Stephen Colbert explains SOPA

Colbert explains the science behind the net-killing SOPA, the worst proposed Internet law in American legislative history.

(UPDATE: Autoplaying videos moved after the jump)

Stop Online Piracy Act Read the rest

Brazen vaporizer heist caught on video

[Video Link] Daniel Maurer of The Local, the NY Times's East Village blog, says: "Here's some rather amazing surveillance camera footage of some kids stealing vaporizers from an East Village head shop. They casually swipe four vaporizers and then not only do they come back minutes later for more, but one of the kids appears determined to get his hands on a $700 Volcano even after the store clerk is on to him." Read the rest

Shirky on the nature of institutions

Clay Shirky's got another barn-burner of an essay, this one on the call to establish a functional news system with stable places for reporters by creating stable newspapers (Shirky: "like saying that if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread.").

Institutions reduce the choices available to their members. (This is Ronald Coase’s famous argument about transaction costs.) This reduction allows better focus on the remaining choices they face.

An editorial board meets every afternoon to discuss the front page. They have to decide whether to put the Mayor’s gaffe there or in Metro, whether to run the picture of the accused murderer or the kids running in the fountain, whether to put the Biker Grandma story above or below the fold. Here are some choices they don’t have to make at that meeting: Whether to have headlines. Whether to be a tabloid or a broadsheet. Whether to replace the entire front page with a single ad. Whether to drop the whole news-coverage thing and start selling ice cream.

Every such meeting, in other words, involves a thousand choices, but not a billion, because most of the big choices have already been made. These frozen choices are what gives institutions their vitality — they are in fact what make them institutions. Freed of the twin dangers of navel-gazing and random walks, an institution can concentrate its efforts on some persistent, medium-sized, and tractable problem, working at a scale and longevity unavailable to its individual participants.

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Counterfeiting electronics: what it really means

Hardware hacker extraordinare Bunnie Huang explains why the new defense bill, which makes it a crime to sell a "counterfeit" chip to the US military, is going to place an impossible burden on retailers, importers, and suppliers:

To better understand the magnitude of the counterfeiting problem, it’s helpful to know how fakes are made. The fakes I’ve seen fall into the following broad categories:

1) Trivial external mimicry. Typically these are empty plastic packages with authentic-looking topmarks, or remarked parts that share only physical traits with the authentic parts (for example, a TTL logic chip in an SO-20 case remarked as an expensive microcontroller that uses the same SO-20 case). I consider this technique trivial because it is so easy to detect during factory test; in the worst case you are sold a thin mixture of authentic and conterfeit parts so that testing just one part out of a tube or reel isn’t good enough. However, in all cases the problem is discovered before the product ships so long as the product overall is thoroughly tested.

2) Refurbished parts. These are authentic parts recovered from e-waste that have been desoldered and reprocessed to appear as new. These are very difficult to spot since the chip is in fact authentic, and a skilled refurbisher can create stunningly authentic-looking results that can only be discriminated with the use of electronic micsoscopes and elemental/isotopic analysis. I also include in this category parts that are new only the sense they have never been soldered onto a board, but were stored improperly (for example, in a humid environment) and should be scrapped, but were subsequently reconditioned and sold like new.

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Hilarious account of a legal bank-robbery

Eminent neuroscientist Moran Cerf got his start as an Israeli military hacker and then as a private security/penetration tester, robbing banks at their own behest over the net. In this hilarious anaecdote, he describes what happened when he and his pals decided to rob a bank in person.

Moths - Heart Read the rest

David-Michel Davies on What's Trending

[Video Link] Last Night on What's Trending our friend and Gweek guest David-Michel Davies, the Webbys' Executive Director, presented a fantastic Webby Talk entitled, "Staying in to Go Out: Your computer as a café, bar, water cooler, classroom, tasting room, and concert hall." Read the rest

3-D printer makes scaffolding for growing bones

This project at Washington State University is incredibly nifty. Researchers use a 3-D printer to make a bone-like material that can temporarily do the job of bone, while serving as a scaffold for new bone to grow on. Over time, it dissolves safely.

