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27 Mar 07:12

Space pod arriving at Martian Outpost, please mind the gap

by Elspeth De Montes

I’m fairly sure this LEGO “Martian Outpost” is a human outpost on Mars rather than a place for Martians to hang out. The dark orange-red environment in this diorama by KW Vauban certainly looks like Mars to me, and there’s a lot of action despite the microscale size of the build. Centrally, a railed transport vehicle approaches a shelter — suggesting we are seeing only a small portion of a much larger habitat. My favourite part? The sliding doors closing behind the ‘space saucer’ that has just left an underground area. I want to peek inside those doors to see what’s down below!

Martian Outpost

There’s a whole story in this microscale diorama, but the builder hasn’t given us any extra information — just this smart little snapshot in time.

The post Space pod arriving at Martian Outpost, please mind the gap appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

26 Mar 20:35

Schwarzenegger shuts down a troll

by Minnesotastan

Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a video congratulating the winners of the Special Olympics World Games. Some dickhead troll responded -
“The Special Olympics make no sense.  The Olympics are for the best athletes in the entire world to compete against each other to determine who is the best,” the individual wrote. “Having retards competing is doing the opposite!”
I've embedded his response above.

"... no one will ever remember you."  More Terminator than Kindergarten Cop.
26 Mar 20:33

This is a greenhouse

by Minnesotastan

Specifically it's a structural component of the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in the United Kingdom.
...they use the excess heat from inside the distillery to be able to create a greenhouse environment outside and allow the distillery to grow tropical and Mediterranean herbs and spices directly on site. Herbs and spices that are then used in their gin products.
There are actually two greenhouses:

One of the greenhouses has the environment and climate necessary to grow tropical plants and other one grows mediterranean plants, using a different climatic environment.

The gardens are taken care of by a team of botanical garden experts who oversee the growth of hundreds of plants as well as herbs and spices that grow alongside the original 10 used in their recipe.
Kudos to the designers and developers for recycling the energy and for making the project esthetically appealing.
26 Mar 20:29

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Password


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

The trick to passwords is to just reset them every time you need to log in.

New comic!
Today's News:
23 Mar 03:39

Color Pattern

♫ When the spacing is tight / And the difference is slight / That's a moiré ♫
21 Mar 19:48

Then nightly sings the staring owl

by Elspeth De Montes

Owls are mainly nocturnal, solitary birds of prey who are known for their silent flight. Most birds of prey have eyes on the sides of their heads, but the owl’s forward-facing eyes facilitate their low-light hunting. Shawn Snyder has created a LEGO owl with plenty of attitude and a somewhat impudent glare. This is an owl who knows his position, with those piercing, hooded eyes, sharp talons on show, and wings spread wide in an act of defiance.


That’s a lot of character to be displayed by a brick-built owl – I feel watched.

The post Then nightly sings the staring owl appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

21 Mar 06:48

Intel’s first Optane SSD: 375GB that you can also use as RAM

by Peter Bright

A 3D XPoint wafer. (credit: Intel)

Intel announced today the first Optane-branded product using its new 3D XPoint memory: the catchily named Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X. It's a 375GB SSD on a PCIe card. Initial limited availability starts today, for $1520, with broad availability in the second half of the year. In the second quarter, a 750GB PCIe model, and a 375GB model in the U.2 form factor will be released, and in the second half of the year, a 1.5TB PCIe card, and 750GB and 1.5TB U.2 stick, are planned.

3D XPoint is a new kind of persistent solid state memory devised by Intel and Micron. Details on how the memory actually works remain scarce—it's generally believed to use some kind of change in resistance to record data—but its performance characteristics and technical capabilities make it appealing for a wide range of applications.

When it was first announced in 2015, Intel claimed it would be 1,000 times faster than NAND flash, 10 times denser than DRAM, and 1,000 times better endurance than NAND, though without saying "faster at what" or "what kind of NAND" or anything like that. With the shipping product, these comparisons are now clearer, as one of Intel's slides make clear: 3D XPoint has about one thousandth the latency of NAND flash (or about ten times the latency of DRAM), and tens times the density of DRAM.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

21 Mar 01:53

Dry Spell

by Robot Hugs

New comic!

Still working on getting back on my feet. My sketchbook is pretty sad right now.


20 Mar 15:50

Guy Who Got a C on Constitutional-Amendment Paper GETS CONSTITUTION AMENDED

by Kevin

If you’re concerned that this means the Constitution was amended recently without anybody telling the public about it, that concern is totally understandable. But that’s not what happened. This story, reported on March 13 by KUT, Austin’s NPR station, is way less scary and possibly even more amazing than that would be.

