31 January, 2007

Security Theatre. Comedy for the whole family.

Havoc, fear, confusion, and panic. The Mooninites would be proud. From Making Light:
Boston menaced by cartoon promo; traffic grinds to a halt

Major roads and highways around Boston, and everything along the Charles River, were shut down today after nine “suspicious devices” were spotted in various locations.

The Turner Network has now confirmed that the devices, which look mysterious and have blinky lights on them, were part of a promotion for the TV cartoon show Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

In reaction to this gross overreaction, the city of Boston has gone into batshit crazy p.r. damage control mode.

In order to save face, Boston authorities have arrested Peter Berdvosky for having had a hand in installing them, and -of course- posting a video of it on the YouTube.

This is what being fed FUD on a daily basis has done to us. We've become a paranoid society that jumps at the slightest rocking of the status-quo, so mired in the details of our fear-filled existence that we fail to see that most of those fear are completely and utterly fabricated -usually by either the media or the government- until its's embarrassingly too late.

As much as I hate corporate 'guerrilla advertising', Turner and Adult Swim shouldn't be penalized for being creative. It's not Adult Swim's fault that our society has become a paranoid one, and that our government is enamored of its so-called security theater. It certainly doesn't justify arresting some hapless artist, thereby making his life a bloody nightmare, just for taking a check from and ad agency and putting up some street art. Then again, they do this to real street artists all the time. I don't know why I'm surprised.

If anything, Boston authorities should be taken to task for overreacting, fomenting the panic mentality, bowing to knee-jerk politics in shutting down the city, and now persecuting innocent parties in order to save face. Anyone paying attention will have realized that these devices have been up for weeks, not only in Beantown, but in NYC, SF, and other cities.

By the way, a point of order: calling the Mooninites installations a 'hoax' is extremely disingineous, and tantamount to alarmist propaganda. The 'devices' look nothing like a bomb, nor do they imply that they might be. If anything, they look like Lite Brites, ffs! Labeling this a 'hoax' as opposed to a publicity stunt (which is what it is, for better or for worse) is a classic example of the media enabling the persecution of undesirable elements by the government in the name of fear-mongering. If it weren't so funny, it would be very scary. Or is that the other way around?

The goal of terrorism is to instill fear into the population. I *fear* that the terrorists have won. I for one welcome our LED overlords.

30 January, 2007

Typography School

I need to get back on a press, and soon.

26 January, 2007

Cooper Black: Behind the Typeface

Brilliant. There needs to be an ongoing series like this..

24 January, 2007

Some robots, in disguise.

In keeping with what seems to be the theme for this week, here's another robot-related post. This time, it's a new picture of what is supposed to be passing for Optimus Prime on the much-anticipated (or dreaded, depending on your point of view), Michael Bay-directed 'Transformers' live-action/CGI movie coming out this summer.

Here's my take on this: if this movie were called anything other than 'Transformers' (like, say, 'Go-Bots'. . . HA!), I would have absolutely no problem with this design. In and of itself, it looks pretty badass. But as a die-hard Generation 1 Transformers fan, that is just *not* Optimus Prime (although I'm glad to see they at least kept his head). Call me a purist, but if it's not a snub-nosed tractor trailer cab, it's just not Prime. By the way, what is with these Hot-Rod / Rodimus Prime flames?? Ugh.

And don't even get me started on Megatron (below). Bay's re-imagining of Megatron is what you'd get if you stuffed HR Giger full of amphetamines and acid and shoved him into a room full of hyperactive Tribbles with loud uptempo techno playing at 300bpm.

I feel confident I speak for Transformers fans everywhere when I say: Fuck you, Michael Bay. Fuck you very very much.

More signs that the Japanese are dead serious about playing Gundam + Robotech in real life

Masaaki Nagumo, an engineer at Japan's machinery maker Sakakibara Kikai, gets into a 3.4-metre tall, two-legged robot called Land Walker for a demonstration as part of an art exhibition. Looks like a prototype Star Wars "AT-ST Scout Walker" or some kind of small Mech.

