Shared posts

28 May 16:30

Massive Homeworld destroyer in LEGO bricks

by Rod

Aaron Fiskum brings us a Hiigaran Destroyer from the Homeworld universe. This is a lovely example of what’s called a SHIP in the LEGO spacer community — a “Supremely Huge Investment in Parts”, a spaceship model which usually exceeds 100 studs in length.

Hiigaran Destroyer

Aside from the impressive scale, it’s the lines and details of this model which make it interesting. I’m particularly impressed with that brick-built winged insignia and the gun turrets. And if the shaping around the bow isn’t enough awesomeness for you, check out the stern. Beautiful stuff.

Hiigaran Destroyer

26 May 14:47

The best thing you will read about the revelation that Captain America was a Nazi spy

by Cory Doctorow


This week, Marvel Comics published the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers in which it's revealed that since his earliest days, Captain America has been a double agent for Hydra, the thinly veiled allegory for the Nazis; in an epic Twitter rant, Livejournal alumnus and Dreamwidth cofounder Denise Paolucci explains the way that perpetual copyright and business concentration has neutralized the ancient custom of collective storytelling of epic narratives, magnifying the harm from bad corporate decisions. (more…)

26 May 15:01

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Kill All Humans? A Flowchart


Hovertext: Once you realize there is no hope, you can relax and just enjoy the progress in machine learning.

New comic!
Today's News:
27 May 20:05


27 May 17:33

micdotcom: Mom shuts down stranger who shamed her son On May...


Mom shuts down stranger who shamed her son

On May 20, U.K. mom Haylee Brazen posted a response to a woman who made derogatory comments toward her son Zackary. The woman had a problem with his dress and their conversation. Brazen is not here for her gender stereotypes — and has some firm advice for the next time they meet.

26 May 20:35



Bulk buying at Costco

26 May 16:42

The age of the Samurai: a stunningly huge mountain hideaway with working illumination

by Cagri

When your 5 year old son asks you to build a Ninjago city, you only say yes. But Ben Pitchford took things a little bit more seriously and ended up with a massive diorama nearly 4 feet (or 121 cms) high! The building process took almost 9 months, which is way over the attention span of a 5 year old. I guess Ben just needed an excuse to build something large. Luckily he had 100,000 LEGO parts laying around so this fortress was no big deal for him. He sculpted the big mountain with absolute attention and mastered the art of rock building. Ben also hid small LEDs behind transparent parts, so it makes a great scene once illuminated after dark.

The Samurai Code

The rice field, dojo, shinto shrines, cherry blossom trees, numerous caves, flowing lava, amazing waterfalls, grand stairs, mountain zipline and original Japanese characters make up a most amazing diorama. It will take you some time to absorb all the details, but you can see more photographs below.

Lego Samurai Code

Lego Samurai Code

Lego Samurai Code

Lego Samurai Code

You can also check out Ben’s Flickr album and the next issue of Bricks magazine to see more pictures. And if photographs aren’t enough for you, go see it at the Brickworld Chicago in June!

25 May 16:00

Racist Algorithms, Crime, and the Ethical Use of Data Prediction

by Jamie Bernstein

ProPublica came out with an excellent piece this week by Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu and Lauren Kircher looking at the algorithms used by the US justice system to predict the recidivism rate of people at different stages within the justice system. These predictive scores, called risk assessment scores, are then used to determine things like sentencing and bail amounts, with those who have a high probability of committing future crimes getting higher sentences than those with lower scores. Low and behold, these scores are also correlated with race, so if a black man and white man commit the same crime, the black man is more likely to have a higher risk assessment score which could result in a tougher prison sentence or a higher bail.

As someone who builds predictive models for a living, I am dismayed at the misuse of predictive algorithms for the purposes of discrimination, though I don’t think it’s the algorithm itself that is the problem, or at least not for the reasons that others seem to think.

Why do some predictive models give racist results?