In 1982, Gregory Watson was a sophomore at the University of Texas. In a government class his professor required everybody to write a paper on a “governmental process,” and he decided he was interested in the process for amending the Constitution. He found a book at the library that discussed amendments Congress has sent to the states but have never been adopted (because not enough state legislatures ratified them), and he thought that sounded interesting. He was especially interested in this one, which was written by James Madison, no less:

No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of representatives shall have intervened.

This was sent to the states in 1789, in fact, along with eleven other proposed amendments, ten of which you may know as the Bill of Rights. But this one and its even lamer colleague, the “Congressional Apportionment Amendment,” weren’t approved by the necessary three-fourths of the states. By 1791, the compensation amendment only had seven states lined up, so it didn’t become law, and everybody more or less forgot about it.

Time passed.

In each of the next two centuries, a state legislature dusted the thing off and ratified it, both times to protest a pay raise Congress had voted itself. Ohio did that in 1873, and Wyoming in 1978. They could do that because Article Five, which governs the amendment process, doesn’t say anything about a time limit for ratification. Since the 18th, almost all proposed amendments have included a time limit in the legislation itself, so if they don’t get the necessary votes in time (usually seven years), they expire. But the earlier ones, including the compensation amendment, didn’t have time limits.

Time passed.

But only four years this time, which brings us up to 1982 and Gregory Watson’s library visit. That book informed him that this amendment was still around, and while only nine states were on board, one of those ratifications was pretty recent. Maybe it could be revived, he thought! At a minimum, it was a great idea for a paper, so he wrote it up and submitted it.

He got a C, which irked him. He appealed to his professor, but she wouldn’t change the grade. “So I thought right then and there,” he said, “‘I’m going to get that thing ratified.'” Ha! Good luck with that project. Have a nice life!

He did it.

If the thing was still alive, then it already had nine votes. At this point—there now being 50 states—it needed a total of 38. So he started writing letters. Lots of letters. After lots of rejections, Sen. William Cohen of Maine got interested. He passed it on, and Maine’s legislature ratified it in 1983. Gregory kept writing letters. Colorado ratified it in 1984, joined by five more states in 1985, three in each of the next three years, then seven in 1989. In 1992, it got the 38th vote. And that is why the language above is now the Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Obviously, constitutional amendments are pretty rare. Proposed amendments, though, are not. Under Article Five, an amendment can be proposed and sent to the states by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, or by a national convention if three-fourths of the states call for one. There’s never been a convention for that purpose, and my God, what a nightmare that would probably become. Congress has generated 33 in total, two of which failed and four of which are still floating around out there, if you want to start writing letters.

But those are the proposals that made it out of Congress. It is not at all rare for congresspeople to introduce proposals for amending the Constitution, it turns out; in fact, to date there have been more than 11,000 proposed amendments, most of which never make it out of committee. A couple dozen of those proposals are listed here, the poorly named “Flag Desecration Amendment” being the dumbest idea among them. I’m confident that many failed proposals have been even dumber than that one, and I will report those to you as soon as I have time to review all 11,000-plus. And don’t think I won’t. Gregory had his project, I have mine.

Speaking of Gregory, to his credit he never called up his government-studies professor to say “I told you so.” But somebody else (who was writing a book about amendments) did call her recently:

“They said, ‘Well did you teach at UT Austin in the early ‘80s?’ and I said, ‘Yes I did,’” [the former professor said]. “And then they asked, ‘Did you know that one of your students, Gregory Watson, pursued getting this constitutional amendment passed because you gave him a bad grade?’”

“In light of [his] heroic efforts to prove [us] wrong….” (image: Zach Elkins/KUT)

She did not know that. But she was willing to sign a form officially changing his grade on that paper from a C to an A. So he will at last be vindicated, assuming the university approves it.

Given that it was a paper about amending the Constitution, and that he has since managed to amend the Constitution, he really does seem to deserve that A. It doesn’t get much better than that.

