Archive for January, 2009

Mars Tech Image of Inaguration

January 31st, 2009 No comments

Technology derived from NASA’s equipment used in the Mars rovers has been used to create a highly unusual image of President Barack Obama’s Jan. 20th inauguration.

According to, NASA, photographer David Bergman used the Gigapan camera to capture 220 images and stitch them together into a seamless 1,474-megapixel image. The technology is based on the panorama system that Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity used, and was developed by NASA and Carnegie Mellon University.

Universe Today has a fun quick overview, and more detailed info about the camera system can be found at

The main event, the amazing picture, can be seen in its change-lovin’ glory at the Gigapan site, in a format that lets you pan and zoom. You don’t really get the full, awe-inspiring enormity of the friggin’ thing until you fly around a bit in the image. Individual faces are in plenty of resolution to recognize, which I’m sure could be of infinite utility to the Secret Service in semi-related situations.

Zoom in on a face or two; see anyone you know? See yourself? Yes we can, beeyatches!

Image is a screenshot from

Google’s Universal Malware Search Result: Google Considers Self Harmful

January 31st, 2009 No comments

Image by pt.

The above image must be the best screencap of what may be Google’s biggest mistake to date, or the most significant instance of Google breaking the web yet: a search for “Google” at 9:43 am EST returning the top result being Google itself considered harmful. Is it becoming self-aware, as pt suggests? According to the Official Google Blog, the result coming up for every single website on the Internet was “simply human error” and in the post, speaking for Google Marissa Mayer states that “Since we push these updates in a staggered and rolling fashion, the errors began appearing between 6:27 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. and began disappearing between 7:10 and 7:25 a.m., so the duration of the problem for any particular user was approximately 40 minutes.”
But it also looks like it’s making things hard for webmasters to get their sites out of Google’s malware bucket, as seen in this post in Google’s Webmaster help, Question: PLEASE READ: Your site might not have malware where webmasters are being instructed on how they need to go in and try to get their sites un-malware labeled manually. No fun; I only discovered this neat fact via Twitter.
Ars Technia also has more coverage in Google broke the Internet: Malware detector went haywire.
This really raises some serious questions about the ownership of information distribution, doesn’t it?
Update 01.31.09 6:40PST:
does Google have another bug?

In my inbox, Gmail has tagged Google emails as potentially malicious and untrustworthy. The conversation thread (a Google “vanity” alert) did not have that red warning banner on it this morning; when I got a new email from the sender an hour ago, the warning appeared.
To make a bad day for Google seem to get worse, I poked around the Official Google Blogs to see if there was any information about this and discovered that they had another, entirely different serious issue with Gmail today. The spam filters broke as well, sending some Gmail users’ legitimate mail into the spam folder. So do go check your spam folders, dear Gmail users… Something’s up with some sort of system-wide malware implementation — the Gmail spam folder issue happened at pretty much the same time as the search snafu — and perhaps it’s affecting more services than their search engine. This is not a fun day for Google.

On Human Polydactyly and Hemingway’s Cats

January 31st, 2009 No comments

Human Polydactyly

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

There’s been a rare case in Daly City, just south of San Francisco, of a human baby, Kamani Hubbard, born with 12 perfect, functioning fingers and 12 toes. This image is a screencap from the video on Oakland’s KTVU.

Though Polydactyly, as it’s called, is not that rare, it is very rare for a baby to be born with fully functional extra fingers. Usually, the extra digits are in some way nonfunctional; some may have bone tissue without joints, or be otherwise problematic for the hand’s owner.

The trait of Polydactyly tends to be more common in those of African origin than those of European origin and more common in boys than in girls. It runs in families, and the baby’s father, Kris Hubbard, had “nubs” of extra fingers removed as a child. according to the KTVU-2 story, Kamani will not be altered, and the six-pound boy’s extra digits are unlikely to cause any problem whatsoever.

If you want to get your serious nerd on, eMedicine has an overview of polydactyly with a link to a fascinating 1994 study that compared data on human polydactyl births in Jefferson County, Alabama and Uppsala, Sweden.

