FCC Public Hearing on Media Localism

Lorne Covington of MediaDog writes:

Just in time for Halloween, the FCC has announced a surprise hearing in DC about something that should really scare you: media consolidation! They’re still trying to rush new rules allowing for huge media conglomerates to become truly gargantuan. The short notice is to reduce the attendance, since folks that show up at these are usually against those changes (big media gets to talk to the FCC all it wants, anytime it wants).

FCC Public Hearing on Media Localism
Date: Wednesday, Oct. 31
Time: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. (come early to sign up to testify)
Location: FCC Headquarters
445 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C.
More Information: http://www.stopbigmedia.com/=dc

IED T-Shirt for Sale

Instructables member Ed Lewis, a.k.a “fungus amungus,” designer of the “Improving ELECTRONICS Devices is not a crime” shirt, has made the design available on Spreadshirt. Profit from the sales of the shirt go to Star Simpson’s defense fund. Star being the 19 year old hardware hacker who spooked all sense out of Logan Airport authorities when she wore a shirt with a home-made electronics circuit to pick somebody up. Whatever you think of her actions (personally I find them boneheaded in the extreme), you’ve got to sympathize with her serious and scary predicament, especially because “the Man” seems intent on throwing the book at her, calling what she wore a “fake bomb” (which is equally boneheaded in the extreme).

I bought the shirt seen here. I plan on wearing it with pride at the Austin Maker Faire (while turning it inside out and burying it deep inside my bag at the airport). We live in interesting times…


Tech Recycling/Reuse Center Hassled by the Man

At this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire, one of my fave characters was James Burgett of Alameda County Computer Recycling Center. I not only liked him because he reminded me of half of my tabletop wargaming buddies, he also saved my ass in the Mousey the Junkbot workshops. He provided the junk, some 75 analog mice that we transformed into an army of light-seeking robo-rodents.

The ACCRC is a very innovative organization that finds new users, or new uses, for Silicon Valley’s tons o’ techno-junk. James and his cohort have been great friends to MAKE/Maker Faire and I’m looking forward to working with James at future Faires. That’s if he’s still around. Recently, he ran afoul of the Department of Toxic Substance Control of the California Environmental Protection Agency. No, he’s not acid-burning parts in vats in the back to extract precious metals or letting motherboards bleed into the Berkeley groundwater. It all sounds like bureaucratic bullshit that may have been exacerbated when James vented his spleen about the whole situation on his blog.

Anyway, he needs help if he’s going to keep his Center in operation. It’s amazing to me — given how much of this waste actually DOES end up in your ground water or melted down in tech-reclamation villages in south-eastern China worthy of a cyberpunk novel (or the Toxic Avenger) — that someone wanting to do something useful and creative with the stuff would be threatened by the authorities.

If you live in California, you can write the DTSC or other appropriate officials. Dale Dougherty did a write up on O’Reilly Radar with more details about the failed inspection. There’s also some good discussion in the comments, including a letter from someone at Yahoo! who volunteers at ACCRC, and a list of CA officials to contact. James has also created a PayPal account to help with any legal fees or fines.The link is on his blog.


And Today’s Vaporware Generator Squeezes Out A… “Skycar”

Somewhere, there must be a “Stories of the Future” news copy generator that cranks out the same techno-futuro, gee-whiz, Jimmy crap at regular intervals. This generator lives right next to the one that spits up the “dangers of the Internet” falderal. I think they’re programmed to work together, on odd and even months. This month, it’s a Gernsbackian fan favorite, the Moller Flying Car, in this case, their M200G model, a.k.a. the Flying Saucer.

Moller’s skycars have garnered tremendous amounts of ink and electrons (and oodles of magazine covers) for nearly four decades. And they’re always billed as coming to a blue sky near you, any day now. Dr. Paul Moller even got himself into some hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the ’90s when he suggested to investors that 10,000 of his skycars would be in the air by 2002. But according to this BBC piece, NOW is the time. It’s happening. Really. Forget all those other previous predictions. The M200G skycar will allegedly go on sale in a few months, and Moller plans on cranking out 250 in a year.

So, months away from production, eh? And yet, check out this video on their website. It shows an M200 still under tether and a very tentative, not very graceful flight (and a lot of nervous looking natives scurrying beneath it). This is the best they could come up with for trying to convince potential buyers to fork over between $90-450K? And could you possibly hone that price point down a little finer? Silly.

Is it just me, or are we ripe for another PaPeRo announcement from NEC? I can hear the story generator cranking out the breathless prose now…


Learning MS Office 2007: the Box

Joel, of Joel on Software, has a satisfying, spleeny rant about how difficult it is just opening the box of MS Office Pro 2007 (and Vista, which uses the same package design). He vents:

“It’s a hard plastic case, sealed in two different places by plastic stickies. It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman’s Design of Everyday Things. To be technical about it, it has no true affordances and actually has some false affordances: visual clues as to how to open it that turn out to be wrong.”