19 Mar 20:40

"A Man Called Ove"

by Minnesotastan

I watched this movie earlier this week and can unreservedly recommend it.
A Man Called Ove (Swedish: En man som heter Ove, pronounced [ˈuːvɛ]) is a Swedish comedy-drama film... The film was written and directed by Hannes Holm, and is based on author Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name. In the leading role as Ove is Rolf Lassgård. The film was nominated for six awards, winning two, at the 51st Guldbagge Awards in 2016. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Makeup and Hairstyling categories at the 89th Academy Awards.
It's clearly not a Hollywood-style movie, featuring a curmudgeonly older man rather than a superhero, in a story where nothing explodes.  It begins a bit slowly, until the viewer learns a bit of the backstory of the protagonist.  A pleasant diversion for an evening's entertainment.
19 Mar 05:37

The Oxford Comma: You Should Use It

by Kevin

In Maine, an employee is not entitled to overtime pay if he or she is engaged in:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.

Delivery drivers distribute perishable foods but do not pack them. Do they get overtime?

Explain your answer.

Now, are you still interested in going to law school?

Explain that answer.

That first question was the one in O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy, which the First Circuit decided on March 13. The answer, and probably a fair amount of money, turned out to depend on a comma.

Because the drivers want overtime—or because they actually believe it’s the right answer, or maybe even both—they argued that because there’s no comma after “shipment,” the exempt activity is “packing for shipment or distribution”; that is, packing for either of those purposes. They don’t pack anything, they said, so the exemption doesn’t apply to them.

Because their employer didn’t want to pay overtime—or because it actually believes it’s the right answer, or maybe even both—it argued that the phrase defines two exempt activities: “packing for shipment” and “distribution.” The drivers may not pack, but they definitely distribute, so the exemption does apply to them.

What do you think?

Interesting. Well, you are either obviously right, or obviously wrong. Probably, if you did explain your answer in some way, it didn’t take you too long. If you were weird enough to write it out, it probably took maybe a paragraph. So you might be surprised to hear the First Circuit’s explanation was 22 pages long.

Here’s how it starts:

Each party recognizes that, by its bare terms, Exemption F raises questions as to its scope, largely due to the fact that no comma precedes the words “or distribution.” But each side also contends that the exemption’s text has a latent clarity, at least after one applies various interpretive aids. Each side then goes on to argue that the overtime law’s evident purpose and legislative history confirms its preferred reading.

Got that? Both parties recognize it isn’t clear. But both parties also argue that it is clear. More specifically, at least somebody’s arguing it has a “latent clarity.” What the hell is that?

In law school you learn about “latent ambiguity,” which is when words seem clear but aren’t because of some external facts. For example, if my will says “I leave my house to my dog,” that seems clear, but if it turns out I had two houses (or two dogs), now there’s a problem. But I’d never heard of a “latent clarity,” and I think it makes no sense. For legal documents, at least, if the meaning is clear then you do what the words say. If they’re not clear, then you can look at external evidence; otherwise, you can’t. The external evidence might answer the ultimate question, but that doesn’t magically make the original words “clear.” So I don’t think this is a thing.

I just ran a search, and in fact this is the first time that phrase has ever been used in any published decision in this country. So, it is not a thing.

And not too surprisingly, the court never finds any clarity here, latent or otherwise. Its analysis takes 22 pages because courts usually don’t just wing it, they try to make decisions by applying rules, and here the court applies what lawyers call “canons of interpretation.” Such as: the “rule against surplusage” (every word should count), the “parallel usage convention” (all elements in a parallel series should have the same function), noscitur a sociis (words in a list should be given related meanings), something called “asyndeton” (apparently the practice of leaving out conjunctions between things in a list), and the role of the serial or “Oxford” comma.

None of this helps at all.

Except in the sense that because the court has decided the text isn’t clear, it can look at some of that external evidence, like other documents or legislative history, or maybe consider policy arguments. That spans another six pages, which I’ll spare you because guess what? It doesn’t help, either.

So then what? Well, the court finally turns to yet another rule of interpretation, the one saying that some laws “should be liberally construed to further the … purpose for which they are enacted.” Wage-and-hour laws are enacted to help employees, so, the court concludes this law should be construed in the employees’ favor. In other words, it’s a tiebreaker rule; if the court thinks it’s a close call—or it has no idea what the legislature meant—the employees win. That’s what happens here.

Of course, this is wrong. For that to be the right answer, the “or” would have to be in front of “packing.” (The contrary argument is that “asyndeton” thing nobody’s ever heard of.) Usually the “or” in a list comes right before the last item, and here it’s right before “distribution.” True, there is no comma setting off that last item, but there we’d apply the rule of construction called We Know People Don’t Use the Oxford Comma When They Should, and pretend there is one. That’d be even more appropriate here because as the court notes (p. 10), astoundingly, Maine’s Legislative Drafting Manual expressly tells drafters not to use the serial comma. That’s crazy talk, but to me it’s consistent with the Rule of Or: the legislature meant to exclude employees who “distribute” from overtime pay; it just has a comma problem. But the court refuses to read the omitted comma into the statute.

