“Smart” Guns Aren’t

This is a really fascinating video for anyone interested in the emergent complexities (and edge/corner-case failures) that inevitably arise when folks start fixing social problem with technology.  It’s absolutely mandatory viewing for anyone who thinks they have a “simple” gun-control/gun-safety solution, especially one that involves “smart gun technology” (SPOILER ALERT: such solutions are not solutions at all).

Just as an aside, it seems a little over-cautious for WIRED to call these “potentially dangerous flaws” in the gun’s design:  The gun can be fired by an unauthorized person in possession of the firearm (using magnets available at any hardware store), and it can also be disabled at a distance by an attacker with some minor soldering skills.  Both of these hacks require very little skill (and not even all that much money) to execute now that the flaw is known.  As such, the gun fails at both things it’s supposed to do (i.e., work in an an emergency and prevent unauthorized folks from making it work).  The existence of these flaws guarantees that large agencies (military, law enforcement, etc.) will never use these unreliable solutions, and thus the price won’t come down due to economies of scale. 

This smart gun is, at best, a novelty—and there is no reason to believe that any of the other early generation technologies will be any better until there is a fundamental change in how these are designed and engineered (e.g., the design needs to be open and companies need to start offering very high bounties for finding hacks, so that guys like the fella in the video have an incentive to buy these things as soon as they hit the market and start tearing them down).

Get a digital copy of my JUNKYARD JAM BAND for 80-cents (plus a bunch of other rad books!)

My DIY musical instrument/noise-toy book Junkyard Jam Band is part of the Brainiac 2 Humble Book Bundle. If you’ve never bought one of these “bundles” before, the deal is this:Junkyard Jam Band Final_2_RGB

This is a commercial/charitable fundraising situation.  The Humble Bundle folks and No Starch Press have bundled together a bunch of awesome books.  Pay as little as $1 to get a few, $8 to get a bunch, and $15 to get them all.  If you go in at the $15 level, you get ~$300 in books (all digital, all in multiple formats, all totally DRM-free, so you can read them however and wherever you like).  It’s a really awesome deal (I bought plenty of Humble Bundles way before I ever was part of one—and, I’ll be straight with you: Being part of one as an author is a really big boon for me, too; my last Humble Bundle put an additional 30,000 copies of my book in front of eager makers, and helped me make enough money to stay afloat that year).

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Even if you only drop a buck for the first five books, you’re getting some great stuff—Medieval LEGO is fun, the Scratch book is solid, and my son loved Lauren Ipsum (which is sort of a modern computer-science take on Phantom Tollbooth; he’s easily read it a half dozen times).  Moving up to the $8 tier doesn’t just get you my book (which regularly sets you back ~$20), but also two of my favorite intro programming books (I learned Python from Teach Your Kids to Code, and Scratch Programming Playground is what taught my kid to code) and a really great manga book that’ll explain electricity to anyone.  And, of course, going whole hog just piles on the awesomeness (again, I’m especially pleased to see a couple DIY hands-on electronics books here, especially since Arduino has gotten so dirt-cheap to get into).  Every purchase doesn’t just benefit my publisher and me, but also Teach for America.

 

 

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More from Our Man in Brussels

Sorry it’s taken me so long to post an update from our man in

Arthur et ses bons amis
Arthur et ses bons amis

Brussels, Arthur Lacomme.  As you’ll recall he and his pals built some frikkin’ awesome! costumes/instruments/noisetoys for the Carnaval Sauvage de Bruxelles.  You can see more pics and vid on Arthur’s website.

I love a lot of things about both this Carnaval Sauvage de Bruxelles thang and Arthur’s contribution to it, bot most of all I love their costumes. When I was very little my mother was a docent at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and so my earliest memories are of that museum, and especially their collections of Native American and African ritual art and “material culture.”  I’ve always loved the dance costumes they have in their collection (similar to those shown below, which are in the AIC), and the dances that went with them, which were exuberant and otherworldly to me (much like the sounds that I like to dig out of unsuspecting electronics).

(Picture Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)
(Picture Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Arthur also pointed me to a few of his fellow Brusselers (Brusselman? Brusselsprouts?) similarly pushing out into the fringes of the Good Noise.  I’m loving this!

Here’s Why the Eye:

 

and this is Hoquets:

PRO-TIP: Get both of these vids playing simultaneously in separate windows on your computer; the sounds layer-up in a fun way.

Take 5 Minutes to Tell the FCC to Preserve Net Neutrality

Long story short:  “Net Neutrality” means that, just as the phone company must route all calls with the same priority and quality, broadband providers (like Comcast and AT&T) must treat all web traffic the same, and not, for example, make connections to Netflix super crappy so that you feel obliged to pay for OnDemand in order to watch Mad Max: Fury Road or Sophia the First.