All he needs is a medium-sized plasma cannon, a big ol' energy sword, some type of anti-Ewok-attack system, and we're good to go. And a jetpack. Must never forget the jetpack.

Oh, and this thing needs to transform into something. I don't care into what, as long as it transforms. It's just not a giant Japanese robot if it doesn't transform into something.

This thing is so sweet, I just had a nerdgasm. When are these gonna be available for purchase? Now that would be a hell of a morning commute.

Alphonse Mucha's Slav Epic

From Making Light, co-workers Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog, I was directed to Mucha's Slav Epic.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep, deep love of Mucha's ouvre. His figure work, his linework, and his sense of space are only surpassed by his skill as a master draughtsman. Throughout the years, Mucha has informed my personal artwork –in one way or another, and in varying degrees of intensity– more than any other artist, hands-down.

I wasn't aware that this body of work existed- much less that Mucha himself considered it his masterpiece. The above link has a great historical background on the series, as well as detailed analysis of each painting. While a far cry from the stylistic mannerisms of his poster work, this series of paintings are beautiful in and of themselves. I hope to be able to see them one day, if I ever make it to the former Czech Republic.

Grease Monkey Kudos

Grease Monkey: A Tale of Growing Up in Orbit by Tim Eldred has been selected by the American Library Association as both a "Best Book for Young Adults" and "Great Graphic Novel for Teens." Grease Monkey is one of Tor's titles –our first graphic novel, in fact– and I enjoyed it tremendously.

Congratulations to Mr. Eldred and his editor Teresa Nielson Hayden.

Dawkins in the curriculum, hell yeah!

From The Guardian, it seems that the British school system is getting at least half the story right:
Teenagers will be asked to debate intelligent design (ID) in their religious education classes and read texts by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins under new government guidelines.
I'm pleased that kids will be exposed to Dawkins' writing within the context of a so-called 'religious education' class, and particularly going head-to-head with so-called Intelligent Design. It's high time that educators took a strong stance against the insidious encroaching of religious fundamentalist mystical bullshit into classrooms.

On a related note, scientists have apparently come to the conclusion that the tendency towards magical thinking in toddlers is replaced by the tendency towards faith as the child grows out of believing in faeries and goblins. From the article in the NYT:

Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.

It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing. “The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer,” said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas.

Hm, the psychological space reserved for Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy becomes the psychological space reserved for faith in gods. Coincidence? I think not. Religion -and deism in general- are the most infantile of human emotional responses, after all. Also of note is the assertion in the article that conditioning towards religious faith begins at about the same time that magical thinking is beginning to lose its hold on the youngster. In other words- once a child is ready to move on from emotional dependence on a fictional, super-natural entity, society comes in and shoves another pacifier into its face.

It's no wonder people find it so hard to think outside of the paradigm of Judeo-Christian (or deist in general, I suppose) thought. This religious drivel is hammered into each and every one of us relentlessly, and we're expected to take it as fact, on faith. Anyone who thinks or says otherwise is immediately marked as a pariah, worthy of 'virtuous' people's pity. I'm happy to see this slowly changing, as atheists like myself can be more open about our convictions without having to constantly defend against or be offended by the religious hordes.

When I read Dawkins' The God Delusion, one of the sections that I had the most trouble with were the chapters where he equates the indoctrination of religious faith at an early age to child abuse. While at the time of reading I found this a little hard to swallow, in the time since, I've come to realize that Dawkins is absolutely right. We need to teach our children that our world, here and now, is real. That the consequences of our actions are visited upon us in this life, not in some made-up, post-mortem castle in the sky. That to live by the rule of some disembodied, omniscient being is a cop-out, and that one should take responsability for one's own actions, using as guidelines our own sense of right and wrong founded upon the real world: the golden rule and non-zero-sum relationships.

