Boing Boing 

Sarah Robles: The strongest woman in America lives on $400 a month

Meet Sarah Robles. She can lift as much as 570 pounds. In last year's weightlifting world championships, she bested every other American—both female and male. Sarah Robles is going to the Olympics in London this summer. But at home, in the United States, she lives on $400 a month.

Track star Lolo Jones, 29, soccer player Alex Morgan, 22, and swimmer Natalie Coughlin, 29, are natural television stars with camera-friendly good looks and slim, muscular figures. But women weightlifters aren't go-tos when Sports Illustrated is looking for athletes to model body paint in the swimsuit issue. They don’t collaborate with Cole Haan on accessories lines and sit next to Anna Wintour at Fashion Week, like tennis beauty Maria Sharapova. And male weightlifters often get their sponsorships from supplements or diet pills, because their buff, ripped bodies align with male beauty ideals. Men on diet pills want to look like weightlifters — most women would rather not.

Meanwhile, Robles — whose rigorous training schedule leaves her little time for outside work — struggles to pay for food. It would be hard enough for the average person to live off the $400 a month she receives from U.S.A. Weightlifting, but it’s especially difficult for someone who consumes 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day, a goal she meets through several daily servings of grains, meats and vegetables, along with weekly pizza nights. She also gets discounted groceries from food banks and donations from her coach, family and friends — or, as Robles says, “prayers and pity.”

She's not alone. Holley Mangold, the other American woman who'll be doing Olympic weightlifting in the same division, works part-time for a BBQ restaurant and lives in a friend's converted laundry room.

In fact, while the biggest stars in the most-watched events can pick up million-dollar endorsement deals, the truth is that most Olympic athletes live on extremely modest incomes. That's especially true in countries like Canada, which lacks the kind of government support system you find in places like China and Russia, but also lacks the plethora of large and small private endorsement deals that are available to some (but not all) American Olympians.

I think this is interesting. Every time the Olympics come up, I hear friends and talking heads alike arguing that the amateur athlete no longer exists. Everybody in the Olympics is really a professional and that makes it all less exciting—or so goes the conventional wisdom. The reality is that, for the most part, we're talking about people who make big sacrifices to be able to compete at a high level in a sport they're obsessed with for its own sake, not because they're getting rich. Sponsorships, rather than tainting the sport, do also help some athletes know where their next meal is coming from. After reading some of these articles, I think the vast majority of Olympic athletes probably fall squarely into Happy Mutant territory.

Read the rest of Buzzfeed's profile of Sarah Robles

• Read the New York Times' profile of weightlifter Holley Mangold
• Ivestopedia: Olympic Athletes—Back to Reality
• Wired: Olympic Runner Fights to Change Sponsorship Rules
• ABC News: How Can Olympic Athletes Find a Real Job?
• Time Magazine: Keeping Afloat (which contrasts the profits of the U.S. Olympic Committee with the small incomes that support many Olympic athletes)

Hacker School sets out to bring in more women programmers, succeeds

Hacker School is an intensive, three-month residential programming bootcamp in NYC. Some students receive tuition grants funded jointly by Etsy, 37 Signals, and Yammer. This year, they decided to focus on increasing the number of awesome women programmers participating in Hacker School, and did an amazing job. Etsy VP of Engineering Marc Hedlund is justifiably proud:

When we announced the program, we were aiming to find 20 women to join the summer class. The previous class, in the spring, had only around 7 female applicants and wound up with 1 female student, so we knew it would take a big effort to get to our goal. Since Hacker School runs admissions and structures the classes, Etsy’s primary role was to get the word out about the grants — and we asked for help from our community in reaching as many great candidates as we could.

To say that worked would be a serious understatement. With help from all of you, Hacker School received applications from 661 women, nearly a 100-times increase from the previous session. (As they put it, they received more applications this time from women named Sarah, than all applications from women for all previous sessions combined.) Hacker School has admitted 23 of those women for the summer program — exceeding our original goal by 3. It’s been incredibly exciting to see.

The response to the Hacker Grants program was much larger than we expected. 597 (90%) of the 661 female applicants requested financial assistance. We believe that the existence of the grants did play a major role in causing the increase in applications from women. Of the 23 female students admitted, 18 of them requested grants — 8 more than we’d planned to provide.

Update on the Hacker Grants Program (via O'Reilly Radar)

Historical proto-Al Jaffee hides trenchant commentary in design of US Dollar Bill


The other day I noticed that on the back of the one dollar bill, there is a phrase: The Great Seal of the United States. It is split into two circles. When you fold the dollar so that the two half circles meet exactly, a new phrase is revealed.

