MonthFebruary 2012

Thousands Attend Anti-Putin Rally in Moscow

Thousands of Russians have joined hands to form a ring around Moscow city centre in protest against Vladimir Putin’s expected return as president in an election next week.

Protesters stood in a long line on Sunday, around the 16-km Moscow Garden Ring Road, wearing white ribbons that symbolise the biggest opposition protests since Putin rose to power 12 years ago.

Putin is all but certain to win the presidential election on March 4, but the growing protests have highlighted demands for greater democracy and openness from mainly urban voters fed up with widespread corruption and one-man rule.

Al Jazeera: Thousands attend anti-Putin rally in Moscow

See also: Russian prime minister counting on rural, less-educated voters as popularity slips ahead of March vote

See also:

Surpressed GQ article on Putin now available online and in Russian

Henry Rollins and RE/Search’s V. Vale on Occupy Wall Street

At the LA Zine Fest, V. Vale tells Henry Rolls about about his idea for an “Occupy Handbook” collecting posters and slogans from the movement worldwide. Rollins talks about his collection of George W. Bush graffiti from around the world.

(via V. Vale on Twitter)

See also:

The official RE/Search site

Richard Metzger and R.U. Sirious on Occupy Wall Street

The Myth of the Eight-hour Sleep

A 1595 engraving by Jan Saenredam

Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech, believes that he’s found evidence that until sometime between the 17th and 19th century Europeans used to sleep in two separate blocks, known as first and second sleep, rather than one eight hour block. According to historical literature he’s uncovered, people would wake up for an hour or two between blocks.

From the BBC:

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.

A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”.

BBC: The myth of the eight-hour sleep

(via Hacker News)

See also:

Segmented Sleep

When Microfinance Goes Wrong: Over 200 Microfinance Related Suicides in India

The AP reports that it has obtained internal documents that link SKS Microfinance to a rash of over 200 suicides in India. According to a report commissioned by SKS, the company’s employees had verbally and physically harassed borrowers, even going so far as to tell a borrower to commit suicide. One employee watched another borrow drink pesticide in a failed suicide attempt. Another blocked a women with a sick child from going to the hospital, demanding payment first.

The Military-Maker Complex: DARPA Infiltrates the Hackerspace Movement

In a two part essay Fiacre O’Duinn explains why DARPA’s partnership with MAKE magazine to fund 1,000 makerlabs in U.S high schools is antithetical to the maker movement and wonders whether it’s a line in the sand that will divide the movement:

While the MENTOR program involves cooperation, this is done so as part of challenge competitions, in which teams compete against each other for cash prizes. This seems in stark contrast to how maker culture has developed to date. Why is competition necessary? If the goal is truly for education using the hacker/maker model, can learning and exploration not take place merely for pleasure, in a completely open environment, or must it be reduced to yet another lesson in the need to hoard and compete for resources and information?

Third, why has the field of study in these makerspaces narrowed only to STEM topics? What happened to the transdisiplinary focus of hacker/maker communities that make them so innovative? Where are the arts? Where are wearables, knitivism, DIY molecular gastronomy? Why do the challenges involve working on unmanned air vehicles or robots, projects that are of interest to DARPA for their military applications? Shouldn’t we encourage STEAM rather than STEM? Could it be that regardless of their educational potential, these topics have no possible military application? With such a narrow focus, one could ask which culture will win the day, maker or military?

Finally, why are the full details of the Make proposal and specifics of the agreement with DARPA not being made public? Because in dealing with the military, lack of transparency is simply a matter of course. This works well for the military but why is it necessary for a community project involving children? Why was a “Secret” clearance level needed to work on designing modules for the program, according to this job advertisement? This lack of transparency also leaves other questions unanswered. For example, as the program expands to over 1000 schools, will military personnel be brought in to teach? This last question brings me to issues of recruitment, STEM education and the military.

The biggest issue of all may be the use of the the MENTOR program as a military recruitment vehicle.

