Hello. We live in the future.

You may have seen this video of fireworks as shot by a remote controlled photo drone by now; if not, go watch. Use the HD option, and see it fullscreen (just turn the volume down if you find Andrea Bocelli as banal as I do). It’s pretty remarkable.

What’s not immediately obvious, or part of the story in most of the links I’ve seen, is what I think is the coolest aspect of this. It wasn’t shot with professional or exotic equipment. It was done with less than $2,500 worth of gear, including the “live view” features. Basically, it’s a high-ish end remote controlled quadcopter with a GoPro attached. Check the link; it’s not even CLOSE to the nicest quadcopter that company sells.

File under: Whoa

(The footnote is that while this vid was apparently shot with probably $2500 of gear, improvements have already happened in the product line that suggest it’s now possible for about half that.)

I’m glad we don’t live in a police state

…where heavily armed cops could barge into your home and nearly kill your child trying to serve a no-knock search warrent.

Oh. Wait.

The Swat team that burst into the Phonesavanh’s room looking for a drug dealer had deployed a tactic commonly used by the US military in warzones, and increasingly by domestic police forces across the US. They threw an explosive device called a flashbang that is designed to distract and temporarily blind suspects to allow officers to overpower and detain them. The device had landed in Bou Bou’s cot and detonated in the baby’s face.

Stop letting police get away with behaving like military units. Policing is not a war. Cops who do things like this should be vulnerable to severe civil and criminal penalties. Only then will this stop.

(This coverage is, of course, at the Guardian. That’s shameful.)

Coolest. Watch. EVER.

Of course, it better be, as the Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Plantarium Poetic Complication runs a cool $245,000.

The face itself is amazing:

Van Cleef Arpels Midnight Planetarium 20

At the center is the Sun, represented in pink gold. Surrounding it are gems representing the six innermost planets, each of which rotates the Sun in real time — by which I mean Mercury takes 88 days to go ’round, the Earth takes a year, and Saturn won’t make the trip for nearly 30 years. The actual time of day is represented by a shooting star on the outermost ring. By rotating the bezel, you can set the watch to note a “special” day — on which the Earth stone passes directly under a star engraved onto the crystal itself.

Click through for video. It’s totally ridiculous and over the top, but also cool as screaming fuck that this is all done with gears and springs.

Alert: Heathen Birthdays

Today is the birthday of two important Heathen: one of my very oldest friends, and one of my very newest.

This is Agent R. He and I were geeky Boy Scouts together more than 30 years ago. He had the first modem I ever saw, not to mention — years later — the first CD player. He’s pictured here with someone who I trust will become a friend, but whom I have not yet met.

BpKpXFFIEAE jtJ

And this here is the tiniest niblet o’corn ever, Miss E. I. H., late of the Glenbrook Valley area and, as of a few weeks ago, our goddaughter. As Agent R completes his forty-fifth (!) trip around the sun, this little delight finishes her first lap.

P4260268

Happy birthday to both.

Wyoming to Science: Drop Dead

Apparently seeking to exceed my home state in sheer pigheaded ignorance, the state school board in Wyoming has rejected the Next Generation Science Standards:

The science guidelines in question are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted so far by 11 states and the District of Columbia. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science—working with 26 state governments—developed the NGSS to update K-12 science education in schools for the first time since 1998. Essentially the NGSS provides benchmarks for what students should learn in each grade, but leaves decisions about specific textbooks and how to teach the curriculum up to individual districts, schools and educators.

In Wyoming, a committee comprised of 30 science educators spent 18 months studying and comparing the NGSS with existing guidelines in other states, and then unanimously recommended that it be adopted by the State Board of Education. However, in March, the legislature added a footnote to the state budget that prohibited any public spending to implement the NGSS—effectively killing it. Then, a month later, the State Board of Education told the committee of science educators to develop a new set of standards, which would better reflect the values and economic interests of Wyoming.

The chair of the state board opined that he doesn’t accept climate change as a fact, and frets that the standards are biased against fossil fuel development.

Unpack that for a minute: the standards suggest children lean settled science. The science shows that fossil fuels are causing no small amount of harm. They are concerned that learning this information will hurt an industry.

I mean: Damn.

Last night, Mrs Heathen and I watched the episode of Cosmos about Clair Patterson’s work exposing the dangers of lead emissions from gasoline, and how vigorously opposed he was by the oil industry at the time.

The oil goons even had a so-called expert on their payroll who insisted that the levels of lead in the environmental background at the time were completely normal. (Eventually, Patterson prevailed, and lead has been phased out — and, wouldn’t you know it, lead levels have dropped dramatically.)

You’d think they’d learn, but apparently not. You’d think we as a culture would learn, too, not to listen to people who say pollution is no big deal when they stand to make money doing so.

Today in “Adobe Hates You” news

It has come to my attention that there exists a “no-code” website creation tool from Adobe called Muse.

Muse, like countless such tools before it, purports to allow a user to create and manage a site without writing any code. This is a laudable goal.

As with most such tools, the work is done locally, and the tool only sends the files to the web server when the user is satisfied they’re ready. The actual transmission of the files from the user’s machine to the web server is hidden.