The Great Seal of the United States (Thanks, Terry!)

Jar of American Gods


A Redditor posts photos of a jar of American gods, hole-punched out of the US dollar bills that an atheist friend receives as tips in his job as a valet.

My atheist friend has worked as a Valet for over a decade. He uses a hole-punch to take out the "god" on US dollars. Here is a picture of his collected "gods". (imgur.com)

HOWTO re-create the Scrooge McDuck "Gold Coin Swim"

At the Billfold today, a wonderful and mathematically precise post that explains exactly “how much money do I need to create giant floes of gold in a private vault and dive into it like Scrooge McDuck?” (thanks, Dean Putney!)

Reddit's TestPAC is campaigning to defeat Lamar Smith, SOPA's daddy

TestPAC, the PAC founded on Reddit to carry on the momentum from the SOPA fight earlier this year, is in the midst of its inaugural campaign: seeking to oust long-term Texas congressman Lamar Smith, who authored the bill and attempted to ram it through his committee without any substantive debate, after taking large campaign contributions from the entertainment industry through several election cycles. Now, TestPAC has "boots on the ground" in Smith's home district and the campaign is in full swing, and seeking your support:

As some of you are aware, for the last 3 months, TestPAC has been working tirelessly to put together a comprehensive campaign to increase awareness about Lamar Smith’s legislative irresponsibility with the ultimate goal of defeating him in the May 29th primary.

It’s amazing to see what we have accomplished in the last 3 months. We went from a handful of Redditors passionate in their opposition of SOPA to a membership base of over 1,200 subscribers, we have over 500 followers on Facebook, and almost 600 on Twitter. We have funded a billboard in Lamar’s backyard, produced a professionally done advertisement, and have been featured in some major media outlets like Mashable, Mother Jones, BoingBoing and TheNextWeb.

In addition to all of this, today we are proud to announce the launch of our field campaign.

Boots are on the ground, led by Andy Posterick, TestPAC’s Treasurer who drove 12 hours from Phoenix, AZ to Kerrville, TX to lead a group of 10 volunteers to assist with handing out fliers, putting up signs and interacting with the voters in Lamar’s district. We are stepping out from behind our keyboards and monitors and getting out into the streets. We are making it happen, and we are here in TX-21 every weekend for the next 3 weeks.

Lamar Smith knows TestPAC is knocking. Several reporters who wrote about us have contacted him and his staff for comment. They know we are out there working to send him home from Washington. Now it’s time that he sees us in his district, connecting with voters and working to send him packing.

We need Reddit's Help

We're holding a 5k moneybomb today, in order to double our TV exposure and help fund the ground campaign. Reddit, every day there are posts about SOPA, PCIP, or CISPA. TestPAC is turning those words into actions. Can you help us?

If you can donate, here is the link to do so. If not, please spread the word on Facebook & Twitter.

If Canadians were allowed to donate, I would donate. As it is, all I can do is ask you to kick in to support the campaign.

TestPAC has boots on the ground in Lamar Smith's district. Our field campaign has started. Our TV ad is ready to go. Reddit, let's do this thing. (self.politics)

Tennessee man jailed for using old $50 bill

David Melson writes that police arrested and jailed a man Friday for using real money.

A clerk at Quik Mart, South Cannon Boulevard, notified police after the marker used to detect counterfeit bills didn't check as real. "The front side of the bill was off center and it didn't feel like a normal bill, it did look to be counterfeit," officer Brock Horner said in his report.

This is the state that just made it possible to sue teachers who tell children how human reproduction works. It's hardly surprising the authorities there don't know what a $50 bill looks like.

Old $50 bill found real, but not before bearer arrested [Shelbyville Times-Gazette]

Nigh-undetectable ATM skimmer


If the previous ATM skimmer posts didn't scare the pants off you, this one from San Fernando Valley, which Brian Krebs reports on, might. It has a near-undetectable pinhole camera for recording timestamped footage of your PIN entry, and apart from that indicator, the only way to spot it is to yank hard on the front of the ATM before you start using it.

A few tips about ATM skimmers and skimming scams. It’s difficult — once you’re aware of how sophisticated some of these skimmers can be — to avoid being paranoid around ATMs; friends and family often tease me for stopping to tug at ATMs that I pass on the street, even when I have no intention of withdrawing money from the machines.