In 2016 in the United States we are living under a white supremacist society where black men and women face institutionalized racism that leads to less opportunities for jobs and credit and greater risk of arrest and violence. Because of institutionalized racism, there are many undesirable things that correlate with being black, such as lower income, likelihood of participating in certain types of crimes, increased likelihood of being arrested for said crimes, and increased recidivism rates for those who have served their term and are released from jail. This is a classic case of causation does not equal correlation. Being black is correlated with these things not because there is something innate about black people that causes them to commit crimes but because we live in a society where external hardships are imposed on black people because they are black and those hardships themselves are correlated with crime.

Since being black is correlated with higher recidivism, if we build a predictive model it will likely result in higher risk assessment scores for people who are black. It’s not so much that the model is being racist but that it is reflecting the reality of racism. In fact, if black people have higher rates of recidivism and the model scores didn’t reflect that, then the model wouldn’t be considered very accurate.

The problem with the actual risk assessment model that ProPublica looked into, created by the company Northpointe, isn’t just that it gives higher scores to people who are black. In fact, the model overestimates the recidivism rate of black individuals and underestimates it for white individuals. The model results don’t match reality in ways that really are racist against black people.

The fact that the model is overestimating recidivism of black people means that if you have a group of black people and a group of white people with the exact same external characteristics (or at least the exact same characteristics that are inputted into the model), the individuals who are black are less likely to commit future crimes than otherwise equal individuals who happen to be white. Ironically, the way to make the model more accurate and less racist would be to include race as a factor in the model. This would control for race by lowering the scores of black people slightly to reflect their lower chance of committing future crimes and the accuracy of scores for both black and white people would go up.

Saying all of that, we can’t really know what “all else being equal” means because the algorithm itself is secret.

We need to be extra careful when working with proprietary algorithms because they are surrounded by secrecy.

“Proprietary algorithm” is a term used by companies who sell their algorithm results while keeping the algorithm itself secret. They are often sold with big promises to companies and governments that this algorithm is the best around and will predict all the things, natural variation and complexity be damned. In a way, their secretness is part of their allure, as if a company came across some piece of ancient magic that only they can wield and they will wield it for you if you pay them a hefty price.

The truth is that most proprietary algorithms are just simple regressions based on some simple data that could certainly be done easily by any statistician or data scientist for likely less than what is being paid for access to these algorithms. The very fact that they are secret is likely to mean that they are doing the minimum needed to get some sort of algorithm that maybe sort of works. Certainly not all proprietary algorithms are bullshit, but the fact that you can never really know what is in them and are difficult to test on your own means that companies could get away with selling a pseudo-random number generator in the place of an actual algorithm and most clients would never know the difference. Certainly most companies selling proprietary algorithms are probably not putting forward actual random numbers and their models might be slightly predictive or perhaps even very good, but it’s impossible for anyone outside of the company to really know and that’s the problem. There’s not any good way to tell the good proprietary algorithms from the bad unless the veil of secrecy is lifted.

In the case of these risk assessment scores, they are created using a proprietary algorithm by the company Northpointe. They then sell this algorithm to prisons and courts all over the United States, even though there is little to no openness about what is in the model, how the scores are calculated, or how accurate it really is. It’s frankly criminal that a proprietary algorithm surrounded by secrecy and created by a for-profit company is being used to determine things like sentence length. We have no idea what is in the algorithm or how predictive it really is. We are putting all our trust in something that we don’t know anything about.

You have to be careful with predictive models because they can feed on themselves and exacerbate differences between different types of people.