Maybe it wants to shame the legislature into doing the right thing and using serial commas like civilized people do. As it points out (fn. 5), if there were a serial comma after “shipment,” the meaning would be perfectly clear. But there isn’t. That turned out to be good for the drivers, and I suppose it was also good for the lawyers who got paid to argue about it.

Although whoever came up with “latent clarity” should have to give back some of that money.

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18 Mar 23:08

Spacious speeder servicing center

by Jonathan

Take a moment to peer past the speeders and interesting robots, under the beautiful roller door, to the black minifigs in the deep background and appreciate the epic scale of this model. Zach‘s build Team ADU’s Corporate Headquarters has a renovated warehouse feeling. I love how the older-looking brick walls adjoin the skylights and the hinged paneled ceiling. Hanging hoses, ducting and pipework add intricate details while the windows allow ample light into the hive of activity below.

Just another day in the garage

Add more hoses, canisters and the brilliant iron girder in the foreground adding an amazing depth of field, combined with the great use of stickered and printed bricks and a fantastic strange wee red robot all equals a fascinating scene and a great photograph.

The post Spacious speeder servicing center appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

18 Mar 21:54

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - A Proposal


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

The other problem is that Bob would be vaporized, but he's not that interesting anyway.

New comic!
Today's News:

Yes indeed! And I will be at both shows, signing books and monocles.

Click here for London.

Click here for MIT.

18 Mar 01:18


'So we just have a steady flow of metal piling up in our server room? Isn't that a problem?' 'Yeah, you should bring that up at our next bismuth meeting.'
17 Mar 18:28

peanut butter swirled brownies

by deb

I realize that you might have been expecting something green, rainbow-ed or four-leaf clover-ed or filled with beer, cabbage and potatoes today. But sometimes life presents bigger exigencies, needs that must be addressed tout de suite, wrongs that cannot wait for the ideal slot on the calendar to be righted. What I mean is: I really wanted a chocolate and peanut butter brownie the other day and realized I’ve never, in 10-plus years of showing up here a couple times a week, made time for these. This is reprehensible.

Read more »

17 Mar 00:03

Singapore skyline faithfully represented in LEGO bricks

by Edwinder

Through decades of planning and cultivation, Singapore has earned the name of a “Garden City”. Within 277 square miles a population of 5.7 million resides, one of the top 3 major global financial centers. Singaporean local Gavin Foo showcases the core of this economic hub with a skyline built entirely from LEGO bricks. This jungle of towering concrete structures hosts the banking and finance industry, whilst along the Singapore river is the place to head for a cold beer at the end of a hard day’s work.

Singapore Skyline

The post Singapore skyline faithfully represented in LEGO bricks appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

15 Mar 18:13

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Free Will


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

You should subscribe to this theory of free will, since unlike me you have a choice.

New comic!
Today's News:

60% of BAHFest London tickets are gone, and the non-student tickets are selling especially fast! Buy whilst they are available!

14 Mar 19:42

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Biology


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Nah, just kidding, biologists sit in offices filling out grant applications and surveys.

New comic!
Today's News:

BAHFest London is almost upon us!

14 Mar 19:39

"Deconstructing" a house

by Minnesotastan
It's not the same as "demolishing" the house:
Deconstruction... entails taking a house apart, piece by piece, down to the foundation. The majority of what is removed from a house via deconstruction can be recycled or reused. Everything removed from the house and donated to a qualified 501(c)3 charity can be claimed by the property owners on their taxes as a donation at fair market value...

The deconstruction appraiser determines what materials can be salvaged and estimates the value of the donations. As the process unfolds, the appraiser prepares a report that lists every component to be donated and its fair market value; completes IRS Form 8283 for the donor valuing the material (the nonprofit recipients complete the form, too); ensures that the donor has the required documentation to claim full benefits from the donation, and stands behind all this if the IRS has any questions about the donation. The deconstruction company dismantles the house, sorts the materials and transports them to centers for recycling or resale...

Deconstruction costs more than conventional demolition because the materials need to be carefully removed and preserved in usable condition. Stahl says demolition might cost $8,000 to $11,000 for a typical house and take up to a week to complete. Deconstructing the same house might cost as much as $24,000, she says, and take two weeks...