Make, DARPA and the line in the sand, #1

Make, DARPA and the line in the sand, #2

I’ve long opposed military recruitment programs in schools, but what might the benefits of such a program be? I’ve been thinking lately that in these times of austerity, and given the general difficulty in getting public funding for education and social programs in the U.S even when we’re not in a recession, tying social programs to hawkish programs like defense and law enforcement may be the only way to go.

In his “State of the World” in 2009, Bruce Sterling suggested taking a national defense position on climate change:

If I wanted to be politically effective, rather than visionary, I’d disguise myself as a right-wing Green, probably some kind of hunting-shooting NASCAR “conservationist,” and I’d infiltrate the Republicans this year. […]

So we publicly recognize the climate crisis: just as if we suddenly discovered it ourselves. And we don’t downplay the climate crisis: we OVERPLAY the crisis.

“Then we blame the crisis on foreigners. We’re not liberal weak sisters ‘negotiating Kyoto agreements.’ We’re assembling a Coalition of the Willing tp threaten polluters.

“We’re certainly not bowing the knee to the damn Chinese — they own our Treasury, unfortunately, but we completely change the terms of that debate. When the Chinese open a coal mine and threaten the world’s children with asthma, we will take out that threat with a cruise missile!

That’s our new negotiating position on the climate crisis: we’re the military, macho hard line.

Would it work? Would it be worth selling out the rest of your values for?

I don’t know, but also consider the sorry state of jobs in the country. On the one hand, Newt Gingrich’s moon base idea was justified as a defense measure, but it was widely seen as a proposal as a jobs program for NASA’s home state. Maybe a moon base was too wild an idea, but could something like sci-fi work? Remember, the interstate highway system in the U.S. was actually called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and was justified as a defense measure. If we want a jobs program to rebuild or crumbling infrastructure, it seems like we could do a lot worse than call it a homeland security program.

So given the sorry state of STEM education, and the expense of setting up hackerspaces and the absolutely dismal state of public libraries (which many suggest turning into hacker spaces), is it time to consider letting DARPA build hackerspaces for the kids, even if it means letting in military recruiters and having the kids focused on making weapons?

I can see the pragmatic benefit, but I still just can’t justify it. As Fiarce points out, the program is just too antithetical to the maker spirit. And although as many have pointed out DARPA has funded all sorts of research over the years, including the creation of the Internet, the MENTOR program will specifically include a competition for designing weaponized vehicles for military use. DARPA may do some good work too, but having kids design weapons for the military crosses a line for me.

So will it split the community? Someone with more knowledge of the history of the computer hacking movement and how the NSA and other defense agencies tried to hijack it might have more insight than me. But it seems that if the maker movement has any momentum of its own, then this shouldn’t be fatal to it. Those who want to collaborate openly and make things other than war planes, and those attracted to the militaristic elements of the DARPA program will go there. Hopefully the maker movement will be able to sustain both strands, much like the computer hacker movement managed to sustain an open source movement.

See also: 3 BIG questions (and lots of smaller ones) about DARPA & Make

Dead Drops: Anonymous, Offline, Peer-to-Peer File-Sharing Network in Public Space

dead drops

‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessable to anybody in public space. Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data. Each dead drop is installed empty except a readme.txt file explaining the project. ‘Dead Drops’ is open to participation. If you want to install a dead drop in your city/neighborhood follow the ‘how to’ instructions and submit the location and pictures.

Dead Drops

(via Theremina)

If only there was some way to keep these from filling up with malware, porn and spam.

Trevor Blake wrote here a few years ago:

Now is a good time to establish lines of electronic communication that are not entirely (if at all) reliant on the Internet as it currently exists. Hand delivery of a stack of media is still one of my favorites. At a certain point it the best bit-per-second value known, it has certain privacy features that can’t be beat and it requires very little technical know-how or fancy equipment or money. For all the gnostic freakout of The Matrix, the scene where a disreputable character knocks on Mr. Anderson’s door and passes him a data disc might be the most prophetic.

Learning about cryptography, fidonet and the postal system won’t do anyone any harm. Nothing beats trusted person-to-person connections established in many only-partially overlapping social / professional circles.

See also: sneaker net.

