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Friday, April 20, 2012

TSA program to turn jumped-up mall cops into mind-readers didn't work

[Surprise. -egg]
TSA program to turn jumped-up mall cops into mind-readers didn't work:
Bruce Schneier commented this morning on the General Accounting Office's assessment of the TSA's "behavior detection" program, which is like the pick-up artist movement for creepy security agencies. Behavioral detection is a mishmash of pseudoscience, woo-y stuff like neurolinguistic programming, wishful thinking and witch-hunting that holds that you can train squadrons of jumped-up mall-cops to be mind-reading anti-terror ninjas who can look into your eyes and know whether you're a bad guy.

Bruce's post was so great that I just emailed him and said, "Hey, rather than trying to summarize what you wrote, can I just republish it?" And he graciously said yes. Here it is:

Interesting data from the U.S. Government Accounting Office:
But congressional auditors have questions about other efficiencies as well, like having 3,000 "behavior detection" officers assigned to question passengers. The officers sidetracked 50,000 passengers in 2010, resulting in the arrests of 300 passengers, the GAO found. None turned out to be terrorists.

Yet in the same year, behavior detection teams apparently let at least 16 individuals allegedly involved in six subsequent terror plots slip through eight different airports. GAO said the individuals moved through protected airports on at least 23 different occasions.

I don't believe the second paragraph. We haven't had six terror plots between 2010 and today. And even if we did, how would the auditors know? But I'm sure the first paragraph is correct: the behavioral detection program is 0% effective at preventing terrorism.

The rest of the article is pretty depressing. The TSA refuses to back down on any of its security theater measures. At the same time, its budget is being cut and more people are flying. The result: longer waiting times at security.
TSA Behavioral Detection Statistics

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imploding iceberg in Antarctica

Imploding iceberg in Antarctica:

I love this video of an iceberg collapsing in on itself in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica. (Word of warning, the people filming this loved the experience even more than I loved watching it, so much so that you may want to turn your speakers down.)

There are two kinds of icebergs, tabular and non-tabular. The tabular ones are what they sound like, big flat sheets of ice. Non-tabular are different—irregular shapes that become even more irregular as bits and pieces of them melt. Judging by the arched shape this iceberg had taken on, it probably falls into the non-tabular category. Implosion happens when melting weakens key structural support within that shape and bits of the iceberg begin to crash in on itself, accelerating the breakup. Both tabular and non-tabular icebergs and catastrophically fail like this, though.

Another fun iceberg fact: There are six size categories we sort icebergs by. Four of them have pretty predictable names: "Small", "Medium", "Large", and "Very Large". But below "small" are two size categories with a little more whimsy.

Icebergs with a hight of less than 3.3 feet and a length less than 16 feet are called "Growlers".

If the height shorter than 16 feet and the length shorter than 49 feet, then the iceberg is called, adorably, "a Bergy Bit". Yes, that is a technical term.

Via Pourmecoffee

Video Link

Kids narrate the lives of wild animals for "Planet Earth" promo (cutest. video. ever.)

Kids narrate the lives of wild animals for "Planet Earth" promo (cutest. video. ever.):

[Video link]
Director Joe Sabia, who co-curates the Boing Boing in-flight television channel with me on Virgin America Airlines, has created this adorable spot for BBC America's natural history series Planet Earth (also available on DVD). In the promo, a series of 4-7yo children take the place of series narrator David Attenborough—or, as he is known here, "Dabud Abunburble." You may well die of cute. Kids: Do not feel bad. I have been known to struggle over the pronunciation of Attenbooger's name, and the placing-on of headphones, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Most Dangerous Gamer

[Thoughts about the potential of games as art via the author of Braid. -egg]

The Most Dangerous Gamer - Magazine - The Atlantic

(via Instapaper)

The rise of Cosmic Cowboy music.