Still, it’s good and healthy to be somewhat paranoid while at an ATM. Make sure nobody is “shoulder surfing” you to watch you enter your PIN. A simple precaution defeats shoulder surfing and many other types of video-based PIN stealing mechanism: Cover the PIN pad with your hand or another object when you enter your PIN.

Skimtacular: All-in-One ATM Skimmer

Commemorative Canadian quarters with glow-in-the-dark dino skeletons


Tim Hornyak writes about the new oversized Canadian commemorative quarters, which will feature glowing dinosaur skeletons, which is exactly what I've always wanted on all my money.

Made of cupronickel, the coin has a face value of 25 cents but is much larger than a regular Canuck quarter.

It shows an artist's rendering of Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai, a 4-ton, 26-foot dinosaur discovered in Alberta in 1972. It's the first in a four-coin series of photo-luminescent prehistoric creatures.

The mint says the skeleton can best be seen after the coin is exposed to sunlight, or to fluorescent or incandescent light for 30-60 seconds, adding that the luminescence won't fade with time.

Canada's newest coin glows in the dark (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Cheapskates love libraries (it's mutual)

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Libraries aren't just the mark of a civilized society -- assembling, curating and disseminating knowledge to all comers! -- they're also a cheapskate's best friend. Anyone who's interested in saving money probably already knows about the free Internet access, daily newspapers, DVD and audiobook borrowing, and book lending (duh). But local libraries go beyond that -- many host community meetings, book readings for kids, author signings, and workshops, as well as providing free or low-cost meeting spaces.

My favorite cheapskate pro-tip for libraries is asking reference librarians really hard, chewy questions. For example, any time I have a question about science fiction literature ("When did William Gibson first utter 'The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed'?" or "What was the time atomic weapons appeared in science fiction?") I ask the librarians at the Merril Collection, Toronto's incredible science fiction reference library, whose librarians are ninjas in such matters. But it's not just esoterica: many's the time I've walked into a good library and asked the reference librarians for help with something really chewy -- the sort of thing I might otherwise pay a researcher to find. Unlike a paid researcher, reference librarians usually don't just give you the answer, but rather take you by the hand and guide you through the use of library resources (including proprietary databases that aren't accessible over your home Internet connection), giving you an education in problem-solving as well as the solution to your problem.

Librarians, ultimately, are in the business of evaluating the authority of information sources, a problem that has never confronted more people than it does in the era of the Internet. I'm particularly looking forward to the day that hackspaces and libraries begin to realize that they're approaching the same problem from different directions, and a corner of the local branch into an e-waste recycling depot where librarians and tinkerers will help you build and outfit your own PC, giving you the technical and information literacy to understand what your computer is doing on your behalf.

(Image: Cutting Libraries in a Recession is like Cutting Hospitals in a Plague., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from daniel_solis's photostream)

The road to riches is paved with zombies

My friend John Schwartz, an author and a reporter with the New York Times, has a fun essay out that explores how best to make lots of money: through inspiring fear, anger, or love/happiness/kittens?

The essay begins with John recounting a morning run driven by terror, in the form of an iPhone app called "Zombies, Run!" The best-selling app inserts a kind of zombie radio play into your music playlist. "This War-of-the-Worlds-meets-Richard-Simmons broadcast is enhanced with the sounds of ever-closer shambling, grunting zombies," says John, "It certainly added a spring to my step."

Snip:

Naomi Alderman, who created the zombies app, said she was aiming at the “lizard brain,” the supposed part of our brain held over from our early evolution that motivates us with fear and a sense of impending danger. “Your brain wants you constantly to be afraid,” she said, “which is why we seek out horrible news stories about terrible things happening.”

That might be especially true today, she said, in our more comfortable lives. “If you live in the West,” she said, “you’re likely to live in peace and comfort and die of opulence-related diseases rather than anything your lizard brain is afraid of, like being hit over the head.” Lizard brain is hungry!

That’s why her program works, she suggested. “It’s fun to be scared of zombies,” she explained. “The back of the brain is yelling ‘Run, run, run!’ and the front of the brain is laughing.”

Read: Here Come The Zombies, But Not the Cash.

(illustration: Glynis Sweeny for the New York Times)

Canada to stop issuing pennies, businesses told to round off to nearest 5 cents, or "work it out for themselves"


The Canadian Tory government has announced that it's discontinuing the minting of new pennies, as the coins are expensive and considered a "nuisance" by businesses and their customers. As Steven Chase writes in the Globe and Mail:

“It costs taxpayers a penny-and-a-half every time we make one,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told the Commons, adding the move will save taxpayers $11-million annually.