“Wasting five minutes trying to get the goddamned box open is just the first of many ways that Office 2007 and Vista’s gratuitous redesign of things that worked perfectly well shows utter disregard for all the time you spent learning the previous versions.”

Read the rest here.


Sad Commentary on Person Tech, Here in the 21st Century

Steven Manes has a sad-but-true editorial in PC World about the continued crummy state of personal tech “user-surliness,” here in the early hours of the 21st century:

Concepts that seem obvious to those of us who cultivate technical savvy are utterly alien to the nontech majority–with good reason, since most products, services, and technologies aren’t nearly as simple as techies and tech companies would like to believe. Just ask anybody with half a dozen remotes on the coffee table and a spouse who merely wants to watch a pay-cable show–even without the complication of getting it to play through a home audio system.

Read the rest of the piece here.


And you thought your last cavity search was thorough

You know what’s really, really sad is how much trouble this tote bag would really, really get you into if you tried to take it onto a plane. Remember the scene in Lily Tomlin’s “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” where she’s trying to explain to her “space buddies” the different between a Warhol painting of a soup can and a can of soup? Welcome to a similar search.


Hubble Diverted to Cyberspace, Discovers Black Holes

We all know the wonders of the internets and the seemingly instantaneous travel of datapackets over the wires (up to birds, etc.). But researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that, every day, 10% of the net’s linkages are dropped and data on them is frequently lost. These dark spots, known euphemistically in geekspeak as “reachability problems, have been more playfully dubbed “black holes,” with the software recently created to track them called Hubble. The researchers are hoping that, now that they’ve identified the problem, they can develop tools to track black holes in real time and create tools to fix such routing problems as they happen.

[Via Wired]


DIY Big Brother Art Project

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to the Civilian Art gallery here in DC, to the opening of a show by Hasan Elahi. Elahi, a Bangladeshi-born American artist and Rutgers professor, was held and interrogated by the FBI for several days in the wake of 9/11. Even after being released, his name appeared on terrorist watch lists. In response to this nightmare, he did something unusual, he opened up his entire life to scrutiny and self-surveillance. He created a project he dubbed Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project, taking pictures and keeping records of everything, from the hotel rooms he’s stayed in, to the food he’s eaten, to urinals he has known (see above). In the gallery show, and on his website, GPS location shows his whereabouts at all times. The effect of all this is unnerving, and sad, “lifecasting” as desperate survival strategy.

Clive Thompson has a piece about Elahi is the latest Wired (June). And on the Provisions Library blog, Signal Fire, Niels Van Tomme has an interview with the artist. The Civilian show closes this Friday (June 9).

So, after being determined innocent of any wrongdoing, Elahi is left alone now, right? Wrong. Here’s what he says about his current status (and his feelings about America) on Signal Fire:

“I get harassed still to this day– every time I fly through Kennedy airport I get taken in for hours. Other airports are hit or miss. To be honest, I have very good reason not to live here after all this, but remain here. This is home, this is where I grew up, I’m an American citizen and this is my country. So it does pose a very interesting question when your idea of the country does not necessarily reflect your government’s policies. I am certainly indebted to the US for what I’ve established here with my citizenship, it would’ve been impossible growing up in a small village in Bangladesh. On the other hand, I don’t agree with what our government is doing and that’s one of the reasons I’m doing this project.”


Cyber Barbie Next Online Child Menace?

Have you noticed the subject of TV news’s latest demonization of the Web? It’s [cue the killkillkillkill slasher music]: Webkinz. Webkinz is a sort of Beanie Babies meets The Sims. Little Timmy buys a plushy at Sweatshops R Us, enters a code found on it, and it unlocks a trippy-ass online world for him and his plushy’s virtual persona to play in. While the company apparently takes great pains to keep it kid-only, and everything is contained within the Webkinz domain, the media has been doing that great conflation thing they thrive on: because it’s on the Internet, it’s right there alongside the predators and the porno malls and the dens of identity thieves (which’d sorta be like warning you not to let your kid talk to grandma on the phone ’cause the phone system is used for phone sex and planning terrorist attacks). Anyhoo… now Barbie, that little synthetic crumpet, wants in on some of that Webkinz bank.

Barbiegirls.com will be a similar wonderland of kiddy eyeball kicks, beige pop music, and plenty of opportunities for buying virtual beads and baubles. The crapo-pop will be piped in via Barbie-shaped USB-based MP3 players that’ll contain music and code to unlock new features on the site. The site is in beta now but all of this’ll be in full pink swing by fall. Just in time for TV producer’s to cue up another round of “perils of the Internet; how to keep your kids safe!”

[Via Gizmag]