I hadn't really thought much about it before, but as I write this, it occurs to me that if many of the world's problems stem from the general attitude of entitlement, arrogance, and nonchalance that is prevalent amongst most of us, it is safe to assume that many of those values come from the belief that there's an omniscient, benevolent higher power who will make everything 'right' for us in the end.

Like my friend Phil over at Antisavior says: "Stop killing man, start killing god."

Paper Optimus Prime

I remember doing something like this when I was ten or eleven, after my parents took away my Prime toy for some reason or another. Needless to say, mine wasn't as clean, but it did transform. . .

Anyway, check out the link for this and other really cool paper toys.

23 January, 2007

ACLU, ftw!!!

From the Houston Chronicle:

A judge on Monday rejected the city's effort to keep secret most of the files and videotapes documenting the arrests of hundreds of protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which had brought the lawsuit, said it would not immediately release the information because the city may appeal.

More than 1,800 people were arrested at the four-day convention at Madison Square Garden, where President Bush accepted his party's nomination for a second term in office.

Oddly enough, I haven't seen anything about this in the NYT. Anyone beg to differ? Please? I so want to be proven wrong here, as it rankles me to no end that the so-called 'paper of record' would ignore something like this, and in its own back yard, no less.

EDIT: I've been pwned. Here's the link to the NYT article, courtesy of Fulana's blazing fast research skills. Slow down, woman!

22 January, 2007

One Step Closer. . .

. . . to the singularity. From NewScientist.com, Neural 'extension cord' developed for brain implants:
A "data cable" made from stretched nerve cells could someday help connect computers to the human nervous system. The modified cells should form better connections with human tissue than the metal electrodes currently used for purposes such as remotely controlling prosthetics. . . Connecting the chord to electrodes outside of the brain means the reaction of neurons to non-organic material can be controlled. In future, the cord could connect an amputee's nerves to a sophisticated prosthetic, he says, and might even offer a way to connect artificial eyes or ears to the brain.

Bring it on. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'll be the first in line to get a brain implant.

21 January, 2007

I want some cold gravy to go with it, dammit.

It's official. I haven't had a cigarette in exactly one week. No slips, no "I'll just have this one, because I've been so good", no asking roommates for a cigarette (they just figured out I hadn't been smoking all week last night), no nothing. I've even gone out drinking a few times this week, and haven't succumbed to the temptation of bumming one off my friends and having one with my beer. I've gotta tell ya, though. It's been tough. If it weren't for ganja and tea (lots of both), I might have shot someone I live or work with by now. Well, that and the fact that I don't own a gun, but don't sweat the details. So hit it, John:

Cold turkey.

Has got me.

On the run.

Openculture University Podcast Collection

Openculture.com has a great educational podcast collection on their site (among other things). They have audio books, foreign language lessons, news, commentary, college courses from BU, American University, Columbia, Duke, College de France, and on and on and on. All free, as in beer. Most deffinitely worth a look. I think I'm gonna make good on my resolution to learn French for real (successfully asking for cigarettes at Charles de Gaulle notwithstanding).

GunDAMN that's big effin' robot!

The Maru family hooked their little ones up over the holidays, with this life-size scale model of the classic Gundam giant robot. Here's a link to the step-by-step assembly photo essay on their family site. It looks like they had a blast. Or maybe that's just me projecting. Either way, it's a big giant fucking robot in their living room. I foresee Lego property damage in the future.

Mad props to the parents of these two very lucky kids.

19 January, 2007

Clearly, part of the plot to make america gay.

From the Beeb:
An investigation into the cleanliness of rivers feeding Washington's Potomac River has revealed the presence of sex-changing chemicals.
Somebody get Colbert on this!

18 January, 2007

Apple Inc+Apple Corps=AppleSauce

OK, so given:
1) Steve Jobs' flaunting some Beatles tracks in his MWSF keynote demo for the iPhone.

2) Apple Corps not crying (to my knowledge) about Apple's dropping the word 'Computer' from their name.

3) Apple's forthcoming announcement at the Super Bowl, which many predict will be that the Beatles catalogue will -finally- be available online and exclusively at the iTunes store (at least at first).

