Christopher Mitchell, a PhD candidate in NYU's Computer Science program, is building a 1:1 scale model of Manhattan in Minecraft, with faithful, handmade reproductions of each of the island's skyscrapers. He's relying on data from diverse sources, including Google Earth, and the model to date is 277m^2, with 71Bm^3 of volumetric detail, running on a 200 core cluster with 200GB of RAM. It's part of a larger project (!), called Sparseworld, through which Mitchell is combining data from diverse geographical and architectural systems to faithfully model the physical world.
Where to get replicable data for every building in New York City? "Completion is reliant on getting models for every building on every street, and to my knowledge, only Google has that much information," Mitchell said of Google's Earth and Maps combination of products. Here.com, which used to be Nokia Ovi Maps, and Microsoft's Bing are other possible sources.
"Dad's favorite pastime shouldn't treat girls like second-class citizens." The problem is that these companies' data is under license and encrypted, which Mitchell doesn't want to mess with under the table. "I've considered reverse-engineering the encrypted format that Google Earth uses to fetch building models from the server and just keep the building models to myself," Mitchell said, but he still worries about violating the Google Earth license. He's had trouble getting in touch with the right people at Google to discuss accessing the data and using it for the academic pursuit of a Minecraft Manhattan. He has also reached out to the Here.com and Bing team
Manhattancraft: The quest to make a full-size city of Minecraft blocks [Casey Johnston/Ars Technica]
The Sword and Laser (S&L) is a science fiction and fantasy-themed book club podcast hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. The main goal of the club is to build a strong online community of science fiction / fantasy buffs, and to discuss and enjoy books of both genres. Check out previous episodes here.
We kick off our March book pick, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, ponder the brief career of Jonathan Ross as LonCon MC, and discover that at least Houghton Mifflin thinks SciFi is lit.
This episode is brought to you by Audible. Get a free 30-day trial membership by going to audiblepodcast.com/sword and choosing from over 150,000 titles.
Read show notes here.
Sword and Laser is not just a podcast; we’ve also been a book club since 2007! Each month we select a science fiction or fantasy book, discuss it during kick-off and wrap-up episodes of the podcast, and continue that discussion with our listeners over on our Goodreads forums. So come read along with us, and even get a chance to ask your questions to the authors themselves!
The ACLU and SXSW will host a video chat with Edward Snowden on Monday, during the day's civil-liberties-focused program track. I'll be speaking immediately before Snowden, with Barton Gellman, and we will be staying for the Snowden event. Snowden will be interviewed by ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian, and the event is moderated by the ACLU's Ben Wizner. I hope to see you there -- it's why I'm flying to Austin.
Just as technology has enabled our modern surveillance state, so too can technology protect us. But regular users cannot make privacy-preserving tools themselves. The technology industry and the tech community can and must do more to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the tools and services that we build.
Edward Snowden’s revelations have launched a historic debate about surveillance practices and democratic controls, in which all three branches of government are actively and publicly engaging. But the technology community has too often been left out of the debate. It’s time to fix that.
That Gilbert Shelton’s name isn’t immediately recognized by everyone who reads these words is a shame, one Knockabout Comics has spent the past half-dozen years working hard to correct. In 2008, the UK-based publisher issued The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Omnibus, followed a year later by a collection of the delightful spinoff series, Fat Freddy’s Cat. The company took a couple of years off from the Shelton racket, issuing books by, among others, the cartoonist’s better known peer and fellow French transplant, Robert Crumb.
Late last year, however, the company returned with the final piece in Shelton’s puzzle: Wonder Wart-Hog. Like Shelton himself, the bestial hero is mostly forgotten outside of sequential art faithfuls and those who followed his skewed super heroics in sporadically issued comics collections throughout the 60s.
That the Warthog never skyrocketed to mainstream comics super stardom, shouldn’t be regarded as a surprise. Shelton, to his credit, never fell into the common trappings of anti-hero comics. He created a countercultural response to superhero books that remained just that. Throughout the four-plus decades of stories collected herein, Wonder remains crude, aggressively bizarre, and wildly inconsistent in such superhero cornerstones as origin stories and secret identities.
As the publisher notes in its admittedly anemic contextual notes, Our hero somehow manages to squeeze himself into a 5’7” Philbert [Desanex] suit — or at least that seems to be the case most of the time. Other times, they are two separate entities, Wonder Wart-Hog commenting on Desanex’s life from inside his stomach.