Generally speaking, Smith says, “85 to 90 percent of a house can be recycled or repurposed. About the only things that cannot yet be salvaged or repurposed are drywall, rotted materials and broken pieces of ceramic tile or marble.”

What typically can be salvaged? The list is long: hardwood flooring, carpeting, interior lumber, beams, cabinets, appliances, molding and trim, doors, switch plates, light fixtures, ceiling fans, mantels, bathroom vanities, toilets, mirrors, tubs, shower surrounds, granite and laminate countertops, sinks, windows, vent covers, shelving, insulation, heat pumps, hot-water heaters, air-conditioning units, washers and dryers, screens, siding, slate roofing and sub-roofing, flagstone, bricks and decking.
Kudos to people who do this rather than bulldoze the old house.  More information, and a gallery of photos, at the Washington Post. (embedded photo cropped for size).
13 Mar 18:23

Chat Systems

I'm one of the few Instagram users who connects solely through the Unix 'talk' gateway.
12 Mar 13:43

Greg Graffins new album released

Greg Graffins new solo album Millport was just released. Millport is Graffin’s third solo album with elements of american folk music.

Listen on Spotify, or grab a copy at:

Our friend Dan filmed a show with Greg Graffin earlier this month in Chicago

-They pretty much played the entire Milport album, a few off Cold as the Clay, nothing off American Lesion and only 1 BR song, Sorrow says Dan.


10 Mar 19:13

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Science Idea


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

We can achieve a Christmas aversion by introducing fruit cake and low quality peppermint into the reward.

New comic!
Today's News:

Tickets are selling fast! Get'em while they're extant for the dorkiest show in London!

10 Mar 16:51

xkcd Phone 5

The phone will be collected by the toll operators and mailed back to you within 4-6 weeks.
10 Mar 13:02

Ed Sheeran Tells Musician Fan He’ll “Sort Out” Facebook Copyright Ban

by Andy

For millions of people around the globe, Facebook is the platform of choice for keeping in contact with family and friends. For artists and other creators, it’s a great way of raising a profile and reaching out more personally to fans.

With two crowd-sourced albums under her belt, UK-based full-time busker Charlotte Campbell is regularly in touch with the public through performances on the London Underground. She also uses Facebook to keep up with fans, but a few days ago her entire experience came to an abrupt halt after she was banned from the platform.

Charlotte’s crime was to post a 15-second snippet of her cover of Ed Sheeran’s song Castle On The Hill, together with a link to the full track on her YouTube channel.

“I love Ed Sheeran’s music and always cover his songs for my busking repertoire,” Charlotte informs TorrentFreak. “I find them easy to learn because I play them on repeat at home so I know all the lyrics by heart.”

However, the musician’s tribute would land her in hot water after being flagged as copyright infringement by Sheeran’s record label Atlantic/Warner. Charlotte was informed that she’d been banned from her own Facebook page for the next three days. If she did it again, she’d be banned forever, Facebook warned.

“I had no prior warning or previous offences to my knowledge. Doesn’t sound like much but for an independent musician making my living from music, Facebook is my primary promotional tool and I’m already struggling to get heard, it was quite deflating,” Charlotte adds.

Charlotte says that it’s taken her months of daily work on Facebook and YouTube to get her videos seen by a regular 10,000 people, so the three-day ban felt like a lifetime to her.

“I’m heartbroken, it’s just so frustrating. I’m a tiny artist, I’m tiny, she says.

But while Charlotte’s reach is currently pretty modest by Sheeran’s standards, something magical happened yesterday afternoon. It could raise the singer’s profile in a way she could never have predicted.

After Charlotte was banned from Facebook, some of her fans took to Ed Sheeran fansites to complain that after paying tribute to the star, Charlotte’s reward was to lose her voice online. Amazingly, word reached Sheeran himself, who dropped in on Charlotte’s Facebook page to give his support.

“Just seen your video, [the ban] definitely has nothing to do with me. I bloody love seeing people cover my songs. One of the best things I get out of this job is seeing other people find enjoyment too,” Sheeran wrote.

“I asked what’s gone on and apparently it’s a bot that Warner have that works on some weird algorithm (I have no idea what that means) but it’s just bad luck that it was your video,” he explained.

While popping by to offer support is great, Sheeran went a step further, promising to sort out the problem with those concerned.

“I’ve had a word, and i’ll get it sorted. Sorry again. Keep doing what you do, tis ace,” he said.

That Sheeran took the time to get involved in this issue came as a big but welcome surprise to Charlotte.

