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Delightfully creepy portraits of ventriloquist dummies

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I will offer this without comment. See the rest of the dummies, who are not in police custody, at the Public School blog.

Thanks to the wondrous Leslie Marlow!

The Beekeeper's Lament: Must-read book on bee life, and death

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What's killing the bees? After reading The Beekeeper's Lament —Hannah Nordhaus' lyrical, haunting book about the complicated lives and deaths of America's honeybees—my question has shifted more towards, "Good lord, what doesn't kill bees?"

Domesticated bees turn out to be some amazingly fragile creatures. In fact, Nordhaus writes, bees were delicate even before the modern age of industrial farming. It wasn't until the second half of the 19th century that humans were able to reliably domesticate bees. Even then, beekeeping was anything but a stable business to be in. But in the last decade, the job has gotten harder, and the bee deaths have piled up faster. Bees are killed by moths and mites, bacteria and viruses, heat and cold. They're killed by the pesticides used on the plants they pollinate, and by the other pesticides used to protect them from murderous insects. And they're killed by the almond crop, which draws millions of bees from all over the nation to one small region of California, where they join in an orgy of pollination and another of disease sharing.

None of this negates the seriousness of Colony Collapse Disorder, that still-mysterious ailment that reduced more than 1/3 of America's healthy beehives to empty boxes in 2007. But what Nordhaus does (and does well) is put those famous losses into a broader context. Colony Collapse Disorder is a problem. But it isn't the problem. Instead, it's just a great big insult piled on top of an already rising injury rate. Saving the honeybee isn't just about figuring out CCD. Bees were already in trouble before that came along. In the years since 2007, Nordhaus writes, bees have died at a rate higher than the expected and "acceptable" 15% annual loss, but the majority of those deaths weren't always caused by CCD.

Read the rest

Homes for sale with bomb shelters / zombie apocalypse bunkers

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Be safe from the latest food riot / government-engineered plague / Michelle Bachmann tweet in one of these backyard underground bunkers.

Ride Out the End of the World in These Bomb Shelter Homes

And now, a moment of silence for the Prophet Hen of Leeds

The Christian Science Monitor would like to take this moment to remind everyone of five previous (and utterly incorrect) attempts to predict the end of the world. My favorite: The 1806 prediction by the Prophet Hen of Leeds, who was a chicken. It's a tale that is one part Zuckerman's Famous Pig, one part Jesus on toast, and one part Humane Society nightmare.

Giant snake flees Mississippi floods

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This photo, purportedly taken near Louisiana's Morganza Spillway, is simultaneously horrifying and kind of amusing. The snake just looks so purposeful, with its head raised like that. As though it's out running some errands, or on a morning commute.

That said, I kind of hope somebody spots the pixels that prove this image is a fake. Because the idea of giant snakes hanging out alongside American highways gives my feet a terrible case of the crawling willies.

Via Michael Pata

The complicated science of tornadoes and climate

4-27-11 Tornado Tuscaloosa, Al from Crimson Tide Productions on Vimeo.

Is the number of tornadoes that happens every year going up? And, if so, is it a climate change thing? A natural variation? A little of both? Over at Time, Ecocentric writer Bryan Walsh digs into the complicated reality behind the inevitable questions.

What we really want to know is: did climate change play a role in the monster tornadoes of April, and will a warming world see more destructive cyclones like these? (I know this because my editor, as he's wont to do after major weather events, walked down to my office and asked me, "Bryan, does climate change play a role in this?")

Scientists really don't know. It's true that the average number of April tornadoes has steadily increased from 74 a year in the 1950s to 163 a year in the 2000s. But most of that increase, as A.G. Sulzberger reports in the New York Times, comes from the least powerful tornadoes, the ones that touch down briefly without causing much damage. Those are exactly the kind of tornadoes that would have been missed by meteorologists in the days before the Weather Channel and Doppler radar--scientists today would almost never miss an actual tornado touchdown, no matter how brief or weak. That makes it very difficult for researchers to even be sure that the actual number of tornadoes is on the rise, let alone, if they are, what might be causing it. The number of severe tornadoes per year has actually been dropping over time.

It is true, however, that as the climate warms, more moisture will evaporate into the atmosphere. Warmer temperatures and more moisture will give storm systems that much more energy to play with, like adding nitroglycerin to the atmosphere. This month's possibly record-breaking tornadoes are due in part to an unusually warm Gulf of Mexico, where as Freedman reports, water surface temperatures are 1 to 2.5 C above the norm. The Gulf feeds moisture northward to storm systems as they move across the country, and that warm moist air from the south meeting cool, dry air from the Plains often results in some powerful weather. But at the same time, other studies have forecast that warmer temperatures will reduce the wind shear necessary to turn a routine thunderstorm into a powerful system that can give birth to tornadoes. So in a hotter world we could see more frequent destructive thunderstorms, but fewer tornadoes--although some researchers think we could still end up with both.