It’s hard to say how much of the character’s elasticity was intention and how much was a simple disregard for self-imposed canon for the sake of storytelling, but whatever the case, such inconsistencies work out in favor of the character, who flies in the face of nearly every trope that dominated superhero books at the time of his genesis. Keep in mind, for a moment, that the 1962 publication date of the first WW story pre-dates the debut of the X-Men by a year and even edges out Spider-Man’s Amazing Fantasy debut by a couple of months.
And hey, while we’re constructing a timeline here, let’s mention that Crumb’s Zap, the comic book that’s generally considered the definitive statement of the underground comix ethos (to which Shelton and Wonder were a contributors, naturally) was still another half-dozen years off. It’s not surprising, then, that the hero’s earliest appearances were quite rough in nearly every sense of the word.
As Wonder Wart-Hog first began popping up in Texas-based humor magazines, Shelton was a grad student attempting to cement a style and voice well before any semblance of an underground scene had truly taken hold. Still, throughout the decades, the art does continue to bounce around far more than on the Freak Brothers’ strips, owing, perhaps, to the cartoonist’s frequent collaborations. But again, it’s clearly the elasticity Shelton afforded the swine that had him returning to the hero time and again.
In Wonder Wart-Hog, Shelton found something evergreen, and that goes a ways toward explaining why these works hold up as well as they do. There’s also a lot to be said for the layers of grit the cartoonist piles onto his creation, finding his comedy by wallowing in the depths of drugs and dirt and crime that are so often wiped clean in rose-colored retrospects of the decade of peace and love. And indeed, the book is quite funny, quite regularly — though it never hits the heights of Shelton’s Freak Brothers output, the high water mark of the cartoonist’s catalog, in terms of art, narrative and jokes. For that reason, it’s probably safest to start with the 2008 collection and migrate over here, if you like what you find.
And hey, after scoring a copy of the latest collection, you’ll probably find yourself revisiting its predecessors as well. Really, it’s quite remarkable just how much has been crammed into these collections — the latest alone is an impressive 464 pages, comprised entirely of stories and the occasional color cover. That means, sadly, that contextual details are limited almost entirely to the book jacket.
If there’s a major shortcoming to Knockabout’s Shelton collections, it’s that. As lovingly compiled as these books are, additional biographical details, artwork, interviews and the like would have given readers a much more complete insight into an artist who finally getting a long overdue retrospective. But with three recent volumes collecting 1,200 pages of Shelton’s best work, it’s hard to quibble too much with what Knockabout has done.
The Delhi police lost the password for a portal that hosted complaints that had been passed on by the Central Vigilance Commission after an initial vetting. 667 complaints had been judged serious enough to be passed onto the police since the password was lost in 2006, but none have been acted upon, because no one had the password. Now they have the password. Presumably, the 667 unserved complainants believed the police to be either too slow or incompetent to have gotten back to them.
Each Delhi government department under the CVC, including the MCD, DDA and several investigating agencies, have a chief vigilance officer to look into complaints. If a complaint reaches the CVC, either it tackles it independently or it sends it to the concerned department.
In 2006, a portal monitored by the CVC was created, putting the complaints it sent to departments online. Each department could access the portal with a password. Complaints regarding the Delhi Police were also sent to the portal.
Every year, the CVC holds meetings with government departments to take stock of the complaints with them. Sources said that since 2006, the CVC had got no feedback on complaints pending with the police.
Vigilance complaints pile up as Delhi Police doesn’t know password [Shalini Narayan/Indian Express] (via BBC News)
...Harrigan said that "every single parent out there" opposed marijuana legalization.
"Your statement that all parents are against this is ludicrous," said Cohen. "What do you think, that people who are in favor of decriminalization or changing policy don't procreate?"
The CIA's Inspector General has asked the Justice Department to consider criminally charging CIA agents who spied on a senate committee that was engaged in writing a report that was highly critical of the CIA's use of torture. Senator Mark Udall, who sits on a CIA oversight committee and whose staff was spied on by the CIA alleges that the CIA surveilled overseeing senators and their staff with Obama's knowledge and consent.
In a recent hearing, Senator Ron Wyden asked the CIA director repeatedly whether the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America's major anti-hacking statute, applied to the CIA, and whether the CIA spied domestically. CIA director John Brennan replied "yes" and "no," respectively. If Udall's allegations are correct, this means that Brennan lied to Congress (in the second instance) and committed a felony (in the first instance).
The report that caused some CIA agents to spy on their bosses was about how the CIA was wasting time, getting nowhere and doing something illegal and cruel when it kidnapped terror suspects and tortured the shit out of them.
McClatchy and the New York Times reported Wednesday that the CIA had secretly monitored computers used by committee staffers preparing the inquiry report, which is said to be scathing not only about the brutality and ineffectiveness of the agency’s interrogation techniques but deception by the CIA to Congress and policymakers about it. The CIA sharply disputes the committee’s findings.
