Tor.com has republished a great chart from Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!, forthcoming in on January 7. The chart details the central thesis of the book: that "the long-standing campaign against fun" is a recurring story in which anxious, killjoy grownups make up stupid explanations for why the stuff their kids like is terrible and should be banned, and the golden era of their own childhoods (and the amusements that reigned then) should be restored.
The chart starts with Trithemius's 1494 rant against printing presses ("The word written on parchment will last a thousand years. The printed word is on paper. How long will it last?") and moves smartly through books, steam engines, newspapers, photos, telegraphs, movies, phones, phonographs, radio, TV, computers, and (of course), the Internet.
Ars Technica's Casey Johnson has designed a handy checklist for people hoping to develop a "woman's" tech product without being sexist jerks. The first step is ensuring that there is, indeed, some need that is unique to women (an important step -- women don't need their own pens, Bic). And obviously, you can't just make a pink version or a version that has fewer features and declare it to be chick-ready. Johnson then counsels against avoiding merely making things more "design-y" and declaring it to be woman-friendly (guys like things that look good too).
My friend Andrew linked me to this nifty old-timey video showing London, Midland, and Scottish Railway employees repairing a steam locomotive. There's a lot of neat stuff happening here, but I particularly loved the part where a guy crawls backwards into the train's firebox to diagnose boiler and engine problems from the inside. TRAINS!
The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.
However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.
We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.
Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam is the 40th (!) novel in the Discworld series. It's just come out in the UK (the US edition comes out in March) and it's a tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world's most delightful writers. It's a curious thing: a fantasy novel about modernity and reactionaries, a synthesis of technological optimism and a curious sort of romantic mysticism.
Here you can see a lump of rock with embedded fossils of bird bones trapped in the matrix. Below the rock are 3D printed models of those same fossils, created by paleontologist Brett Nachman. Other scientists captured the fossils inside the rock using CT scans that can see through the stone with the help of x-rays.
inFORM is a "Dynamic Shape Display" that lowers and raises pegs in a matrix to display digital 3D information in a physical way. The effect is quite magical. It's a prototype from MIT's Tangible Media Group that embodies their concept of "Radical Atoms," materials that can dynamically shift form to generate a kind of blended reality that merges the virtual and physical. (Thanks, Syd Garon!)
Pneumatic tube systems — little canisters shot through a series of tubes via the power of compressed air — have been around since the 19th century when they were briefly popular as a way to quickly deliver mail in big cities. Today, they're probably most familiar from their use in drive-through banking, but the tubes also turn up at libraries (the one at the main branch of the New York Public Library is particularly steampunky), in scientific laboratories, and in hospitals.
Last month, I spent an inordinate amount of time in one Minneapolis area hospital, waiting for an induced labor to kick in. How do you entertain yourself between the insertion of the IV line and the beginning of serious contractions? Turns out, you go on a lot of short walks, you watch some TV, and (if you're lucky) you convince the nurses to let your husband "mail" his cell phone from the labor/delivery department to the post-natal department, using the hospital's pneumatic tube system.
San Francisco's public television station KQED produced a half-hour documentary on the private efforts to commercialize space. The program focuses on Silicon Valley-based concerns like reusable rocket maker Masten Space Systems (image of their Xaero spacecraft above) and microsatellite developer Skybox Imaging. Also appearing is BB pal Steve Jurvetson, happy mutant venture capitalist and a board member at space transport company SpaceX. In fact, I ran into Steve at a model rocketry meet on Saturday -- the man really digs rockets! You can watch the KQED documentary, "Silicon Valley Goes To Space," in full below.
How does Google Maps account for plate tectonics? That's the seemingly simple question that led George Musser to unearth some fascinating facts about map-making, history, and the accuracy of modern GPS systems. Turns out, not only does the crust of the Earth, itself, move, but so do the locations of lines of latitude and longitude. Both those things contribute to small errors when your GPS tries to pinpoint exactly where you are.
There's a mysterious barge docked at Treasure Island, the former Navy base in the San Francisco Bay. The barge contains a structure built from shipping containers. According to CNET, whatever is inside those containers is related to a secret project underway inside Hangar 3 on the island, a former military base. CNET managed to trace the project back to Google. It seems likely that Google is either reverse-engineering a crashed alien spacecraft or prototyping a floating data center. CNET suggests the latter but my bets (and hopes) are on the former.
As you may have heard, in addition to my duties manning the engine room here at Boing Boing, I've recently begun a stint as Wikimedia's Director of Tech Ops.
We're in the process of choosing an additional datacenter partner and location, and as you would expect, we are trying to make the process as transparent as possible. We have a Request for Proposals posted, and we'd be happy to take on any bids that meet our criteria.
If you (or someone you know) is involved in the datacenter business, here's a great opportunity to help an awesome non-profit change the world, and support our mission of bringing the sum of all knowledge to every human being.
Computer scientist Katia Vega has developed conductive eye shadow and false eyelashes that can be used to control wearable computers. For example, an extended blink could trigger your phone's camera. "We use voluntary movements to amplify intentions – using our body as a new input device," Vega, a researcher at Rio de Janeiro's Pontifical Catholic University, told New Scientist.
Jeremy sez, "To celebrate Ada Lovelace day, celebrating women in science and technology (Tuesday, Oct 15th this year) I've put together a collection of t-shirts featuring women in science and technology. Since I know that despite their contributions many of these women are not household names I've also added a brief writeup of each woman's best known accomplishments when you mouse over each design."
