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Saturday, November 3, 2012

End software patent wars by making it always legal to run code on a general-purpose computer - Richard Stallman

[I love this idea. -egg]
End software patent wars by making it always legal to run code on a general-purpose computer - Richard Stallman:
Writing in a special Wired series on patent reform, Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman proposes to limit the harms that patents do to computers, their users, and free/open development by passing a law that says that running software on a general purpose computer doesn't infringe patents. In Stallman's view, this would cut through a lot of the knottier problems in patent reform, including defining "software patents;" the fact that clever patent lawyers can work around any such definition; the risks from the existing pool of patents that won't expire for decades and so on. Stallman points out that surgeons already have a statutory exemption to patent liability -- performing surgery isn't a patent violation, even if the devices and techniques employed in the operation are found to infringe. Stallman sees this as a precedent that can work to solve the problem. Though it seems to me that it might be easier to define "performing surgery" than "operating a general purpose computer."

This approach doesn’t entirely invalidate existing computational idea patents, because they would continue to apply to implementations using special-purpose hardware. This is an advantage because it eliminates an argument against the legal validity of the plan. The U.S. passed a law some years ago shielding surgeons from patent lawsuits, so that even if surgical procedures are patented, surgeons are safe. That provides a precedent for this solution.

Software developers and software users need protection from patents. This is the only legislative solution that would provide full protection for all.

We could then go back to competing or cooperating … without the fear that some stranger will wipe away our work.

Let’s Limit the Effect of Software Patents, Since We Can’t Eliminate Them

(Image: DSC09309, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 25734428@N06's photostream)

Baby echidnas are called puggles and they are ADORABLE

Baby echidnas are called puggles and they are ADORABLE:

Watch it eat. ERMAHGERD. It's almost enough to make you forget about the horrors of the echidna penis. Almost. Until you notice that the puggle has five legs. So, there's that.

Thanks, Lo!

Radio Police Automaton

Radio Police Automaton:
Here's a miraculous Radio Police Automaton from the May, 1924 issue of Hugo Gernsback's Science and Invention. It will be useful for dispersing mobs, and for war. Note the built-in tear-gas tank. Also the "loud-speaker used to shout orders to the mob." Mr Gernsback notes, "They will be well-nigh irresistible."

There's something decidedly pre-Ewok about this design and the bold claims of irresistibility.

Gernsback Radio Police Automaton

(via Wil Wheaton)

Radio documentary on elections and America's energy future: The Power of One, with Alex Chadwick

[This looks awesome. And Chadwick does great work. -egg]

Sent to you via Google Reader

Radio documentary on elections and America's energy future: The Power of One, with Alex Chadwick

BURN: An Energy Journal, the radio documentary series hosted by former NPR journalist Alex Chadwick, has a 2-hour election special out. It's the most powerful piece of radio journalism I've listened to since—well, since the last episode they put out. You really must do yourself a favor and set aside some time this weekend to listen to "The Power of One."

Energy policy, defining how we use energy to power our economy and our lives, is among the most pressing issues for the next four years. In this special two-hour edition of BURN, stories about the power of one: how, in this election season, a single person, place, policy or idea can — with a boost from science — affect the nation's search for greater energy independence.

The documentary examines how "individuals, new scientific ideas, grassroots initiatives and potentially game-changing inventions are informing the energy debate in this Presidential Election year, and redefining America's quest for greater energy independence." It was completed and hit the air before Hurricane Sandy, but the energy issues illuminated by that disaster (blackouts, gas shortage, grid failure, backup power failure at hospitals) further underscore the urgency.

Chadwick and a team of reporters do this through a series of "intimate, human-scale stories," traveling to the energy frontier of the Arctic Ocean, to Pennsylvania's natural gas-rich "Marcellus Shale" region where the national "fracking" controversy runs deep, and a university lab in Colorado where a female scientist is building a battery that aspires to be the "Holy Grail of green technology."

