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Get a wee degree in free from RIT

The Rochester Institute of Technology has announced America's "first minor in free and open source software and free culture." (Thanks, Stephen!) Cory 2

Bookshelves of the ancients


David Harper's installation "Stacks" is part of the collection at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in upstate New York. For another view, check out this shot.

(via Kadrey)

Dentist sued over "I own your criticism" agreement vanishes


Dr. Stacy Makhnevich was a NYC dentist (billing herself as the "Classical Singer Dentist of New York") who made use of a bizarre form provided by a company called "Medical Justice." Her patients were expected to sign this form, through which they assigned copyright in all their reviews of the dental practice and the doctor to the doctor herself, enabling her to use copyright notices to censor any criticism of her that appeared online. Robert Lee was an unhappy patient who posted a one-star Yelp review in 2010, and subsequently ended up embroiled in litigation against Makhnevich -- a lawsuit that would have likely settled the question of the legality of Medical Justice's adhesion contracts.

But Medical Justice left Makhnevich to fight the claim on her own, and she has subsequently disappeared. It seems she is no longer practicing dentistry, and her lawyers can't locate her and have asked to shut down the case.

Read the rest

Head-shop CCTV catches police informant/undercover planting crack


Charlie writes, "There is a smoke shop in Scotia NY, owned by a young black man. There are many, many smoke shops in the capital region, but the rest are owned by white people. Undercover police decided to send an 'undercover agent' (an informant facing his own jail time) to investigate. Shortly after, the owner was charged with possession of crack cocaine. He was facing almost a decade in prison. Just one hitch though: the owner had video cameras set up in his shop. The videos captured the informant dropped a bag of crack on the counter; planting the drugs. The charges were dismissed, the informant has suddenly "disappeared" and the owner is now considering a law suit."

Read the rest

TSA orders airport valets to search parked cars

A woman who valet-parked her car at Rochester airport returned to find a notice informing her that the valet had searched her car, on orders from the TSA. The TSA does not search cars in the other garages, and they do not provide notice to valet parkers that their cars are subject to search. The TSA says it searches the parked cars because they are stored close enough to the terminal that a bomb could do serious damage.

John McCaffery, TSA, said, “No, those vehicles that are in the garage, short term long term parking, even if they carry pretty large amounts of explosives, they would not cause damage to the front of the airport. But for those who use the valet, the car could be there for a half hour or an hour so there is a vulnerability.”

News10NBC went to the valet parking and one of the attendants showed us the notice they put in the cars.

We asked, “You're required, they tell you, you have to search the car?” Valet Parking Attendant Frank Dettorre said, “I have to do it.”

My prediction: the TSA will erect a sign at the valet drop-off saying, "By valet parking, you agree that we can search your car." And that will be the end of it. Because in the 21st century, posting a notice of your unreasonable conduct is the same as getting consent for it.

TSA searches valet parked car [Berkeley Brean/WHEC.com]

New York Senate makes it a felony to annoy a police officer

The New York Senate has passed a bill making it illegal to "harass" a police officer by "any type of physical action" -- even action that does not otherwise constitute interference, obstruction or assault. Given that "obstruction" and "interference" are famously broad, it's hard to imagine what conduct the police and the NY Senate believe they need to control by statute, though there's a clue in the statutory language, which makes it a felony to "harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty."

In other words, if you cause any physical contact with a police officer, even unintentionally, even if the contact does not rise to the level of assault or obstruction or interference, you can be convicted of a felony and imprisoned if the officer can show that your conduct "annoyed" him. This is the kind of statute that seems calculated to allow the police and prosecutors to put people in jail for very long stretches (remember that 97% of people indicted for felonies in the USA plead guilty under threat of decades of prison should they fight and lose) just because they don't like them very much.

I'm reminded of Toronto's notorious "Officer Bubbles", Adam Josephs, who told a G20 protester that if any soap bubbles were to touch him, he could consider it assault (and who violently arrested the protester on that basis). The world laughed (albeit with some weary cynicism) at the idea that a large, armed man could call incidental contact with a soap-bubble "assault." But the New York Senate has effectively given police the power to literally treat mere annoyances as felonious conduct.

