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The risks of visiting volcanoes

In 1993, Stanley Williams survived a close-encounter with a volcano. A volcanologist, he was standing on the rim of Colombia's Galeras volcano when it erupted with little warning. Six of his scientific colleagues and three tourists were killed. Williams fled down the mountain's slope — until flying rocks and boulders broke both his legs. With a fractured skull, he managed to stay conscious enough to huddle behind some other large boulders and dodge flying debris until the eruption ended and his grad students rescued him.

Williams and the other scientists were there to study Galeras, and hopefully get a better idea of what signals predicted the onset of eruptions.

This is something we still don't understand well.

While volcanologists have identified some signals — like distinctive patterns of small earthquakes — that increase the likelihood of an oncoming eruption, those signals aren't foolproof predictions. There are still volcanoes like Galeras that give no warning. And volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens. In 2004, that volcano gave signals that it would erupt. And it did. Sort of. The Seattle Times described it as "two small burps and a lava flow". Basically, the signals don't always precede an eruption, and even when they do happen it doesn't tell you much about how big any ensuing eruption will be.

And that presents an interesting question, writes Erik Klemetti at Wired's Eruptions blog. How close to volcanoes should tourists really be? That's a question with real-world applications. This year, New Zealand's White Island volcano has been ... rather grumbly. Even as tourist boats continued to ferry people over for a view of the crater.

There has always been a fragile relationship between volcanoes and tourism. Volcanic features are some of the most fascinating in the world – just look at the millions of people who visit Yellowstone or Crater Lake National Parks for but two examples of hundreds of volcanic tourist attractions around the world (and that doesn’t even consider all the extinct volcanoes or volcanic deposits that can create amazing landscapes as well). However, with the splendor of volcanic features comes the danger that you, as a tourist, are visiting an active volcano. Sometimes, that danger is low, where either the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years, but the signs of magma beneath are still visible. However, the danger can appear to be low in some places but in reality, you are literally putting your lives in the hands of tour operators when you make the visit.

Read the full story

Read Stanley Williams' account of surviving the Galeras volcano

Photo by Michael Rogers, via GFDL and CC

Man ordered not to throw horseshit at Prince Charles

An Auckland resident was ordered Tuesday to stay away from Prince Charles and wife Camilla during their stay in New Zealand, thereby thwarting his plans to throw horseshit at the royal couple. Sam Bracanov, 76, was ordered by Auckland District Court to remain at least 500 meters from the future British monarch. Though he pleaded not guilty on a charge of conspiracy to commit a crime, he described to reporters a plan to "make it liquid like porridge." [Reuters] Rob

New Zealand record industry flubs its first three-strikes prosecution

The first of eight prosecutions brought under New Zealand's three-strikes copyright law (passed as a rider to the emergency legislation freeing up money to provide relief for the Christchurch earthquake) has fallen apart.

The RIANZ (Record Industry Association of NZ) withdrew its case against a student in shared accommodation without saying why.

However, as Torrentfreak reports, NZ activists at Tech Liberty point out that the notices sent to the student, and the damages claimed, were all badly bungled and unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny.

The recording group asked for just over NZ $370 (US $303) to cover the costs of the notices and copyright tribunal hearing, plus NZ $1,250 (US $1,024) as a deterrent. However, eyebrows were certainly raised when it came to their claim for the music involved in the case.

The infringements were alleged to have taken place on five tracks with the cost of each measured against their value in the iTunes store, a total of NZ $11.95 (US $9.79). This sounds reasonable enough, but RIANZ were actually claiming for $1075.50 (US $880.96).

“RIANZ decided, based on some self-serving research, that each track had probably been downloaded 90 times and therefore the cost should be multiplied by 90,” says Tech Liberty co-founder Thomas Beagle. “There is no basis in the Copyright Act or Tribunal regulations for this claim.”

I don't think we can count on this kind of cack-handedness in the future. The RIANZ will perfect its procedures soon enough, and we'll start seeing punitive fines and even disconnection based on mere accusation of living in a house where the router is implicated in an unproven allegation of copyright infringement.

Music Biz Dumps First Contested Copyright Case After Botched 3 Strikes Procedure

NZ set to put source-shielding journalistic privilege at judges' mercy

Juha sez, 'As if journalism here in New Zealand wasn't difficult and damaged enough... the government is proposing to make it worse. 'The unheralded change to "journalistic privilege' is contained in a paper issued by Justice Minister Judith Collins today and proposes a new regime where journalists would have to hand over their sources to a High Court judge who would decide whether they were entitled to claim 'journalistic privilege'. If the court decided there was no case for protecting the source, details would be handed over to the agency seeking the information.'" Cory

Polygon Heroes: low poly-count 3D superhero posters


James, a photo retoucher in New Zealand, makes these "de-touched" "polygon hero" posters, 3D representations of familiar comics icons, downrezzed to abstract jaggie forms.

Polygon Heroes (Thanks, danielpresling!)

MegaUpload raided, founder arrested; Anonymous launches mass DDoS against entertainment companies and US law enforcement

New Zealand police, responding from a request from the US government, raided MegaUpload today, arresting founder and CEO Kim ”Dotcom” Schmitz and three "associates." The service, which allowed users to upload files that were too big to email, claimed 150 million users. The entertainment industry alleged that the service was primarily intended to facilitate copyright infringement, since people could use it to illegally share music and movies, but the company claimed that while some users might infringe copyright with MegaUpload, others simply used it to share files that belonged to them. For example, I use a comparable service, YouSendIt, to exchange large MP3 files of my podcast with John Taylor Williams, the sound engineer who masters them. At other times, companies that wanted me to review their movies and music have uploaded them to a file locker and supplied me with the link and password to get them.

In response, a large denial-of-service attack ("OpMegaupload") has been launched against the US Department of Justice, the FBI, Universal Music and other entertainment and law-enforcement sites, by activists operating under the Anonymous banner.

MegaUpload has been waging an online campaign against Universal Music and US law enforcement and trade representatives, first releasing a video featuring famous artists singing an anthem in praise of MegaUpload, then suing Universal Music over false copyright claims that had the video removed from YouTube.

The Swedish Pirate Party strongly condemns raid against MegaUpload

Occupy Wellington: whiteboard, camera, outrage, action!

Penelope Lattey of Wellington, New Zealand headed down to her local Occupy with a whiteboard, a marker, her camera, and asked people to explain why they were there. The result: Occupy Wellington: a project.

(thanks, Susannah Breslin!)

Flowchart shows the complexity of the New Zealand's Internet Disconnection copyright law


New Zealand's new copyright law provides for Internet disconnection for anyone whose Internet connection has been used by someone (or several someoneones) who are accused of three acts of copyright infringement. While the UN has condemned this law as disproportionate and disrespectful of human rights, its proponents often talk of its "simplicity" as a virtue (as in, "well, anyone who thinks about infringing copyright will be able to understand this: you download, you lose your network connection").

But as this three-page flowchart from the Telecommunications Carriers' Forum demonstrates, the process of disconnection is so ramified and baroque that it requires deep study just to get your head around, and easily answering questions like, "How do I appeal this?" is anything but simple.

Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act - process diagrams (Thanks, Juha!)