...The increasing scarcity of pennies means Canadians will have to get used to cash transactions being rounded off if they’ve got no pennies on hand.

Ottawa is suggesting businesses round off cash transactions to the nearest five-cent increment but says it’s leaving this to businesses to work out for themselves.

When I was (briefly) at the University of Waterloo, the Engineering faculty's cafeteria had an option to dispense with change altogether: when your bill was added up, you could opt to gamble on rounding, with the direction -- up or down -- dependent on your change. In other words, if you had $3.83 owing to you, you'd have an 83% chance of getting $4 back, and a 17% chance of getting $3 back.

The federal budget’s one-cent solution (via Consumerist)

(Image: CANADA, GEORGE V 1920 ---FIRST ISSUE, SMALL ONE CENT a, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from woodysworld1778's photostream)

Put Alan Turing on the £10 note!

Peter Flint sez, "Alan Turing, computer pioneer and geek hero, is generally credited with helping, via his work at the top-secret Bletchley Park code-breaking centre, to shorten World War 2 by anything up to two years. He tragicaly took his own life after his (then-illegal) homosexuality came to light. One way to commemorate his work and to make his legacy more widely understood waould be to include his picture on the next £10 note. Sign the petition and help this to happen!" The richest person in Britain would be Turing-complete.

58 donors responsible for 80% of SuperPAC funding

With the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court turned money into a form of political speech, paving the way for enormous influxes of cash from the American ultra-elite one-percent-of-one-percent, and, to a lesser extent, organized labor (money given to the GOP by big business dwarfs labor's contribution to the Dems by a factor of about 2.5). The extent to which this has distorted American politics is only now becoming apparent, as statistics about SuperPACs and their "donations" are gathered and published. In this Salon report, Justin Elliott publishes some eye-opening figures about the new political reality in money-as-speech America.

Especially concerning: 80 percent of the money sloshing around in America's SuperPACs' warchests came from just 58 donors.

The Super PACs are not paragons of transparency, but what has been disclosed gives a sense of where the money is coming from and the interests of those giving it. Based on the donors and the origins of these groups, we can already discern what messages the Super PACs will generate in the home stretch of the campaign.

Red money, blue money: The making of the 2012 campaign

Balancing 3,118 coins on a dime

TaiStar42 accomplishes a jaw-dropping feat of dexterity, balance, and impractical engineering in this clip in which he balances 3,118 coins on a single, thin dime.

balancing tower of change 3118 coins on a single dime. 600 quarters, 501 dimes, 313 nickels, 1699 pennies, 5 foreign coins, and 7 hours of building. all real time clips,

on a dime 3000 (5th attempt, edited better) (via Neatorama)

Help crowdfund scientific research!

Over the next two months, you can fund scientific research through Rockethub.

The SciFund challenge runs from November 1 through December 15. Essentially, it's an experiment by a group of scientists who think that they might be able to use crowdfunding to fuel their research. Forty-nine different projects, in a wide variety of disciplines, have signed on to the challenge.

You can browse the projects, decide which ones you'd like to help support, and make a donation. As a bonus, many of the projects are offering nice little gifts for crowdfunders. For instance, if you donate $75 to help researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst study the biology and physics of duck sex, you'll earn a pass code to access a regularly updated research blog, a collection of duck postcards, a "Duck Force!" mug, and a USB flash drive loaded with videos of explosive duck ejaculations that the scientists filmed for their research. (Naturally, this is one of the projects that have currently raised the most money.)

Not interested in duck sex? You're a rarity on the Internet, but there are plenty of other options. There are studies on depression, urban butterflies, cellulosic biofuels, and the mathematics of direct democracy.

Check out all 49 projects. And pledge your support to science!

Video Link

Occupy the laboratory

In Baltimore, scientists have joined the Occupy Wall Street movement. They're worried about the lack of job prospects for Ph.D.s, but they're also worried about what that lack of jobs says about a society that's no longer interested in funding discovery and expanding human knowledge. (Via Bora Zivkovic)

Gaddafi riches "staggering"

Muammar Gaddafi may have died the richest person on earth, with more than $200bn in assets sneaked out of Africa's most oil-rich nation.

U.S. used to have awesome money

On the 1896 five dollar bill, "the entire obverse was covered with artwork representing electricity." The $2 bill offered an image representing science, with youth gracing the $1.

Space dust: Your tax dollars at work

Your tax dollars build bridges. They pay the salaries of teachers and firefighters. Tax dollars help put people through college, provide a safety net for the elderly and the disabled, and pay for fighter jets and nuclear bombs.