“At a time when shocking incidents of disrespect and outright confrontation are at an all-time high, the men and women who patrol the streets of our cities deserve every possible protection we can offer them,” Senator Griffo stated. “My bill would make it a crime to take any type of physical action to try to intimidate a police officer. This is a necessary action because we can see from the rise in incidents that too many people in our society have lost the respect they need to have for a police officer. We need to make it very clear that when a police officer is performing his duty, every citizen needs to comply and that refusal to comply carries a penalty.”

Senate Passes Bill Making the Harassment of a Police Officer a Crime

I Love New York people censor I Coffee Cup New York logo, want to send them a bill

Empire State Development, the New York State agency devoted to promoting New York businesses, threatened the (extremely excellent) Everyman Espresso shop with a lawsuit because they used an "I [Coffee Cup] New York" logo (the logo appears on the knuckles of Sam Penix, who co-owns Everyman). After Everyman took the sign down, Empire State Development's lawyers demanded "an accounting of all gross revenues generated during the period when the I ♥ NY® Trademark was used" so that they could figure out how big a bill to send to a small New York business for using it.

“Basically, it’s extortion,” he said. “It’s also ironic because we are being threatened by the entity that has vowed to grow our New York business.”

The mission of Empire State Development, the department’s parent agency, is indeed “to promote a vigorous and growing economy, encourage the creation of new job and economic opportunities, increase revenues to the State and its municipalities, and achieve stable and diversified local economies.” Empire State Development is also home to the state tourism department, which started an effort last year to revive and reinvent its “I ♥ NY” campaign.

On Monday, Everyman slapped a “Censored” sign over the logo on the door of its second shop, on West Broadway in SoHo, which opened last summer. Everyman’s principals are complying with Ms. Neumann’s request, albeit under protest. “We just think there’s no likelihood of confusion,” Mr. Terrana said.

A Cup Is at the Heart of a Trademark Dispute

Shredded confidential police documents discovered in Macy's parade confetti


Students from Tufts University who attended this year's Macy's Parade were showered with confetti made from shredded, confidential Nassau County police files. The shreds revealed the identities of undercover officers, including their SSNs and bank details.

"It landed on her shoulder," Finkelstein said, "and it says 'SSN' and it's written like a Social Security number, and we're like, 'That's really bizarre.'"

Finkelstein, a Tufts University freshman, said he and his friends were concerned and picked up more confetti that had fallen around them.

"There are phone numbers, addresses, more Social Security numbers, license plate numbers and then we find all these incident reports from police."

The documents were apparently from the Nassau County Police Department.

Police documents found in parade confetti [UPI] (via /.)

(Image: IMG_2528.JPG, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from supa_pedro's photostream)

Oatmeal fundraiser for Tesla museum is a triumph


The Oatmeal's campaign to raise funds to preserve and develop the 16 acre plot in Wardenclyffe, Long Island where Nikola Tesla's lab once stood has concluded successfully. The fundraiser aimed to raise $850,000 and ended up with $1.4 million, with donations from over 100 countries. The money was given to a group called The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and was used to buy the land from the Agfa Corporation, its erstwhile owner.

With The Oatmeal's help, nonprofit buys property to build a Tesla Museum

(Image: Tesla Science Center)

Video from the Stross and Doctorow show at MakerBot in Brooklyn

Joly MacFie captured video of Charlie Stross's and my tour-stop at Brooklyn's MakerBot this week. We were there in support of our new novel Rapture of the Nerds, and did a talk, reading and Q&A that touched on the Singularity, its precedents, its discontents, and its inherent comedy -- all while 3D printers chattered in the background. And afterwards everyone got 3D printed miniatures of our heads!

We're making our final stops of tour tomorrow -- Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! -- in Rochester, NY, at RIT. Tell your friends!

Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross - The Rapture of the Nerds (Thanks, Joly!)

See you in Rochester on Sunday!