Read more about it on the WSU website

Video Link Read the rest

Gweek 029: A grab bag of games, apps, books, and sex-farce comics we love

Boing Boing’s Rob, Maggie, and Mark, and cartoonist Ruben Bolling gabbed excitedly for over an hour about books, games, TV shows, writing implements, comic books, and more!

• Maggie talks about her book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us, which comes out from Wiley & Sons on April 10.

• Rob talks about how great Skyrim is, and why that makes its big flaws stand out even more.

• Ruben and Mark agree that The Hobbit is wonderful and The Lord of the Rings is boring. They can hardly wait for the abusive comments they'll receive in the comments.

• Maggie recommends Oglaf the “extremely well-done sex farce comic set in a stereotypical fantasy world.”

• Mark reviews the upcoming movie John Carter based solely on the trailer. Ruben and Mark agree that A Princess of Mars is a very good novel.

• Mark recounts a personal story involving Edgar Rice Burroughs and his biography.

• Maggie reveals a spoiler from the first season of The Walking Dead, but for a very good reason.

• Ruben recommends the Spider-Man Marvel Masterworks Vols. 12 and 13 (1972-1973) anthologies, which feature Spider-Man in his heyday, as “written” by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita.

• Maggie talks about a Carl Zimmer’s Science Ink --- a coffee table photo book of awesome science-themed tattoos.

• Maggie discusses The Third Industrial Revolution, by Jeremy Rifkin -- "a book about the future of energy where I totally agree with the big-picture points and disagree with the details," she says. Read the rest

RIP world's most adorable vehicle

A short eulogy for Aptera, and the end of electric cars as futurism. Read the rest

Bruce Sterling keynote from Art and Environment conference

A reader writes, "Author and futurist Bruce Sterling wraps-up the 2011 Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in downtown Reno. 28 minutes of laying it down."

Goddamn I love listening to Chairman Bruce lay it down and pick it up again.

Bruce Sterling Closes the 2011 A+E Conference - Full version Read the rest

An anesthesiologist's view of the human heart

This is a really fascinating entry in The Guardian's multi-video package about heart health and medicine. Bruce Martin, a British anesthesiologist, talks about his job, anesthetizing patients for heart surgery. If this doesn't make your job seem less stressful by comparison, then you're probably a fighter pilot or something.

Via Ed Yong

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Real PACs take their names from satirical PAC-name generator

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation sez,

A year ago, you may remember that the Sunlight Foundation launched the PAC Name Generator. It was a light-hearted project to shed light on how political organizations cower behind a circus of patriotic gobbledygook. Turns out some folks took it rather seriously and have used it to create real committees!

As some anniversary fun, the Sunlight Foundation decided to see how many real PACs matched up with all the possible names from the generator. At first this seemed a rather silly exercise because the generator included some rather unlikely results such as "Honest Workers for Snow Days," "Taxpayers for Twirling Towards Freedom" and the perfectly concise "Just Another Really Really Well Funded Grassroots Organization for Short, Pithy and Informative Names for Political Action Committees."

Yet, to everyone's surprise, there were dozens of matches. In fact, based on filing at the FEC, many of these all-American groups were created after we launched after the release of PAC Name Generator!

J'Accuse...! Sunlight's PAC Name Generator Inspires Real PACs Read the rest

Scooby-Doo is Veggie Tales for secular humanists

At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims makes such a good argument that I can only gape and think, "Oh my god, why had I never noticed this before?"

Because that's the thing about Scooby-Doo: The bad guys in every episode aren't monsters, they're liars.

I can't imagine how scandalized those critics who were relieved to have something that was mild enough to not excite their kids would've been if they'd stopped for a second and realized what was actually going on. The very first rule of Scooby-Doo, the single premise that sits at the heart of their adventures, is that the world is full of grown-ups who lie to kids, and that it's up to those kids to figure out what those lies are and call them on it, even if there are other adults who believe those lies with every fiber of their being. And the way that you win isn't through supernatural powers, or even through fighting. The way that you win is by doing the most dangerous thing that any person being lied to by someone in power can do: You think.

