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Saturday, July 7, 2012

High-security first pet naming guidelines

High-security first pet naming guidelines:

From the humor site NewsBiscuit, a brilliant set of security guidelines for naming your first pet, so that when your bank uses "what was the name of your first pet," in order to verify your identity, you will be safe.

Banks are now advising parents to think carefully before naming their child’s first pet. For security reasons, the chosen name should have at least eight characters, a capital letter and a digit. It should not be the same as the name of any previous pet, and must never be written down, especially on a collar as that is the first place anyone would look. Ideally, children should consider changing the name of their pet every 12 weeks.

Expectant mothers have also been advised to choose carefully where they give birth. Anywhere that has a place name is best avoided. These are listed on maps, which are freely available on the Internet.

Children warned name of first pet should contain 8 characters and a digit

(via JWZ)

(Image: Dave The Goldfish, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jhartshorn's photostream)

ZaReason: a computer company with freedom built in

[Boy, this seems pretty cool. -egg]

ZaReason: a computer company with freedom built in:

For the past couple of months, I've been playing with a laptop from ZaReason, a small, GNU/Linux-based system builder founded in Oakland, CA (though it has expanded to New Zealand). ZaReason's deal is that they build computers themselves, using components that are guaranteed to have free and open drivers, and pre-install your favorite free/open operating system at the factory. They offer full support for the hardware and the software, and promise that they'll never say, "Sorry, that component just doesn't work right under Linux." So unlike buying a ThinkPad or other commercial laptop and installing a free operating system on it (which can be a bit of a gamble, and will shortly become more of one, see below), ZaReason's machines arrive ready to run. And unlike buying a commercial laptop from a freedom-friendly vendor like Emperor Linux (who'll sometimes warn you that certain features of your hardware aren't supported), ZaReason can promise you that every single capability of every single component in your system will just work.

ZaReason sent me their Alto 3880, "Long battery life, HD graphics, light and lean = everything a laptop should be." I found it to be a very snappy, responsive machine that, as promised, "just worked" out of the box. The machine's styling is pretty generic -- it looks like your basic, silvery OEM laptop, albeit one where they've opted for the top-spec option for the pointing surface, keyboard, etc. It's rather heavier than the machine I carry for daily use, a Lenovo ThinkPad X220, which shaves its ounces by omitting the optical drive and shrinking the screen to 12" (the Alto has a 14" screen). My machine came loaded with Mint, a Linux flavor forked off of Ubuntu, the OS I use on my ThinkPad. Mint seems to me to be what you'd get if you kept on developing the venerable (and somewhat fuggly) Gnome desktop, which looks a lot like various flavors of Windows. Ubuntu, meanwhile, is driving full-on for a more "modern" (and more constrained) desktop environment called Unity, which I've come to tolerate and even like with the latest release, which came out in April. I found the Mint/Alto combination slightly more stable than the ThinkPad/Ubuntu combo, though both of them are easily as stable as any commercial OS I've ever used, and rarely, if ever, crash or require a reboot. If you prefer Ubuntu to Mint, ZaReason will happily install it at the factory -- other choices include Kubuntu, Edubuntu, Debian, Fedora, or whatever you specify (I assume there are some limits to this).

The ZaReason laptop prices compare well to other PC vendors' machines, within a few points up or down when compared with a comparably equipped Dell. They work well. But working well is easy -- when it comes to my computers, the question I always ask is "How well does it fail?" I live and die by my laptop and even a day's downtime is unacceptable.

My experience -- both personal and as a former CIO -- with the major vendors, from Dell to Apple, is that none of them are terrific when it comes to hardware support. There's a lot of queuing up, a lot of being deprived of your machine for unpredictable periods, and a lot of arguing about whether the warranty covers whatever has gone wrong. On the plus side, Dell has an enormous, bottomless well of replacement parts, and a titanic staff of service techs. Apple, of course, has its ubiquitous stores, where you can drop off machines for service.

ZaReason can't compete head-on with this. Instead, the company offers a highly personalized tech support service from named technicians who treat you like a person, not a trouble-ticket. And the company is willing to go the extra mile for service when it can -- they told me about a South African customer whose machine had some bad RAM; rather than have the machine shipped back to them for service, they diagnosed the problem remotely, found a local South African PC store that had the required part, and had it couriered directly to the customer.