Charlie Stross and I conclude our whirlwind transhumanist comedy two-act on Sunday to support our new novel Rapture of the Nerds with appearances at RIT in Rochester, and the IEEE International Games Innovation Conference 2012. Be there or be consigned to the scrapheap of history! Cory

Charlie Stross and Cory in Brookline, MA tonight

Charlie Stross and I will be at the Brookline Booksmith tonight at 7PM! It's the second-to-last stop on our quick tour for Rapture of the Nerds -- the last stop is this weekend in Rochester, NY. Be there or be pre-posthuman! Cory

Delta refuses boarding to Poop Strong man for flying while brown and wearing the security theater shirt I designed


Back in 2007, I designed a shirt for Woot! that featured a screaming eagle clutching an unlaced shoe and a crushed water bottle, surrounded by the motto MOISTURE BOMBS ZOMG TERRORISTS ZOMG GONNA KILL US ALL ZOMG ZOMG ALERT LEVEL BLOODRED RUN RUN TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES. Among the lucky owners of this garment is Arijit "Poop Strong" Guha, who proudly wore it this week as he headed for a Delta flight from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to his home in Phoenix.

But it was not to be. First, the TSA Delta agents questioned him closely about the shirt, and made him agree to change it, submit to a secondary screening and board last. He complied with these rules, but then he was pulled aside by multiple Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority cops, more TSA, and a Delta official and searched again. No one found anything untoward, but --

The Delta official told Arijit he wouldn't be allowed to board, and neither would his wife. Period.

When Arijit complained about this, the Niagara Transport cops got "aggressive," questioning him further and noting in their discussions that "he looks foreign." Now Arijit understood that the problem was Flying While Brown. The Niagara Transport cops had lots of dumb questions, like why Arijit's wife hadn't taken his last name, why he had opted out of the pornoscanner, and then they sicced the drug-seeking dogs on him.

Delta rebooked them for a flight the next day, but didn't offer Arijit and his wife a hotel room overnight -- and when they turned up at the airport, they discovered that their "confirmed" seats weren't confirmed, and unless eight passengers on the oversold flight agreed to fly later, they wouldn't be getting on that plane, either.

It turns out that Delta has a pattern of removing brown people from its airplanes when its pilots and passengers evince thinly veiled (or obvious) racist fears, too.

Having been booted from our flight, the transit police now began to aggressively question us. At one point, I was asked where my brother lives (he was the one who gifted me the shirt). A bit surprised by the irrelevant question, I paused for a moment before answering.

“You had to think about that one. How come?,” she asked. I explained he recently moved. “Where'd he move from?” “Michigan,” I respond. “Michigan, what's that?,” she says. At this point, the main TSA agent who'd questioned me earlier interjected: “He said ‘Michigan’.” Unable to withhold my snark, I responded with an eye-rolling sneer: “You've never heard of Michigan?”

This response did not please her partner, a transit cop named Mark. Mark grabbed his walkie-talkie and alerted his supervisor and proceeded to request that he be granted permission to question me further in a private room. His justification?: “First he hesitated, then he gave a stupid answer.” Michigan, my friends, is a stupid answer.

And then, he decided to drop any façade of fair treatment: the veil was lifted, this was about who I was and how I looked: “And he looks foreign.”

Well, Buffalo is pretty close to Canada, so maybe he thought I looked Canadian. What does a Canadian look like anyway? Whatever it is, I’m sure that’s precisely what he was thinking. Certainly he wasn’t implying that dark-skinned people are not real Americans and that white people are the only true Americans. (I wonder what those who settled this land well before the arrival of Europeans would have to say about that.)

Arijit Vs. Delta

Stross and Doctorow on the road: the Rapture of the Nerds tour in Lexington, Brooklyn, Brookline, Rochester

Charlie Stross and I are hitting the road this September 5-9 for a mini, post-Burning Man, post-WorldCon book-tour for our collaborative comic novel of the Singularity called Rapture of the Nerds. We're coming to Lexington, KY; Brooklyn, NY (a stop at MakerBot's BotCave, where there will be a very special surprise!), Brookline, MA, and Rochester, NY. I've never been to Lexington or Brookline, so this is doubly exciting to me!

And tonight, of course, I'm appearing (solo) at a Long Now talk in San Francisco.

Announcing the Tour for Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross’s The Rapture of the Nerds

XKCD wedding cake


Mike sez, "Photographed a wedding reception in upstate NY this weekend -- the cake was awesome! The couple are both geeks and have three geeky teenaged daughters who helped design it.... Take a look at the cell phone video!"

Cameraphone MP4 video
(Thanks, Mike!)