“I’m not sure I’ve really processed it, to be honest, I still feel like I’m dreaming!” she tells TF.

“I felt so relieved that it wasn’t Ed Sheeran who had personally rejected my cover! And it really restored my faith in humanity and in Ed himself.”

While it’s commendable that Sheeran got involved, people shouldn’t be too surprised. The artist is on record saying that copyright infringement helped shoot him to stardom, so a cover version won’t be of any concern to him.

“Illegal file sharing was what made me. It was students in England going to university, sharing my songs with each other,” he recently told CBS.

Of course, it’s disappointing that Charlotte has had to suffer at the hands of Warner’s cruel copyright bots. Ironically, though, this whole episode is now set to raise her profile, hopefully by a lot.

“I really had no idea that Ed would see my video about this so I couldn’t have dreamed that anything would come of it. Now I guess I hope that I’ll be on Ed Sheeran’s radar and next time he’s looking for a support act I’ll pop into his mind. Or at the least he’ll pop by my busking spot one day and join me for a duet!” Charlotte concludes.

If the rumors are correct, Sheeran may well be headlining the Glastonbury Festival this summer and that Pyramid Stage is awfully big for just one person. We know someone who’s probably free that day…..

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

10 Mar 08:29

Electrofishing for Whales

by xkcd

Electrofishing for Whales

I used to work on a fisheries crew where we would use an electro-fisher backpack to momentarily stun small fish (30 - 100 mm length) so we could scoop them up with nets to identify and measure them. The larger fish tended to be stunned for slightly longer because of their larger surface area but I don't imagine this relationship would be maintained for very large animals. Could you electrofish for a blue whale? At what voltage would you have have to set the e-fisher?

—Madeline Cooper

So you want to give endangered whales powerful electric shocks. Great! I'm happy to help. This is definitely a very normal thing to want to do.

There are various electrofishing setups, but they all operate on the same general principle: An electric current flows through the water, and also through any fish that happen to be in the water. The electric current, through a few different physical effects, draws the fish toward one of the electrodes and/or stuns them.

For a long time, people didn't really notice that electrofishing injured fish at all. For the most part, stunned fish seemed to be fine after a few minutes. However, they frequently suffer from internal damage which isn't obvious from the outside. The electric current causes involuntary muscle spasms, which can fracture the fish's vertebrae. As this paper shows, these kinds of spinal injuries are more common and severe in larger fish.

As you mention, for a given electrofishing setup, larger fish are usually more affected than smaller ones.[1]This can lead to larger fish being overrepresented in sampling studies. Why? Well, we don't know. In their comprehensive 2003 study Immobilization Thresholds of Electrofishing Relative to Fish Size, biologists Chad Dolan and Steve Miranda modeled the way electric currents stun fish of different sizes, but caution that "no adequate conceptual system exists to explain the effects of size on electroshock thresholds from the perspective of electric fields."

None of these studies dealt with animals anywhere near the size of whales. The largest fish in Dolan and Miranda's study were still quite small. This experiment tested larger fish up to 80cm long,[2]The fish they used in the experiment grew rapidly to a range of sizes, mainly because the larger ones kept eating their smaller siblings. but nothing whale-sized.[3]There's been at least one case of dolphin death linked to illegal electrofishing. Since we don't know exactly why larger fish respond differently, it's hard to confidently extrapolate.

Fish are typically[4]Actual quote from that paper: "The results for these tests were unsettling ... this observation was so unexpected that we stopped the experiment to recalibrate the equipment." stunned by equipment delivering about 100 µW of power per cm3 of body volume, so for a whale, that would be about 20 megawatts.

But there's a catch: Most electrofishing is done in fresh water. Unfortunately, blue whales live in the ocean,[5]I mean, unfortunately for Madeline. It's fortunate for the whales. where the salt water conducts electricity much more easily. That might seem like good news for our electrofishing plans, but it turns out to make it much more challenging.

Electrofishing works best when the water and the target animals are about equally conductive. In highly conductive saltwater, most of the current flows past the animals in the water rather than through them. This means that ocean electrofishing requires much more power. Using our simple extrapolation, instead of 20 megawatts, we might need a gigawatt. In other words, you'll need to bring a large nuclear generating station.

