

Read the rest

Cyber-weapon Flame, "most complex malware ever," identified by Kaspersky Lab

The Moscow-based security firm credited with solving various mysteries around Stuxnet and Duqu today announced the discovery of Flame, a data-stealing virus said to have lurked on thousands of computers in the Mideast for as long as 5 years. A Kaspersky Lab spokesperson described it in a Reuters interview as "the most complex piece of malicious software discovered to date."

Adds Bruce Sterling, "Given that this has been out in the wild for a couple of years now, what’s five times bigger than 'Flame' and even less understood?"

Writing today at Wired News, Kim Zetter reports that Flame is believed to be "part of a well-coordinated, ongoing, state-run cyberespionage operation."

Kaspersky has a FAQ about Flame, here.

(Image: Kaspersky Labs)

Facebook vs. Twitter, and user privacy: slow and steady wins the race?

The NYT's Nick Bilton compares Facebook and Twitter to the tortoise and the hare. "Facebook exploded because it slurped up endless amounts of data about its users," writes Bilton. "This race is not judged by speed, but a stopwatch with a much longer lifespan, one that is tied to trust."

Princess awards First Amendment lawyer "Defender of Internet" medal for SOPA fight

Marvin Ammori's recently-bestowed freedom bling. Note the Nyan Cat.


Constitutional law expert Marvin Ammori, one of the First Amendment scholars along with Larry Tribe who explained how SOPA would violate the First Amendment, shares a wonderful story with Boing Boing. Snip from his blog post:

When I was quite young, I saw the first Star Wars movie and believed that, if I took part in a great cause, it would end with a medal ceremony and a princess conferring the medal. It has finally happened.

Last night, I received a medal from Princess Tiffiniy Ying Cheng of Fight for the Future, representing the “committee for the Defenders of the Internet.” Bestowed upon me was the Nyan Cat Medal of Internet Awesomeness, the “highest honor known to Internet Defenders.” I could not be more honored.

Princess Tiffiniy’s organization was one of the leaders in the Battle of SOPA. She and her partner Holmes Wilson are pretty amazingly brilliant–they were the people who organized the Free Justin Bieber campaign, led American Censorship Day on November 16, and were among the leaders organizing the January 18 Blackout. Many people pulled together from an array of communities to fight SOPA–Redditers, Wikipedians, civil libertarians, entrepreneurs, artists, venture capitalists, tech executives, consumer electronics makers, tech bloggers–alongside millions of people who just love the Internet and hate Internet censorship, from technologically advanced Wookiies to technologically challenged Ewoks. Many awesome people were involved in leading, coordinating, and taking the time to fight SOPA.

Read the rest of his story, and see a larger version of the pic: "Medal Ceremony in Real Life: for Internet Awesomeness." [ammori.org] Fast Company also gave him props.

Enter the world of the xenopus

Every now and then, I get a glorious reminder of just how much the Internet has enriched my life. Fifteen years ago, if I had arrived at a conference center—as I did yesterday for my stint in the Marine Biological Laboratory Science Journalism Fellowship program—and seen a sign in the lobby announcing the presence of a "Xenopus Workshop" I could have, eventually, found out that a Xenopus was a frog frequently used as a model animal in medical research.

Thanks to the Internet, though, I was able to learn the following things in a remarkably short period of time:

Xenopus Fact: Xenopuses (Xenopodes? Xenopi? Freshman Latin was a really long time ago, you guys) were used in one of the earliest reliable pregnancy tests. That's because exposure even a tiny amount of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin will cause a female Xenopus to lay eggs. Inject a female Xenopus with urine from a human female and, if the Xenopus lays eggs, it means the female human is knocked up.

Xenopus Fact: You know how some lizards can grow a new tail if you cut the old one off? Xenopuses can do that with the lenses of their eyes.

Xenopus Fact: Because Xenopuses are so widely used in laboratories, there's a whole industry of suppliers of Xenopuses and Xenopus accessories. Case in point, the "Xenopus enrichment tube" in the photo above—apparently, they like to have something to hide out in. Also, you can buy synthetic slime to replace your Xenopus' natural protective coating that is often lost through frequent handling.