I think we can extrapolate that there is a possibility that Apple Inc might be in talks to buy Apple Corps. This actually makes some sense if you think about it: Apple Inc. owning Apple Corps would be somewhat analogous to Steve Jobs' leadership role at Pixar and Disney: it gives Apple an instant inside-ally in the music industry, all the better for Jobs to strongarm them into the future, 'cause you know they're not going there by themselves.

You heard it here first, folks. Apple Inc. is buying Apple Corps. Let the rumor-mill begin!

17 January, 2007

Possible Cure for Cancer... and it's even Open Source!

According to this New Scientist article, a team at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, have found that dichloroacetate (DCA) kills lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells.

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe.
It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Not only is this a very promising new direction in cancer treatment, it's also one where pharmaceutical company profiteering will have little effect. See, DCA cannot be patented, as it has been in use for many years. On top of that, it's dirt-cheap to manufacture. So there is very little profit margin in this drug, as compared to other patented designer drugs that can me marketed and sold at a premium. That's the good news. The bad news is that because there is little incentive for profit in selling this drug, there is little interest on the part of big pharma to subsidize the clinical tests needed to really see if this is effective in real cancer patients. This seems like the kind of thing that Bill & Melinda would totally go for. Let's see if it pans out.

Don't fuck it up, Clooney!

From Sci Fi Wire : It seems George Clooney is going to produce an adaptation of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age as a six-part miniseries for the Sci Fi Channel. Now, Neal Stephenson is by far one of my favourite authors (The Barroque Cycle, Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, etc.), and The Diamond Age is the very first novel of his that I read, so it's got a special place in my heart. From what I've seen of Clooney's work, his productions seem well thought out, and in the spirit of what/who he's trying to portray. But then again, this is sci fi –the genre, which is hard to adapt into film competently without getting silly– Sci-Fi –the network, which has a spotty track record for this kind of thing (on one end, Battlestar Galactica kicking some serious ass, on the other, the Dune miniseries and the slew of B-grade movies they spew forth every year sucking craptacularly) and it's Stephenson, to boot; a very complicated and obtuse author, who crams meaning and symbology into every fucking page, particularly in The Diamond Age.

I'm going to withold judgement on this one until I see it.

Love that Lovecraft

For all you Cthulu-heads out there: Check out these plush toys based on the works of HP Lovecraft. There's a plush Cthulu, Moon Beast, Deep Ones, hand puppets, etc, etc, etc. Of note, (and pictured at left): the plush Necronomicon Pillow. This is classic, classic shit.

Scalzi: How DRM is like Gitmo

I mentioned The Whatever earlier in the week, and here's a great post from this morning:

How is Guantanamo like DRM, you ask? They're alike in two ways: First for what they are not, and then for what they represent.

Let's begin with the first: Both are used by the people who have created them for purposes other than what they're ostensibly used. In the case of DRM, it exists not primarily to combat piracy but to amputate the right of "fair use." In the case of Guantanamo, it isn't primarily for harboring dangerous terrorists but for concretely embodying the extra-constitutional idea of expanded executive powers.

Check out the whole thing here.

16 January, 2007

Must-know terms for the 21st Century

Via Warren Ellis' blog, a list of must-know terms for the 21st century, from the Sentient Developments blog, by George P. Dvorsky. A fascinating list, covering terms and concepts from Bayesian Rationality to the Technological Singularity (my favourite). Definitely worth a read, and makes for a good half hour of link surfing. If anyone is curious as to some of the most important concepts in modern futurology,* this is a good place to start.
* Ben, I'm thinking of Natty here, so send her this way.

15 January, 2007

Heads up! Cannonball Press in the house!

Cannonball Press is home to some of the most badass woodcut and letterpress work I've ever seen. Martin Mazorra and Mike Houston's work is pure rock and roll. So I was very excited to find this invite in my Inbox today. I'm gonna be there. You should be too.