Simple extrapolation is misleading here, since we know that large animals respond to electricity differently. How differently? Well, according to an post by Jan Dean, a human who fell into the water in front of a typical electrofishing boat could easily die.[6]While it sounds dangerous, people aren't often killed during electrofishing accidents. The 2000 EPA report "New Perspectives in Electrofishing" comments that "In the United States, since World War II, only about five electrocutions during electrofishing have been documented." I assume they just mean records weren't kept before World War II, but it's technically possible that the war involved so many electrofishing deaths that they need to exclude it from the stats. Blue whales, which are even larger than humans,[citation needed] would presumably fare even worse.

Electrofishing temporarily stops a fish's heart.[7]Until reading this paper, I didn't know clove oil was used as a fish anesthetic. You learn something new every day! The fish seem to recover, most of the time, but humans—and probably whales—have a harder time with cardiac arrest.

It's possible that giving blue whales massive electrical shocks isn't as good an idea as it sounded at first.

That's not to say there's no place in science for giving random electric shocks to large aquatic animals. A project at the Denver Wildlife Research Center used electrofishing-style equipment—linked to an infrared camera—to repel beavers, ducks, and geese from selected areas. Apparently, the results were "encouraging."[8]The equipment kept the beavers away, although they returned as soon as it was turned off. It also worked on ducks and geese, although they had some problems with infrared waterfowl detection. The birds would usually take flight when the equipment turned on, although if it was cold enough, they'd just sluggishly paddle away.

So electrofishing equipment probably can't help you catch blue whales. However, if you're having trouble keeping them out of your backyard pond ...

... it's possible the Denver Wildlife Research Center can help you out.

09 Mar 08:25

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Sad Truths: Mythical Creature Edition


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Also, Griffins talk at the movies.

New comic!
Today's News:

Thanks again everyone! The book has been selling great! If you're still on the fence, Amazon dropped the price a little this morning!

If you want more info from an utterly biased source, the luscious Phil Plait wrote an article about Soonish.

Lastly, we can now announce that the book is on sale on Amazon UK!


Thanks again, everyone. This is a dream come true for us.


08 Mar 08:46

punjabi-style black lentils

by deb

Because I have strange habits, I spent a lot of time one night last week watching videos on YouTube of grandmothers and other home cooks making dal makhani, a rich black lentil dish from the Punjab region. Unpolished home cooking videos are one of my favorite ways to learn how to make a dish that is foreign to me, and while what I’ve made here isn’t an authentic black lentil (urad) dal, it’s worth knowing why it is isn’t. For example, it would have a small portion of kidney beans (rajma) it in too, you’d definitely have soaked your lentils and beans together the night before and in almost every case, cooked them in a pressure cooker on another burner while making the spiced base sauce, and then together for a little or long while. The more authentic versions I looked at have a lot more butter and cream in them, and only sometimes began with an onion. In every case, the cook had a “ginger-garlic paste” that seemed to have come prepared, something I was previously unfamiliar with but find brilliant as they are so often better together, and of course all spices were added with eyeballed measurements.

Read more »

07 Mar 18:59

Beautiful diminutive kingdom

by Jonathan

We’ve covered castles of many sizes from the very large to the incredibly small and somewhere in-between. Look closely at this incredible (entirely digitally generated) microscale Kazum’dar Castle by Sunder_59

Kazum'dar castle

I love how the castle walls rise and fall with the terrain. A bird’s eye view shows the full complexity of the build, allowing a glimpse inside the castle walls at the multi-story buildings, including a perfect wee church, barracks, an assortment of dwellings and a shop. This micro-scale castle is a perfect example of how simple can be elegant.

Kazum'dar castle

The post Beautiful diminutive kingdom appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

07 Mar 11:30

Prenda Attorney Pleads Guilty to Operating a Piracy ‘Honeypot’

by Ernesto

In recent years, so-called copyright trolls have been accused of various dubious schemes and actions, with one group as the frontrunner.

Prenda Law grabbed dozens of headlines, mostly surrounding negative court rulings over identity theft, misrepresentation and even deception.

Most controversial was the shocking revelation that Prenda uploaded their own torrents to The Pirate Bay, creating a honeypot for the people they later sued over pirated downloads.

The allegations ultimately resulted in a criminal indictment last year, and now one of the main Prenda attorneys has pleaded guilty before the District Court of Minnesota. A few hours ago John Steele, 45, signed a plea agreement admitting that he is guilty of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to Steele, he and his colleague Paul Hansmeier generated more than $6 million by threatening BitTorrent users who allegedly downloaded pirated porn videos, some of which the attorney created and uploaded himself.

