Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

How successful were the SOPA and PIPA Blackouts?

January 19, 2012

Welcome back to the internet, everyone! Did you miss it? I missed it, but there were a couple of amusing highlights:

1) @herpderpedia – User @qrush made this Twitter account, which acted as a repository for all of the tweets from people freaking out about Wikipedia going dark. The F*bomb was dropped quite a bit, many users mourned the “death” of Wikipedia with RIPs, and there were  frantic queries from students about how they were supposed to finish reports. If you suffer from an overflow of hope for the human race, this will bring you back down with a healthy shot of cynicism.

WTF, Wikipedia!? How am I supposed to graduate now? Thanks for nothing! Image source

2) #FactsWithoutWikipedia was a  hilarious timesuck. People created stories, lies, satire and other “facts” about life, the universe and everything. And of course, a quick Wikipedia search was unable to dispel any of these during the blackout.

3) After a full day of laughing at those afflicted with #herpderpedia, I went to put together my write-up for this weekend’s interview with Sean Faircloth on Atheists Talk radio, and I had a moment of panic when I clicked on the bookmark of his wikipedia page and was denied.

Image source

Okay, it was a very quick moment of panic, because there were very simple work-arounds for getting to Wikipedia yesterday (after all the point was to raise consciousness about SOPA and PIPA, not to deny people access to the site). But, I decided to get my information the “old-fashioned” by going to the electronic sources of the information that Wikipedia articles mine to get their information. You know, the number two and three results that come up when you Google a subject.

Wikipedia has a page up now with their estimates of the success of the blackout. From Wikipedia:

Was the blackout successful?

The English Wikipedia joined thousands of other web sites in protesting SOPA and PIPA by blacking out its content for 24 hours. The purpose of the blackout was twofold: to raise public awareness, and to encourage people to share their views with their elected representatives.

During the blackout:

The page also reiterates some of the basic information about the bills, what we can to do keep up-to-date on SOPA and PIPA as they progress through Congress, and next steps that we can take in working to defeat SOPA/PIPA.

Wikipedia wasn’t the only site that went dark in protest of SOPA/PIPA. How was you day affected by yesterday’s blackouts?

SOPA and PIPA Blackouts

January 17, 2012

Yeah, so…I guess there’s no Wikipedia tomorrow.

Image Source

I started hearing about the SOPA/PIPA Blackouts today on Twitter. I am an internet junkie – I love blogs and social media. I love instant access to news, maps, updates from friends and family. I am a content-generator and sharer – I blog at two websites and read about 40-60 new blog entries every day. Okay, some of those get more browsed than read, but you get the picture.

However, I am not all that internet savvy. I’m a biology major who went to college when computer science courses were for nerds who had a much better understanding of math than I did. To be fair, that’s probably still true. So, I don’t know how the internet works. I know how to navigate some of the more popular areas of the internet, and that’s about as deep as I get.

But it caught my attention when I learned that Wikipedia and WordPress – the website that hosts this Biodork blog – are “going dark” tomorrow, Wednesday January 18th, 2012, to protest these two bills moving through Congress. I decided that I needed to learn more about SOPA (Stop Internet Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) and to try to find out for myself if they are as offensive and dangerous as some groups and people are saying.

I found this blog post at ABC News. It seems like a easy, non-technical introduction to the SOPA/PIPA controversy. It briefly explains the SOPA and PIPA bills, the ideas behind them, the objections to the bills, and the protest movement that has arisen in response to the bills. It also has current updates on the state of SOPA and PIPA in the Senate and House.

Over at AmericanCensorship.org, there is a simple infographic that lists the implications of SOPA/PIPA becoming law.

Then I searched WordPress to find out why my particular blogging site is participating in the protests. I found this article entitled Help Stop SOPA/PIPA published last week (01/10/12). The post isn’t very good at explaining the details of SOPA and PIPA, instead leaving that job to a Vimeo video called “Protect IP / SOPA Act Breaks the Internet” on a site called fightforthefuture/PIPA.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

The video says that PIPA will “give the right to censor the internet to the entertainment industry”.

It explains that “Private corporations want the ability to shut down unauthorized sites where people download movies, TV shows and music.” And that because most of these sites exist outside the US and US jurisdiction, corporations will focus their efforts on shutting down and blocking funding of the infringing sites  by going after US-based search engines, directories, blogs, forums, advertisers and payment services.