Famous human polydactyls include blues guitarist Hound Dog Taylor, who had a sixth finger on each hand but amputated one of them with a razor blade while drunk. I was first exposed to the fascinating story of Taylor in Living Blues magazine back in the 1980s; he used the one on his left hand to great advantage when playing guitar. He also had an improbably large thumb with which he could make barre chords. Non-guitarists, that’s when you hold down all six strings of a guitar with your finger, something almost nobody can do with their thumb (but it is occasionally seen by those with more typically sized thumbs).

Incidentally, the trait is fairly common in certain breeds of cats. Such cats are sometimes called “mitten cats.” According to Wikipedia, Ernest Hemingway was given a 6-toed cat by a ship captain — presumably they mean a 24-toed cat, six toes on each paw, not one-and-a-half. After his death his home in Key West was made into a museum and home for the cats; about half of the polydactyl feline’s descendents now living in the home are polydactyls.

I had the occasion to live with a very affectionate polydactyl cat in the early 1990s. He had 7 toes on each front paw and six on the back. Let me tell you, you’ve never known love until you’ve had biscuits made on you by a 26-toed cat.

Congratulations to the Hubbards for their little bundle of joy, and to Kamani Hubbard for being one of a rare group. Perhaps by the time you get to your teen years, Kamani, maybe science can address the problem of how you’ll flip people off.

Dude, Did You Get Your Ticket For Bacon Man Yet?

January 30th, 2009 No comments

Image and construction of Bacon Man 2008 by netdiva.

This image is apparently from last year’s Bacon Man; I’ve never been but I’ve heard it’s really fun until the grease storms blow through. And chicks totally walk around Bacon Man naked. I know because my friend takes pictures of dudes talking pictures of chicks’ boobs before the Bacon Man burn.
* Bacon Man, a photoset on Flickr.
* See also: BaconCamp, A Celebration of Bacon In San Francisco

Google’s Street View Van Hits Baby Deer; Also Catches You Mid-LARP

January 30th, 2009 No comments


Google’s Street View van accidentally hit a baby deer — and the whole incident went instantly to Street View. Guardian UK has the details:

(…) In upstate New York, a street view car hit a baby deer on Five Points Road – and then recorded the whole thing on Google Maps. Nobody noticed until, well, someone noticed, prompting a Daily What blog post, floods of traffic, and then a sequence of five street-level pictures being removed from the site.
Google replied: “The driver was understandably upset, and promptly stopped to alert the local police and the Street View team at Google. The deer was able to move and had left the area by the time the police arrived. The police explained to our driver that, sadly, this was not an uncommon occurrence in the region – the New York State Department of Transportation estimates that 60,000-70,000 deer collisions happen per year in New York alone — and no police report needed to be filed.” (…read more,

On a lighter note, this story is also seen at Gawker, where commenters have revealed something Google’s Street View caught that may in fact be more tragi-comic than any “Google Killed Bambi” reference. Do not LARP in public, my friends. Just don’t do it.

