Great moments in pedantry: Scientists point out flaws in the science of Prometheus

I’ve not yet seen Prometheus, but as a genre, I honestly enjoy articles that are all about applying a (perhaps overly) critical lens to the way science is portrayed in science fiction. I think there’s a lot to learn from this sort of story—both about how science really works, and how to write more believable stories. In this piece on Forbes, an archaeologist, a geologist, an animal biologist, and two physicists critique the methodology and professional practice of the fiction scientists aboard the Prometheus. (Via Miriam Goldstein)


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Sonic.net stopped saving logs for more than 14 days in order to frustrate copyright trolls

Sonic.net is a great ISP. Not only are they technically proficient, but they also spend their own money fighting stupid subpoenas on their customers’ behalf. They won’t seal a police request unless they get a court order (many big ISPs will refuse to tell their customers about police snooping if the cops ask them not to, even without a judge’s involvement). They noticed that neither their sysadmins nor the cops ever needed logfiles going back more than 14 days, and that only scummy copyright trolls benefitted from longer log retention, so they cut their logging to two weeks. Forbes‘s Andy Greenberg interviews Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper:

DJ: So, what we saw was a shift towards customers being made part of a business model that involved–I don’t know if extortion is the right word–but embarassment for gain.

An individual would download a movie, using bittorrent, and infringe copyright. And that might be our customer, like Bob Smith who owns a Sonic.net account, or it might be their spouse, or it might be their child. Or it might be one of his three roommates in a loft in San Francisco, who Bob is not responsible for, and who rent out their loft on AirBnB and have couch surfers and buddies from college and so on and open Wifi.

When lawyers asked us for these users’ information, some of our customers I spoke with said “Oh yeah, crap, they caught me,” and were willing to admit they engaged in piracy and pay a settlement. But in other cases, it turned out the roommate did it, or no one would admit to doing it. But they would pay the settlement anyway. Because no one wants to be named in the public record in a case from So-And-So Productions vs. 1,600 names including Bob Smith for downloading a film called “Don’t Tell My Wife I B—F—— The Babysitter.”

AG: Is that a real title?

DJ: Yes. I’ve read about cases where a lawyer was doing this for the movie “The Expendables,” and 5% of people settled. So then he switched to representing someone with an embarassing porn title, and like 30% of people paid.

It seemed like half the time, the customer wasn’t the one right one, but they rolled over because it would be very embarassing. And I think that’s an abuse of process. I was unwilling to become part of that business model. In many cases the lawyers never pursued the case, and it was all bluster. But under that threat, you pay.

CEO Of Internet Provider Sonic.net: We Delete User Logs After Two Weeks. Your Internet Provider Should, Too.

(via JWZ)


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The man who made his own toaster

I spent the weekend at the Aspen Environmental Forums, and one of the presenters I got to see there as Thomas Thwaites—a man who built a toaster from scratch. As a project for his design degree, Thwaites reverse-engineered a cheap toaster from the British equivalent of Wal-Mart and used it as a blueprint to build his own. The catch: Thwaites made everything that went into the toaster. He mined the metal. He drew out the wires on jewelry-making equipment. He even found a way to make the plastic casing.

The point of this project wasn’t to suggest that everybody ought to be capable of DIY-ing up their own toaster. (Really, if you wanted toast in a post-apocalyptic world, you’d really just be better off with an old-fashioned, pre-electric toaster, which held bread in a metal grille so you could toast it over the fire). Rather, Thwaites was trying shine a light on how much we rely on other people, on their skill sets that we don’t necessarily share, and on centuries of technological advance. It takes a village to make a toaster. Or, rather, in this modern world, it takes lots of villages, all over the planet.

Thwaites’ project was also an interesting perspective on industrialization. There are drawbacks to producing goods this way. But there are benefits, too. And when we have the necessary conversations about how to make our world more sustainable, we need to consider both sides of the coin … and how we can get the benefits for less risk.

Cory wrote about this project back in 2009, when it was still a work in progress. The video above provides a short summary of the entire Toaster Project, including an amazing shot of the finished product which did (very briefly) work.

Video Link

Thanks to Matt Blind for the YouTube link!


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Key to the Gustavademecum

Last week, I posted about the The Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan, a delightfully geeky, DIY-made, mid-20th century dining guide produced by a physical chemist for the benefit of traveling scientists and engineers.