What does it all mean? For one thing, we should remember that tornadoes--and other severe weather systems--have always been with us, and almost certainly will be, whatever happens to greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures in the years to come.

If you read the full story, there's also some great information about the role prediction and warning systems have played in lowering the death toll of tornadoes. Just as with earthquakes and tsunamis, using science and public systems to make sure people know what's coming is an important part of keeping people safe, no matter the circumstances.

P.S.: The video above was filmed by Christopher England, a University of Alabama employee. In an interview with a local CBS news affiliate he tells the heart-stopping story of how the video was shot. England, it seems, was with several coworkers in a storm shelter, but the power was out and nobody was sure what was going on. He went upstairs, to his third floor office to look out a window. This video is what he saw.

What's the point of cannibalism?

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BBC Nature editor Matt Walker has a long meditation on the possible benefits of cannibalism, centered around two bits of newly published research. First, a recently recorded case of a female tamarin monkey killing and eating her own infant. Second, a study documenting behavior in locust swarms.

Cannibalism is emotionally disturbing, he writes, and it also seems logistically nonsensical—if you eat the opposite sex, you limit your chances of mating; if you eat your offspring, you destroy your own genes' hard work; if you eat your neighbors, your lose potential allies; and, eventually, you might encourage others to eat you. So why does cannibalism happen at all? It's a question science doesn't have a solid answer for, especially when it comes to the kind of cannibalism that involves murder, as opposed to simply eating individuals who died in other ways.

But the case of the cannibalistic monkey is especially interesting; the mother moustached tamarind, which lives in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, intentionally killed her young son, by biting and eating its head. That makes it only the third recorded case of maternal infanticide recorded in wild non-human primates.

Researchers can of course only speculate about her motivation ... They suspect the mother killed her baby because she knew it had a low chance of survival anyway. Tamarinds rely on other adults to help raise their young, and there were few of these around when the mother made her fateful decision. So the primatologists think she terminated the investment in her offspring due to the low availability of helpers. The baby was simply born at a bad time, and as tamarinds ovulate relatively quickly after giving birth, the mother, in terms of reproductive economics, made a cost effective decision. That doesn't explain why she then began to consume her young. In this instance, the mother only ate part of her infant's corpse; the head, brain and a small part of his shoulder and neck. So she didn't kill her offspring for its meat. But once dead, she probably gained some nutritional benefit by eating its brain, offsetting some of her costs in producing the baby.

But cannibalism can be about more than just individual survival ... Eating your own may be the driver behind the mass migration, and swarming, of locusts, researchers have just announced. Cannibalistic interactions have been shown before to be the driving force behind the collective mass movement of Mormon crickets and Desert locusts. The basic idea here is that locusts combine into swarms because they are frightened of being eaten by each other. But researchers have now provided the first evidence that cannibalism has an adaptive benefit for desert locusts, which form "bands" as they migrate en mass.

Australian plague locusts cannibalise other vulnerable locusts to compensate for a lack of protein in their diet. Individuals move forward to find new food, and avoid being eaten by each other, producing an advancing swarm. But the scientists, led by Matthew Hansen of the University of Sydney, Australia, also show that locusts that are given the opportunity to eat each other on average survive longer and move further. They call it the "lifeboat mechanism"; locusts actually have a better chance of surviving longer and travelling further if they all jump into a swarm together and become cannibals.

BBC Nature: Cannibalism—What is it good for?

Via John Rennie

Image: Some rights reserved by Lazurite

Residents of South Carolina warned of "Zombies Ahead"

The Fort Mill Herald newspaper of South Carolina reports that "two electronic road signs on S.C. 160 near the York-Lancaster county lines were apparently tampered with sometime before 4 a.m. Sunday, according to Lance Cpl. Billy Elder of the Highway Patrol." One sign read "Zombies Ahead" and rotated to "Watch for Hunters." On the other side of the road, another sign read "Be alert for Tanks." Photos here.

Japan: Prime Minister issues advisory on radioactivity and food safety

Strange times. The office of the Prime Minister of Japan has issued an update to the country's Food Sanitation Act, in light of the "nuclear state of emergency" declared after the accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
We would like you to take adequate measures in terms of sales and other areas, to ensure that such foods are not supplied to the public to eat. Inspections shall be conducted by referring to the office memo "Manual for Measuring Radioactivity of Foods in Case of Emergency."