Even if there was complete openness and the model was well-made and pretty good at predicting future crime, it still wouldn’t be right to use it to determine things like sentencing or setting bail amounts. We know that when people cannot afford their bail they end up having to spend some time in jail, which leads to future hardships like losing their job or even losing custody of their children. If we use the risk assessment model to help decide on the bail amount and one of the predictive elements in the model gives higher scores to people who live in certain zip codes, then the people who live in the high-scoring zip codes will be less likely to post bail and more likely to spend some time in jail. That time in jail and the hardships it presents can in turn lead them to be more likely to commit a future crime. If we then refresh the model by feeding more recent data into it, the model will see that people in that zip code have an even higher recidivism rate and will adjust their scores upward at an even higher rate than before, leading to more people from those zip codes not being able to post bail and even higher future crime rates for those people.

These score increases won’t be due to anything about individuals but because those with high scores are treated in such a way that increases their future likelihood of committing crimes, each year when we refresh the model those differences with get exacerbated. In other words, high scores themselves when used in this manner lead directly to higher bail amounts which leads to higher recidivism which in turn leads to higher scores. Any biases that exist in the original algorithm will widen over time as the algorithm feeds on itself. 

Algorithms aren’t magic balls and we should never use them to punish.

Lastly, I just want to add that even if this algorithm was open and accurate and we could somehow find a way around the issue of the model feeding on itself, it would still not be right under any circumstances to use in determining things like prison sentences or bail amounts. Algorithms like this give a likelihood of a future action, but a likelihood is never 100%. Even if someone scores a 90% on our open and accurate version of the model, it would still mean that one in ten people with that score will not commit a future crime. We should not be punishing people for a probability or for a hypothetical future crime.

That said, there are legitimate ways an algorithm like this one could be used. For example, inmates who fall into high-risk recidivism groups may be put in special programs that have been shown to reduce recidivism rates. Instead of punishing them with longer sentences, they would be given some extra attention along the way in order to help them cope better when later released from prison. In fact, according to the ProPublica piece, even the creator of the Northpointe risk assessment algorithm says that the original purpose of the algorithm was to be used to determine who might be good candidates for treatment programs not to determine things like sentencing, although that hasn’t stopped him and his company from knowingly marketing the algorithm to the justice department for those uses.

In other words, the problem with this algorithm isn’t so much that its underlying equation is racist but that using secretive algorithms to predict future crimes and then punishing people for those hypothetical crimes does not accomplish anything other than add to the institutionalized racism that already exists within the criminal justice system.

25 May 13:21

Has LEGO become too violent? [News]

by Jennifer

A recent study from the University of Canterbury proclaims that depictions of violence in LEGO set catalogs and the number of weapons in LEGO products has increased significantly as the result of a metaphorical “arms race” between toy manufacturers. The article’s authors include Qi Min Ser, Elena Moltchanova, James Smithies, Erin Harrington, and Christoph Bartneck, builder of the life-sized Unikitty and author of The Ideal Order.

The study looked at LEGO sets produced between 1978 and 2014 (excluding Duplo and Junior lines) and found that nearly 30% of today’s LEGO sets contain at least one weapon brick. It also explained that the chances of observing violence in LEGO catalog pages has increased steadily by 19% each year. Currently, around 40% of all catalog pages have some type of violence. “In particular, scenarios involving shooting and threatening behaviour have increased over the years. The perception of nonverbal psychological aggression increased at a similar rate. The atmosphere of the violent acts is predominately perceived as exciting.” The study concludes that “violence in LEGO products seems to have gone beyond just enriching game play” in attempt to attract more customers.

Insurgents make demands

Turning to the online LEGO community, both the photo above by Brick Police and the one below by Hammerstein NWC use LEGO minifigures and weapons to create graphic, violent scenes that may be considered offensive or unsafe for children. But these images highlight a huge oversight in the University of Canterbury’s study: builders, many of whom are adults, who want to incorporate realistic weapons into their builds cannot get them from LEGO directly. The Danish company refuses to sell such weapons even though there is a high demand for them. Instead, builders must turn to third-party companies like BrickArms, BrickWarriors, Citizen Brick, or Modern Brick Warfare to get their fix of tiny, plastic violence.