Treasure of the Black and White Brigand
A Tale of Lost Loot Spanning the Centuries, told in woodcuts

January 16th – February 10th, 2007

THURSDAY, January 18th, 6-8pm

David Krut Projects
526 West 26th Street, #816
New York, NY 10001

12 January, 2007

The Pirate Bay Strikes Again! or: I'm moving to Sealand.

After successfully fighting off the RIAA, and coming to the defense of Allofmp3.com, the Pirate Bay is now trying to raise money to buy the microcountry of Sealand, off the British coast. Ostensibly, this would place the Pirate Bay in a sovereign country where no intellectual property laws are recognized, therefore allowing the 'Bay to keep doing what it does best without the constant shadow of another raid or whatnot looming over their horizons.

The Pirate Bay is accepting donations, in exchange for citizenship if the deal goes through. If they can't raise enough money, they say they'll buy some other island, and declare it a sovereign nation.

If ever there was a nation I would want to defend, this would be it. Yarr, mateys.

11 January, 2007

Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades

I've just finished reading Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi (one of Tor's authors, and the man behind The Whatever). What a ride! These books rock. Scalzi rocks. Period.

The premise of the Old Man's War Universe is simple: In the future, humanity has taken to the stars, and discovered that the neighborhood is rough. Human colonists must compete for interstellar real estate with many other alien races, who seem to like to compete with ordinance, as opposed to basketballs. War is expensive, and uses up warm bodies -even in the future- so earthlings are encouraged to enlist to protect the colonies, but only after their 75th birthday. Yes, that's right, seventy-cinco. Because in the future, they've got the body-swap/conciousness transfer thing down to a science.

Scalzi's world-building is on point; he's got his shit all worked out, but he knows just when to give it to you. His pacing is nice and tight, moving you along the plot all while giving you your expository stuff in nice manageable dollops. Fans of Robert Heinlein will totally dig these books. Old Man's War feels like a one-shot novel, because while the foundations for the larger story were there, it has a very satisfying ending. Considering it was Scalzi's first novel, that makes sense. The Ghost Brigades, on the other hand, while still being a self-contained story, really drops a hell of a cliffhanger on ya towards the end.
It's a good thing we just got the first shipment of The Last Colony, the third -and I believe, final, but I could be wrong- installment in the series into the office.

The covers for all three books are illustrated by John Harris. His spacescapes are awe-inspiring, they reflect the grandeur implicit in the themes that Scalzi works with in these books. To quote Irene Gallo, Harris' illustrations "resonate a sense of awe and scope, a kind of 'big picture' science fiction." Indeed. His loose, gestural style also gives off a kineticisim which echoes the fast-paced action in these books. A great pairing of illustrator with author, in my opinion.

10 January, 2007

Apple v. Cisco: The fight for the iPhone.

Now, who didn't see this coming? Yesterday, Cisco sued Apple over the iPhone trademark, ostensibly defending their new 'iPhone' branded VOIP Phone. For those not so pathologically glued to the internet as me, Cisco got shit from the blogosphere for their iPhone launch in early December, especially as it was linked to an Engadget iPhone prediction which turned out to be one of the worst off-season April Fool's jokes in recent times. Cisco has owned the trademark for 'iPhone' since 2000, when they acquired it as part of a company they bought., so Apple is knowingly in the wrong here.

I could see Apple try to make a case out of the fact that an 'iAnything' is derivative from the iMac, iPod, etc., but still it's a very weak case, and I doubt it would hold up in court. No matter what happens in the courtroom, though, Cisco lost the PR battle when they released a product with the iPhone name, knowing full well that it would either a) be confused with an Apple product (therefore underhandedly infusing their lackluster VOIP Phone with some Apple mojo), or b) possibly lead to a legal dispute with Apple over the name. The fact that they held the trademark makes no difference from a real-world perspective; any marketing person could have told Cisco that using the iPhone name was a bonehead move. iAnything is linked to Apple in consumer's eyes.