Samsung Releases Source Code for Eye Controlled Mouse Pointer

The Verge on the eyeWriter inspired EyeCan from Samsung:

While controlling a mouse pointer with your eye isn’t brand-new technology, Samsung’s taking steps to get it in the hands of as many people as possible by open-sourcing its eyeCan technology. EyeCan was developed by five members of Samsung’s Creativity Lab, and was built with the purpose of helping those who are paralyzed from a disease like ALS control a computer through eye tracking. They’ve been testing it and posting videos of it in use on YouTube over the last few months (not surprisingly, one of those videos showed off a game of Angry Birds) and now the team is ready to release the software and documentation behind it for anyone to develop their own solution.

The Verge: Samsung releases source code for eyeCan, an eye-controlled mouse for the disabled

See also:

A Brain–Computer Interface Allows Paralyzed Patients to Play Music with Brainpower Alone

How and Why Exercise Boosts Your Brain. Plus: How Little Exercise Can You Get By With?

The New York Times on how exercise raises the level of glycogen available to the brain:

After the single session on the treadmill, the animals were allowed to rest and feed, and then their brain glycogen levels were studied. The food, it appeared, had gone directly to their heads; their brain levels of glycogen not only had been restored to what they had been before the workout, but had soared past that point, increasing by as much as a 60 percent in the frontal cortex and hippocampus and slightly less in other parts of the brain. The astrocytes had “overcompensated,” resulting in a kind of brain carbo-loading.

The levels, however, had dropped back to normal within about 24 hours.

That was not the case, though, if the animals continued to exercise. In those rats that ran for four weeks, the “supercompensation” became the new normal, with their baseline levels of glycogen showing substantial increases compared with the sedentary animals. The increases were especially notable in, again, those portions of the brain critical to learning and memory formation — the cortex and the hippocampus.

New York Times: How Exercise Fuels the Brain

Also:

While many of us wonder just how much exercise we really need in order to gain health and fitness, a group of scientists in Canada are turning that issue on its head and asking, how little exercise do we need?

The emerging and engaging answer appears to be, a lot less than most of us think — provided we’re willing to work a bit. […]

For years, the American Heart Association and other organizations have recommended that people complete 30 minutes or more of continuous, moderate-intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk, five times a week, for overall good health.

But millions of Americans don’t engage in that much moderate exercise, if they complete any at all. Asked why, a majority of respondents, in survey after survey, say, “I don’t have time.”

Intervals, however, require little time. They are, by definition, short. But whether most people can tolerate intervals, and whether, in turn, intervals provide the same health and fitness benefits as longer, more moderate endurance exercise are issues that haven’t been much investigated.

New York Times: How 1-Minute Intervals Can Improve Your Health

(via socialphysicist)

The Rise of the Hactivist

From SiliconAngle:

Hacktivism is the result of mashing up the words hack and activism and was coined in 1998 by Omega, a member of the Cult of the Dead Crow hacker crew. By definition, hacktivism is the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends or “the nonviolent use of legal and/or illegal digital tools in pursuit of political ends”. Hacktivism can be in the form of web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies,virtual sit-ins, typosquatting, and virtual sabotage. Wikipedia also defines hacktivism as “the writing of code to promote political ideology: promoting expressive politics, free speech, human rights, and information ethics through software development.”

How a Team of Outsiders Created Doctor Who

Doctor Who

i09 has some interesting back history of Doctor Who and how difficult it was to get the show made:

Also, at the panel, Hussein and William Russell talked about how the first Doctor, William Hartnell, wasn’t just a cantankerous old man — he was also a very traditional Englishman, who wasn’t used to the idea of women working outside the home. And he didn’t know what to make of Hussein, “an East Indian who spoke posh English,” said Hussein. Thus, Hartnell took a lot of convincing that an East Asian man and a young woman were going to be up to their jobs. The first lunch Hussein and Lambert had with Hartnell, he seemed reluctant to take on the role, and they almost gave up. In the end, they decided to have a second lunch with Hartnell, at which it became clear that the actor wanted them to prove their qualifications.

i09: The creators of Doctor Who were a scandal

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