It highlights some problems with the bills – that it won’t stop downloading, but will encourage less secure work-arounds by hackers, that it would allow corporations to sue companies that they feel aren’t doing a thorough enough job to try to stop copyright violations on their websites, that other countries may follow in our footsteps, leading to “different internets in different countries” and giving unscrupulous governments powerful tools to hinder free expression, and it points out that corporations already have legislation in place to fight piracy.

The video ends with this:

Now the government and corporations could block any site, foreign or domestic, just for one infringing link. Sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook would have to censor their users or get shut down since they become liable for everything users post. And ordinary users could go to jail for five years for posting any copyrighted work – even just singing a pop song.

That’s a freaking scary idea, isn’t it?

In other circumstances I’d like to learn more, to speak with people who I think have a better grasp on the implications of SOPA and PIPA than I do. But tomorrow is a country-wide day of protest against these bills, and if they really are as big of a danger as they appear to be in my limited research, then I want to add my voice with other protestors.

So tomorrow I will take a chance of erring in support of those who say that SOPA and PIPA pose a threat to our security, our free speech, our ability to freely share content and exchange ideas with most of the world, and our access to some of our most cherished and important social and media-sharing websites. These freedoms are too precious to not stand up and ask for those in Congress to proceed with caution.

I am not going to “black out” my site. I want to leave this post up here and visible tomorrow. But I will add the ribbon, I will contact my Senators and Representatives with my concerns, and I will try to keep up with the SOPA and PIPA bills as they move through Congress. I will also limit my online activity tomorrow, including this blog.

Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Can you clarify any of the points that I mentioned above? I’d love your input in the comments below. I’ll read them and respond to them…on Thursday.

foursquaring for Vaccines

September 20, 2011

I use foursquare, which is part online game, part social media, part easy advertising for businesses. When I visit a place and “check in” I tell the world or just my circle of foursquare friends that I’m there, or that I’ve been there. foursquare seems to be great for local businesses – they can offer specials for checking in once (“show a cashier that you checked in and get $5 off your total at check out”), or offer loyalty programs (“check in here three times and receive a free Margarita”). foursquare is free for users, it’s a way for local businesses to advertise to their target market, and there’s a silly point program so you can compete with friends. From what I understand it’s similar to Facebook’s Places, but I don’t use Places, so I’m not sure how accurate the comparison is.

I’ve used foursquare to tell my friends when I’m visiting somewhere extremely cool or out of the ordinary (It was fun to tweet via foursquare that I was “checking in” to the sky deck of the Seattle Space Needle last month), and to get good deals ($5 mojitos at Stella’s Fish Cafe!). But yesterday I used it to SAVE LIVES!

I stopped at a Walgreens in South Minneapolis last night, and when I opened up Foursquare I was interested to see that Walgreens was offering a special. I stop at that particular store pretty often, but had never before seen them offer a special. I opened the tab and saw this:

I went online to learn more about the offer, and it turns out that through October 8th, Walgreens will donate one flu shot voucher for every valid foursquare or Facebook Places check-in. And you can go onto their Facebook page to vote for one of five groups that will receive a percentage of the flu shot vouchers (the organizations are Feeding America, the National Urban League, AmeriCares, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the American Diabetes Association).

How cool is that!? I love technology. And corporate giving. And vaccines. Win!

$600 Cat Toy

May 21, 2011

My friend has a really expensive toy for her cat, Luna.

Weekend Events

May 2, 2011

So, this was a heck of  a weekend.

Saturday marked the end of my 30DaysofBiking, so no more posts about bike rides to the grocery store or McFlurry runs. I know…you’re crazy disappointed. It was a good experience, especially because I was pushed to ride in weather that I normally would have avoided.  Now I may be less likely to skip traveling by bike in the face of inclement weather; riding in rain wasn’t really that big of a deal. I’m still probably not going to be a winter rider, though.

On Sunday we braved the cold to see the Heart of the Beast Theater’s (HOBT) May Day Parade on Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis. We arrived early – 11:45am (we rode our bikes even though it May 1st and I was like 30daysofbiking is totally over and I don’t have to ride if I don’t want to but parking is going to suck so let’s bike) - to stake out a spot and watch the crowd arrive. There’s always great people-watching at the May Day Parade. I think I viewed most of the parade through the lens of my camera since this is the first time I’ve gone with the fancy DSLR. Of course that means I came home with about 500 photos, which may take a day or two to filter through. 

And then there was the twitter explosion at about 9:20pm last night. I’ve learned about huge breaking news on twitter more times than I can count now. The most recent instances that burn in my memory are the riots in Egypt, the attempted assasination of Gabrielle Giffords, the earthquake in Japan, and now the death of Osama bin Laden.  Last night someone tweeted a message to this effect: “Daddy, where were you when you found out about OBL?” “On the couch in my underwear with some cheetos and my iPhone, honey.” Oy, so true.