Udall, a Colorado Democrat and one of the CIA’s leading pursuers on the committee, appeared to reference that surreptitious spying on Congress, which Udall said undermined democratic principles.
“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight powers and for our democracy,” Udall wrote to Obama on Tuesday.
Obama knew CIA secretly monitored intelligence committee, senator claims [Spencer Ackerman/The Guardian]
For the first time, some researchers studied the long-term impacts of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding in American children by comparing breastfed vs. formula fed siblings — a distinction meant to help distinguish the effects of breastfeeding from the effects of, say, family education levels, social dynamics, and income. It's a really interesting study, though not without its own flaws, so it's worth reading both this Slate piece by Jessica Gross and a rebuttal of that piece posted on the Mammals Suck blog by anthropologist Melanie Martin.
I think Martin's rebuttal makes some good points — particularly pointing out that it would be more interesting, and important, for research to focus on really understanding what breastmilk is made of and what the different components do. That research could not only give us a better starting point for knowing what differences we should and shouldn't expect to see between breastfed and formula fed kids, it would also put us in a better position to create better formula.
That said, I did think one of the arguments made in the Mammals Suck piece was kind of off.
Martin argues that the new study doesn't actually have anything new to tell us.
Colen and Ramey effectively showed that the totality of one’s childhood experiences—and not simply whether one was breastfed or not—is what really explains variation in multifactorial health and behavioral outcomes. Good for them. Also, duh.
The problem here is that I don't think that is actually a "Duh". Not for laypeople. Anecdotally, in my experience as a new mother, the opposite has been heavily implied to me by a lot of well-meaning friends and family. In a few cases, the opposite was outright stated — that breastfeeding alone, irrespective of the totality of childhood experiences, could control multifactorial health and behavior outcomes. Basically, I think this is a case where the new research might not tell science anything science didn't already know, but it does add a layer of nuance to what laypeople think and how we talk about breastfeeding. And that's an important distinction.
The takeaway here should not be, "Whelp, don't bother breastfeeding!". (Something that the Slate piece kind of implies.) Instead, we should probably come away from this with the understanding that, for those of us living relatively wealthy lives in developed countries, whether or not we are breastfed is just one of many, many factors that affects our long-term health, behavior, and intelligence and there is at least some reason to suspect that breastfeeding may not be the most important of those factors.
The fact that breastfeeding is likely to be a factor on some level (in addition to other issues like potential impacts on the long-term health of the mother and the high cost of buying formula) tells us that breastfeeding has benefits, and it's worth making it easier for women to breastfeed in our society. (Case in point: Our entire travel infrastructure, which is set up to largely ignore the fact that breastfeeding women travel and may need to either feed their babies or use a breast pump while doing so.)
The fact that breastfeeding isn't some kind of magical panacea, without which a child is doomed to lowered IQ, poor health, and obesity tells us that maybe we mothers don't need to stress out so much about whether we have to supplement with formula, or how long we are able to breastfeed, or what's going to happen to our kid if we happen to have trouble breastfeeding to begin with. (The lack of nuance about the science of breastfeeding in public discourse can really do a number on a new mother's psyche.)
To me, this study points to both those messages, and both those messages are important in American society.
Image: Some rights reserved by myllissa.
One year ago today
Humans yelling like goats yelling like humans: Full circle, guys.
Five years ago today
Doctors force patients to sign gag orders forbidding online reviews: Over 2,000 US doctors have joined a service that supplies them with EULAs for their patients to sign, EULAs that forbid the patients from writing bad reviews of their treatment online.
Ten years ago today
YASNS anthem: The OrkutWorld Song: The OrkutWorld Song is an anthem for people stuck in the latest YASNS, to the tune of "Limbo Rock."
I live in a place so dark that grues are a legitimate concern. I've found no super bright flashlight better sized or more dependable than the SureFire E2D Defender. I also have not found many more expensive. Shockingly, it is worth the $185!
The palm sized E2D cranks out 500 lumens of INTENSE white light in bright mode. It is like daylight for 50 or so feet in front of you and casts around 100 yards of very good visibility. The battery conserving 5 lumen mode is plenty bright for most simple walking down the street, even if it is pitch black and the road quality sucks. I find I get a few months out of a set of 123a batteries. I keep a box in the freezer.
The price is super high for a flashlight but this SureFire is pretty much super durable and reliable. If you live or work somewhere that calls for a bright flashlight very often, this one is worth having! The anodized aluminum body screws tightly together and, while not water-proof, uses o-rings to help keep the elements out (mine has, accidentally, been in the hot tub.) It beats my other, hand-cranked flashlights by far.