Here's the notice from the prime minister's office: Japanese, English via Google Translate, contains links to official English language press release.

Japan: US carrier crew exposed to radiation; helicopters near reactors coated with radiation particulate

William Broad reports in the New York Times that crew members on the US aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, sailing in the Pacific, "passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan." Crew members got a month's worth of radiation in about an hour. US helicopters flying missions about 60 miles away from the stricken nuclear reactors "became coated with particulate radiation that had to be washed off." Officials say the radioactive plume currently poses no risk to the US.

Billions of dead anchovies clog Redondo Beach harbor; die-off cause a mystery

"Yesterday everything looked absolutely normal. This morning when I got up, there were millions and millions of them floating everywhere." Walter Waite, who lives at Redondo Beach harbor, on the billions of dead anchovies blanketing the sea bottom and floating on the surface of the water this morning at King Harbor. So far, the cause is a mystery. The photos are creepy.

Report: Playboy mansion visitors acquire respiratory infection, for a change

Those of us who've been around the block in Hollywood a few times know to associate the Playboy Mansion with sleaze 'n' disease, but legionellosis is a new one. 170 mansion visitors are said to have acquired an illness that may be caused by this bacterium, according to this Los Angeles Times article. It's a "milder form of Legionnaires' disease caused by a bacterium that grows in warm water and can take root in hot tubs or parts of air-conditioning systems, according to the CDC." / UPDATE: health investigators say that people who became sick visited several locations, and the Playboy Mansion may or may not have been the culprit.

How tough is it to build a dirty bomb?


[YouTube Link]

On PBS NewsHour, Miles O'Brien reports on the threat that radioactive "dirty bombs" could pose to cities in the U.S., and what's being done to prevent a radiological attack from happening.

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Boing Boing readers may find this segment of particular interest because it features two unique characters familiar to our community of happy mutants. First, David Hahn. Miles explains:

Hahn is the man who earned the sobriquet "The Radioactive Boy Scout" in 1995 when he came very close to building a breeder nuclear reactor in his backyard in suburban Detroit. I am serious as a meltdown.
There's a book about Hahn here, and a Harper's article here.

The NewsHour piece also includes Bob Lazar, the guy behind United Nuclear. BB pal Steve Silberman's epic profile of Lazar and his DIY science business is here, and I can't even count how many times we've blogged about Lazar's aerogel chunks and Neodymium "supermagnets."

Watch "How Tough Is it to Build a Dirty Bomb?" video on YouTube, read the transcript here, or download an MP3 of the audio here. Miles is on Twitter here, and so is PBS NewsHour.

A two-way chat between Miles and PBS NewsHour's web host, Hari Sreenivasan is embedded below—more backstory on how DIY science, anti-terror, and dirty bombs intersect, and how to separate the FUD from fact. And a related blog post from the reporter is here.

Read the rest

Army loses, then finds, 1/4 teaspoon of deadly nerve agent


A quarter of a teaspoon of VX nerve agent ("one of the deadliest chemical agents ever created," according to the video above) disappeared from a Utah military research base earlier today. Over 1,000 people at the base were locked inside the facility during a search for the missing chemical weapon, which was found "early on Thursday." A press conference is scheduled for later today.

From Wikipedia:

VX is the most toxic nerve agent ever synthesized for which activity has been independently confirmed. The median lethal dose (LD50) for humans is estimated to be about 734 micrograms through skin contact and the LCt50 for inhalation is estimated to be 30-50 mg·min/m³.

Lost Army 'nerve agent' found after Utah base lock down (Thanks, Felipe Li!)

White people rapping poorly

white.jpg Oh yes, this is exactly what you are hoping it is. White people rapping poorly.

Bird expert: Don't worry too much about the Deadbirdpocalypse

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I've been holding back on writing anything here about the spate of reports concerning mass bird die-offs in the United States and around the world. Frankly, this story reeks, to me, of the sort of "unexplained phenomenon" that later turns out—with much less fanfare—to have an extremely mundane explanation. It's making headlines now, but I would be surprised if this is important to anyone within a few months (except a few conspiracy theorists, and the publishers of books about ostensibly unexplained phenomena).

Smithsonian Institution bird curator Gary Graves apparently has a similar perspective. He doesn't think these bird deaths are a sign of anything nefarious—or, at least, nothing more nefarious than local people taking it upon themselves to stress out a large roost of "nuisance" birds until it flies away. There's a head count associated with that kind of thing, he says, and it's not particularly odd to see a few thousand birds die this way. But, with roosts numbering in the millions of birds, that's not a large percentage lost. The only thing different in this case, he says, is that the dead birds landed on lawns, rather than in the wilderness.