"Energy and climate are such big stories – there is a reason that both campaigns often talk about the economy, jobs and energy all tied together," says Alex. "It's easy to get overwhelmed by how big these topics are. What BURN tries to do is tell smaller stories that provide insight into how people's lives are changed by the energy choices they and others around them make. 'The Power of One' is about how individuals can make a difference, even in something so globally immense as energy."

The website for the series is here, and includes all sorts of compelling side stories, like this photo-essay about a mobile home community torn apart by a shale gas project: the Riverdale mobile home park, which once sat on the banks of the Susquehanna River in north-central Pennsylvani...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Surveillance Camera Man wants to know why we accept CCTVs but not a creepy guy with a camcorder

[This is brilliant and very, very, very awkward. -egg]

Surveillance Camera Man wants to know why we accept CCTVs but not a creepy guy with a camcorder:

"Surveillance Camera Man" is an anonymous fellow who wanders the streets and malls of Seattle with a handheld camcorder, walking up to people and recording them -- in particular, recording their reactions to being recorded. He answers their questions with bland, deadpan statements ("It's OK, I'm just recording video"), and sometimes mentions that there are lots of other (non-human-carried) cameras recording his subjects.

The videos are an interesting provocation. The underlying point -- that the business, homes, and governments who put CCTVs in the places where we live our lives are intruding upon our privacy -- is one I agree with. However, I think that Surveillance Camera Man's point is blurred by the fact that he sometimes invades his subjects' personal space, making it unclear whether the discomfort they exhibit comes from having a person standing right by them, or whether it's the camera they object to. There's also some childish taunting of easy targets (I'm no fan of the Church of Scientology, but surely the reason that the lady who keeps trying to throw him out is upset is that he's holding a camera and making fun of Scientology, and not the camera alone).

‘Creepy Cameraman’ pushes limits of public surveillance — a glimpse of the future?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Article: To the Precinct Station: How theory met practice ...and drove it absolutely crazy | Thomas Frank | The Baffler

To the Precinct Station: How theory met practice ...and drove it absolutely crazy | Thomas Frank | The Baffler

(via Instapaper)

Illiterate kids given sealed boxes with tablets figure out how to use, master, and hack them

[Wowzers. -egg]

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Illiterate kids given sealed boxes with tablets figure out how to use, master, and hack them

Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child presentation at the MIT Tech Review EmTech conference recounted an inspiring experiment in which illiterate Ethiopian village-kids were given solar-charging laptops in sealed boxes, and quickly taught themselves how to operate, then master, then hack, these devices, acquiring basic literacy and technological literacy at the same time.

MIT Technology Review's David Talbot reports in a piece reprinted on

The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.

Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. "I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android," Negroponte said. "Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android."

Elaborating later on Negroponte's hacking comment, Ed McNierney, OLPC's chief technology officer, said that the kids had gotten around OLPC's effort to freeze desktop settings. "The kids had completely customized the desktop—so every kids' tablet looked different. We had installed software to prevent them from doing that," McNierney said. "And the fact they worked around it was clearly the kind of creativity, the kind of inquiry, the kind of discovery that we think is essential to learning."

"If they can learn to read, then they can read to learn."

In an interview after his talk, Negroponte said that while the early results are promising, reaching conclusions about whether children could learn to read this way would require more time. "If it gets funded, it would need to continue for another a year and a half to two years to come to a conclusion that the scientific community would accept," Negroponte said. "We'd have to start with a new village and make a clean start."

Given Tablets But No Teachers, Ethiopian Kids Teach Themselves

(via Reddit)

BB Readers' DIY Costumes: Zombie Baby breaking out of womb

BB Readers' DIY Costumes: Zombie Baby breaking out of womb:
In our Epic Halloween DIY Costume thread, Boing Boing reader Laz Burke shares this awesome photo of a zombie baby breaking out of the womb.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

University of the People: free, online education

University of the People: free, online education:
Nora sez,

Founded in 2009 by educational entrepreneur Shai Reshef, University of the People is the world's first tuition-free completely online university, offering Associate and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science. Students are asked to pay a one-time application fee ($50), and $100 end-of-course final examination fees. Aside from that, there is no tuition and all courses, books, and resources are provided free of charge online. UoPeople is approved to grant degrees by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), and is currently working to seek accreditation.