"Printing" pharmaceuticals with a 3D printer

"Printing" pharmaceuticals with a 3D printer:

A Nature Chemistry paper by researchers from the University of Glasgow describes a process for "printing" pharmaceutical compounds from various feedstocks, and supposes a future in which we have diagnosis/medication manufacturies at home. The process uses an off-the-shelf 3D printer technology to assemble pre-filled "vessels" in ways that create the desired chemical reaction in order to produce medicines. It's a scaled-down version of the industrial process used to manufacture drugs in bulk, and the paper's principal, Prof Lee Cronin, calls it "reactionware." From the BBC:

"We can fabricate these reactionware vessels using a 3D printer in a relatively short time. Even the most complicated vessels we've built have only take a few hours.

"By making the vessel itself part of the reaction process, the distinction between the reactor and the reaction becomes very hazy. It's a new way for chemists to think, and it gives us very specific control over reactions because we can continually refine the design of our vessels as required.

"For example, our initial reactionware designs allowed us to synthesize three previously unreported compounds and dictate the outcome of a fourth reaction solely by altering the chemical composition of the reactor."

...Prof Cronin added: "3D printers are becoming increasingly common and affordable. It's entirely possible that, in the future, we could see chemical engineering technology which is prohibitively expensive today filter down to laboratories and small commercial enterprises.

"Even more importantly, we could use 3D printers to revolutionise access to health care in the developing world, allowing diagnosis and treatment to happen in a much more efficient and economical way than is possible now.

"We could even see 3D printers reach into homes and become fabricators of domestic items, including medications. Perhaps with the introduction of carefully-controlled software 'apps', similar to the ones available from Apple, we could see consumers have access to a personal drug designer they could use at home to create the medication they need."

'DIY drugstores' in development by Glasgow University researchers

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lacy, laser-cut seaweed sheets

[Too awesome. -egg]
Lacy, laser-cut seaweed sheets:

This "designer nori" laser-cut seaweed was created by the Japanese ad agency I&SBBDO for a client whose sushi-wrapper business flagged in the post-tsunami economic trough. Jeannie Huang writes,

Each pattern is meant to symbolize good fortune, happiness, and longevity, etc. and the result is a delicate, unexpected reinvention of the classic Japanese food with a modern twist. The patterns are crisp, and when incorporated into the rolls, they create a sharp contrast between the dark seaweed and the white grains of rice within. They’ve entered (and won) a number of ad/design contests for this phenomenal work.

Designer Nori: Delicate Laser Cut Seaweed Patterns

UMINO SEAWEED SHOP | SHOWCASE | I&S BBDO [warning: autoplays music]

(via Make)

Relative size of great grey owl's body to feathers

Relative size of great grey owl's body to feathers:

Here's a diagram that shows the relative size of a great grey owl's body to its feathers. It's hosted on Wikimedia commons, labelled "Cross sectioned taxidermied Great Grey Owl, Strix nebulosa, showing the extent of the body plumage, Zoological Museum, Copenhagen."

File:Strix nebulosa plumage.jpg

(via Beth Pratt)

Tiny Homes, by Lloyd Kahn -- exclusive image gallery excerpt

Tiny Homes, by Lloyd Kahn -- exclusive image gallery excerpt:
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Sauna in Queen Charlotte Islands by Colin Doane. Lashed to front rafters are green whale jawbones. (From p. 133 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

Here's a preview of our friend Lloyd Kahn's beautiful book, Tiny Homes.

Cover-1 There's a grassroots movement in tiny homes these days. The real estate collapse, the economic downturn, burning out on 12-hour workdays – many people are rethinking their ideas about shelter – seeking an alternative to high rents, or a lifelong mortgage debt to a bank on an overpriced home.

In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.). Homes on land, homes on wheels, homes on the road, homes on water, even homes in the trees. There are also studios, saunas, garden sheds, and greenhouses.

There are 1,300 photos, showing a rich variety of small homemade shelters, and there are stories (and thoughts and inspirations) of the owner-builders who are on the forefront of this new trend in downsizing and self-sufficiency.

At the heart of our 1973 book Shelter were drawings of 5 small buildings, which we recommended as a starting point in providing one's own home. Now, almost 40 years later, there's a growing tiny house movement all over the world – which we've been tracking over the past two years.

