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In defense of the selfie

Sam Kassé defends the selfie, blight of social networks: "I know most people hate selfies. They groan and complain about them, from the duck lips to the filters. Why, just the word “selfie” can induce legendary amounts of eyerolling. What people seem to miss, is that selfies are actually great. No, scratch that, selfies are brilliant! One of my favourite pastimes at work is to (discreetly) scroll through my Instagram feed and see pictures of my friends feeling good about themselves."

No internet for Syria

Nicole Perlroth: "Syria’s access to the Internet was cut on Tuesday. The most likely culprit, security researchers said, was the Syrian government." [NYT] Rob

Secrets of the world's most successful tumbleweed farm

Tumbleweeds aren't a type of plant. It's more of a description — the thing that happens when the bushy above-ground parts of lots of different types of plants dry, die, and disconnect from the healthy root system below. It is then free to blow wherever the wind takes it. That's your basic free-range tumbleweed. At Prairie Tumbleweed Farms, the weeds are a bit more constrained and they're shipped, rather than blown, to customers all around the world. This podcast by Rose Eveleth is a cute, quirky piece, but you MUST listen to the whole thing. Because the backstory of Prairie Tumbleweed Farms is what makes this truly worthy of BoingBoing. Maggie

A cat video about the science of cats

Two things I learned from this video:
1: I am my cat's Facebook page. That rubbing-up-against-you-and-leaving-scent thing? It's not just to mark you as "theirs". It's also a way of communicating information about themselves to other cats that you might encounter.
2: My cats poop in a box and bury it as a gesture of submissiveness to me. Good cats.

Internet apocalypse? In the next bag o' chips

Sam Biddle writes that this week's epic, internet-shaking DDOS was a lie. Spamhaus was indeed under a record-size denial-of-service attack, but the protection company it hired, Cloudflare, turns out to be the only source of the bigger story that went with it: that the internet at large was significantly affected. Rob

What would happen if an unstoppable force met an immoveable object?

Minute Physics tackles the greatest mystery in all the Internet and solves it with the power of science (and pedantry).

Fans fix Aliens: Colonial Marines' amateurish game trailer

UPDATE: Reader Pat David went the extra mile and improved the trailer a different way: by keeping the music and sound effects but removing the dreadful voiceover: "turns out it's a center-panned vocal - so just inverted the LR stereo channels." Pat's edit is pasted above, UberWaz's is below.

After years of waiting, Alien fans were shocked yesterday by the appalling state of the trailer for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Badly-acted and terribly-scripted, it made the forthcoming game look amateurish and cheesy; the project's lead writer immediately and publicly disowned it. But what a difference a day makes: Rock Paper Shotgun reader UberWaz remixed the clip with new audio, creating something that perfectly matches the franchise's gloomy mix of science fiction and horror.

Read the rest

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.

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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." Xeni

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.

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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)