But what about multiple bird kills happening in various locations? According to Graves, this is one of those times where the human brain's penchant for pattern-finding has gone a little haywire. Mass bird deaths aren't uncommon. There's a lot of reasons why they happen. Once we're primed to pay attention, we start to see them everywhere. But it doesn't mean those incidents are connected—any more than a double homicide in Arkansas is likely to be connected to a double homicide that happens the same week in Louisiana. We could be seeing a pattern, sure. But the chances aren't real high. Remember the large fish kill that happened in Louisiana last summer? Everybody speculated the oil spill was to blame. In reality, it was a natural occurrence, caused by fish getting trapped in low-oxygen tidal pools.

And, honestly, looking at the reported cases, I'm not sure I even see much of a pattern, at all. Let me explain ...

Read the rest

Google Map of recent mass animal die-offs

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Link.

(Via Submitterator, thanks Lobster)

Welcome to 2011. You have 5 months until the end of the world.

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If you are one of those crazy people who believes the world will end in 2012, you've been sucked in by dumb Hollywood propaganda. Or so says civil engineer Harold Camping, who has done a bunch of math with calculators and The Bible, and has determined that the world will actually end on May 21, 2011. If you haven't been to Graceland yet, better step up those travel plans!

Wikileaks: Anonymous stops dropping DDoS bombs, starts dropping science

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If this image is to be believed—and I have no reason not to, other than that I found it on the internet—the rebel squadrons behind Anonymous (attn. "news" hacks - that would be an entirely different group from Wikileaks and/or Wikipedia) are about to change their approach. So far, as we've witnessed, they have been launching point-and-click distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks at companies perceived as the enemies of Wikileaks. Those targets included Mastercard, Paypal, and Visa (companies that froze donation funding), and Amazon (which denied hosting services). The new approach suggests more sophisticated thinking. This new mission, apparently, is to actually read the cables Wikileaks has published and find the most interesting bits that haven't been publicized yet, then publicize them.

In my opinion, this action would have far more positive impact. Anonymous often repeats the Orwell quote, "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act." Looks like they decided to take those words to heart.

Read the rest

The push-button tool being used to shut down Visa, MasterCard, and other sites

Terrific piece by Joel Johnson on Gizmodo about the software tool being used to take down MasterCard, Visa, and Sarah Palin's websites.
LOIC ("Low Orbit Ion Cannon") is an application developed by 4Chan-affiliated hackers designed to--when used en masse by thousands of anonymous users--launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on websites. Like Visa.com and Mastercard.com, for instance.

It's a pushbutton application...

The idea behind LOIC is that it can allow you to participate in attacks even if you've no clue how to hack. Just download a copy of LOIC (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux!), punch in the target information like a URL or an IP address and zap.

It's interesting to see the tweets from Operation Payback on Twitter. It looks like they've also gone after Joe Leiberman's site, as well. I'm sure he'll have some choice things to say about it. No doubt he is loving every second of the attention he's garnering from all this.

UPDATE: Operation Payback just published a huge list of credit card numbers with expiration dates. (I saw the list, but I'm not going to link to it.) I don't know if they just grabbed these numbers today, or if they are real credit card numbers. Things are going to get worse before they get better.

UPDATE 3:31PM est: The leaked MasterCard numbers might have been faked. (Can I have a T-shirt with that logo?)

What Is LOIC?

Hilary Clinton's "Remarks on Internet Freedom," January 2010

From Hilary Clinton's speech, "Remarks on Internet Freedom," delivered January 2010:
hilary-newseum.jpgWe are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely. The United States has been assisting in these efforts for some time, with a focus on implementing these programs as efficiently and effectively as possible. Both the American people and nations that censor the internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote internet freedom.

We want to put these tools in the hands of people who will use them to advance democracy and human rights, to fight climate change and epidemics, to build global support for President Obama's goal of a world without nuclear weapons, to encourage sustainable economic development that lifts the people at the bottom up.

You can give us those tools now, Secretary Clinton, if you please.

Why your mobile service sucks, and will continue to suck: blame NIMBY neighbors and city supervisors

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Todd Lappin says: "I wrote this NIMBY vs. Wireless Antenna piece for a new blog I created for my neighborhood (in part as a reaction to this very incident). I got some great quotes from our SF Supervisor on the matter, in which he basically says 'cell towers are safe, but some locals worry that they are not, so maybe they aren't.''