I have been a very, very happy ThinkPad user for some years now. They generally support Linux very well (though there were some bobbles when I moved from 32 bit machines to 64 bit machines), and the company has a whole product line devoted to serious travellers -- machines that cut their weight by leaving out the CD/DVD drive, and come with a variety of batteries, in varying degrees of heaviness/long life, meaning you can go featherweight for short trips, or add an extra 500g with a snap-on, two-day Slice battery that covers the whole underside of the machine, depending on your needs.

More importantly, ThinkPad has an extended on-site hardware replacement warranty that is fulfilled by IBM Global Services, the gold standard in worldwide tech support. For about the same price as AppleCare, Lenovo will give you a warranty whereby any faulty hardware parts are overnighted to you, anywhere in the world, and a few hours later, a technician will show up at your door and fix your computer right there, on your own desk. IBM Global Services are genuinely global, and I've had service in several countries.

ZaReason doesn't really do a laptop for road warriors (yet) -- their offerings fall into the "good-spec/low-price" bucket, or the "massive, blazing gamer/graphics pro laptop," both of which are important categories, but they're not my category. I'm a guy who's on the road about a third of the time, and whose chronic back pain means that every gram of extra weight is a big deal.

But I'm awfully glad that ZaReason exists. As a company, I get the impression that they are as motivated by the cause of freedom as they are by profit. This is especially important today, as a new PC "security" feature called UEFI is making it increasingly hard to install non-commercial OSes on your own computers: free OSes like Fedora and Ubuntu are having to pay blood money to Microsoft so that their users can install and boot their OSes without having to lift the lid off their machines and change the inner workings. This is a trend that I see getting (much) worse before it gets better -- although the right to freely choose and modify your kernel is highly esoteric and technical, it is the wellspring from which all other technological freedoms arise. ZaReason's mission isn't just to make free/open hardware: it's to ensure that there is always a free-as-in-free-speech option for your computing needs. This is a vital role, and they deserve kudos for stepping up to it.

ZaReason's machines work -- and fail -- as well or better as comparably priced systems from much bigger vendors. They promise to support both hardware and software and will never punt support calls on the grounds that "the hardware isn't performing as it's supposed to, we do the software" or "that's a software problem, we only supply the software." They offer limited support for peripherals (external drives, scanners, printers, etc), though in truth, I find that these devices work better in Linux-land than they do for Macs and Windows machines.

Though I thoroughly support ZaReason's mission, I regret to say that I'm not their target market. The Alto they sent me to try was as nice a machine as any other in its weight/price class, but it's not the kind of machine I need. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with, when and if they decide to try it. And in the meantime, they have my endorsement and gratitude for keeping freedom alive, and putting ethics ahead of profit.


The Advocate endorses Obama

The Advocate endorses Obama

Friday, July 6, 2012

Article: Personal History: The Comfort Zone : The New Yorker

[Jonathan Franzen meditates on "Peanuts." -egg]

Personal History: The Comfort Zone : The New Yorker

(via Instapaper)

Paper Bird Anatomy

Paper Bird Anatomy:
Paper Bird Anatomy paper birds anatomy
Paper Bird Anatomy paper birds anatomy
Paper Bird Anatomy paper birds anatomy
Paper Bird Anatomy paper birds anatomy
I just posted about the paper birds and animals of Diana Beltran Herrera a few weeks ago, but these new bird anatomy sculptures made with cut paper and vinyl film deserve some special attention. See more over on Flickr.

Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers

[Please accept this pseudo-unicorn chaser after the Mozart letter. -egg]

Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers:
Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers photography bubbles
Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers photography bubbles
Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers photography bubbles
Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers photography bubbles
Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers photography bubbles
Enormous Bubbles Photographed by Bjoern Ewers photography bubbles
You might remember Berlin-based photographer Bjoern Ewers for his role in art directing the Inside Instruments project for the Berlin Philharmonic that went viral a few months ago. His latest work involves a series of bubble photographs titled Orbital that capture the hypnotizing whorls of colorful soap film in contrast with a stark black background. If you’re interested in prints he has several over on Artflakes. (via behance)

Oh my ass burns like fire!