I do not employ the Defender elements and can not comment as to their efficacy, unless it is against grues. I have not been eaten. The E2D is a bright and solid light. It stands on those merits alone.
Tim got an email from someone trying to get rid of comment spams -- ever since Google started punishing sites that left comment spam on blogs, this has been going on a lot. When Tim told the guy to buzz off, he threatened Tim with sabotage by means of Google's "Disavow" tool, growing progressively more abusive as Tim stood his ground.
My friend Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and creator of Maker Faire, went to Sochi with his wife, Nancy. He wrote a long, fascinating account of their stay in Russia for Medium. He included lots of pictures.
“You are such a sports fan,” Nancy said to me, as though she just noticed it after 30+ years. I do love and hate being a sports fan. I’m conflicted. I’m not always sure why I like to watch sports — and it is as a spectator that I’m most intensely involved.
The conflict for me is that I really don’t care anymore who wins or loses. This is true in the Super Bowl, World Series and the Olympics. I don’t have a team I’m rooting for. I’m looking for something else and I think I realized what it is at the Russian Olympics.
It’s hard to watch the Olympics on TV in America because of the way they package it for Americans, trying to develop a sense that we are rooting for our country and making a connection to American athletes. So much is fabricated, and I wanted to see beyond that. I didn’t come to root for TeamUSA, although I do care what Americans are doing and how American athletes are competing. But it is not why I came to Sochi. The Russian Olympics: Observations of a Perplexed Spectator
Cody Foster & Co is an art-swiping tchotcke maker, used by big retailers to source fashionable cloneware they want to sell. Accused last year of ripping off a batch of independent designers, Cody Foster wanted to settle. Fast Company's John Brownlee reports the incredible conditions they want to impose on the victim. Cody Foster's conditions? That the independent designer accusing the company of piracy license her designs to Cody Foster & Co. for $650 and submit to a gag order, deleting any complaints about the company from the web. ... Smith and her attorneys initially declined the offer, indicating that $650 was not worth a gag order on what they had been through, and reached out to Co.Design. Since then, Cody Foster's attorneys have indicated that they are willing to discuss a larger payment in exchange for licensing Smith's designs. As of publication, this remains unresolved.
We are thrilled to announce that work on the Boing Boing Happy Mutant Mobile has begun! As we said, our sponsors at Ford agreed to support the customization, modification, and transformation of a 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon into what we (and you) imagine for a Boing Boing vehicle. (Original announcement here. Check out all the concept designs here!) Theresa Conteras and her talented team of makers at L&G Enterprises in San Dimas, California have already started building out the 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon. Above, a glimpse of the open side door revealing the rough rack design for our zine, book, and comix library! And here's a shot of the unfinished framing for the cabinet of curiosities behind the rear door. So beautiful.
We will post more images as the Happy Mutant Mobile magic continues to unfold. We're also thrilled that in the coming month, longtime BB reader Ryan Powers will join us in visiting L&G Enterprises to see Ryan's idea for a bubble-blowing Jackhammer Jill hood ornament come to life! Also on the customization list: exterior art, a roll-down projection screen, tricked-out coffee station, and of course a mobile blogging/video studio inside the vehicle! Plus more. Much more. Below, additional photos of the rear and the in-progress interior.
This post is brought to you by Ford.
Robot Mountain has compiled a partial list of the bad-ass weapons of Catholocism, which include Durendal, "which had in its hilt one of St Peter’s teeth, St Basil’s blood, a hair of St Denis, and a scrap of cloth that belonged to the Virgin Mary."
There was Joyeuse, the sword of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, which was said to contain bits of the Spear of Longinus in its pommel.
Charlemagne’s paladin Roland had a sword called Durendal, which had in its hilt one of St Peter’s teeth, St Basil’s blood, a hair of St Denis, and a scrap of cloth that belonged to the Virgin Mary. It was said to be the sharpest sword that ever existed. (As long as I’m naming swords from the Song of Roland, Ogier the Dane’s magic sword was called the Courtain, and Almace was the sword of Turpin, Archbishop of Rheims.)
Saint Ferdinand III of Castile had a legendary sword called Lobera (“the wolf slayer”).
There’s the sword of Saint Peter, which he used to cut off the ear of a guard who came to arrest Jesus before the crucifixion, but it’s legend is not particularly badass, except in some legends it was given to Saint George, which is pretty cool except obviously he killed the dragon with that spear I was talking about a few paragraphs ago.
(Image: Louis XIV (1638 - 1715), Louvre/Wikimedia Commons)