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The Longest Now

Love in Peru
Thursday July 28th 2011, 1:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

More from Life in a Day via National Geographic.

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A fully operational time machine
Tuesday July 26th 2011, 7:27 pm
Filed under: indescribable,null,Uncategorized

Greg Brainos, Raleigh-area comic and Norrin Radd acolyte, recently posted on the Raleigh Craigslist looking for male time travellers with male friends.  He tweeted about it a few days ago, and got 100 calls and two radio interviews about it before the Time Lords Craig pulled the ad.  The sketchy details gave it a certain appeal to… people who might take it seriously.

Date: 2011-07-20, 3:07PM EDT


I have successfully built a working time machine and need a human test subject that is willing to be the first person to ever travel back in time.

Due to the dimensions of the machine, you must be shorter than 6’3″ and weigh less than 230 lbs. Also, you must be male. That’s not due to the dimensions of the machine, it’s just a personal thing. I think a man should be the first to time travel, just like he was the first to fly an airplane and to walk on the moon.

The pay is $3,000 and, of course, you’ll reap the benefits of being the first person to ever travel back in time (media coverage, endorsements, etc.). You will have to sign a waiver that mainly states:

1. I am not responsible for anything that happens to you when you time travel.
2. You are forbidden from interfering in matters that would disrupt the current timeline (i.e. killing Hitler, warning Hitler about D-Day, etc.).
3. You are not allowed to travel back in time for the purposes of tearing up this waiver before it’s been signed, thereby negating this waiver you’re about to sign. I built a time machine, I’m no moron.

As far as the danger of time traveling in this machine, we sent a dog into the past yesterday and it went off without a hitch. He hasn’t yet returned, but that’s just because animals don’t know how to rendezvous. We would like for you to bring him back, if at all possible.

Lastly, you will need three personal references. I can’t take a chance sending some unscrupulous druggie into the past because you’ll mess everything up for us here in the present. The references must be male. Again, it’s just a personal thing.

If you would like to participate, call me on my cell phone <###>


For most, I ask whether they’re calling from past or future. They say, ‘Present.’ I say, ‘Nevermind, it obviously didn’t work.’ ”


Dylan M v. Google : what to do when you are erased online
Monday July 25th 2011, 11:43 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,fly-by-wire,metrics,popular demand

Dylan M. (@thomasmonopoly) is a real person from New York.  He writes a bit of music, has a personal website, and generally uses a lot of Google services.  Whoops —  or at least he did, until he was G!unpersoned last week.


A week ago, Dylan had an active Google Profile,  a Gmail account, and his website was set up through Google Sites. Then, for an unspecified Terms of Service violation, all of these were suspended or deleted.  Google reps did not specify which, nor did they explain the TOS violation to him.

Here is his initial raging post to a community help forum on Jul 16; a followup the next day.  Customer service, such as it is, has not been kind.  Here are two examples of a “deserved what you got” mentality.  (If you’re a true customer-focused org, noon ever deserves a bad experience!)  On the other hand, here is a lovely note from Google social czar Vic Gundotra, just the sort of thing everyone wants to hear: “You bet on Google.  We owe you better.  I’m investigating.”  (update: DM reports getting a call from VG on July 25, with more info to come)

Naturally, Dylan wanted to know why he was banned.  (Even more naturally, he wanted a copy of his email and addressbook, and some minimal duration of email forwarding.)


What’s happening here

Since the US Post Office has given up on providing digital mail and addresses for people, we have all lost most of the civil rights that used to apply to our mailing address — the right to maintain an address over time, the right to a system of mail delivery that could not be spied on by other citizens…


Aaron Swartz vs. United States

(echoes of a broken system)

UPDATE: Aaron committed suicide on January 11, 2013.(!) More on his life here.

Aaron Swartz is a friend and Cambridge-area polymath whose projects focus on access to knowledge, open government, and an informed civil society.  He has worked as a software architect, digital archivist, social analyst, Wikipedia analyst, and political organizer.  Last year he co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the non-profit political advocacy group Demand Progress.