That being said, I wouldn't put it past Apple to have simply come out with the iPhone name as a placeholder until June (sort of like the iTV), when -after keeping the iPhone in the spotlight through a highly publicized legal squabble with Cisco while they get FCC approval- they would unveil the real name for the device's actual launch in June. From a mindshare perspectiive, after enough time (like say, six months), they could call it the iTurd if they wanted to, and people would probably still refer to it as the iPhone out of habit. Who knows?

As far as alternate names, 'ApplePhone' sounds ok. Not as nice a ring to it as 'iPhone', but good enough. However, think about the rest of the picture, at least from a marketing/advertising perspective. [Apple Logo]Phone would kick ass in text, just like the new [Apple Logo]TV. Kind of a mouthful, but it does wonders for branding your living room. Actually [Apple]Phone rolls off the tongue better than [Apple]TV, I think.

Big Brother much?

These new posters outside of London Tube stations are disconcerting, to say the least. Considering London is one of the cities with the most public surveillance, one has to wonder whether the creators of this campaign have ever read 1984. . . Orwell was so right, he was just a little too premature.

Welcome to the future. Try not to get arrested.

Typography pr0n

Via BoingBoing, a pin-up calendar for typographers by Taylor Lane Studios. What could be sexier than girls AND type? I don't know. I really don't know. While this aesthetic is nothing new, it's been put to great use here. It's kinda like Suicide Girls for the type nuts. Check the link for the rest of the months.

09 January, 2007

iPhone FTW!!!

It's here. Sort of. Apple announced their iPhone today, a full-service phone, internet, and music playing device. Although it won't be available until June, and then only through Cingular (or AT&T, rather), I'm still stoked. This device is gonna kick so many people's asses, it's not even funny.

EDIT: I'll write a longer, more concise review of the announcement later, after I've stopped drooling all over my keyboard. I have to wait till June, really? Frakkin' FCC approval...

05 January, 2007

"Say, that's not a moon, it's a space station!"

AT&T is back, after having received approval from the FCC to reclaim BellSouth in a mega-merger. Now the U.S. Government has a one-stop shop for all its illegal phone tapping needs. Rejoice.

The thing that worries me more than even that is that they got this merger through on the vow of net neutrality. However, memories are short. AT&T and Bellsouth were both companies that vowed to lay fiber networks to the home in exchange for tax and regulatory concessions in the '90s, and have yet to deliver on that promise. The new AT&T has 'promised' to uphold net neutrality for the next two years. After that, barring any permanent legislation to the effect, it's anyone's game.

So, enjoy your Skype, your BitTorrent, and your YouTube while it lasts.

Behold the new Death Star.

02 January, 2007

The new sleekness.

I woke up this morning, and the first thought in my mind was 'this is the day'. Very loud and very clear. So behold, the locks are gone.

Amsterdam Wrap-up

Friday night I ended up walking around some more, and discovered a small letterpress print shop on Haarlemmerdijk. The owner, a frenchman named René, worked mostly on a platen press, although he did have a flatbed press in the back, which he said he used for larger work. He had a nice set of monoprints up on display, and we talked for a good forty-five minutes about printmaking in Europe, and I mentioned some of the cats that are blowing up the scene over here. After that, some more walking around, and I ran into some people I'd met earlier in the week. Hijacked into drinking heavily.

I made it out to Schiphol early-ish on Saturday morning. I was surprised with how chill security was at CDG. Not lax, mind you, they did their job. But the attitude was completely different than that of the TSA goons on this side of the Atlantic. In fact, they searched my luggage two times, and it was done so affably that I didn't mind at all. Then agian, maybe the fact that they had to dig through all my dirty clothes from the last week had something to do with that. Regardless, a relatively painless experience. I did get the classic "Did you bring back anything 'special'?" question from a TSA goon here at JFK, but that was to be expected, and -surprisingly- they didn't search me.

I got home, and proceeded to crash for two days. The jet lag and a screwed up stomach landed me in sickbay until today. Happy new year, and all that.