[Wait, WHAT? -egg]

Oh my ass burns like fire!:

When he wasn't busy composing some of the most beautiful music ever to seduce the human ear, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could often be found writing shockingly crude letters to his family. The fine example below (translated by Robert Spaethling) was penned to Mozart's 19-year-old cousin and possible love interest, Marianne — also known as "Betsie" ("little cousin") — in November of 1777, at which point the poop-loving musical genius was 21 years of age.

If you're easily offended, please do not read any further.

Note: The term "spuni cuni fait" was used in many of Mozart's letters. Its meaning is unknown. 

(Source: Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life; Image: Mozart, via Wikipedia.)

Mannheim, 5 November, 1777

Dearest cozz buzz!

I have received reprieved your highly esteemed writing biting, and I have noted doted that my uncle garfuncle, my aunt slant, and you too, are all well mell. We, too, thank god, are in good fettle kettle. Today I got a letter setter from my Papa Haha safely into my paws claws. I hope you too have gotten rotten my note quote that I wrote to you from Mannheim. So much the better, better the much so! But now for some thing more sensuble.

So sorry to hear that Herr Abbate Salate has had another stroke choke. But I hope with the help of God fraud the consequences will not be dire mire. You are writing fighting that you keep your criminal promise which you gave me before my departure from Augspurg, and will do it soon moon. Well, I will most likely find that regretable. You write further, indeed you let it all out, you expose yourself, you indicate to me, you bring me the news, you announce onto me, you state in broad daylight, you demand, you desire, you wish you want, you like, you command that I, too, should send you my Portrait. Eh bien, I shall mail fail it for sure. Oui, by the love of my skin, I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin.

apropós. do you also have the spuni cuni fait?—what?—whether you still love me?—I believe it! so much the better, better the much so! Yes, that's the way of the world, I'm told, one has the purse, the other has the gold; whom do you side with?—with me, n'est-ce pas?—I believe it! Now things are even worse, apropós.

Wouldn't you like to visit Herr Gold-smith again?—but what for?—what?—nothing!—just to inquire, I guess, about the Spuni Cuni fait, nothing else, nothing else?—well, well, all right. Long live all those who, who—who—who—how does it go on?—I now wish you a good night, shit in your bed with all your might, sleep with peace on your mind, and try to kiss your own behind; I now go off to never-never land and sleep as much as I can stand. Tomorrow we'll speak freak sensubly with each other. Things I must you tell a lot of, believe it you hardly can, but hear tomorrow it already will you, be well in the meantime. Oh my ass burns like fire! what on earth is the meaning of this!—maybe muck wants to come out? yes, yes, muck, I know you, see you, taste you—and—what's this—is it possible? Ye Gods!—Oh ear of mine, are you deceiving me?—No, it's true—what a long and melancholic sound!—today is the write I fifth this letter. Yesterday I talked with the stern Frau Churfustin, and tomorrow, on the 6th, I will give a performance in her chambers, as the Furstin-Chur said to me herself. Now for something real sensuble!

A letter or letters addressed to me will come into your hands, and I must beg of you—where?—well a fox is no hare—yes there!—Now, where was I?—oh yes, now, I remember: letters, letters will come—but what kind of letters?—well now, letters for me, of course, I want to make sure that you send these to me; I will let you know where I'll be going from Mannheim. Now, Numero 2: I'm asking you, why not?—I'm asking you, dearest numbskull, why not?—if you are writing anyway to Madame Tavernier in Munich, please include regards from me to the Mademoiselles Freysinger, why not?—Curious! why not?—and to the Younger, I mean Frauline Josepha, tell her I'll send my sincere apologies, why not?—why should I not apologize?—Curious!—I don't know why not?—I want to apologize that I haven't yet sent her the sonata that I promised, but I will send it as soon as possible, why not?—what—why not?—why shouldn't I send it?—why should I not transmit it?—why not?—Curious! I wouldn't know why not?—well, then you'll do me this favor;—why not?—why shouldn't you do this for me?—why not?, it's so strange! After all, I'll do it to you too, if you want me to, why not?—why shouldn't I do it to you?—curious! why not?—I wouldn't know why not?—and don't forget to send my Regards to the Papa and Mama of the 2 young ladies, for it is terrible to be letting and forgetting one's father and mother. Later, when the sonata is finished,—I will send you the same, and a letter to boot; and you will be so kind as to forward the same to Munich.