Weird War II figbarf Version I

If a metaphorical “arms race” among toy manufactures truly exists, LEGO is finishing dead last. As the Canterbury study pointed out, LEGO competitor Megablocks offers sets based off violent games and films like Terminator, Call of Duty, Halo, and Assassin’s Creed, while LEGO refuses to partner with such franchises. And there are no plans for LEGO to overtake their competitors in the arms race. Mads Nipper, LEGO’s former Senior Vice President in Global Innovation in Marketing declared that “We will never produce realistic toys for playing war.”

There’s no denying the facts of the study. LEGO has included more and more weapons and scenes of violence on their products over the years, starting with the introduction the very first LEGO weapons in the 1978 Castle theme (sword, halberd, and lance) and obviously continuing with trademarked themes like Marvel and DC. But the study leaves several important questions unanswered. Should we shield children from violent toys? Is there a causation between violent toys and games during childhood and actual violent tendencies in adulthood? Should LEGO reduce the number of weapons and scenes of violence in their products? And would such a change impact customer satisfaction positively or negatively overall?

What do you think about all of this? Let us know in the comments!

25 May 04:01

Cognitive Load

by Robot Hugs

New comic!

I don’t even know how to communicate this clearly. I feel like I get reminded of the inconvenience and visibility of my gender pretty much all day. Pronouns, terms of address, bathrooms, shopping, interacting, corresponding – these are the tiny little things that make up day to day life, and they’re all super gendered. I don’t think that’s as apparent if you’re in a normative gender space, but when you’re navigating a transition, or hold a non binary/gender queer identity, they all become little decisions and catches. How do I represent myself authentically here? Where do I fit? How can I be visible? Is this safe?

Honestly, I’m often tired of thinking about gender. I would love to not think about it. I wish that existing in social spaces didn’t make me have to think about it all the time. I really, really do have other things to think about. Oh, but here’s an email for a survey for a service I use and enjoy. The second field? ‘Sex: m/f’. Great.


23 May 00:00

Tatooine Rainbow

by xkcd

Tatooine Rainbow

Since rainbows are caused by the refraction of the sunlight by tiny droplets of rainwater, what would rainbow look like on Earth if we had two suns like Tatooine?


A planet with double suns would have double rainbows.

Or rather, quadruple rainbows. Our rainbows here on Earth are already double rainbows—there's a second, fainter bow above the main one. You can't always see this second rainbow, since the clouds need to be just right, so people get excited when they see one.

The area between the two rainbows is darker than the area outside because raindrops reflect light more strongly in certain directions. That region has a name, by the way—it's called Alexander's dark band.

The first and second rainbows are the only ones you can see easily, but there are actually many more bows beyond those two, each one fainter than the last. Rainbows are formed by light bouncing around in raindrops, and the different bows are formed by different paths the light can take. The main rainbow is formed by the most common paths through the droplet, and other paths—where some of the light bounces around in more unusual ways—make the fainter second, third, fourth, and even fifth rainbows.

Usually, only the first and second rainbows are bright enough to see; it was only in the last five years that anyone took pictures of the third, fourth, and fifth rainbows.

Rainbows appear on the other side of the sky from the Sun, so to figure out what a double rainbow would look like on a planet with two suns, we need to figure out where the suns usually appear in the sky on that kind of planet.

There are planets with two suns out there, although we didn't know that for sure until recently. Double-star planets come in two main varieties:

In the first kind of system, the two stars are close together and the planet goes around them far away. This kind of planet is called a circumbinary planet. In the second kind of system, the two stars are farther apart, and the planet orbits one of them[1]Not necessarily the bigger one. while the other stays far away. This kind of planet is called [the other kind of planet].[2]I'm sorry, I've just never learned a good word for these.

If you lived on [the other kind of planet],[3]Sorry. the two Suns would spend most of the year in different parts of the sky. Depending on how big they were, they may also be very different in brightness. If you were orbiting the larger star, the smaller one might be no brighter than the Moon,[4]Which would still be bright enough to cast a rainbow! or even look like an ordinary planet or star.