He is also currently charged with computer fraud by the US Attorney’s office, in what appears to be the latest example of “a sweeping expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction” based on the broad applicability of wire fraud and computer fraud statutes.  An overview:



Aaron has studied institutional influence and ways to work with large datasets.  In 2008, he founded, “the good government site with teeth“,  to aggregate and visualize data about politicians – including where their money comes from.  That year he also worked with Shireen Barday at Stanford Law School to assess “problems with remunerated research” in law review articles (i.e., articles funded by corporations, sometimes to help them in ongoing legal battles), by downloading and analyzing over 400,000 law review articles to determine the source of their funding.   The results were published in the Stanford Law Review.  Most recently, he served for 10 months as a Fellow at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, in their Lab on Institutional Corruption.

He contributed to the field of digital archiving, designing and implementing the Open Library, which serves as a global digital resource today, and as a foundation for any digital libraries in the future.  And he collected 2 million  public-domain court decisions from the US PACER system — a system that nominally makes all such decisions available to the public, but in practice keeps them hidden behind a paywall — to add to Carl Malamud’s collection at  (That work in turn gave rise to the crowdsourced RECAP project.)


The Case of the Over-Downloader

Last week, Aaron was charged by a grand jury with computer fraud [1], for allegedly downloading millions of academic articles hosted by the journal archive JSTOR, and exceeding authorization on MIT and JSTOR servers to do so.

JSTOR claims no interest in pursuing a legal case.  However they are not part of the prosecution, and Aaron faces a possible fine and up to 35 years in prison, with trial set for September.  You can support his legal efforts online.

The Association of College and Research Libraries notes that both the prosecution and Swartz’s supporters have characterized the trial with “superficial, and deeply incorrect, messages about libraries and licensed content“.

So how did this come to pass, and what does it mean for the Internet?

Details of the case and public reactions it inspired, after the jump.


Footnotes to an Afghan image
Saturday July 09th 2011, 9:55 am
Filed under: chain-gang,international,Uncategorized,wikipedia

A few details about the photo in my recent post about using Wikipedia in Afghanistan:

  • They are reading Wikipedia online, not offline; you can see the sidebar.  Making use of the mesh network available from their compound.
  • There is a set of solar panels in the background, not quite visible, providing power for a mesh wifi node nearby.
  • The adult using the XO is facing into the sun, not away from it; and the screen is less readable in the shade than it would be in the direct sunlight.  This may be one of the first times he has used it.


Black Macaque Pack Attack!
Friday July 08th 2011, 6:31 am
Filed under: %a la mod,Glory, glory, glory,indescribable,international,poetic justice

Photographer David Slater, travelling in a park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, spent three days travelling alongside a group of friendly crested black macaques. They befriended him and ruffled his pack in curiosity, exploring his camera and discovering how to use it — one of them started shooting photos with it, taking some 300 in all, including two brilliant self-portraits and a priceless shot of Slater asking with a smile to have his camera back:


Sulawesi monkey taking a photo of the photographer

Simian harmony: holding hands, playing keepaway


Since then, the grinning monkey self-portrait rocketed to internet memedom (right) … now it’s with us for the long haul. But it’s the shot of the photographer, with one of the macaque clan lightly holding his hand, that will stay with me. Not only does it tell the whole story in a glance, but what description of our kinship with these fellow creatures could be more clear?

Hat tip to bro Sebastian for sending this my way, before the meme took off.

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Magnificent: Museum of Modern Math
Sunday July 03rd 2011, 2:35 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,Glory, glory, glory,metrics,poetic justice,Uncategorized

Launching next year in the Big Red Topological Sphere: a Museum devoted to the Queen of the Sciences and supported by local New York organizations and by Google.  Learn about the Musem of Mathematics and what they have planned:

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