MonthJune 2008

Boing Boing scrubs links to Violet Blue’s site

Valleywag writes:

Violet Blue, a popular local blogger, columnist, sex educator and contributor to Gawker Media’s smutty sister Fleshbot, seems to have rubbed someone at Boing Boing the wrong way. She discovered that nearly all the posts on the site that mentioned her or her work had disappeared – save for one, a post from last year on the Top 10 Sex Memes from 2006. Shortly after that post was discovered via Google site search, it disappeared as well.

Boing Boing certainly hasn’t gotten squeamish about sexuality if today’s post about a Miami “brothel bus” is any indication. Why is the disappearance an issue? Because Boing Boing wields the awesome power of traffic and Google PageRank, and to bestow such benefits on a blogger and then take them away can be a severe punishment in terms of advertising and affiliate business lost.

Found via Tomorrow Museum, where Joanne McNeil provides additional context and commentary. You can find my comments about the potentially sexist angle of all of this there.

But of greater concern to me is that it happened in the first place and what it means. Like Valleywag says, BB wields a lot of power. They are not just some amateur, DIY fly-by-night blog. They are a professional media organization with the reach and readership of major magazine or newspaper. And it’s hard to read their actions as anything less than an attempt to damage Violet Blue’s livelihood by reducing traffic to her site. They still link to some other raunchy stuff, and to the sex writer Susannah Breslin extensively, so it’s not likely they took the links down at the bequest of an advertiser. And a computer glitch that just happens to delete all posts that link to (but nothing else?) seems unlikely (and something they’d have made a statement about by now).

Further, it doesn’t seem that BB is above taking down links to sites runs by people who disagree with them. Rex Sorgatz claims that BB linked to something on his site (I’m guessing this which is still linked at BB Gadgets) because of this post criticizing BB.

Obviously BB has the right to post, not post, or delete whatever they want from their site. But something about all this leaves a fowl taste in my mouth. It’s just bad practice for a professional media outlet bully people like this. “If you say not-nice stuff about us, we’ll take down your links and never link to you again,” is what they seem to be saying. Joanne speculates that bloggers will be quiet about VB being purged from the site because they don’t want to risk the same fate. I hope this is not the case. So far there’s been quite a bit of criticism, but little (if anything) so far from BB’s “in crowd.” (Valleywag, remember, is published by Gawker media, who publish Fleshbot, for which VB writes.)

Update: BB replies

Update 2: Violet Blue’s posts have been restored.

The ?Bloody? Baron von Ungern-Sternberg: Madman or Mystic?

“My name is surrounded with such hate and fear that no one can judge what is true and what is false, what is history, and what is myth.”
Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg, 1921

“In Mongolia, there was a legend of the warrior prince, Beltis-Van. Noted for his ferocity and cruelty, he spilled ‘floods of human blood before he found his death in the mountains of Uliasutay.’ His slayers interred the corpses of the Prince and his followers deep in earth, covered the graves with heavy stones, and added ‘incantations and exorcism lest their spirits again break out, carrying death and destruction.’ These measures, it was prophesied, would bind the terrible spirits until human blood once more fell upon the site.

In early 1921, so the story goes, ‘Russians came and committed murders nearby the dreadful tombs, staining them with blood.’ To some, this explained what followed. At almost the same instant, a new warlord appeared on the scene, and for the next six months he spread death and terror across the steppes and mountains of Mongolia and even into adjoining regions of Siberia. Among the Mongols he became known as the Tsagan Burkhan, the incarnate ‘God of War.’ Later, the Dalai Lama XIII proclaimed him a manifestation of the ‘wrathful deity’ Mahakala, defender of the Buddhist faith. Historically, the same individual is best known as the ‘Mad Baron’ or the ‘Bloody Baron.’ His detractors are not shy about calling him a murderous bandit or an outright psychopath.

The man in question is the Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg. His exploits can be only briefly sketched here. In the wake of the Russian Revolution, Baron Ungern found himself in eastern Siberia where he aligned himself with the anti-Bolshevik ‘White’ movement. However, his extreme monarchist sentiments and independent ways made him a loose cannon in that camp.”

(via New Dawn Magazine)

Unknown molecule opens the door to quantum computing

The odd behavior of a molecule in an experimental silicon computer chip has led to a discovery that opens the door to quantum computing in semiconductors.
In a Nature Physics journal paper currently online, the researchers describe how they have created a new, hybrid molecule in which its quantum state can be intentionally manipulated – a required step in the building of quantum computers.

“Up to now large-scale quantum computing has been a dream,” says Gerhard Klimeck, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University and associate director for technology for the national Network for Computational Nanotechnology.

Full Story: Physorg

(via Kurzweil)

Calif. man gets prison for burning Burning Man

A San Francisco performance artist was sentenced Friday to as many as four years in prison and ordered to pay restitution for the early torching last summer of the signature effigy of the counterculture Burning Man festival.

Paul Addis pleaded guilty in May to one felony count of injury to property stemming from the burning of the 40-foot icon on Aug. 28 – four days earlier than planned. He was ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.

Full Story: Comcast

(Thanks Bill!)

“Untraining The Brain”: Meditation and Executive Function

“In a fascinating review of the cognitive neuroscience of attention, authors Raz and Buhle note that most research on attention focuses on defining situations in which it is no longer required to perform a task – in other words, the automatization of thought and behavior. Yet relatively few studies focus on whether thought and behavior can be de-automatized – or, as I might call it if I were asking for trouble, deprogrammed.