Tatooine, in Star Wars, looks like it's probably a circumbinary planet. The two stars appear pretty close together in the sky and similar in color and size, so it seems reasonable to guess they're actually near one another, with Tatooine orbiting both of them. Two suns would create two overlapping rainbows. The main bow of the rainbow is a circle about 84 degrees across, centered in the sky exactly opposite the Sun.[5]This is why you never see more than half of a rainbow above the horizon. If the center of the rainbow were above the horizon, it would mean the Sun was below it behind you, so there wouldn't be sunlight to make a rainbow in the first place. The farther apart the two suns were, the farther apart the rainbows would be. If the two suns were 84 degrees apart, the main bows of the two rainbows would barely touch.

A pair of suns 84 degrees apart would be possible around [the other kind of planet], but not around Tatooine-type[6]If Star Wars had just used the other kind of planet, we could use its name for them and solve this problem. circumbinary planets. The reason is simple: A planet orbiting two stars can't get too close to them or its orbit becomes unstable. If it gets too close, the irregular tugging from the gravity of the two stars as they orbit will eventually cause the planet to crash into one of them or get flung out of the system.

For a system with two similar-sized stars, this "critical radius" is around six times the distance between the two stars.[7]This is a very rough number; it can range from four to eight depending on the exact arrangement. We've found a lot of planets close to that critical radius, which suggests that maybe they slowly migrate inward until they reach it and are ejected or destroyed. Strangely, we haven't found many big Jupiter-sized planets around binary stars in general; we should be seeing them if they're there, so the lack of them is a mystery. This means that the two suns would never get more than about 20 degrees apart in the sky:

This tells us that the two rainbows in a Tatooine-like system would always overlap.[8]Assuming the raindrops are made of water, or something with similar refractive properties. The colors would blend together where the bows crossed, and the dark bands would too.

I suppose doubling all the rainbows would also double the number of pots of gold at the end of each rainbow.[9]Come to think of it, do our rainbows have one pot of gold or two? I've never really thought about it. And it's not just pots of gold; I guess we'd need to rethink all kinds of rainbow references.

Overlapping rainbows would be beautiful, but definitely a lot more complicated.

24 May 20:52

Amazingly beautiful LEGO schooner has unbelievable lines

by Chris

Sometimes a LEGO model is so incredible you stop and wonder if the builder is using the same catalog of bricks as the rest of us, because the finished model doesn’t even look like LEGO. Hoang H Dang is a masterful ship builder (we previously featured his incredible fishing vessel) and he’s turned his hand to building a two-masted schooner. The finished model has some of the best shaping I’ve ever seen on a LEGO ship, making this gorgeous sailing vessel sleek and elegant.

The immense scale of the model is hard to comprehend on its own, but when viewed next to the builder, it becomes obvious that at close to four feet in length and nearly as tall, this is no mere weekend project.

And for those curious how Hoang has constructed such an elegant hull from angular bricks, you can check out this work-in-progress photo to see some of the interior construction.

22 May 18:12

Paramount Will End Case Against Fan-Funded Star Trek Film

by Ernesto

axanarEarlier this year Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios filed a lawsuit against the makers of a Star Trek inspired fan film, accusing them of copyright infringement.

The dispute centers around the well-received short film Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar and the planned follow-up feature film Axanar.

Among other things, the Star Trek rightsholders claim ownership over various Star Trek related settings, characters, species, clothing, colors, shapes, words, short phrases and even the Klingon language.

While the legal battle has barely got going it now appears it will soon end. During a Star Trek fan event on Friday, director J.J. Abrams announced that the case will be over soon, thanks to Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin.

“We started talking about this realizing that this is not an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing,” Abrams said.

“Fans of Star Trek are part of this world. So Justin went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away, and the fans will be able to work on their project,” he adds.