Fifteen years ago, we could be pretty certain that the transmission was happening using FTP, a venerable protocol that has fallen COMPLETELY from favor because it’s staggeringly insecure. Nothing about it is encrypted — not even usernames and passwords. This means any fool with a sniffer can own your web site, which is generally considered a problem.

For this reason, FTP usage has dropped off considerably in recent years; I don’t think I’ve run a server with FTP enabled in over a decade. There is, however, a work-alike protocol that leverages the excellent SSH libraries to create a secure, encrypted transmission channel. It looks like FTP and acts like FTP, but under the hood it’s secure. This is a good thing. SFTP has almost completely replaced FTP as a result.

And this is why we know Adobe hates you, because Muse, a tool introduced in 2012, does not support anything but FTP, and they’re not planning to add SFTP any time soon. Their actual advice is to use an external FTP client if you need a secure channel.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

Dear Adobe: DIAGF.

In the land of no accountability

I’ve long been shocked by how often right wing media pundits manage to be catastrophically wrong, over and over, and yet never get called on it. Bill Kristol is a great example (see link), but he’s absolutely not the only one.

How is it that you can go on TV and be recorded saying things that are, over and over, proved to be completely incorrect? More amazing: they presumably get PAID to do this. I mean, that’s something else again, isn’t it? Media organs other than Fox, even are bringing the idiot architects of the Iraq invasion back on the air to discuss what’s going on there today. It’s amazing.

No less a jackhole than Ari Fleischer has taken to Twitter lately to complain about Obama’s handling of Iraq, which takes balls the size of Yankee Stadium; without Fleischer and his boss cheerleading an all-too-compliant press into invading Iraq, we wouldn’t be facing the prospect of a failed state there.

People other than Media Matters really need to stomp on these fuckers, and demand they answer for their past lies, prevarications, and wrongheaded predictions before giving them a platform for MORE bullshit. Isn’t that the base mission of media in a free society? Why, exactly, should we listen to these fuckers again?

How We Are Doomed

How Corporations became people you can’t sue:

Following the 2011 and 2013 Supreme Court rulings, dozens of other giant corporations—from Comcast and Wells Fargo to Ticketmaster and Dropbox—have secured the same legal immunity. So have companies ranging from airlines, gyms, payday lenders, and nursing homes, which have quietly rewritten the fine print of their contracts with consumers to include a shield from lawsuits and class actions. Meanwhile, businesses including Goldman Sachs, Northrop Grumman, P. F. Chang’s, and Uber have tucked similar clauses into their contracts with workers.

Hastily clicking through terms of service is now all it can take to surrender your rights to these companies. Once you do, your only path for recourse if you’re harmed by any one of them is “mandatory arbitration,” where the arbitrator is often chosen by the corporation you’re challenging, and any revelations about the company’s wrongdoing tend to be kept secret. Rather than band together under the light of the public courtroom, each individual has to work through the darkness of a private tribunal, alone, where arbitrators can interpret laws however they wish. Certain inalienable rights, the Court has ruled, are actually kind of alienable.

“Mostly snakes”

As reasonable a description of Pentecostalism’s origins as you’re likely to find:

my favorite thing about Pentecostal snake handling is that at some point somebody read the whole Bible and his one takeaway was “SNAKES”

“what did you get out of the Bible, Jim”

“mostly that we should touch snakes”

“anything else”

“there was some guy but mostly snakes”

Seen on Maud Newton’s blog, but the author is apparently this dude.

In which web nerds make you cry

A long time ago, there was the boom. It was fun. It always is, with other people’s money. Then the boom stopped, and I needed work. I got a pretty good opportunity freelancing, and made a real living at it for a while, largely because I spent a good chunk of my suddenly “at liberty” time figuring out a new web technology called cascading style sheets, or CSS.

What they actually do isn’t important to the story, but I’ll note they were weird and different and confusing, and suggested major changes to the way web pages got built. That the change was a huge improvement, semantically speaking, didn’t make it easier for the folks mired in the old way. But I wasn’t, and so I waded into the deep end of CSS work unencumbered with “how we used to do it” -ism, and with a very serious weapon on my desk. A guy named Eric Meyer, see, had written a book called Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide (for O’Reilly, obviously), and I made it my bible.

With it, I managed not to go bankrupt. With it, I kept my house and my car and even had some money to spend on fun things. I was still leveraging these skills years later, in 2007, when I joined my current employer.

Because, in no small part, of that book, and of Meyer’s active participation in developer forums and the CSS-D listserve. And I’m certainly not the only person who has that kind of story about Meyer and his book and his activism.

I don’t do that sort of work anymore. I still find it fascinating, and I still read the blogs and now Twitter feeds of lots of the people who defined markup and web work in the early 2000s, which is how I found out that Eric Meyer’s young daughter had cancer, and how I found out, a little while ago, that she died on Saturday. She was six.

Six.

Today, apparently, is the day of the service. Web people all over are making their Twitter avatars purple, in honor of Becca Meyer, who had a favorite color as only children can. And this is where nerds make you cry.