"How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet"—Mat Honan

An excellent long-read about Flickr and Yahoo by Mat Honan at Gizmodo today. Anyone who has loved and been let down by the once-great photo-sharing site now caught in the purple zombie's death spiral will nod in agreement throughout. The opening graf:

Web startups are made out of two things: people and code. The people make the code, and the code makes the people rich. Code is like a poem; it has to follow certain structural requirements, and yet out of that structure can come art. But code is art that does something. It is the assembly of something brand new from nothing but an idea.

Read: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet. (Gizmodo)

GM to end display ads on Facebook

The Wall Street Journal reports that General Motors will soon stop advertising on Facebook "after the auto maker's executives determined their paid ads had little impact on consumers' car purchases." GM will, however, engage in Facebook's "pages" that allow marketers to display promotional content at no cost. The news comes just days before Facebook's planned IPO.

New evidence suggests people aren't nearly as dickish on the Internet as you might think

A new study, published in the journal Nature, provides evidence that the way people communicate with each other doesn't change very much between offline and different kinds of online situations, including chat rooms—even if the people are chatting anonymously. The catch: This only holds true in places where the same people are coming back to chat over and over. (Via Colin Schultz)

Tor Project on The Alyona Show

On The Alyona Show, Jacob Appelbaum talks about the Tor Project and internet anonymity.

Random network security tip for those about to appear on TV

Don't do this. (via @ryanaraine + @kimzetter)

This just in: Internet not actually full of sad, lonely rejects

Personally, I'm about to sprain something from rolling my eyes so hard at all the hand-wringing news stories about how the Internet is disconnecting us from other people and making us more lonely. So it's gratifying to read this piece in the Boston Review that points two key problems with that thesis (besides being fracking obnoxious): First, the evidence doesn't support it; second, humans have apparently been worrying about increasing levels of loneliness since the 1700s.

Facebook launches a new game: Organ Farmville

Facebook announced today that the social network's 161 million members in the United States will be encouraged to begin displaying "organ donor status" on their pages, along with birth dates and schools. Some 7,000 people die every year in America while waiting for an organ transplant, and the idea here, according to this New York Times story, is to "create peer pressure to nudge more people to add their names to the rolls of registered donors." Absolutely nothing could go wrong. (via John Schwartz)

Internet freedom fighters listed

The Guardian picks its "Open 20" fighters for internet freedom. Included are Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Jacob Appelbaum, and anonymous.

What cyberwar is, and is not

There's a good long read by John Arquilla in Foreign Policy magazine this month. He argues that a concept of cyberwar he proposed some 20 years ago with David Ronfeldt "has become a reality," in that battlefield information systems have "profound impact" as a disruptive force "in wars large and small." But Arquilla goes on to argue that a parallel notion of cyberwar popularized by others-- "less a way to achieve a winning advantage in battle than a means of covertly attacking the enemy's homeland infrastructure without first having to defeat its land, sea, and air forces in conventional military engagements" -- is a bunch of hype-y hooey.

The BBC tracks down a troll


Not a funny or clever sort of troll; just a bottom-feeder who specializes in writing racist remarks on online memorials. [BBC via Waxy and Metafilter]

Yahoo co-founder, former CEO Jerry Yang resigns from board and "all other positions"

Yahoo announces that Jerry Yang has resigned from the internet company's Board of Directors "and all other positions with the company, effective today." Yang has also resigned from the Boards of Yahoo Japan Corporation and Alibaba Group Holding Limited, effective today. Yahoo's official statement is here.

Photo: Co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo! Inc. Jerry Yang applauds during the announcement of a commitment pledge at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 22, 2010. (REUTERS)

A neat finding about pseudonymous commenters—and why you should question it

Here's some interesting data that I would like to believe is true—mainly because it matches up with what I've experienced here at BoingBoing. Many of you use some kind of pseudonym in the comments, whether it's first-name-only, an Internet handle, or a completely fake name. My experience here has taught me that, despite this, you all are perfectly capable of writing fascinating, informative, worthwhile comments and having good discussions that add to the usefulness of the original post. (That doesn't always happen, as I'm sure Antinous will attest. But it happens often enough that I talk y'all up to other journalists and bloggers who are nervous about having a comments section on their site.)