The news is welcomed by Axanar director Alec Peters, who posted a short message on Facebook a few hours ago.

“A huge THANK YOU to JJ Abrams and Justin Lin for their announcement last night that Paramount is dropping the suit against Axanar,” he writes.

However, the case isn’t completely over yet. The parties are still working on finalizing a settlement agreement and no official paperwork has yet been filed in court.

A settlement means that the case won’t be dismissed outright, but that the parties are coming to an agreement they are all satisfied with. Whether they intend to release any details on the nature of their agreement remains unclear at this point.

When Paramount and CBS filed the lawsuit earlier this year they accused the makers of exploiting the Star Trek franchise, so it’s likely that they are looking for financial compensation.

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

21 May 09:40

ISP: Police Request Most User Data for File-Sharing “Crimes”

by Ernesto

pirate-runningIn recent years Internet provider Bahnhof has fought hard to protect the privacy of its subscribers.

The company has been a major opponent of extensive data retention requirements, launched a free VPN to its users, and recently vowed to protect subscribers from a looming copyright troll invasion.

This week Bahnhof reiterated its pro-privacy stance by stressing that it doesn’t hand over personal details of alleged pirates, not even to the police.

For the first time in history the company published details on the nature of police data requests. Interestingly, this reveals that file-sharing ‘crime’ is the largest category by far.

Of all requests received by the ISP well over a quarter, 27.5%, were for cases related to online file-sharing. This trumps other crimes such as grooming minors, forgery and fraud.

“We want to publish these figures to show that police are violating people’s privacy and putting resources into meaningless trifles,” Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung says, commenting on the release.


While the total number of 40 requests is relatively modest the data shows that file-sharing is high on the agenda for the Swedish police. However, from Bahnhof they shouldn’t expect any cooperation.

Citing European privacy regulations the Internet provider says that it will only hand over data to the police if the complaint applies to a serious crime, which doesn’t apply to piracy according to the company.

The ISP’s decision goes against the recommendation of the Swedish Telecoms Authority as well as the police, and a future court ruling is expected to provide more clarity on the issue.

Until then, Bahnhof will continue to shield alleged file-sharers from police requests for their personal data.

“The IP address is your fingerprint on the web,” Karlung says, noting that it’s tied to people’s browsing habits and all sorts of private data. “It shall not be disclosed without strong reasons.”

The recent comments fall in line with the ISP’s critique on the ongoing push to criminalize file-sharing in Sweden. Just a few weeks ago Karlung dismissed calls for harsher punishments for online piracy, noting that rightsholders should concentrate on developing better legal options instead.

For their part, the police note that the high number of file-sharing related requests are the result of increased enforcement efforts from copyright holders. When these report criminal activity, police are obliged to investigate the matter.

Credit: Translated chart by Rick Falkvinge

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

20 May 22:01

thehotgirlproject: Defeated and that was all she wrote.



and that was all she wrote.

21 May 04:16

Udine, Italy’s Piazza San Giacomo in LEGO

by Andrew

Luca Di Lazzaro and the Italian LEGO club ItLUG have built a minifig-scale model of San Giacomo square in Udine, in northeastern Italy. Featuring over a dozen buildings surrounding the square and populated by numerous minifigs, the model even includes a row of Italian supercars for the minifigs to drive away in.

Lego San Giacomo Square

The model was on display in Udine at an event last month, where the mayor of Udine posed with Luca and the LEGO version of their home town.


A large city square is always at risk of being fairly plain and uninteresting as a LEGO model, but Luca has built a number of fun scenes in the square itself, including a team of construction workers repairing the paving stones.


Complete with ornate street lights, a fountain, and statue, the square looks just like the real thing.


You can see over a hundred detailed photos (including photos of the real square for comparison) in Luca’s photoset on Flickr.