Tricking Out The Nokia N95-4

January 28th, 2009 No comments


Almost a year ago, Qik made me one of their sponsored livestream videobloggers, but between the phone and working out the bugs, it made live videoblogging from the phone spotty. Now, Qik has tightened up their (free) service and it’s seriously versatile and easy to use — and I got my hands on a brand new Nokia N95-4. It’s a hell of a gadget, and now that it’s out of the box I can’t stop playing with it and it’s never, ever far from reach. And I know I’m not even maximizing it.
I’ll get this out of the way: I have a phone from Helio (an Ocean) and that’s my trusty phone, with a qwerty keyboard and extremely reliable everything; I’ve had 3G for years, my friends. So the N95-4 isn’t quite going to replace my Ocean — but if the Nokia had a qwerty keyboard, it would in about .00006 seconds. On the Nokia I will read your email and enjoy the experience very much. But on the Ocean I’ll respond. Yes, there are other Nokia phones with keyboards: but you say, the E71. Yes, it’s lovely, but it only shoots 15fps video, and that just won’t do.
After charging the N95, the first thing I did was turn off all sounds and get to work. In just a few minutes, I went to “Web”, and downloaded and installed Gmail, Google Maps, and my Qik. I found it unfortunate that the phone’s default search is Yahoo, but without qwerty I won’t *exactly* be blogging from the phone, so I don’t really care. Then I went into the menu>tools>settings>general>personalization>standby mode and changed the “shortcuts” and “active standby apps.” In here, I changed the phone’s desktop icons to Gmail, Google Maps, and other things I’ll want with one click, and I changed the right and left softkey buttons to be Qik and “camera”.
Next, I went into gallery>open online service and it already had Flickr installed; I just entered in my information and activated it. Now when I take a photo (it’s got a 5mp camera, Carl Zeiss lens, with 8G storage and 5M photos size), I click once and it uploads the big, sharp photo to my photo stream — quickly, with the 3G.
So I can press one button from the interface and open the Qik livestreaming app — that’s neat. I’m ready to shoot live video in a few seconds. Qik has integrated with a lot of other online services; when you get a Qik account, you can do what I did and link it to my Twitter, YouTube and 12seconds account (there’s more, but that’s what I’m using right now). So far everything works except the 12seconds integration; when I livestream to Qik, an automatic message (that I customized in my Qik account) is sent to my Twitter stream, and the video is simultaneously uploaded to my seldom used YouTube channel. Here’s a Qik video with the Nokia:

A couple people have raved about the high quality of my phone-to-Qik videos (and they look great; in video ‘settings’ make it high quality and put steady shot ‘on’). But I know that the phone is capable of better video than the 320×240 Qik default, and I really love 12seconds — and the integration not working really isn’t my problem. And I’m impatient.
So I set up the phone’s mailbox, which with Gmail was actually an unbelievably complicated pain in the ass. Fortunately, this is not a road less traveled. Once that was set up, I noticed that when I took a photo or shot a video (not in Qik, just with the phone), when I hit “send” I now had an email option — but no contacts. To keep it simple, I put in two contacts: my Flickr email posting address (find it in your Flickr account), and my 12seconds email posting address (it’s in your 12seconds account). Now when I shoot a high quality video with the Nokia’s nice camera, I can hit “send”, pick Flickr or 12seconds, and it’ll upload my video to either service. Three or four clicks. Here’s a too-dark, dorky test video I shot and sent to Flickr:

So now if someone confiscates my phone for shooting video of say, a BART police shooting, the video will be in so many places already it won’t matter. But mostly, I’m now frighteningly agile with live media and feel like having fun. I also made some physical modifications to the phone:
modification one

Instead of a kewt fob, I sacrificed my girly style for a practical camera strap.
modification two

I placed a thin strip over both the red ‘record’ light and the flash. There is unfortunately no way to set the phone’s camera default to “flash off” and I do not shoot with a flash. Plus, the red light is something people find intimidating; if I simply tell people they’re about to be on video, and then say okay, they’re a lot more relaxed than the visible cringe I see when the red light goes on and everyone poses and doesn’t know what to say anymore. Well, anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So there.
I love it. I won’t leave the house without it. And like I said, if it had qwerty, I’d use it as a phone. And probably also as a portable computer: add Google Docs and my blog via the web browser, and I’d be invincible.
For those of you with unboxing fetishes, the unboxing photos are after the jump. Here are a couple of photos from the Nokia:


Read more…

Future WANT: Olympus Micro Four Thirds Camera

January 28th, 2009 No comments


One of my biggest irritations about gadget blogs and things like CES is that they always write about and show you all these cool phones and cameras and gadgets, but the golram gadgets don’t even exist yet, or might be out sometime in 2012, are a designer one-off, or are so expensive I feel stupid for even reading about them. I get all angry and green and then grrr, argh, someone gets hurt. Usually me, because my head is softer than the Cinema Display.
But — Engadget’s got me on this one. It looks like sometime in the not-too-distant future (not quite Serenity time frame), a couple of Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras are going to be released. And they’re going to look as sexy as the above photo I stole from Engadget (who has the details). It may possibly even look this fucking sexy/cool. The thing about them that’s really making me go goo and gaahh is the changeable lenses (I am a wide-angle ho), and the micro four-thirds format ditches the internal mirror and prism while maintaining a DSLR-sized sensor. Meaning, it’s near a super-fancy expensive big camera in quality, but will fit in my purse and not be all big-lens, paparazzi-like intimidating.

