"Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures — in this century as in others, our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing people together."
When all this first started with Tunisia, I didn’t think there was any way the people could oust their president after some 24 years in power. I’d spent just a couple of weeks there in 2008, and people seemed more or less willing to accept the corruption of a government that was at least more or less secular, invested in education, and allowed a bit more freedom than many other North African and Middle Eastern countries.
I was way wrong about Tunisia, and with Mubarak gone from Egypt, people all over the region have been emboldened to demand more accountability, more transparency and more say over their lives. Some governments will probably manage to placate the protesters with handouts and subsidies, and some will crush them brutally, but before the dust settles, maybe — just maybe — one or two more long-oppressed peoples will manage to send their leaders into the dustbins of history.
The thing to remember is that even small peaceful protests are completely unheard of in many of these countries. The fact that governments that normally have no tolerance for dissent aren’t immediately rolling over them with tanks is a huge step forward in itself. And when tens of thousands of people to crowd the avenues and public squares, that’s huge news.
Bahrain: Police are breaking up protests — non-lethally so far — as people take to the streets to demand respect for human rights and greater freedoms.
Iran: After brutally cracking down on huge anti-government protests following 2009′s stolen election, police are so far using non-lethal weapons to control thousands of Iranians “rallying in support of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.”
Libya: On Feb. 17, Libyans plan to hold a massive unprecedented “Day of Rage” against the 41-year rule of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s self-described “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.”
Palestine: As unrest begins, the Palestinian Authority promised to overhaul his cabinet to try and prevent Gazans from taking ot the streets.
Saudi Arabia: In one of the region’s — and the world’s — most repressive countries, where public demonstrations are unheard of, tiny protests are starting to take place. The Saudi government appears terrified at the prospect of Egypt-style protests — especially after its strong support for Mubarak turns out to have been lent to the losing side.
Syria: A mass protest that gained lots of Facebook and Twitter support from Syrians fizzled without ever taking place, but Syrians afraid of incurring their government’s wrath may not be far from taking to the streets.
The City of Boston is working on an app that uses your iPhone’s accelerometer to detect bumps while you’re driving, and its GPS to tell the city where the bumps happened.
According to the Boston Globe, the iPhone is “sensitive enough to identify cracks and divots,” and test runs are helping calibrate the app to filter out bumps from manhole covers, cobblestones and the like.
For a while now, I’ve been convinced that the secret behind Wired‘s success is that its editors know their audience: a generation of ADHD technophiles that love cool new things but don’t want to read more than 50 words about them. The mag is chock full of charts, tables and pithy rapid-fire bursts of did-you-know goodness that fit nicely into all the 2-minute breaks in your day — coffee, commercial, bathroom or otherwise.
But every so often, one of its full-length feature stories is interesting enough to make me quit my multitasking and read the thing in one sitting. This time, it’s a piece on a Toronto statistician named Mohan Srivastava, who figured out that by examining the visible numbers on the front of a scratch lottery ticket, you could reliably predict the numbers under the gray latex coating, and pick winning tickets without even getting your fingernails dirty.
Srivastava reported the flaws to the authorities, but not just because he’s such an honest guy:
“I’d have to travel from store to store and spend 45 seconds cracking each card. I estimated that I could expect to make about $600 a day. That’s not bad. But to be honest, I make more as a consultant, and I find consulting to be a lot more interesting than scratch lottery tickets.”
If your own salary isn’t quite so high, and if you’ve got a lot of spare time on your hands, you might be just a few a calculations and a few thousand scratches away from riches. The Tic-Tac-Toe ticket that Srivastava gamed has since been pulled from stores, but he’s apparently got other ones figured out too — and some of those are still for sale. Best of all, there doesn’t seem to be any law against using publicly visible information to pick winning lottery tickets.
If you’re thinking about quitting your day job to get rich littering your living room with latex scrapings, you probably won’t be the only one. From Wired:
Consider a series of reports by the Massachusetts state auditor. The reports describe a long list of troubling findings, such as the fact that one person cashed in 1,588 winning tickets between 2002 and 2004 for a grand total of $2.84 million. [...] A 1999 audit found that another person cashed in 149 tickets worth $237,000, while the top 10 multiple-prize winners had won 842 times for a total of $1.8 million. Since only six out of every 100,000 tickets yield a prize between $1,000 and $5,000, the auditor dryly observed that these “fortunate” players would have needed to buy “hundreds of thousands to millions of tickets.”
I’m poking around in the bowels of the site for the first time in ages, and just wanted to say I think its kind of awesome that an old post on DIY catapults, trebuchets and other siege weapons has been viewed nearly 14,000 times. What I want really to know is how many of those people actually went out and terrorized their neighbours with these things.
For a week now, the world has been Googling Egypt like never before. But not in China, where search engines are blocking search terms like “Egypt” and “Cairo,” keeping people in China from staying up to date on Egypt’s mass revolt. Terms related to the protest are also blocked on Sina, a Chinese Twitter clone.
I wonder if China’s worried about Lhasa looking just a little bit like Cairo…
Incidentally, I was pretty astonished to find that Flickering Pictures apparently displays just fine in China (according to WebSitePulse), in spite of plenty of postslikethese.