20 May 19:58

Organized Atheism: Isn’t That an Oxymoron?

by Olivia

It’s rare that we spend time on Skepchick defending organized atheism, but every now and then someone makes a comment so ignorant that I just have to throw it back to my angsty high school days and explain to people that atheism is SUPER SERIOUS BUSINESS and we are VERY OPPRESSED.

But actually, there are still some big misconceptions about what it means to be part of an atheist community, and many of those misconceptions make it easier for atheist dudebros to pretend their lives are actually a lot harder than anyone else’s, which is why there’s no social justice problems in the atheist community. Today I’d like to address the idea that organized atheism doesn’t make sense.

The other day I casually mentioned that I’m at least somewhat involved in organized atheism and was met by a scoff and the question “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”


eye roll eyeroll bitch please buster keaton incredulous

In fact, there are atheist communities popping up all over the place, and it makes tons of sense. Why? Because atheists are human beings who want all the benefits that come with communities. Things like child care, connection with others, support through grief and life changes, places to talk about morality, purpose, and other big questions, and plain old affirmation that other people think the way they do. Sometimes atheism even comes out of a relatively consistent worldview that implies certain actions in the world, and people want to come together and try to do good things together.

But the not super funny joke is not only factually inaccurate, it’s also harmful. It is the kind of stereotype that keeps people who want and need communities away from atheism and in churches. Here’s the thing: atheism has a problem with empathy, connection, and movement building. We’re already perceived as people who are smug libertarians uninterested in helping others. There’s also a big disconnect between the ways that people perceive their own atheism as part of a larger worldview and the ways that other people perceive atheism as one belief unrelated to others.

It’s easy for atheist dudebros to feel uniquely persecuted and to hold themselves as above it all as Objective Arbiters of Truth when other people keep telling them that they are completely unlike all other human beings in that they don’t need communities. When people continually stereotype all atheists as lone wolves, it’s easy for atheists to internalize the idea that they don’t need to provide a welcoming and supportive community to other atheists, because all we care about is not believing in god. It’s easy to start thinking of yourself as different and separate rather than connected. That’s the first step towards becoming an asshole who doesn’t work to make others feel welcome. You become distrustful and self absorbed.

If you don’t bring your beliefs and thoughts to a community, then there’s never a chance for those beliefs to be tested. Your thinking can get pretty messed up.

And that brings me to another problem: dudebro atheists like to pretend that they’re a Very Special Breed of people, who are Especially Persecuted. Making fun of organized atheism fuels the victim complex. We don’t need any more of that. There are really GOOD reasons to make fun of atheists, like when they’re sexist shitbags, but “I don’t understand why you want a community” is a pretty shit reason to mock someone. Getting made fun of because you like to talk to other people like you is a quick way to develop delusions of persecution.

Not only does that kind of joke make it easy for atheists to give up on being good people, it also implies that atheism is some sort of Super Special Belief that is unlike all other beliefs. People who don’t believe in a god must have nothing else in common. What could atheists have to talk about? “Hey, I don’t believe in God. You too? Cool…”

no mrw unimpressed stare not amused

But just like most other beliefs, atheism doesn’t come out of nowhere. Many atheists prize themselves on thinking rationally and try (TRY) to apply that lens to all their beliefs. Many atheists also didn’t spring up fully formed, so they may have had influences on their beliefs in the past. Many of us have similar backgrounds or stories, which is part of how we connect to each other. Acting as if atheism is the only thing we might have in common erases the fact that atheists are human beings, with a perspective and a history. Not only is that just a shitty thing to do, it also feeds into the narrative some atheists tell about themselves that they are objective and rational, not influenced by things around them.

That’s how we end up with skeptics who are convinced they’re really good at skepticing, but still can’t see the evidence that sexism and racism exist. The more we recognize that atheism is one part of a complex person, the easier it is to accept that you can be an atheist and still hold irrational beliefs. Our communities are a big part of how we learn and grow, recognize our own humility, see how our histories have affected us, and just become better people. The more we feed into the narrative that atheist communities don’t make sense, the harder it becomes to recognize our own humanity.

