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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
You may not agree all those ways your tax dollars are spent, but they are all, at least, fairly tangible. When it's time for re-election, your senator can point to a roads project, a school, a saintly grandmother, or a missile silo. Through these projects, Americans are being educated, cared for, and protected.
But it's hard to make that clear cost/benefit analysis for basic scientific research. At least, not on a timetable that matches up with election cycles.
Basic research is often weird, and it's often boring. It's the years spent mapping the neurons of zebra fish, so that future scientists can have a more detailed biological model to work with. It's the chemical analysis that has to happen, so that two decades from now somebody else can discover a new cancer-fighting drug. Basic research is about curiosity, and knowledge for knowledge's sake. By it's very nature, basic research relies on public funding. But by it's very nature, it's hard to explain how the public benefits from the basic research we fund.
Attila Kovacs is one of the scientists who put your tax dollars to work. An astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota, he specializes in the study of space dust. That is, yes, dust. In space. It's the sort of thing that would be very easy to mock. (Imagine Bill O'Reilly making a joke about lemon-scent space Pledge.) But Kovacs says space dust matters more than you think. And he makes a good case for why it's important to spend tax dollars on funny-sounding science.