Make Your 5-Year-Old Cry With the Hello Kitty Death Cake

January 27th, 2009 No comments


Just discovered the long way around an Engadget post about something else, and also spotted at Craftzine Blog: the Hello Kitty Death Cake ( is exactly what I want this year. But just a little Gothier, you know? Click through to get larger images of stabwound Kitty frosted delight.

Tags: , ,

RIP Ben Underwood: Echolocating Teen

January 26th, 2009 No comments

There was a funeral today for Ben Underwood at Harvest Church in Elk Grove, not far from Sacramento where I happen to have grown up. Underwood went blind from cancer at age 3, but learned to get around using a fascinating skill: echolocation. Underwood taught himself how to make a series of clicking noises, not unlike a dolphin, to navigate his way through the world.

There’s a page about human echolocation on Ben’s website. Wikipedia informs me that human echolocation has been formally studied since the ’50s, and that it’s commonly used in varying degrees. Sight-impaired people who tap a cane, for instance, may partially be using echolocation. Others do it more formally, though it’s physically impossible for a human to use it as effectively as, say, a bat; because human voices are lower in frequency, a human using that technique can only perceive relatively large objects.

Some blind people, however, feel there’s almost a sixth sense involved, though not one that transcends the physical world. They can “sense” objects in an entirely different way than sighted people, insofar as an object may give off echo the blind person is not consciously aware of, but still perceives — therefore perceiving “pressure” from the object without knowing how, exactly, it is perceived. What made Underwood so unusual is that he used this skill to played basketball, skateboard, and rollerblade. He also played video games, though I haven’t the foggiest idea how.

Unfortunately, the same cancer that made Underwood blind returned and spread to his brain and spinal chord. He passed away January 19 at the age of 16. Since today would have been Underwood’s 17th birthday, Stevie Wonder sang ‘Happy Birthday’ at the service, which was attended by more than a thousand people. Wonder and Underwood had met at a conference on vision and technology.

Donations can be made at Ben’s website and will go directly to his mother, Aquanetta.

Image from

NSA Approves $3K BarackBerry

January 23rd, 2009 No comments

Surely you can’t have missed the controversy over BlackBerry One, wherein new President Barack Obama (OMG… I’m getting a little verklemt….) told news sources that the Secret Service would take his BlackBerry when they pry it from his cold, dead hands. Looks like it’s not going to come to that, which is a relief…. for Chrissake, he is the friggin’ President.

Obama, who, unlike certain previous presidents, has opposable thumbs, has long used the smartphone, but spooks in the gov’t frown like school librarians at such things, according to CNN: “E-mail has long been treated with suspicion by the Secret Service because of fears it could be hacked into by foreign espionage agencies, or that sensitive information could reach the public domain via a single mistaken strike of the ‘send’ key.”

To be fair, I don’t blame them; just being on the campaign’s email list is how I got that grainy webcam picture of Barack’s — ummmmm… which I erased immediately, of course… forget I said anything.

In any event, the Atlantic Monthly is reporting that the NSA’s agreed to let Barack keep his smartphone, with the proviso that he get a souped-up, security-enhanced model, approved at what seems to me like a not-that-whopping $3,350. For a government that pays $6 gazillion and change for the ass warmer on an F-22, that seems like a bargain.

More importantly, those of us in the Presidential Groupie Committee have been watching with trepidation as Obama gamely did battle against the spooky tech haters, who ensured that Clinton and Bush both gave up email, for all practical purposes, when they assumed office.

What’s more, Republican poopypantses and crybaby manufacturers of nonexistent Obama Drama have hurled accusations at Barack of being un-American by favoring the products of BlackBerry, a Canadian company, over those of some unnamed American business.

They’ve all lost: They can Monday morning quarterback all they want, but the fact is that the office of the POTUS has moved into the 21st Century — kicking and screaming, as usual.