Many people have decided to scale back, to get by with less stuff, to live in smaller homes. You can buy a ready-made tiny home, build your own, get a kit or pre-fab, or live in a bus, houseboat, or other movable shelter. Some cities have special ordinances for building "inlaw" or "granny flats" in the back yard. There are innovative solutions in cities, such as the "capsules" in Tokyo. There are numerous blogs and websites with news, photos, and/or plans for tiny homes, documented here.

If you're thinking of scaling back, you'll find plenty of inspiration here. Here's a different approach, a 180ยบ turn from increasing consumption. Here are builders, designers, architects (no less), dreamers, artists, road gypsies, and water dwellers who've achieved a measure of freedom and independence by taking shelter into their own hands.

Buy Tiny Homes at

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Wolf Brooks and Lyle Congdon built this cabin on a trailer and trucked it from Colorado, to Santa Fe, NM. (From p. 53 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Pallet house by I-Beam Design (from p. 70 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Cabin in Montana mountains designed by Jeff Shelden (from p. 70 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Interior of a treehouse built in Carbondale, CO by architect Stephen A. Novy (from pp. 152-153 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Electric car designed by San Francisco builder Jay Nelson (from p. 181 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Builder SunRay Kelley built this "man cave" for a family in Middleton, California (interior). (From p. 100 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

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Exterior view of SunRay Kelley's "man cave." (From p. 101 of Tiny Homes by Lloyd Kahn)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mechanical laser-cut gear fractal computer

[Serious nerd porn alert. -egg]

Mechanical laser-cut gear fractal computer:

Brent Thome, a computer scientist in San Francisco, is building a mechanical computer out of beautiful, laser-cut gears that will compute and draw fractals. He's documenting as he goes in a fascinating blog, in which he also recounts his adventures with kinetic wooden sculpture.

I've been working on this for a while now. Its a wooden computer that computes continuous self-similar fractals. I'll post the working model of a general computer implemented in gears as soon as I get some laser cutter time to complete the counter/comparator unit. Anyway, here is some pictures of the core assembly.

This prototype of the core stands about one meter tall. The final version of the core will stand over two meters tall and is one of three subunits that preform calculations, logic operations, and store/load values.

Below is the disk drive. It literally turns disks with lookup tables, each with a 96 bit capacity. The disks are not shown here.
Fractal Clockwork

(via Make)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Logic gates made of live crabs

Logic gates made of live crabs:

In Robust Soldier Crab Ball Gate, recently published in Complex Systems, a Japanese-UK computer science team describe how they made functional logic gates by constructing a maze of narrow tunnels and spooking soldier crabs into running through them in predictable ways by exposing them to bird-of-prey silhouettes. Lead researcher Yukio-Pegio Gunji (Kobe University) and colleagues implemented a "billiard ball computer" (a computer that implements logic gates out of chutes through which balls are dropped, either colliding or falling straight through) using the crabs, who have a repertoire of deterministic flocking responses to various stimuli, including narrow passages and the presence of predator shadows. The result is a relatively functional AND gate and a less-reliable OR gate. A Technical Review blog summarizes the method well:

When placed next to a wall, a leader will always follow the wall in a direction that can be controlled by shadowing the swarm from above to mimic to the presence of the predatory birds that eat the crabs.

Under these conditions, a swarm of crabs will follow a wall like a rolling billiard ball.

So what happens when two "crab balls" collide? According to Gunji and co's experiments, the balls merge and continue in a direction that is the sum of their velocities.

What's more, the behaviour is remarkably robust to noise, largely because the crab's individuals behaviours generates noise that is indistinguishable from external noise. These creatures have evolved to cope with noise.

That immediately suggested a potential application in computing, say Gunji and co. If the balls of crabs behave like billiard balls, it should be straightforward to build a pattern of channels that act like a logic gate.

Computer Scientists Build Computer Using Swarms of Crabs

(via Wired)