After an analysis of 500,000 comments, Disqus now says that pseudonymous commenters are the most prolific commenters—and that the quality of their comments are actually a little better than the quality of comments from people who logged in through Facebook, using their real names.

If this is correct, it's pretty cool. It might not be correct, though. So do think about that before you start touting this as absolute fact in the #nymwars. For instance, the key measure of quality here is whether or not a post generates "likes" and replies, and, if so, how many. Another thing I've learned from watching the comments on BoingBoing: Likes and replies are not necessarily indicative of actual quality. Likewise, the measures that branded a post as "low quality" seem designed to really only address the worst-of-the-worst: Comments that get flagged, deleted, or marked as spam. There's a lot of room left over for comments that are low quality, but not outright trolling/spam.

Another issue: "Real identity," in this case, means "logged in through Facebook. I can think of several of you, off the top of my head, who I know use real names in the comments, but don't log in through a social media site.

Finally, I can't find anything about where the 500,000 comments were pulled from. Depending on the site(s), this may or may not be a representative sample. After all, the site you're posting on—what the content is, what the community is like, how well moderated it is—probably does a lot to influence how you behave there.

So, basically, what I'm saying is this: Disqus has published an infographic confirming my personal beliefs. Hooray! The problem is, I don't really feel like I can trust it.

Image: jack masque, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from speculummundi's photostream

Accessorizing with cats

Photos of famous people with cats thrown jauntily over their shoulders: It's my new favorite cat meme. Visit Heather Archuletta's Facebook collection for more shots like this. Besides Frank Zappa, she's got David Bowie, Freddy Mercury, and more.

Thanks, Joanne Manaster!

Who is a journalist?

Writer and comedian John Knefel reaches for his glasses as police pull him away during an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City yesterday. This really great photo was taken by Jessica Lehrman in the lobby of Winter Garden, a building owned by Brookfield Property, the same company that owns Zuccotti Park. To get a different view on the same scene, check out a video that someone else was filming at the same time. You can see Knefel falling down around 6:30.

The photo and video bring up something interesting. Knefel is a writer and comedian, one of the many people documenting OWS from the inside while trying to navigate the very grey boundaries of journalist and participant in the age of Internet journalism. Personally, I think this conflict is pretty interesting. If I can get all "journalism ethics class" for a minute here, I think OWS is drawing attention to the already existing need for new definitions of who constitutes "media" and who doesn't. Why is this more confusing than you might thing? Let me use Knefel as an example.

Knefel doesn't work for a major media outlet. But he's also not just some random bystander. He's got a political podcast with new episodes three times a week. Do we only call someone a journalist if they have enough page views? Do they have to have a journalism degree? What's the line?

Knefel is a biased source of information. But so are a lot of mainstream commentators. We'd call someone from Fox News a journalist. We'd call someone from Reason magazine a journalist. We'd call somebody from Mother Jones a journalist. Having a clear political angle to your coverage doesn't make you not a journalist. Except when it does. So what are the actual criteria?

Knefel didn't have a press pass. But, as Xeni has pointed out, the press pass system in New York is incredibly convoluted and contradictory. So what if you can't get one? Does that mean you aren't a journalist? This is particularly problematic given the fact that the rules seem to be set up to favor long-standing publications with lots of resources that mostly just cover New York City. How does that fit into a globalized world? Why punish media entrepreneurship?

We live in an age where publishing is easy and the tools to do it are available to a much wider swatch of people. But our standards and rules for who gets protection as a member of the press are based on a paradigm where publishing wasn't easy and only a limited number of people could do it. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that not everybody who uses the Internet is a journalist, because being a journalist comes with responsibilities not just protections. I'm pretty sure my Dad doesn't want to hold his Facebook to the same standard that I use when writing here.

I don't know the answer to these questions. But I know we need to have this conversation. Occupy Wall Street just shows us what can happen when we keep applying old rules to a new world.

The academic linguistics of LOLspeak

On Submitterator, Musicman pointed me towards this great presentation on LOLspeak as a form of language play, and why people engage in that play. According to Lauren Gawne, who gave this speech last week at the Australian Linguistics Society conference, the choice to use LOLspeak has a lot to do with establishing identity—the playful identity of "cat", and the serious identity of "knowledgeable Internet user".