What would count as deprogramming? For example, consider the Stroop task, where subjects must name the ink color of each word in a list of color words (e.g., “red” might be written in blue ink, and the task is to say “blue” while suppressing the urge to automatically read the word “red”). Reaction time is reliably increased when subjects name the ink color of incongruent words (“red” written in blue ink) relative to congruent words (“red” written in red ink), presumably because the subjects need to inhibit their prepotent tendency to read the words. But is it possible to regain control over our automatized processes – in this case, reading – and hence name the ink color of incongruent words as quickly as we would name the ink color of congruent or even non-words?

Some meditative practices purport to reverse automatization of thought and behavior, such as transcendental or mindfulness meditation, and indeed there is some evidence that these techniques can reduce interference on the Stroop task. For example, in a study by Alexander, Langer, Newman, Chandler, and Davies from the Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 73 elderly participants were randomly assigned to either no treatment, a transcendental meditation program, mindfulness training, or relaxation training. Note that transcendental and mindfulness techniques are frequently described as inducing a state of “pure consciousness” during which the mind is “silent,” and yet not empty: in this state, meditators claim to be intensely aware only of awareness itself. Less cryptically, this state is also referred to as “restful alertness.”

(via Developing Intelligence. See also: “Attention Training” via Meditation Influences the Ventral and Dorsal Attentional Networks Differently)

Cancer Cured? Granulocytes Treatment Worked 100 Percent In Mice Work But Will It Work In Humans?

“Scientists at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center are about to embark on a human trial to test whether a new cancer treatment will be as effective at eradicating cancer in humans as it has proven to be in mice.

The treatment will involve transfusing specific white blood cells, called granulocytes, from select donors, into patients with advanced forms of cancer. A similar treatment using white blood cells from cancer-resistant mice has previously been highly successful, curing 100 percent of lab mice afflicted with advanced malignancies.

Zheng Cui, Ph.D., lead researcher and associate professor of pathology, will be announcing the study June 28 at the Understanding Aging conference in Los Angeles. The study, given the go-ahead by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, will involve treating human cancer patients with white blood cells from healthy young people whose immune systems produce cells with high levels of cancer-fighting activity. The basis of the study is the scientists’ discovery, published five years ago, of a cancer-resistant mouse and their subsequent finding that white blood cells from that mouse and its offspring cured advanced cancers in ordinary laboratory mice. They have since identified similar cancer-killing activity in the white blood cells of some healthy humans.”

(via Scientific Blogging. h/t: Slashdot)

Texas High Court Rules Exorcism Protected by Law

“The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a jury award over injuries a 17-year-old girl suffered in an exorcism conducted by members of her old church, ruling that the case unconstitutionally entangled the court in religious matters. In a 6-3 decision, the justices found that a lower court erred when it said the Pleasant Glade Assembly of God’s First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion did not prevent the church from being held liable for mental distress triggered by a “hyper-spiritualistic environment.”

Laura Schubert testified in 2002 that she was cut and bruised and later experienced hallucinations after the church members’ actions in 1996, when she was 17. Schubert said she was pinned to the floor for hours and received carpet burns during the exorcism, the Austin American-Statesman reported. She also said the incident led her to mutilate herself and attempt suicide. She eventually sought psychiatric help.

But the church’s attorneys had told jurors that her psychological problems were caused by traumatic events she witnessed with her missionary parents in Africa. The church contended she “freaked out” about following her father’s life as a missionary and was acting out to gain attention.”

(via Houston Chronicle)

Cool and Strange Music Instruments

Cool and strange music instruments

“This article will cover a few bizarre musical instruments, and oddities used by musicians to convey that special feeling or a melody. Some of the uniquely crafted items may cost a fortune, others are very simple and can be easily assembled from parts found in your kitchen. All of them have loads of character, and that special sound that no other instrument can make.”

(via Euphoria Magazine. See also: The Odd Music Gallery)

Bees are Fitted with Microchips to Find Out Why Their Species is Dying


“It is a remarkably hairy close-up. But this tiny microchip attached to a bee’s back will hopefully explain why so many honeybees are dying from disease. Professor Juergen Tautz and his team at the University of Wurzburg in Germany are studying the health of more than 150,000 bees, in the hope of halting the apparently inexorable decline in their worldwide population.

Bees have always been tricky to study individually. Each colony has around 50,000 members, all interacting simultaneously and making it near-impossible to observe them. Previously, each bee would be painted with a different-coloured dot on its back and scientists would video the colony – watching the tape endlessly, to try to work out the behaviour in each insect. But a revolutionary technology enables the study of bees at close quarters. As soon as a bee hatches, a tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip is stuck to its back using a lacquer. This allows scientists to study its behaviour throughout its life.”

(via The Daily Mail)

Eco-friendly fabbers

equinox machine

Last week the 3rd year Industrial Design students at Victoria University presented the prototypes of the 3D printers they had designed. The challenge was to design and make a ‘green’ 3D printer in 4 weeks with a limited budget. The students innovative thinking looked at ways to make use of waste material and repurpose it into new objects.

Full Story: Ponoko Blog

(via Bruce Sterling)

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