You have until July 17 to tell the FCC how you feel about that.  Submitting an official comment—one someone actually reads and takes seriously—is super easy:

  1. Go to this link and click “Express” (to get a form you can fill out and submit right there) or click “New Filing” (to upload a document you’ve already written).
  2.  Express your feelings about Net Neutrality hitting on one (or more) of three key points:
    1.  How has Net Neutrality impacted your life? Do you have an online business that would be FUBAR if Amazon got priority connections?  Did a service that organically arose as a result of the net being an equal access zone improve your life (examples: Things you’ve learned off of YouTube, clients/jobs you’ve connected with over LinkedIn or Monster.com or a freelancing community, relatives you re-connected with via Facebook or genealogy websites, supportive communities you found in this forum or that sub-reddit, etc.)
    2. What do you understand you are buying when you pay for broadband? Is it more like a telephone line—a “telecommunications service” that creates value by giving you a clear connection to the information and services you want—or is an an “information service” in and of itself, that is, a service that creates value by giving you information?  (Under FCC rules, telecommunications services require greater regulation than information services.)  If you go online and go to YouTube to watch a video, then Facebook to kibitz with pals, then check your Gmail, your broadband is a telecommunications services.  If, on the other hand, you boot up your laptop, rub your hands together, and say “Ah!  Time to go check the Comcast website for the latest news and weather, then go to the Comcast Cat Video service to watch some cat videos, then head on over to ComcastBook to chat with my pals!”, then it probably makes more sense to call Comcast an “information service.”  (Yes, I realize most of the “Comcast information services” I listed don’t exist; that’s the point.  They offer few “information services,” and most other ISPs don’t even offer those.)
    3. Competition.  If your current ISP decides to start blocking YouTube traffic and slowing Netflix to a crawl, can you just lickety-split change services to one that treats all traffic equally, or is it hard, expensive, or impossible to switch, or even shop around, because competition is too scarce?

(Ars Technica has a great article going into detail about this approach to discussing Net Neutrality with the FCC.  Highly recommended read!)

Here’s a draft of my comment:

I do not believe that the FCC should reclassify broadband as an “information service.”  As a consumer, it’s plain as day that I’m purchasing “telecommunications service” from Comcast when I pay for my broadband access.

Although I’ve had broadband Internet access through either AT&T or Comcast for at least 15 years, I have never used either company for any of their “information services.”  I currently use Apple, Amazon, and Google for cloud storage, FastMail and Apple for email hosting, NearlyFreeSpeech.net for web hosting, DynDNS for domain name services, ArborDomains for domain name hosting, the University of Michigan for my VPN, and Verizon, Skype, or Google for telephony.  Heck, even though Comcast *does* offer cable TV and streaming video, I don’t use that service (they dropped the only channel I wanted), instead relying on Netflix, YouTube, Apple, and Amazon.

Comcast actually does a pretty good job of providing me with a telecommunications service–but to call that an “information service” is as obtuse as calling the highway system a “grocery service” simply because the grocery store has produce delivered via truck.

When I pay Comcast, I’m paying them for fast and reliable broadband service, connecting me to the many “information services” I want, value, and pay to use.

Thank you for your time and attention.

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

Go forth and tell your government how you want them to handle regulating this vital public utility.

SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth

Sideshow Bob: [chuckling] Mr. Simpson, you are forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha.

Homer Simpson: I am not!

For those who slept through Buddhism 101—or failed to see The Simpsons Episode 8F20 (season three, episode 21, first aired April 9, 1992)—the First Noble Truth of the Buddha is this:

There is suffering. 

Which isn’t such a revelation at first glance, but like a lot of things with the Buddha, the big reveal isn’t in what he’s said, but what he’s omitted:

The First Noble Truth is not: There is suffering because you’ve done bad things.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you didn’t try hard enough.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you are a screw-up.

     nor is it: There is suffering because man is born of Original Sin.

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is dead!

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is a jerk!

     nor is it: There is suffering because there was never any God!

There is no “because” at all.  It’s a simple statement of fact that should be obvious, but which we all deny on a daily basis: There is suffering.  There just is.  Often with no one to blame.  Often for no reason at all.  And that’s fine; stop beating yourself up over it (which, handily, brings us to the Second Noble Truth—Suffering is born of craving and desire and clinging to How Things Should Be—which is important, but not really germane to skateboarding).

I bring this up because I need to share something with you:

If you are an adult person getting on a skateboard,

YOU ARE GOING TO GET HURT.

Full stop, no ifs, no becauses, no unless, no provisos.

If you are really careful… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you always wear your pads… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you are lucky or unlucky, careless or stupid, cautious or clever…YOU WILL GET HURT.

It might be minor or major, might land you in the ER or sit you on your sofa for an afternoon with ice on your knee, but one way or the other YOU ARE GONNA GET HURT.

… and that’s fine.  If is fine and just and right that you will be injured, because, as the Buddha and Sideshow Bob remind us, There is Suffering.