One of the key features of the guide was an elaborate series of symbols and letters that provided a lot of information about various restaurants in a small amount of space—and which look like some kind of crazy alchemical shorthand. In the original post, I included a page from the guide, so you can look at that to see the symbols in action.

Hugh Merwin, who wrote the story on The Gustavademecum for Saveur, also scanned a page from the guide’s key, which didn’t appear in the original story. You can see some of it above, and visit his personal website to see the full key.


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How to: Use a squat toilet

In 2007, my husband and I were privileged enough to take a month off and travel around Europe. Given that we spent most of our time in Western Europe, there really wasn’t a whole lot of cultural confusion, with a few notable exceptions*. Chief among them, the squat toilets we stumbled across at a very inconvenient moment in Italy. “Inconvenient moment” here defined as “actually having to use the bathroom.”

My friend Frank Bures is a travel writer and he understands the squat toilet problem all too well. Frank is, after all, somebody who has traveled extensively in places where squat is all you got. In a piece from 2006, he shares some hard-earned advice on squat toilets. How I wish I had read this before my venturing into small towns in coastal Italy.

Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth is probably the world’s foremost expert on excretion, a real Buddha of Bowel Movements, and she’s not afraid to get into the details. “My technique when I’m teaching volunteers about to go abroad,” said the author of How to Shit Around the World from her UK office, “is that when you’re learning, you need to take everything off below your waist: socks, shoes, pants, underwear. Then squat over the toilet. Pour water over your bum, and with your left hand, just whittle away with your fingers and try to dislodge any lumpy bits while pouring water. And that’s actually not too unaesthetic, because any mess that goes onto your fingers comes off in the water.”

What to do: Most important: Cultivate the right mindset. Relax, pretend like you’ve been doing this for years. Remember, using your hand is (according Wilson-Howarth) actually more hygienic, not less, than using toilet paper. “You get good bacteriological cleaning with just rubbing your hands together with soap under running water four times,” she says, and cites a study which says you don’t even need soap. “It can be ash or mud, just rubbing your hands together under water with some kind of washing agent. Even dirt from the river bank will give you good bacteriological cleaning.”

Read the rest at WorldHum

*Another notable exception: Andouillette sausage is not the same thing as andouille. You’ve been warned.


Image: Squat toilet, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jiahungli’s photostream


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Creeptastic video of Bolaj Badejo rehearsing in his Alien mask

Deeply creepy test footage from Alien (1979) of alien actor Bolaji Badejo slithering around The Nostromo in a prototype costume head. Posts one YouTube commenter: “movie about a tall skinny black serial killer in space that wears an oblong black mask would be awesome”


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The Jacksons’ "Can You Feel It?"

Michael Jackson died three years ago today. Above, the epic psychedelic video for The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It?” from their 1980 album Triumph. The video was conceived by Michael Jackson and developed by Robert Abel, known for his pioneering “photo-fusion” animations that you can read about over at Dangerous Minds. Narration by Word Jazz poet Ken Nordine!


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HOPE speaker lineup

2600‘s Emmanuel Goldstein sez, “The HOPE Number Nine speaker schedule is out – over 100 talks on a whole variety of subjects. This conference in particular shows how much the hacker community has evolved over the decades. There are talks on the Arab Spring, protecting anonymity, fighting surveillance, artistic expression, encryption, lockpicking, activism, pirate radio, etc., plus all of the latest security exploits and open source inventions. Of the nine HOPE conferences so far, this one seems to have the most diverse group of people participating from all around the world, bringing with them some really interesting topics and ideas, and, as a result, expanding tremendously what we consider to be the world of hackers.”


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Cat playing guitar interrupted by earthquake


[Video Link] A cat named Steven was playing guitar when an earthquake struck in Melbourne, Australia last week, causing it to stop for a moment.

(Via Arbroath)


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Supremes rule on Arizona immigration law, campaign spending, life in jail for children

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States:

Killed most of Arizona’s hated immigration act—but will still allow police to check immigration status while enforcing other laws. [CNN]

Struck down a Montana law that limited corporate campaign spending. Corporations are people, my friend. [CBS]

• Ruled that states cannot require children convicted of murder to serve their entire lives in jail without parole. [USA Today]


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