“Steele admitted that he and Hansmeier created a series of sham entities to obtain copyrights to pornographic movies – some of which they filmed themselves – and then uploaded those movies to file-sharing websites like ‘The Pirate Bay’ in order to lure people to download the movies,” the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced.

The Pirate Bay played an important role in this case. Not only were the founders of the site heard as witnesses, but the site was also an unwitting part of Prenda’s honeypot scheme as our coverage exposed several years ago.

“…defendants caused P.H. to upload their clients’ pornographic movies to BitTorrent file-sharing websites, including a website named the Pirate Bay, without their clients’ consent in order to entice people to download the movies and make it easier to catch those who attempted to obtain the movies,” the plea agreement reads.

From the plea agreement

Prenda Law went to great lengths to hide its direct involvement in the uploading of the material as well as its personal stake in the lawsuits and settlements, according to the plea agreement.

After extracting IP-addresses of account holders who allegedly shared the files Prenda created and uploaded, they asked courts for subpoenas to obtain the personal info of their targets from ISPs. This contact information was then used to coerce victims to pay high settlement fees.

“Steele and Hansmeier used extortionate tactics such as letters and phone calls to threaten victims with enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless they agreed to pay a $3,000 settlement fee,” the DoJ writes.

No sentencing date has been set yet. In theory, the Prenda attorney now faces statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in prison as well as a criminal fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, by signing a plea agreement Steele is likely eligible for a reduced sentence.

Steele’s co-defendant Paul Hansmeier remains innocent until proven otherwise. However, he appears to be worse off now that Steele’s words can be used against him. Steele’s full guilty plea is available here (pdf).

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

07 Mar 11:28

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Soonish


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

The weird thing is we untied Phil two weeks ago, but he refuses to leave.

New comic!
Today's News:

The above comic is a direct link to sales, but we also have a website for the book here. Please check it out!

Now then:

Thank you everyone. THANK YOU! For real, I mean it, thank you for giving me the last 10 years to do comics full time. In some ways, this feels like the culmination of an adventure that started back in 2006 when I decided to start work on a degree in science.

For the last two years or so, Kelly and I have spent every spare moment sneaking in time to read articles, journals, and textbooks for this book. In retrospect, this was a little crazy, given that we both had full time jobs, and were raising a small kid while creating an even smaller kids! Thanks to getting very little sleep and a LOT of help from our parents, we managed to get it done.

Think of this book as a sort of optimistic skeptic’s guide to a bunch of technologies that might be important in the next century or so. We picked emergent technologies we were interested in, which we also thought were not really covered well in media. Then, we dove in, trying to learn as much as we could, reading lots of technical papers and books, and interviewing experts in these new fields.

The result is a book that, we hope, gives you a full picture of these ideas, so that you’ll know what news to be excited about and what news is missing the point. This is *not* a book offering a philosophy of the future or a prediction of life in the year 2050. It’s really just a Mary Roach style investigation of a bunch of neat stuff. Think of us as people who are really interested in the future, but who approach it with a deeply skeptical lens.

If you go to the Soonish website, you’ll note that we’re offering a bunch of pre-order incentives - signed bookplates, bonus comics, etc. It’s important to me that we’re as transparent as possible about how we run things, so here’s why we’re structuring the launch this way:

Having healthy preorders is really beneficial for us, especially as people who are new to writing pop science. Because we’re new, no knows how popular the book will be, so bookstores and other sellers don’t know what to buy from us. Having good preorder sales means that sales representatives have a clear picture of our audience size, and it makes it easier for us to publicize the eventual proper release. 

More importantly - for the purposes of the various “bestseller lists” all preorders count as if they happened during the first week. So, having a big backlog of preorders helps our chances of getting on these lists, and then getting the media coverage that comes with it.

So, for this project more than others, it’d mean a lot to us if you’d consider buying a copy. And, if you plan to buy a copy, it’d really help us if you bought via preorder. And, if you wanna be especially nice to us, buying on day one is probably best, because it helps us run up numbers on the various online seller sites.

I usually try not to get into this inside baseball stuff, because it feels vaguely sordid to tell you about our marketing strategy, but I figure it’s best to be straight with y’all about our hopes and plans.

Also, we *are* providing a lot of incentives for early buyers! On the book page, you’ll see the Space Elevator tab. You *only* get these if you buy through the preorder. So, see, there are some benefits to participating in the preorder now.

Thanks again, everyone. Thanks to all of you, I have this fantasy career of reading and writing most of the time. I’m doing my best to earn this job every day.


With gratitude,