And now I must close and that makes me morose. Dear Herr Uncle, shall we go quickly to the Holy Cross Covent and see whether anybody is still up?—we won't stay long, just ring the bell, that's all. Now I must relate to you a sad story that happened just this minute. As I am in the middle of my best writing, I hear a noise in the street. I stop writing—get up, go to the window—and—the noise is gone—I sit down again, start writing once more—I have barely written ten words when I hear the noise again—I rise—but as I rise, I can still hear something but very faint—it smells like something burning—wherever I go it stinks, when I look out the window, the smell goes away, when I turn my head back to the room, the smell comes back—finally My Mama says to me: I bet you let one go?—I don't think so, Mama. yes, yes, I'm quite certain, I put it to the test, stick my finger in my ass, then put it to my nose, and—there is the proof! Mama was right!

Now farwell, I kiss you 10000 times and I remain as always your

Old young Sauschwanz

Wolfgang Amadé Rosenkranz

From us two Travelers a thousand

Regards to my uncle and aunt.

To every good friend I send

My greet feet; addio nitwit.

Love true true true until the grave,

If I live that long and do behave.

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Rand and Ron Paul denounce net neutrality and the public domain

Rand and Ron Paul denounce net neutrality and the public domain:
Rand and Ron Paul have penned an Internet Freedom manifesto that is pretty terrible. It pans the idea of net neutrality, arguing that the phone companies who receive gigantic government handouts in the form of cheap (or free) rights of ways and hold natural monopolies over our connectivity should be able to use that government largesse to run a protection racket in which any website that doesn't pay for "premium carriage" will be slowed down when you or I try to visit them. They also denounce the public domain as a collectivist plot, and argue that government monopolies over knowledge should be extended, and that tax-dollars should be used to enforce them. TechDirt's Mike Masnick has some choice words for the Pauls:

To them, any support of a neutral internet must be about "coercive state actions" and "collective rule" over "privately owned broadband high-speed infrastructure." This makes me curious if the Pauls spoke out against the billions and billions in subsidies and rights of way grants that the government provided the telcos and cable providers to build their networks. Once again, I am against regulating net neutrality -- because it's obvious that the telcos will control that process and the regulations will favor them against the public -- but pretending that broadband infrastructure is really "privately owned" when so much of it involved tax-payer-funded subsidies and rights of way is being in denial.

Then there's the following, where they claim that these evil "collectivists" want to limit "private property rights on the internet" and are saying that "what is considered to be in the public domain should be greatly expanded." Considering the Pauls were both instrumental in the fight against SOPA and PIPA, you would think that the two of them understood how copyright law is massively abused and how beneficial the public domain is. But apparently not. To them it's all part of this "collectivist" plot. Earth to the Pauls: copyright is a massive government-granted monopoly privilege. That's the kind of thing we thought you were against, not for. In this document, you seem to be arguing for one of the largest programs in the world of a centralized government handing out private monopoly privileges.

Ron And Rand Paul: Net Neutrality And The Public Domain Are Really Evil Collectivist Plots

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"A conversation with my 12 year old self" (video)

"A conversation with my 12 year old self" (video):

[Video Link] An amazing video by Jeremiah McDonald. In this piece, he digs up a tape he recorded as a child 20 years ago, and has a conversation with the 12-year-old version of himself who once intoned to the video camera, "I think I'd like to talk to myself in the future." (Thanks, Joe Sabia.)

It's no coincidence that Higgs Boson looks like a pile of dry spaghetti

It's no coincidence that Higgs Boson looks like a pile of dry spaghetti:

In light of recent images released by CERN, reader Snark^ reports that the Higgs Boson particle has been given a new nickname by Redditors. Behold: The FSM Particle.


On the off chance that you did not spend the 4th of July glued to your computer, you should be aware by now that the Higgs Boson particle might have been found. Maybe. Or, rather, at least one of the Higgs Boson particles might have been found. It's confusing. If you want some help cutting through the hype, I recommend that you check out the great links in our round-up of Higgs Boson news and analysis.

