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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


Form and Landscape is a stupendous collection of photos documenting the electrification of Los Angeles, culled from ConEd's archives (Edison International underwrote the exhibition). The pictures are presented with fascinating articles in Spanish and English, and are curated by William Deverell and Greg Hise.

The documentary record tells a story of better living, improvement, and uplift all made possible through the power of electricity or “white gold,” the company’s term of art for its product. Boosters spoke fervently about the opportunity a regular supply of electricity created and the benefit it would provide a mass of people for whom ready access to white gold meant extended hours of productive labor, enhanced quality of their leisure hours, and greater safety while traveling in and about the company’s service area by foot, by mass transit, or by automobile. It is a story of private enterprise elevating individual and collective wellbeing and in doing so contributing toward the public good by taking the smoke out of manufacturing; by making the labor of workers, both wage-earners and domestic, more efficient; by increasing safety and deterring crime; by improving health.

About the Project — FORM and LANDSCAPE
(via The Guardian Art and Design)

(Image, above: "Commercial Lighting Doug White (No date)")

I've included some of my favorites below:


Commercial Lighting Doug White (No date)


A Family at Home Joseph Fadler 1966


Electrical workers fashion show Joseph Fadler 1970


Kern River No. 3 Powerhouse, Edison generators attest to the quest for power, Kern County G. Haven Bishop 1928


Carl's Whistle Stop Char Broiled Hamburgers Joseph Fadler 1967

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

Here's a 40-minute video in which Tom Stuart gives a talk summarizing one of the chapters from him new book Understanding Computation, describing the halting state problem and how it relates to bugs, Turing machines, Turing completeness, computability, malware checking for various mobile app stores, and related subjects. The Halting State problem -- which relates to the impossibility of knowing what a program will do with all possible inputs -- is one of the most important and hardest-to-understand ideas in computer science, and Stuart does a fantastic job with it here. You don't need to be a master programmer or a computer science buff to get it, and even if you only absorb 50 percent of it, it's so engagingly presented, and so blazingly relevant to life in the 21st century, that you won't regret it.

At Scottish Ruby Conference 2013 I gave a talk called Impossible Programs, adapted from chapter 8 of Understanding Computation. It’s a talk about programs that are impossible to write in Ruby — it covers undecidability, the halting problem and Rice’s theorem, explained in plain English and illustrated with Ruby code. The slides are available

Impossible Programs     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


Ars Technica has a beautiful, mouth-watering gallery of the stuff for sale at Silicon Valley's Weird Stuff Warehouse, a high-tech surplus store of epic proportion:

"There is a need for a place you can walk around and get parts and older technology—or even newer technology," said Chuck Schuetz, the man behind the Weird Stuff Warehouse. Schuetz runs the store with his brother and his colleague, Dave McDougall. He let Ars take a tour of the place and snap a few photos, so come take a walk through the warehouse with us to check out the "weird stuff." Welcome to where technology goes to retire.

The Weird Stuff Warehouse is where old tech goes to retire [Florence Ion/Ars Technica]

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

Caleb sez, "I wanted to try making something in the style of "Q" from the James Bond movies. My idea was to make an emergency self destruct system for laptops and portable hard drives. It turned out pretty well, it is always fun to watch stuff melt!"

I wanted to implement thermite as a self destruct mechanism inside the device. To do this, I had to come up with a way to ignite the thermite. This stuff is very difficult to light. You have to get it really really hot. The easiest way is to use magnesium, which itself isn’t the easiest thing to light.

What I finally landed on was an ignition system that uses model rocket igniters, gun powder, and magnesium to light the thermite. The model rocket igniter can be set off from the 12v line inside your computer. However, it isn’t hot enough to light magnesium shavings, much less thermite. To get it to work, I needed to add some gunpowder. A small amount of gun powder would get hot enough to light the magnesium shavings, which in turn were hot enough to light the thermite. I had to be careful though, because too much gunpowder would cause a rapid expansion, blowing the thermite everywhere instead of lighting it. You can actually see some red thermite being blown out of the external hard drive and the laptop as the gunpowder ignites.

Laptop vs Thermite: Slow motion destruction (Thanks, Caleb)     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


Here's a mesmerizing gallery of "Fabrege Fractals" created by Tom Beddard, whose site also features a 2011 video of Fabrege-inspired fractal landscapes that must be seen to be believed. They're all made with Fractal Lab, a WebGL-based renderer Beddard created.