The term "gonzo journalism" gets thrown around pretty loosely, generally referring to stuff that's kind of shouty or over-the-top, but really gonzo stuff is completely, totally bananas. Case in point is James Mickens's The Slow Winter [PDF], a wonderfully lunatic account of the limitations of chip-design that will almost certainly delight you as much as it did me.
NOVA's Tim De Chant posted this awesome photo of the Kilby Solid Circuit, the first working example of a miniaturized electric circuit that combined all the necessary structures onto a single chip. Back in 2000, when he won the Nobel Prize for this achievement, inventor Jack Kilby gave a really nice talk about the history of electronics and the context that lead to his creation. It's definitely worth a read.
The Manhattan Project was a secret, but it wasn't as secret a secret as you've been lead to believe, writes Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic. Not only was the construction of an atomic weapon a topic of Washington gossip, but the entire "secret city in the desert" thing got blown open in 1944 when a columnist for a Midwestern newspaper ran across Los Alamos while on vacation. In light of our current debates about state secrets and security, it's probably less interesting that columnist Jack Raper found Los Alamos, and more interesting that he, and his paper, chose to buck the self-enforced system of silence that characterized World War II media.
Popular Science has a great (and occasionally horrifying) slideshow of gadgets it once suggested were essential for enlightened, tech-minded parents. A lot of the inventions merely look way sketchy. For instance, the infant-sized "sleeping porch" that is actually a screened box bolted into an apartment window frame is probably mounted well enough that it's not going to kill anybody. It's just that, from the vantage point of a 100 years later, it seems a little disturbing to stick your baby into something that looks like a large AC window unit.
LuAnne McNulty is an organic chemist. A few years ago, she developed severe asthma that's triggered by ... well ... organic chemistry. Not too long ago, that biological reaction would have put her out of a job. Today, she's able to conduct research (if not do it herself) and advise younger scientists with the help of really simple tech solutions.
The Uncanny Valley is that point where something designed to look human gets too close to success, and ends up accidentally reminding us of the many, many ways that it also looks totally alien. The result: A one-way ticket to Creepoutsville.
Or, anyway, that's the hypothesis. See, despite the fact that we've long treated it as a given, the Uncanny Valley isn't a proven concept. In fact, writes Rose Eveleth at The BBC, the original 1970 paper that described the Uncanny Valley wasn't really based on research at all. It was more of an essay. An essay that nobody much questioned for 30 years. Since 2000, there's been some actual research on the subject, and the results are very mixed. Some studies can find evidence of the Uncanny Valley. In others, though, it appears to not exist at all.
Using a Google news alert, he's cataloged 50 squirrel-caused power outages in 24 states — and that's just since Memorial Day. These aren't small outages either. Several of them have cut power to thousands of people at a time. Back in 1994, a squirrel took out the Nasdaq. These are kamikaze raids and they've led to an interesting phenomenon — technology developed specifically to protect our infrastructure from furry, tree-hopping rodents.
E-cigarettes are different enough from cigarettes that it's hard for regulators to figure out how to monitor their safety and use. There's nicotine, but no tobacco. There's heating, but not combustion. Theoretically, they should be safer to use than cigarettes, but nobody really knows for sure. This piece at InsideScience is an interesting look at how we manage new technologies that don't quite fit into any previously defined regulatory boxes ... and why we'd want to regulate them, to begin with.
Last night, my husband and I went to the Minnesota State Fair and stumbled upon a demonstration of a linotype machine, a semi-automated, mechanical printing system that was used by newspapers and magazines (and basically everything else) from the end of the 19th century through the 1970s. It's a completely mesmerizing piece of equipment. An operator types out a line of text and the machine responds by collecting molds that match each letter and fitting them together. Then, it fills the mold with molten metal and dumps out the freshly minted block, ready for the printer ... before automatically re-racking all the letter molds so they're ready for the next line of text.
Thanks to that whole "mental" part, mental illnesses are often heavily influenced by the cultures and societies in which people live. Case in point: The way people with schizophrenia interpret their own hallucinations has changed over the course of the 20th century, keeping pace with changes in technology. Where people once believed that demons were speaking to them, they came to think of those voices as emanating from secret phonographs. Today, people with schizophrenia are likely to imagine hidden cameras taping them for a reality show. The paranoid delusions are always there, but the context changes.
Ptak Science Books reprints a helpful article from the journal Computers and Automation, meant to help early computer shoppers make sure they're wisely spending their hundreds of thousands of dollars (in 1953 dollars, that is). You don't want to end up with a gigantic, room-sized piece of machinery that doesn't meet your needs or, worse, is a lemon.
Technologically speaking, it's a perfectly possible thing to do, writes Tim Fernholtz at Quartz. The problem is the high cost of infrastructure development, something have everybody (whether they want to built a train, a highway, or a futuristic hyperloop) tends to underestimate. That's particularly a problem given the fact that whole idea behind Musk's hyperloop is that it could be a cheaper replacement for an expensive high-speed rail line already under development.
New York Times China correspondent Edward Wong describes his life in heavily polluted Beijing, where he no longer feels safe running outside and, in order to bike around town, dons a black air filter face mask that makes him "look like an Asian Darth Vader".