I’m not really processing the whole “hey, that terrorist leader who we’ve spent almost 10 years tracking is finally dead” thing that everyone is going on about today. My first reaction last night was shock, then joy that we had finally achieved our goal, then a sharing of elation, good cheer and snark on twitter (Trump wanting to see the death certificate, the undermining of the royal honeymoon, how President Obama must have been giggling at the Correspondent’s dinner, etc.), and a fleeting feeling of vindication for the victims of 9/11, the service members who have died or been injured in the search for bin Laden, the civilians in the Middle East who have died as a result of the last 10 years of conflict. Then I felt grief for all of the loss of life, the waste that has happened, and will probably continue to happen. I followed that up with a solid five minutes of overanalyzing all of my reactions of the past hour.

It’s good that we’ve officially closed this chapter, and now I’m waiting to see what the fallout is going to be. It IS a huge effing deal, and I want to see how this new information going to affect our men and women serving in the Middle East, how it’s going to affect our nation’s budget and priorities, the upcoming elections in 2012, and people’s perception of terrorism, security, the United States, Islam, President Obama, the military, the Middle East. Osama bin Laden has been a huge part of our lives…what’s going to happen now? Sorry, no words of wisdom or deep insights. Just questions today.

Omigod, I CAN haz camera!

February 19, 2011

Warning: there are more exclamation points in this post than any one post should be allowed. Also, there is some squeeeeeing.

I’m not the sort to whine about a situation and then ignore an opportunity when it becomes available.

I’ve been wanting a camera. A DSLR camera. And a zoom lens. For about a year now.

After speaking with friends who have DSLRs and salespeople at three different camera chains, and tooling around the internet I decided that I could be quite happy with a Nikon D3100, which goes for about $599 these days. But after adding in the zoom lens (zoom capability is one of the reasons that I want to get a better camera so it wasn’t even a possibility of getting into a nice camera without picking up a zoom lens), the carrying bag, the USB cord, memory card, sales tax, warranties/service plans…I was looking at about $1000.  That’s about $110/month…too much.

I was dreaming about having a DSLR, you guys. From my Facebook:

I love my friends.

I had it bad, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. And then I found out about Best Buy’s 18-month no-interest payment plan. That I could swing. So I did.

Squeeeeee! hyperventilate…and… Squeeeee!

I was so excited! As I was checking out I thought of my blog-friend, Jana, because earlier that day we had been grousing about our point and shoot cameras. My first picture is for you, Jana!

When I got home, I did the only thing a photo-obsessed gal could do – I took pictures of everything!

My swag

Everything opened! I left a few bits and pieces out of the pic, but this is all the really exciting stuff.

The lenses, with UV filters attached. The 55-200mm has the lens hood on, which makes it look all classy and shit.

The camera body without a lens attached.

The camera all put together with the kit lens attached.

My camera has pretty specs – 14.2 megapixels, shoots 3 frames per second, has 11-point autofocus and an ISO range of 100-12800. The kit lens is an VR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G, my zoom lens is a VR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G. I still don’t have the uber-zoom lens or a ultra low f stop that would kick ass in darker environments, but one thing at a time! I know and embrace my sweet new camera’s limitations. Well, not really, but shhh…I don’t want to hurt it’s feelings.  My camera phone is already in the corner whimpering. It’s saying “But, I…I gave you 8-megapixels! How could you do this to me!?” I still love you camera phone, and you’re still my steady for shots on the go and twitpics.  C’mere, let me give you a hug.

Sad camera is sad and needs comforting.

I may be a little giddy right now.

I’m running off to a talk by PZ Myers in Minneapolis now (could this day get any better?). After that I have to stop by Best Buy to pick up a USB cable (srsly, how is that not included in the camera kit?) and an extra battery. And this afternoon the Hubby and I are driving up to Duluth/Superior along the river.  Helllloooo test drive of new camera.

Ciao!

Silly Twitterbot

February 4, 2011

All the good bots know I use a Mac – duh…

Otherwise, it looks like you know me pretty well.  *rolls eyes*

*BLOCK!*

Love: A Sad Science Story

February 3, 2011

A nice woman named Amy was giving away postcards.  You receive the postcard, take a picture with it and then send the picture back to her. It sounded like kind of a fun pen-pal deal-eo and I decided to do it.