As it was in Tunisia and Iran, Twitter is a major organizing tool for dissidents in Egypt, and it was certainly one of the sites the government was most concerned about when it took the unprecedented step of shutting down all Internet access across the country a few days ago.
Back on Saturday, I posted a couple of workarounds for getting online when the man turns off the Internet. Now a California company called SayNow is plugging a new tool for sending and receiving tweets via telephone. The company says it came up with the idea “over the weekend.”
SayNow — which was bought by Google just days before its announcement — aims to keep Twitter accessible to Egypt’s 80 million residents with a simple long-distance voicemail-to-tweet service that Google says works like this:
It’s already live and anyone can tweet by simply leaving a voicemail on one of these international phone numbers (+16504194196 or +390662207294 or +97316199855) and the service will instantly tweet the message using the hashtag #egypt. No Internet connection is required. People can listen to the messages by dialing the same phone numbers or going to twitter.com/speak2tweet.
Incidentally, if you’re taking bets on which Middle Eastern country might be next to feature massive anti-government demonstrations, maybe Syria should be near the top of your list. Syrians are organizing protests — on Facebook and Twitter, natch –set to start on Feb. 4. And the masses have already taken to the streets in Jordan, where the king has just shuffled his cabinet in an attempt to appease protesters.
So it isn’t news anymore that Egypt has followed in Tunisia’s footsteps, in taking to the streets to overthrow a multi-decade dictator. You’ve probably also heard that to prevent protesters from organizing, Egypt has cut off broadband and mobile Internet access to its 80 million residents in the biggest Web blackout the world has seen so far.
But you may not know the tricks that tech-savvy Egyptians are using to get around the ban. The ever-excellent Lifehacker has a few ideas:
Unless the Egyptian government kills all of the phone lines as well, you might remember one means of getting online that broadband has since relegated to obsolescence: dial-up. While there’s no Egyptian ISP that will allow internet access to Egyptian citizens, other countries will, meaning any Egyptian citizen with long-distance calling capabilities can break out their old school 56k modem and dial-up an ISP in another country)
If you ever happen to find yourself in the midst of nationwide protests to overthrow a dictator-for-life, and the government shuts down broadband access, dialing into a foreign ISP might be just the ticket to Internet freedom. But what if the man is also watching international phone calls?
Back in a former life, in a geekier time than I care to remember, I helped run my old high school’s BBS. It was pretty cutting-edge at the time: a private PC connected to a phone line that other computers could call — one at a time — to swap messages, play games, and download teeny tiny files over 14.4kbps connections. When we upgraded to 28.8kbps — and later the same kind of 56k modem that’s likely gathering dust in the computer you’re using right now — the speed boost was a revelation. It was slow as molasses, and picking up a phone in the next room while you were connected would corrupt your transfers, but at the time, it was all we had. And there was no fussing with ISPs and IP addresses — just two computers having a conversation.
Now, the inability to accommodate more than one visitor per phone line at a time is a major limitation, but a series of BBSes might still be a way for opposition leaders to swap information, build a strategy, and agree on times and places for demonstrations. And the archaic tech is being kept alive — ham radio-style — by a network of devoted BBS enthusiasts around the world.
So a whole year has gone by since I last poked around in this dusty little corner of the Web. I’ve missed flickering pictures more and more lately. You get comfortable in a place, get to know the regulars, hang some pretty things up on the walls, and it becomes a kind of home — and like a real home, it’s always home, even if you go away for a while.
We arts-major types like to complain about writer’s block — a maddening inability to make the words come out, especially when there’s something you want desperately to say. Even worse though is the opposite problem: having nothing in the world to say, but spurting a cacophony of words onto the screen just the same — filling up a perfectly good page with “flap and doodle, balder and dash.” For the last year or so, I’ve had a lot to work on, to learn from, to mull over… but not a lot to say. I’m not sure how much that’s changed, but for the first time in a long time, I really feel like writing.
So let’s give this another go. I can’t promise I won’t drop off the face of the Earth again tomorrow, but I’m not planning on it. It’s good to be chatting with you folks again. And it’s good to be here.
Sand animation is the art of storytelling through continuously created and recreated images in sand, and there may be no one better at it than Kseniya Simonova. In the video above, she steals the show on Ukraine’s equivalent of the America’s Got Talent TV show, and has the judges and audience in tears as she tells the story of a peaceful pre-WWII Ukraine, Germany’s ensuing occupation, and the restoration of independence. The medium, sand on a backlit tabletop, is just gorgeous — and made all the more dramatic as she builds into a frenzy of sand and emotion and long black whirling hair. You’ve really got to see it.
Though you wouldn’t know it, Simonova is new to the art, having decided to become an artist after the credit crisis sent her business belly-up. Since her TV victory though, the art world has started to take her seriously, and YouTube’s lower-brow art-lover community has noticed too, as the Guardianreports:
Her war story has over 400,000 views on YouTube [actually more like four million now] and is provoking an interesting debate in the comments section. Jgoo24 notes that “sand is her bitch” and few would argue with this. “Maybe the most magnificent master piece of art of all time” says DevinsDad90, not a man prone to hyperbole. And also “i just jizzed in my pants” (thank you, deaddevil6).
You can watch the full-screen version of her WWII recreation here, or check out some of her other work.
BTW, somebody help me with this — she looks exactly like a celebrity whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. Who’s her famous twin?