In HTML and CSS, colors are typically specified by a six-digit code in hexadecimal, like #FF0000 (which is a red). You can, though, use just basic words for some colors. “Red” works, as does “blue” and “black” and even things like “lightcoral”.

There is an organized movement online now to include in CSS4 the named color “beccapurple”, equivalent to #663399, as a memorial.

I think that’s mighty fine.

Fuck the Cup

The World Cup begins shortly, but I’ve got no plans to give it any time whatsoever. I watched a bit last time around, and it was enough to give me the idea — since reinforced — that big-time soccer is an enormously corrupt institution (example: when an in-stadium replay showed a ref had badly erred, the official response was to discontinue in-stadium replay). But that’s really just the tip of the shit iceberg where FIFA is concerned.

John Oliver has more, and you should watch it. Oliver, tragically, is British, and therefore unable to see soccer for what it is (a sport apparently invented to make baseball look exciting), so he’s planning to watch anyway. Not so us.

The Lavabit Founder Speaks

Writing in The Guardian — which is, apparently, the only newspaper left with any balls — Ladar Levison explains the horrifying and Kafkaesque process by which the greedy, powermad, overreaching Feds forced him to destroy his business.

He was given no real chance to fight the orders, and when he tried to muster a defense the Feds became vindictive. This isn’t justice, or national security. This is abuse of power. It should result in long prison terms, but of course nothing of the sort will happen. The government still wants Snowden to come home and face trial for the “crime” of telling us all what our government is doing in our name; those responsible for the criminally invasive universal surveillance will never face accountability of any kind.

Books of 2014, #11: Never Go Back, by Lee Child (Reacher #18)

Reacher finally makes it to Virginia, where madcap hilarity most decidedly does NOT ensue.

I mentioned before how Child had been building multi-book continuity related to Reacher’s desire to meet the current commander of his old MP unit. It was a new and welcome development, and probably mandatory given that, thus far, Reacher really hasn’t “developed” at all.

I’m therefore disappointed to report that Child more or less whiffs the finish. He gets there, solves the local mystery that inevitably involves his cross-country telephonic crush, and rides off into the sunset again. Even the somewhat shocking idea of Reacher being “reactivated” against his will, and therefore doing most of the book as an AWOL major, ends up being sort of meaningless.

Meh.

Books of 2014, #10: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Honestly, it’s sort of surprising that I had never read this before. My literary reading has been, for decades, focussed primarily on postwar American works, with only occasional forays elsewhere, and that’s probably something I should address. On the other hand, there’s a lot of great stuff in that category, and there’s only time for so many books (especially this year, with my reading time severely curtailed by the new Less Chet is More Chet program).

Anyway, there it is: I’m new to Marquez. The book itself is hard to read in 2014 the same way it was read in 1967; the literary world has moved quite a bit since then, and this book is part of that movement. It’s obviously a titanic novel, rich in nuance and depth, but it’s also of a piece with its time, and it’s only in reading commentaries after I finished the book that I realized how many plot points in it were taken from actual historical events.

It’s also the sort of book that washes over you like an unrelenting wave; it’s clear that there are aspects to this work that will only become clear on repeated exposure, as with something like Ulysses or Infinite Jest.

Honestly, there’s just SO MUCH going on here, and it’s written so well, that it’s almost overwhelming; Harold Bloom said of it “My primary impression, in the act of rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a kind of aesthetic battle fatigue, since every page is rammed full of life beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb… There are no wasted sentences, no mere transitions, in this novel, and you must notice everything at the moment you read it”, and he’s not kidding. Marquez is harsh about some aspects of this world (like Faulkner’s treatment of Mississippi), but there’s also a love here that you don’t normally see in a Yoknapatawpha story. Surprisingly (post)modern techniques surface here, too — intertextuality, for sure, but that’s not the end of it. One gets a very “all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” feeling upon its completion.

Am I not saying enough? Well, it’s probably because even nearly a month later — I finished it in mid-May — I’m still turning it over in my head. But that’s a good thing.

Knee-jerk authoritarian ignorance in a southern school? UNPOSSIBLE!

Why are Cory Doctorow and his publisher sending 200 free books to Pensacola, Florida?

My publisher, Tor Books, is sending 200 free copies of the paperback of my novel Little Brother to Booker T Washington High School, because it’s the first school where any of my novels has been challenged by the school administration. Little Brother had been selected and approved as the school’s summer One School/One Book reading pick, and the school librarian Betsy Woolley had worked with Mary Kate Griffith from the English department to develop an excellent educational supplement for the students to use to launch their critical discussions in the fall. The whole project had been signed off on by the school administration and it was ready to go out to the students when the principal intervened and ordered them to change the title.

In an email conversation with Ms Griffith, the principal cited reviews that emphasized the book’s positive view of questioning authority, lauding “hacker culture”, and discussing sex and sexuality in passing. He mentioned that a parent had complained about profanity (there’s no profanity in the book, though there’s a reference to a swear word). In short, he made it clear that the book was being challenged because of its politics and its content.

Seriously, fuck that guy.