Read the rest

I can't go out tonight, the robot is washing my hair

This hair-washing robot, introduced by Panasonic at a public demonstration in Tokyo last week, is actually a pretty practical idea. Washing your hair involves a decent amount of small motor coordination and finger dexterity, things that people often lose when they have a spinal injury or other kinds of nerve damage. A hair-washing robot could offer those people a bit more independence when it comes to their daily routines. That's a good thing.

But the real reason I'm posting this here is to show you how easy it is to take research that is objectively beneficial, and make it sound deeply silly and frivolous. All you have to do is show that picture (which is a little funny looking already, right?) and frame the story from the perspective of privilege—the perspective of people who have no problems controlling the nerves in their hands and forget that not everybody shares that skill.

Why would anybody need a robot to wash their hair? Oh, those crazy Japanese and their robots! They should put that money into something really useful. Amiright?

The next time a politician or pundit tells you about "wacky" scientific research that isn't worth funding, remember the hair washing robot, and think about whether the research is really as silly as you're being lead to believe.

Image:REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon

Steam pioneers to grace £50 note

The new Bank of England 50 pound note features British steam pioneers James Watt and Matthew Boulton; it's a nice, makerish touch to the currency.

(via Core77)

American money is very hard on blind people

Tommy Edison, the blind film critic last featured here demonstrating an "accessible" ATM explains the inaccessible design of US money and the difficulties it presents for people with vision problems.

Saving is easier when you have a single goal in mind

"The Fewer the Better: Number of Goals and Savings Behavior," (PDF) a study from University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business on consumer savings strategies, concludes that it's better to have a single thing that you're saving for, rather than multiple savings goals.

Consider two hypothetical individuals, Tom and Jerry, who have both been recently exposed to a seminar on why it is important to save. While the contents of the seminar attended by both were identical, there was one notable difference. Tom was told it was important to save because he needed to focus on several goals – the education of his children, healthcare emergencies and as a stash for a proverbial rainy day. On the other hand, the seminar that Jerry attended stressed only one goal; say having enough for children’s education. In linking the case of Tom and Jerry to the research on mindsets, we believe that when people (like Tom) have several competing goals, they might still be in a deliberative mindset. That is, they may be contemplating which of these goals should be more important and by how much, and thus are not readily able to translate the savings goals into action. In particular, because multiple goals were competing for the limited monetary recourse (e.g., every dollar people save for their children’s education is a dollar they can’t save for their retirement), thinking about this trade-off prevents them from moving into an implementation mindset. However, when people (like Jerry) only have one goal, they no longer need to make goal trade-offs and are more likely to move onto the second stage of the goal pursuance -- a position to think about implementing the goal. As a result, their commitment with the task at hand (i.e., saving) will be stronger and their savings intention will be higher.

Credit scores are bullshit

Matt Haughey explains why credit-scores are bullshit: "I had the highest credit score at a time in my life when I was leveraged to the hilt and I lived paycheck to paycheck. Now that I have my own business, a healthy retirement, and can pay for everything I need/want, I have a low score and I'm dubbed a higher risk even though my ability to pay is very high."

Edinburgh Fringe show asks audience to shred banknotes

"Crash," Gary McNair's one-man Edinburgh Fringe show, asks audiences to rethink their relationship with money, and culminates with audience members feeding banknotes through an office shredder:
McNair promises a "five-step programme" to "release you from the terrors of the financial system". En route he takes in the history of monetisation, the notion of the collapse of trust in money (the bank run); and orchestrates a vigorous bidding war for an unspecified number of banknotes contained in a sealed envelope. Bids have, in the past, reached £100, although on his opening night in Edinburgh the bidding stopped at £26.50.

He also bartered with an audience member for her treasured necklace – her eventual price was a tour round Edinburgh, a bike ride, home-cooked lunch and the promise that he would come round and assemble her flat-pack furniture. Afterwards McNair said: "I wasn't expecting her to say she lived in Austria but if it's viable, yes, I will go to Austria and put up her shelves."

The climax of the show was, however, the moment when he suggested members of the audience feed their hard-earned cash through an office shredder, "as a vaccine against the disasters of the future, so that money and greed will lose their grip on you". Five did, with £10 notes as well as £5 notes returned to their owners as useless slithers of paper. (Destroying banknotes is not an offence, as commonly believed, though defacing them is.)

Crunch time at the Edinburgh festival: audiences step up to shred cash (via We Make Money Not Art)

(Image: downsized thumbnail from a photo by Murdo Macleod)