Every time I start talking to someone my age about the fact that I returned to skateboarding at 36, they voice admiration, and then something like envy, and always lurking around is the sentence “I’d break my neck if I tried that!”

And the thing is, while you will certainly get hurt, you probably won’t break your neck.  There is, as it turns out, quite a distance between hurt and crippled, and even a further reach to dead.  I’ve seen folks take tremendous falls and pop right back up, I’ve seen—and taken—minor falls that have turned out to be sprained ankles and broken wrists and concussions.  I’ve seen—and worn—bruises every color of any Michigan sunset in any season.  I’ve seen plenty of broken bones, but not a single death or black out.

So let me share with you something my doctor told me when I told her I’d taken up with skateboarding—on the visit I scheduled as a follow-up after a trip to the ER:

“Good.  Keep it up.”

Her rationale: If you are an adult American, than it is almost certain that you aren’t getting nearly enough exercise.  And—Noble Truth alert!—you aren’t likely to start getting more exercise as you continue aging.  So, in the absence of everything else, the choice here isn’t between taking a risk by jumping on a skateboard and playing it safe by not doing so:  Not getting enough exercise absolutely guarantees a shorter life with degraded quality.  Absolutely, with no exceptions.  Full stop.

Getting on the skateboard?  You’ll get hurt, but you won’t die.  And, hell, I regularly hang with a 70-year-old dude at my local skatepark.  Does he tear it up?  Nope; he cruises around, carving on the transitions, working on dropping on.  But he’s having hella fun, and I’ve seen him take big falls and pop right back up.

Continue reading “SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth”

Experience the Power of the Slinky Sound Forest at Penguicon 2017

I’ll be at Penguicon again this year (April 28–30).  But instead of just sitting on a few panels and mooching a lot of free drinks, I wanted to do something extra special.  So this year I’m spending the entire weekend building something extra special for you to experience and interact with—and for the Slinkies to finally be heard.

Won’t you join me—and the Slinkies—before it’s too late?

Continue reading “Experience the Power of the Slinky Sound Forest at Penguicon 2017”

You need REST to #RESIST

If the last–what, two weeks(!?!)–are any indication, it’s going to be a long four years.  There are going to be plenty of set-backs and, more disheartening, plenty of near misses (the DeVos squeaker just now not the least of them).  Progress is slow, because by design these wheels grind exceedingly fine.

It is easy to lose faith, so remember these five things:

  1. Resistance works. As I write this, carefully vetted refugees are finding sanctuary here, the rights of LGBTQ federal workers have been preserved, the repeal of Obamacare has stalled, the great Federal Lands Rummage Sale is on hold—all things you accomplished with nothing but phone calls and poster-board signs.  We don’t need to shed blood or set fires or take up arms; we are doing this with cellphones and markers.  That is amazing and beautiful and the true cornerstone of this nation’s foundation.
  2. You can switch it up.  Calling your members of congress is important.  Showing up at the big protests is important.  So is hitting those town halls.  But they aren’t everything.  There’s a quieter undercurrent to social action, the part where you simply chat with folks in your community, letting them know you have each other’s backs.  I especially like the notion of “truth advocacy”—take time off from putting out energy (hitting the phones, hitting the streets, etc.) to read and research on your own, and to disseminate what you learn.
  3. You can take a break.  Take a day off.  Take a weekend off.  You’ll be shocked how much you’ll feel like diving back in after giving yourself a 24-hour break from talking politics, calling reps, reading the paper, or looking at social media.
  4. You can join at any time.  If you’ve never called your rep, you can do so for the first time right now.  If you can’t call daily, you can call weekly.  You are picking up the slack for someone who has reached that burnout point and needs a day off.  We need subs like you just as much as we need those every-single-day every-single-protest power players!
  5. We shall defeat them, one by one.☝️  Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we keep putting our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.

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Handmade Synths from Junkyard Jammers!

I love, love, love(!!!) seeing and hearing the projects my readers build, and sharing them with folks thinking about how they want to tackle these same projects.  First up is Jason Jaknunas’s take on the Bleepbox 8-Step Analog Sequencer (Project 16 in Junkyard Jam Band)—which is easily the best version of this I’ve ever seen (it totally leaves mine in the dust, and I designed the damn thing!)

Everything is just so sweet and just-right here: the knobs, the brushed aluminum label, the wood cheeks, the grommets padding out the LEDs, the labels—but also the little things, the visual balance among the elements, the use of different sizes of knob on different functions.  Give it a look, then give it a listen.  So rad!

An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas
An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas

Arthur Lacomme in Brussels, who I’ve linked before, sent me a link to a rad lil Single-Chip Space Invader (Project 15 in Junkyard Jam Band) he built. Click thru to hear this bad boy; such chiptune joy!  Arthur and his pals have plans to hit an upcoming “wild carnival” with some noise-enhanced clothing.  I look forward to seeing and sharing video!

Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme
Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme

Keep seeking out the Good Noise!  Keep sharing what you find!