Here’s the postcard she sent me:

So I took a picture. Or six. And may have written a really stupid story to go with it. Caution – HUGE LAB NERDINESS AHEAD!!! 

They met in the park when the summer blossoms were in full bloom.  It was love at first sight, and they knew that they would never be separated.

As they spun together around the fountain, she felt dizzy and lightheaded. They spun around and around and around.

She felt care-free and weightless.

They both liked Victorian cosplay, but she was a modern, intelligent, tech-savy woman, so she of course did her research on him before fully committing her heart.

And was horrified to learn that he had a chemical addiction problem!

He tried to explain, but it was too late – all of his pleadings smelled rotton.  

 And so she reluctantly walked away from his toxic love.

The End.

Stuck in the Lab

December 22, 2010

Work is crazy today; I’m probably going to be pulling a 16-hour shift today.  Yikes!

At my work we’ve got these high-demand instruments.  I signed up to use two of them on this date, so I get them for today.  Tomorrow some other lucky scientist gets to use them.  But my studies just keep going wrong…and by “my studies just keep going wrong” I mean I keep finding new and creative ways to screw them up, whether it’s running the wrong protocol, QNS-ing the samples (Science-nerd points and a hand-drawn picture from me for the first person who tells me what QNS stands for!), using the wrong sample type or screwing around for so long that I’ve left my reagents on the bench past their room temperature stability limit.  Yeesh!

So, if I want to finish my studies before I leave for Christmas break (and my boss assures me that yes, in fact I do) I’m stuck here until they’re done. 

Picture the Jeopardy theme song here.

Luckily, I have Qdoba lunch leftovers (from today, even!) and a full soda machine in the lunch room.  Oooo…and some Ghirardelli chocolate squares that I received as a Christmas present from a coworker!  So I shan’t starve this evening, which makes the prospect of being stuck here a little less depressing.  I’m actually wanting to go sleep on the phlebotomy cot in one of the labs, but I don’t think the night security guy would approve.

Ah, science - you cruel, cruel mistress, you.

Would you like some powdered water with that?

September 2, 2010

Dry Water!

Military Intelligence!

Honest Politicians!

Amateur Expert!

Living Dead!

You get the idea. 

How the heck does one make dry water?  Well, they cheat, sort of.  The powdered water is one drop of “wet” water surrounded by modified silica.  So the water itself isn’t powdered, but it’s stored in a way that keeps the water droplets from coalescing.

Did I mention that the headlines about this story are pun-ishingly horrible?  “Dry water making waves!” “Dry water could make a splash commercially”  *shudder*

I heard about this story on Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (SGU – episode #267) in the Science or Fiction segment.  Several news sources have done a decent job of summarizing the American Chemical Society (ACS) presentation by Dr. Ben Carter (a researcher for study lead, Dr. Andrew Cooper) .  

According to Science 2.0 silica-encapsulated water was first discovered in 1968 by the cosmetic industry.  An article in Scientific American describes the “discovery” of a process to create dry water by coating water in a “hydrophobic powder” in 2001.  It sounds like the technology has been here for a while, but we haven’t yet figured out what to do with it. 

The current focus is on developing dry water technology for use in commercial applications and perhaps in carbon dioxide absorption, which could be useful for that little global warming problem we’re not dealing with.

From an ACS news release:

BOSTON, Aug. 25, 2010 — An unusual substance known as “dry water,” which resembles powdered sugar, could provide a new way to absorb and store carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, scientists reported here today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The powder shows bright promise for a number of other uses, they said. It may, for instance, be a greener, more energy-efficient way of jump-starting the chemical reactions used to make hundreds of consumer products. Dry water also could provide a safer way to store and transport potentially harmful industrial materials.

and later in the article:

Dry water was discovered in 1968 and got attention for its potential use in cosmetics. Scientists at the University of Hull, U.K. rediscovered it in 2006 in order to study its structure, and Cooper’s group at the University of Liverpool has since expanded its range of potential applications.

One of the most recent involves using dry water as a storage material for gases, including carbon dioxide. In laboratory-scale research, Cooper and co-workers found that dry water absorbed over three times as much carbon dioxide as ordinary, uncombined water and silica in the same space of time. This ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide gas as a hydrate could make it useful in helping to reduce global warming, the scientists suggested.

Cooper and colleagues demonstrated in previous studies that dry water is also useful for storing methane, a component of natural gas, and may help expand its use as a future energy source. In particular, they hope that engineers can use the powder to collect and transport stranded deposits of natural gas.

It sounds like things are proceeding along…

…swimmingly!


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