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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

Krzysztof Kietzman sez, "I studied American literature in Poland and published my Masters Thesis on cyberpunk and postcyberpunk for free under a Creative Commons BY SA license. It is available online and covers the writers William Gibson ('Neuromancer') and Neal Stephenson ('Snow Crash', 'The Diamond Age') and the theme of innocence in cyberpunk fiction. This theme will be familiar to Boing Boing readers, as it appeared in the works of Mark Dery and John Barlow, among others. The thesis explores such topics as American individualism, escapism, religion and Rapture, 'the rapture of the nerds', AIs, etc. One chapter also covers cyberpunk in general."     

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Original author: 
Cory Doctorow

Dr. Tom Murphy VII gave a research paper called "The First Level of Super Mario Bros. is Easy with Lexicographic Orderings and Time Travel . . . after that it gets a little tricky," (PDF) (source code) at SIGBOVIK 2013, in which he sets out a computational method for solving classic NES games. He devised two libraries for this: learnfun (learning fuction) and playfun (playing function). In this accompanying video, he chronicles the steps and missteps he took getting to a pretty clever destination.

learnfun & playfun: A general technique for automating NES games (via O'Reilly Radar)     

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Biella Coleman is a geek anthropologist, in both senses of the epithet: an anthropologist who studies geeks, and a geek who is an anthropologist. Though she's best known today for her excellent and insightful work on the mechanism and structure underpinning Anonymous and /b/, Coleman is also an expert on the organization, structure, philosophy and struggles of the free software/open source movements. I met Biella while she was doing fieldwork as an intern at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She's also had deep experience with the Debian project and many other hacker/FLOSS subcultures.

Coleman's has published her dissertation, edited and streamlined, under the title of Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, which comes out today from Princeton University Press (Quinn Norton, also well known for her Wired reporting on Anonymous and Occupy, had a hand in the editing). Coding Freedom walks the fine line between popular accessibility and scholarly rigor, and does a very good job of expressing complex ideas without (too much) academic jargon.

Coding Freedom is insightful and fascinating, a superbly observed picture of the motives, divisions and history of the free software and software freedom world. As someone embedded in both those worlds, I found myself surprised by connections I'd never made on my own, but which seemed perfectly right and obvious in hindsight. Coleman's work pulls together a million IRC conversations and mailing list threads and wikiwars and gets to their foundations, the deep discussion evolving through the world of free/open source software.

Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

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Lisa Rein from the Timothy Leary estate writes,


Fifty years after being cut loose by Harvard for being too enthusiastic regarding the successful
results of his experiments with psilocybin and LSD, the only complete collection of Timothy
Leary's published works, including the papers of the original Harvard psychedelic research,
has been acquired by the university that banished him and his partner, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), in 1963.

The Leary collection is just one of the many jewels in the Ludlow-Santo Domingo Library of Geneva that the prestigious Houghton Library recently acquired on long-term loan. Virtually unknown to the public, it is the greatest library of psychoactive drug history, literature, science and culture on the planet, formed over a decade by a visionary and committed collector, Julio Santo Domingo (1958-2009).

Leary and Alpert took their banishment from Academia in stride, and helped further the budding Psychedelic Revolution, which subsequently was itself banished from western society. So in a sense, Leary is making a comeback, just as psychedelic research appears to be. With all the printed work by and about him in one place, presently being processed and catalogued (it will take a while), students and historians will be able to study the research and truly assess the role of Leary, Alpert, Metzner, and the most famous mind drug in history.

Timothy Leary and Harvard, Reunited At Last

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Smoothlife (paper, source code is a floating-point version of the old Game of Life, a classic of evolutionary computing and genetic algorithms. By adding floating point math to the mix, Smoothlife produces an absolutely lovely output:

SmoothLife is a family of rules created by Stephan Rafler. It was designed as a continuous version of Conway's Game of Life - using floating point values instead of integers. This rule is SmoothLifeL which supports many interesting phenomena such as gliders that can travel in any direction, rotating pairs of gliders, wickstretchers and the appearance of elastic tension in the 'cords' that join the blobs.

(via JWZ)

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An editorial in the 200th anniversary issue of the New England Journal of Medicine looks at mortality and health through the centuries, and includes this chart of causes of death from the turn of the last century, which makes for quite a comparison. We're doing great on kidneys, but hearts not so much.