Fabergé Fractals by Tom Beddard, using his WebGL-based fractal engine, Fractal Lab. (via Colossal)     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


I reviewed Ronald Diebert's new book Black Code in this weekend's edition of the Globe and Mail. Diebert runs the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and has been instrumental in several high-profile reports that outed government spying (like Chinese hackers who compromised the Dalai Lama's computer and turned it into a covert CCTV) and massive criminal hacks (like the Koobface extortion racket). His book is an amazing account of how cops, spies and crooks all treat the Internet as the same kind of thing: a tool for getting information out of people without their knowledge or consent, and how they end up in a kind of emergent conspiracy to erode the net's security to further their own ends. It's an absolutely brilliant and important book:

Ronald Deibert’s new book, Black Code, is a gripping and absolutely terrifying blow-by-blow account of the way that companies, governments, cops and crooks have entered into an accidental conspiracy to poison our collective digital water supply in ways small and large, treating the Internet as a way to make a quick and dirty buck or as a snoopy spy’s best friend. The book is so thoroughly disheartening for its first 14 chapters that I found myself growing impatient with it, worrying that it was a mere counsel of despair.

But the final chapter of Black Code is an incandescent call to arms demanding that states and their agents cease their depraved indifference to the unintended consequences of their online war games and join with civil society groups that work to make the networked society into a freer, better place than the world it has overwritten.

Deibert is the founder and director of The Citizen Lab, a unique institution at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. It is one part X-Files hacker clubhouse, one part computer science lab and one part international relations observatory. The Citizen Lab’s researchers have scored a string of international coups: Uncovering GhostNet, the group of Chinese hackers taking over sensitive diplomatic computers around the world and eavesdropping on the private lives of governments; cracking Koobface, a group of Russian petty crooks who extorted millions from random people on the Internet, a few hundred dollars at a time; exposing another Chinese attack directed at the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. Each of these exploits is beautifully recounted in Black Code and used to frame a larger, vivid narrative of a network that is global, vital and terribly fragile.

Yes, fragile. The value of the Internet to us as a species is incalculable, but there are plenty of parties for whom the Internet’s value increases when it is selectively broken.

How to make cyberspace safe for human habitation

Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

I've written before about Moran Cerf -- celebrated neuroscientist, former military hacker, and good-guy bank robber -- who also happens to be a great storyteller. Here's a video in which Cerf recounts some clever and fascinating neuroscience experiments that use neurofeedback to help people resolve competition between different thoughts and wills in their minds. The applications are even more interesting -- mentally controlling a robotic arm, for example.

Moran Cerf: Hacking the brain (Thanks, Moran!)     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow


Moustetronaut is a lovely picture book by Mark Kelly, a former Space Shuttle pilot and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It tells the story of Meteor, an experimental NASA mouse who saves a shuttle mission by scurrying into a tight control-panel seam and retrieving a critical lost key. The story is very (very) loosely based on a true story -- there was a Meteor, but he never left his cage, but he did indeed display delight and aplomb in a microgravity environment. The whole rescue thing is a fiction, albeit an adorable one.


What really makes this book isn't its basis in "truth," but rather the amazing illustrations by CF Payne, who walks a very fine line between cute and grotesque, with just enough realism to capture the excitement of space and just enough caricature to make every spread instantly engaging. There's also a very admirable economy of words in the book itself (which neatly balances a multi-page afterword about the space program, with a good bibliography of kid-appropriate space websites and books for further reading). It's just the right blend of beautifully realized characters -- Meteor is particularly great -- and majestic illustrations of space and space vehicles.

Moustetronaut

    

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

A "Snowball" is a poem "in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer." Nossidge built an automated Snowball generator that uses Markov Chains, pulling text from Project Gutenberg. It's written in C++, with code on GitHub. The results are rather beautiful poems (these ones are "mostly Dickens"):

o
we
all
have
heard
people
believe
anything

i
am
the
dawn
light
before
anybody
expected
something
disorderly

i
am
the
very
great
change

Snowball (also called a Chaterism) (via Waxy)     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

R Paul Wilson sez, "I've just released a short film about magic and nostalgia. 'The Magic Box' is based on experiences and memories that many of us share and follows a handmade magic trick as it passes from one generation to the next."

This is as sweet as a sweet thing.

The Magic Box     

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