In keeping with its mission, UoPeople strives to ensure that no qualified individual is excluded from a chance at higher education for financial reasons. To assist students in financial need with their examination fees, UoPeople has dedicated student scholarship funds. Corporate sponsors include Hewlett-Packard's sponsorship of 100 HP Scholars as part of the UoPeople Women Scholarship Fund, as well as Intel Foundation's sponsorship of women students from Haiti. In the near future, UoPeople will launch a Micro-Scholarship Portal, the first of its kind, to allow donors to contribute to individual students.

To date, the university has been funded by Shai Reshef, and by grants from various foundations including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Kauffman Foundation, The Hewlett Foundation, The Goodman Family Foundation, and The Passport Foundation, among others. With $6 million more, the University will be self-sustainable. In its quest to reach sustainability, UoPeople is currently in discussions with several foundations regarding grants, and is always seeking philanthropic and corporate donations.

University of the People – The world’s first tuition-free online university

(Thanks, Nora!)

Monday, October 29, 2012


[Dear lord, how I love xkcd. Click through repeatedly for the large version. -egg]
Congress: It'd be great if some news network started featuring partisan hack talking heads who were all Federalists and Jacksonians, just to see how long it took us to catch on.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Aralac: The "wool" made from milk

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Aralac: The "wool" made from milk

Yesterday, Cory posted a vintage ad for boys' hats and accessories, which included a small selection of ties made from something called "Aralac". I didn't think much of it, until I noticed J. Brad Hicks' comment pointing out that Aralac was a synthetic wool made from cheese. Which was not a joke.

Seriously. It'll make more sense once you understand how the stuff was actually made.

Think about it this way: Wool (the actual kind, that comes from sheep) is a protein. So is casein, which is found in milk. Making Aralac is basically about getting the protein casein to behave like the protein wool. In 1937, Time magazine described how the process worked:

Having practically the same chemical composition as wool, it is made by mixing acid with skim milk. This extracts the casein, which looks like pot cheese. Evaporated to crystals, it is pulverized and dissolved into a molasses consistency, then forced through spinnerets like macaroni, passed through a hardening chemical bath, cut into fibres of any desired length. From 100 pounds of skim milk come 3.7 pounds of casein which converts to the same weight of lanital. [Aralac was also called Lanital.]

Casein isn't cheese, as J. Brad Hicks described it. Instead, it's the stuff that makes cheese happen. If milk is the liquid and cheese the solid, casein is the stuff that facilitates the transition — the casein in milk clumps together and solidifies into cheese.

So, in a way, Aralac really was cloth made from cheese. During World War II, when wool was scarce, it made a lot of sense to buy Aralac — which was significantly cheaper and easier to get a hold of.

Why don't we wear Aralac today? Couple reasons. First off, it wasn't a particularly strong fiber. According the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia, Aralac fibers were only about 10% as strong as natural wool, so the stuff was usually mixed in a wool-Aralac blend to improve durability. And, despite assurances to the contrary in that 1937 Time story I quoted above, Smithsonian says Aralac was a royal pain to successfully dye.

It's also worth noting that Aralac isn't totally gone. In fact, there's a German company trying to market QMilch — a fabric made from milk that isn't deemed high enough quality to be sold as food. It's apparently more like silk than wool.

Fibonacci drawers in a cabinet

Fibonacci drawers in a cabinet:

Guangzhou's Utopia Design created this Fibonacci Cabinet, whose drawers are scaled according to ratios from the Fibonacci sequence.

Fibonacci Cabint - 乌托邦建筑设计 - UTOPIA ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN:

(via Neatorama)