Includes an explanation of why LOLspeak is language play and not some language mashup "kitty pidgin".

You can read more about this on Lauren Gawne's blog Superlinguo.

The video, by the way, is 20 minutes long. It's also got a little bit of weird, warbly feedback in the audio, but that doesn't get in the way of hearing what Gawne is saying.

The best spam I've received in a long time

I love unintentionally funny email spam so much. Sadly, it's been a long time—like, years—since I got any that wasn't just a boring re-tread of now-standardized routines. Then, this morning, a wonderful change of pace. In my in-box I found a strange hybrid of the Nigerian prince scam + the foreign lady looking for love scam + the Craigslist I-scam-you-while-you-think-you're-scamming-me scam.

The result of this innovation is a little bit genius, and a little bit completely insane.

Shorter version: My "dear friend" Helen Small, who is very sad that she hasn't heard from me in a long time and thinks I might have abandoned her, wants to send me some of her birthday gifts as a token of her love and affection for me. For overly complicated reasons, she wants to send me these gifts in the care of her boss. That brings us to the following, amazing, couple of paragraphs:

Please do accept this token of love, I know it isn't much but I sent it from my innermost heart and belief you gonna appreciate everything inside the package coz it is coming from a special friend and in a special way to remember me on my birthday.

The content of the pack are;
2 Dell laptop computer,
4 ip-phones, AN ENVELOPE,
A Video Camera
and some jewelries.

For your edification, the video at the top is about a different kind of Spam. If you would like to find out more about what is in Spam-the-food and why it's in there, follow this video link to HowStuffWorks.com

Toronto Convention Centre charges attendees $150/day to use WiFi

Are you a busy professional attending an event at the Toronto International Centre? Be prepared to travel in time to an idyllic era when physically leaving the office made you unreachable by your colleagues and peers. Or, if you want to live in the modern era, be prepared to pay the whopping $99/day for "ultra-lite wireless" service at the TIC (if you want to actually use the network in any meaningful way, you'll have to sign up for "extreme wireless" at $150/day).

Event-planners, beware -- your attendees will get gouged, reamed, and screwed if you come to TIC.

Most Expensive Wi-Fi Ever? (Thanks, Parker!)

Dispatch from the Nymwars: Pseudonyms and science

Xeni has been posting here about Google+'s refusal to allow people to set up an account under invented (rather than legal) names. She's been focusing on how this relates to Internet culture, in general, and what it means for Google+ and the people who hoped it might be a better place to be social than Facebook.

I'd like to talk very briefly about what it means for scientists. As a science journalist, I'm kind of a middle person, taking information from scientists and presenting it to the public. Increasingly, though, scientists have found ways to take part in that conversation more directly—something that I think is good for scientists, good for the public, and good for science journalists. And blogging, often pseudonymous blogging, is a big part of that.

Why pseudonymous? That's an interesting question, and it's one that the scientist-bloggers themselves have been answering a lot lately, not only because of the G+ Nymwars, but also because of what's happening at Science Blogs. This blogging network, home to quite a few scientist-bloggers, was recently bought by National Geographic, which decided that bloggers could no longer blog under the pseudonyms they'd been using for years.

Personally, I think there are benefits and detriments to anonymity on the Internet, but there's a big difference between being anonymous and having a pseudonym. I may not know who DrugMonkey is in real life, but I know who DrugMonkey is and I know that he has to be as responsible for everything he writes under that name as I am responsible for what I write as Maggie Koerth-Baker. The difference is that writing is my profession. It's not his. Instead, he has to balance the needs of a profession in laboratory science with the needs of a writing hobby. For people who do that, there are a lot of reasons why pseudonyms make sense. For example:

Read the rest

Bertrand Russell's advice to internet commenters

Sure, it's not really what he had in mind. But I'm rather struck by the fact that pretty much every flame war ever could be avoided if we only listened to him. Shorter version: Recognize that you could be wrong, be tolerant of people who say things you hate and kind to people with whom you disagree, and, for god's sake, don't feed the trolls*.

*He didn't actually say that last bit, but it's just assumed at this point, right?

Video Link

Via Joe Dwyer