During the 20th century, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions assumed more dominant roles (see bar graphTop 10 Causes of Death: 1900 vs. 2010.), although outbreaks of infectious disease — from eastern equine encephalitis (1938) and kuru (1957) to legionnaires' disease (1977), AIDS (1981), and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (1993) — necessitated ongoing vigilance against microbes. New concerns also came to medical attention, from the terrifying consequences of thermonuclear war (1962) to the indolent but devastating effects of environmental pollution (1966) and climate change (1989). Optimism about prospects for the health of future populations persisted but remained tempered by concern about the pathologies of civilization. An obesity epidemic, feared in 1912, has come to pass. Our previously steady increase in life expectancy has stalled and may even be reversed (2005).

The Burden of Disease and the Changing Task of Medicine
(via Beth Pratt)

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A paywalled paper in the Royal Society's journal Interface argues that the world's underground rail systems are all converging on an "ideal" form. The paper, "A long-time limit for world subway networks," shows that subway systems grow "organically," in response to the needs expressed by the cities above them over the course of decades, and reveal truths about the shape of cities. In Wired, Brandon Keim describes the findings:

Patterns emerged: The core-and-branch topology, of course, and patterns more fine-grained. Roughly half the stations in any subway will be found on its outer branches rather than the core. The distance from a city’s center to its farthest terminus station is twice the diameter of the subway system’s core. This happens again and again.

“Many other shapes could be expected, such as a regular lattice,” said Barthelemy. “What we find surprising is that all these different cities, on different continents, with different histories and geographical constraints, lead finally to the same structure.”

Subway systems seem to gravitate towards these ratios organically, through a combination of planning, expedience, circumstance and socioeconomic fluctuation, say the researchers.

World’s Subways Converging on Ideal Form

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From "A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity" (by Poh, M.Z., Swenson, N.C., Picard, R.W. in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, vol.57, no.5), a chart showing a single student's electrodermal activity over the course of a week. Note the neural flatlining during classtime. As Joi Ito notes, "Note that the activity is higher during sleep than during class." He also adds, "Obviously, this is just one student and doesn't necessarily generalize."

A week of a student's electrodermal activity

(Thanks, Joi!)

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"Click Trajectories: End-to-End Analysis of the Spam Value Chain" is a scholarly research paper reporting on a well-designed study of the way that spam works, from fast-flux DNS to bulletproof hosting to payment processing to order fulfillment. The researchers scraped mountains of spam websites, ordered their pills and fake software, and subjected it all to rigorous comparison and analysis. They were looking for spam ecosystem bottlenecks, places where interdicting one or two companies could have a major impact on spam.

Figure 1 illustrates the spam value chain via a concrete
example from the empirical data used in this study.
On October 27th, the Grum botnet delivered an email
titled VIAGRA R Official Site. The body of the mes-
sage includes an image of male enhancement pharma-
ceutical tablets and their associated prices (shown). The
image provides a URL tag and thus when clicked
directs the user's browser to resolve the associated domain
name, medicshopnerx.ru. This domain was registered by
REGRU-REG-RIPN (a.k.a. reg.ru) on October 18th --
it is still active as of this writing. The machine providing
name service resides in China, while hosting resolves to a
machine in Brazil. The user's browser initiates an HTTP
request to the machine, and receives content that renders
the storefront for "Pharmacy Express," a brand associated
with the Mailien pharmaceutical affiliate program based in
Russia.

After selecting an item to purchase and clicking on
"Checkout", the storefront redirects the user to a payment
portal served from payquickonline.com (this time serving
content via an IP address in Turkey), which accepts the
user's shipping, email contact, and payment information, and
provides an order confirmation number. Subsequent email
confirms the order, provides an EMS tracking number, and
includes a contact email for customer questions. The bank
that issued the user's credit card transfers money to the
acquiring bank, in this case the Azerigazbank Joint-Stock
Investment Bank in Baku, Azerbaijan (BIN 404610).
Ten days later the product arrives, blister-packaged, in a
cushioned white envelope with postal markings indicating
a supplier named PPW based in Chennai, India as its
originator.

Click Trajectories: End-to-End Analysis of the Spam Value Chain (PDF)

(via MeFi)

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