Why Your Mobile Service Sucks, and Will Continue to Suck: Blame NIMBY Neighbors and Your San Francisco Supervisors
Photo by Todd Lappin. Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

You are no longer free to move about the country


Radley Balko of Reason.com posted this Tampa news channel's cheerful puff piece about a federal check point set up at a Greyhound bus station to pretend to stop terrorists, as well as nab unregistered immigrants, drug dealers, and cash smugglers.

It's not difficult to envision the day where anyone wishing to take mass transportation in this country will have to first submit to a government checkpoint, show ID, and answer questions about any excess cash, prescription medication, or any other items in his possession the government deems suspicious. If and when that happens, freedom of movement will essentially be dead. But it won't happen overnight. It'll happen incrementally. And each increment will, when taken in isolation, appear to some to be perfectly reasonable.
You are no longer free to move about the country (Via @jackshafer)

A list of things we do to innocent people to prevent terrorism in America

"Here's a non-comprehensive list of things innocent people have suffered in order to prevent terrorist attacks on America," by Rafe Colburn.

Congress members exempted themselves from airport security screening

When members of Congress have to fly commercial with the rabble, they get to skip security. No pats downs, no detectors. NYT: "As he left Washington on Friday, Mr. Boehner headed across the Potomac River to Reagan National Airport, which was bustling with afternoon travelers. But there was no waiting in line for Mr. Boehner, who was escorted around the metal detectors and body scanners, and taken directly to the gate."

Handy tip #1 for surviving Somali pirate hostage-taking: don't get high with them

Over at Wired's Danger Room, Adam Rawnsley blogs a helpful series of tips on how to increase the odds you will survive if you are ever taken hostage by seafaring pirates off the Horn of Africa.

The short version, "Don’t get high, don’t piss anyone off, and try to smile every once in a while." More:

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Hijackings by Somali pirates are on the upswing this year, deadly shootouts with mercs and hijack attempts against warships continue and pirates are holding hostages for as long as 13 months. EU Navfor, the European Union’s naval forces countering piracy off the coast of Somalia, has responded to this crisis with a handy pamphlet, “Surviving Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia,” containing all the wisdom you need to make the most of your captivity.

One tip from elementary school is particularly helpful: Just say no to drugs. Khat is a leaf with amphetamine-like effects common in Somalia, particularly among pirates, and may be available to you while detained on board your captured ship. Though borrowing from your captors’ stash may provide you with some “temporary relief” from the drudgery of captivity, it can bad for your health in the form on an acute pirate beatdown. The “negative effects of withdrawal symptoms and increased tension due to cravings,” the pamphlet warns, can irritate your pirate hosts and result in “unnecessary violence.” In other words, nobody likes a cranky junky, particularly not pirates, so be smart and politely decline if offered drugs.

Rule #1 for Pirate Hostages: Don't Get Stoned (wired.com)

Sparkles: The Soldering My Little Pony Unicorn

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Earlier this year I had a dream. Last night at the Crash Space (Los Angeles hackerspace) weekly meeting, that dream became a reality, thanks in part to the dedication and follow through of Matt Pinner. Go team.

Danish sailors make insane harbor entry in high seas

This is what luck looks like. Luck, combined with a whole lot of skill. Notice the person at the front. I'm sure they're locked in with a harness, but that would still be a wild ride.

The harbor is Svaneke, a town on an island in the Baltic Sea. According to this thread at the Wooden Boat Forum, local guides say you shouldn't even attempt entering Svaneke harbor during strong onshore winds. I have no idea what prompted this crew to take a shot, but I'm guessing they decided the alternatives were worse.

Thanks to Happy Mutant role model Marti Siebert for the video!

Four Lions, Chris Morris' terror-LOL movie, opens tonight in US theaters

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Take a tip from Jihadi Honey Monster above: run, don't walk, to the nearest movie theater showing Four Lions from director Chris Morris.

The film opens in select US cities tonight, and should expand to more in the coming weeks. Cory reviewed earlier this year when it opened in the UK; and this week I interviewed Morris for a Boing Boing feature article.

The tl;dr version of both our posts? Go see it.

Radioactive Rabbit Contaminated by Cold War Waste Tracked by "Hot" Droppings

Via the BB Submitterator, Steve Silberman says, "A radioactive rabbit has been trapped on the Hanford nuclear reservation after being tracked by locating its 'hot' droppings. Meanwhile, workers on the reservation are deploying fox urine to discourage other rabbits from entering the contaminated zone." Full story here and here (thanks, also, ChshreCat).