But it's not just that the crooks in Scooby-Doo are liars; nobody ever shows up to bilk someone out of their life savings by pretending to be a Nigerian prince or something. It's always phantasms and Frankensteins, and there's a very good reason for that. The bad guys in Scooby-Doo prey on superstition, because that's the one thing that an otherwise rational person doesn't really think through.

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The fine art of the scathing insult

One of the things I enjoy about writing for BoingBoing is the opportunity it's giving me to learn how to write reviews of books. That's not something I'd ever done before I started writing here. And I'm only now getting around to experimenting with not only describing books I like, but figuring out how to talk about books I find to be flawed. Fair criticism is a difficult skill to learn.

That's why I'm sort of simultaneously terrified and in awe of this 1991 book review, published in the International Journal of Primatology. In it, anthropologist Matt Cartmill expresses his opinions about sociologist Donna Haraway's book Primate Visions. I don't know enough about either scholar, or the book, to have an opinion about whether Cartmill is right or wrong. But, wowow, is that a blistering review.

This is a book that contradicts itself a hundred times; but that is not a criticism of it, because its author thinks contradictions are a sign of intellectual ferment and vitality. This is a book that systematically distorts and selects historical evidence; but that is not a criticism, because its author thinks that all interpretations are biased, and she regards it as her duty to pick and choose her facts to favor her own brand of politics. This is a book full of vaporous, French-intellectual prose that makes Teilhard de Chardin sound like Ernest Hemingway by comparison; but that is not a criticism, because the author likes that sort of prose and has taken lessons in how to write it, and she thinks that plain, homely speech is part of a conspiracy to oppress the poor.

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Pablo Escobar's drug cartel spent $2,500 per month on rubber bands for bricks of cash

During its heyday, Pablo Escobar's drug cartel spent $2,500 per month on rubber bands for bricks of cash. Mental Floss has a interesting profile of the drug lord.

The profits were astronomical at every step. In 1978 each kilo probably cost Escobar $2,000 but sold to Lehder and Jung for $22,000, clearing Escobar $20,000 per kilo. In the next stage they transported an average of 400 kilos to south Florida (incurring some additional expenses in hush money for local airport authorities) where mid-level dealers paid a wholesale price of $60,000 per kilo; thus in 1978 each 400-kilo load earned Escobar $8 million and Lehder, Ochoa, and Jung $5 million each in profits. Of course the mid-level dealers did just fine: after cutting the drug with baking soda each shipment retailed on the street for $210 million, almost ten times what they paid for it.

Soon Lehder was hiring American pilots to fly a steady stream of cocaine into the U.S., paying them $400,000 per trip. At one trip per week, in 1978 this translated into wholesale revenues of $1.3 billion and profits of $1 billion.

Mental Floss profile of Pablo Escobar (Via Neatorama)

(Image: Rubber band ball, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from tetrad's photostream) Read the rest

Quantum entanglement demonstrated in macroscopic objects

A pair of diamond crystals, large enough to be seen by the naked eye, have been linked together by quantum entanglement. The diamonds are entangled such that manipulating one affects the other, even though they are physically separated. In this case, the crystals were 3 millimeters wide and 15 centimeters apart. (One of the diamond wafers is pictured below.) Indeed, Einstein called this phenomenon "spooky action at a distance," and scientists still don't understand how it's possible. The University of Oxford physicists published their work today in the journal Science. From Nature:

A vibration in the crystals could not be meaningfully assigned to one or other of them: both crystals were simultaneously vibrating and not vibrating.

Quantum entanglement — interdependence of quantum states between particles not in physical contact — has been well established between quantum particles such as atoms at ultra-cold temperatures. But like most quantum effects, it doesn't tend to survive either at room temperature or in objects large enough to see with the naked eye.

A team led by Ian Walmsley, a physicist at the University of Oxford, UK, found a way to overcome both those limitations, demonstrating that the weird consequences of quantum theory apply at large scales as well as at very small ones.

"Entangled diamonds vibrate together" (Thanks, Ariel Waldman!) Read the rest

Shutterstock models are swell make-believe Herman Cain endorsers

Female stock photography models for Cain.

UPDATE: Cain's Shutterstock groupies have abandoned him! Read the rest

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