Kinetic Rain: 1,216 Computationally Controlled Bronze Raindrops at Changi Airport in Singapore

[Much better choreography/movement design than most other installations of this type -- tragically, a lot of the ones I've seen have been pretty boring. Still lots of room for improvement, I think. -egg]

Kinetic Rain: 1,216 Computationally Controlled Bronze Raindrops at Changi Airport in Singapore:
Kinetic Rain: 1,216 Computationally Controlled Bronze Raindrops at Changi Airport in Singapore Singapore kinetic sculpture installation art
Kinetic Rain: 1,216 Computationally Controlled Bronze Raindrops at Changi Airport in Singapore Singapore kinetic sculpture installation art
Kinetic Rain: 1,216 Computationally Controlled Bronze Raindrops at Changi Airport in Singapore Singapore kinetic sculpture installation art
Berlin firm ART+COM just completed this stunning new kinetic sculpture in Terminal 1 of Changi Airport in Singapore. Kinetic Rain consists of two sets of 608 suspended raindrops made from lightweight aluminum covered in copper which are raised and lowered in a 15-minute computationally designed choreography controlled from motors embedded in the ceiling. ART+COM created a similar though somewhat smaller piece for the BMW Museum in 2008. (via hungeree)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fretting about Facebook, 17th century style

Fretting about Facebook, 17th century style:
Economist technology editor Tom Standage, author of the 1998 classic The Victorian Internet (a history of the telegraph), gives us a glimpse of his upcoming book Cicero’s Web (due in 2013), which explores the social media revolution created by the coffee houses of the 17th century. As Standage points out, all the hand-wringing over time-wasting and intellectual decay attended by Facebook and its like are nothing new:

Enthusiasm for coffeehouses was not universal, however, and some observers regarded them as a worrying development. They grumbled that Christians had taken to a Muslim drink instead of traditional English beer, and fretted that the livelihoods of tavern-keepers might be threatened. But most of all they lamented that coffeehouses were distracting people who ought to be doing useful work, rather than networking and sharing trivia with their acquaintances.

When coffee became popular in Oxford and the coffeehouses selling it began to multiply, the university authorities objected, fearing that coffeehouses were promoting idleness and diverting students from their studies. Anthony Wood, an Oxford antiquarian, was among those who denounced the enthusiasm for the new drink. “Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the university?” he asked. “Answer: Because of coffee-houses, where they spend all their time.” Similar concerns were voiced in Cambridge, where one observer noted that

it is become a custom after chapel to repair to one or other of the coffee houses (for there are divers), where hours are spent in talking, and less profitable reading of newspapers, of which swarms are continually supplied from London. And the scholars are so greedy after news (which is none of their business) that they neglect all for it, and it is become very rare for any of them to go directly to his chamber after prayers without first doing his suit at the coffee-house, which is a vast loss of time grown out of a pure novelty. For who can apply close to a subject with his head full of the din of a coffee-house?

The distractions of social media, 1673 style

(via Kottke)

Article: Getting Away with It by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells | The New York Review of Books

Getting Away with It by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells | The New York Review of Books

(via Instapaper)

Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam

Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam:
Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam  playgrounds kids design
Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam  playgrounds kids design
Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam  playgrounds kids design
Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam  playgrounds kids design
Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam  playgrounds kids design
Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam  playgrounds kids design
In the mid 1990s Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam was showing a large scale crochet artwork at an art gallery when two rambunctious children approached her and asked if the sculpture, resembling a colorful hammock, could be climbed on. She nervously agreed and watched cautiously as her suspended artwork twisted and stretched as the kids climbed on top of it. Suddenly an idea was born. Almost three years later MacAdam would open her first large-scale crochet playground in conjunction with engineers TIS & Partners and landscape architects Takano Landscape Planning. She has since created several additional playscapes around Japan, photos of which were recently made available for the first time online only a few weeks ago. However the MobileMe site where the projects were hosted seems to be permanently down, but Paige over at the Playscapes blog managed to highlight a few of the most interesting shots. Hopefully a new site will go up before long.