Of course acting as if organized atheism could only consist of rehashing arguments against god also ignores all the really cool and beneficial thing that atheist (and humanist and skeptic) organizations do, from grief groups to service projects to mental health care to providing scholarships. Which once again makes it easy for certain atheists to pretend that the most important thing about their atheism is whining about church/state separation one more time instead of going out and doing good things in the world. So please, everyone else: stop making atheism about circle jerking to bad philosophy. We have enough people in the movement already doing that. Let’s move on.

20 May 13:00

Fox ‘Stole’ a Game Clip, Used it in Family Guy & DMCA’d the Original

by Andy

familyguyJust when you think you’ve seen every ridiculous example of a bogus DMCA-style takedown, another steps up to take the crown. This week’s abomination comes courtesy of Fox and it’s an absolute disaster.

In last Sunday’s episode of Family Guy titled “Run, Chris, Run“, Peter and Cleveland play the 1980s classic Nintendo video game Double Dribble. Peter doesn’t play fair though and exploits a glitch in the game that allows his player to shoot a three-point goal every time. The clip is available on YouTube.

Perhaps surprisingly the game glitch is absolutely genuine and was documented in a video that was uploaded to YouTube by a user called ‘sw1tched’ back in February 2009.

“This is an automatic shot my brothers and I found on the NES Double Dribble back in the 80’s when it was released. I know others know this also, but as long as you release at the right point it is automatic. The half court shot I took at the end goes in 80% of the time, but i didn’t want to keep recording….HAHA,” sw1tched wrote.

Interestingly the clip that was uploaded by sw1tched was the exact same clip that appeared in the Family Guy episode on Sunday. So, unless Fox managed to duplicate the gameplay precisely, Fox must’ve taken the clip from YouTube.

Whether Fox can do that and legally show the clip in an episode is a matter for the experts to argue but what followed next was patently absurd. Shortly after the Family Guy episode aired, Fox filed a complaint with YouTube and took down the Double Dribble video game clip on copyright grounds. (mirror Daily Motion)


Faced with yet another example of a blatantly wrongful takedown, TorrentFreak spoke with Fight for the Future CTO Jeff Lyon. Coincidentally he’d just watched the episode in question.

“It’s most likely that this is just another example of YouTube’s Content ID system automatically taking down a video without regard to actual copyright ownership and fair use. As soon as FOX broadcast that Family Guy episode, their robots started taking down any footage that appeared to be reposted from the show — and in this case they took down the footage they stole from an independent creator,” Lyon says.

“The problem with an automated DMCA takedown system is that robots can never know the difference between fair use and copyright infringement. It is not hyperbolic to call this mass censorship,” he continues.

“Instead of copyright holders having to prove a video is infringing, their scanning software can take it down automatically, and then it falls on the creator to prove they had a right to post it. Creators are discouraged from filing counter-notices to stand up for their work, facing lost revenue and permanent bans from online platforms. This erodes fair use and free speech on the Internet.”

The entire situation is indeed bewildering and utterly ridiculous. The original Double Dribble game came out in 1987, some 12 years before the very first episode of Family Guy aired in 1999. The clip of the glitch was uploaded by sw1tched more than seven years ago. Then somehow Fox came along, copied it, put it into their TV show, claimed copyright on it, and then nuked the original clip from the Internet.

You couldn’t make it up. Nor would you want to.

Update1: The folks at are featuring this story in a petition.

Update2: The video has now been restored

Update3: A Fox spokesperson sent in the following comment: “The video in question was removed as a result of Fox’s routine efforts to protect its television show Family Guy from piracy. As soon as we became aware of the circumstances, the content was restored.”

Update 4: YouTube user Hamza informs TorrentFreak that a clip he recorded of the game Tecmo Bowl was also used in the same Family Guy episode. It too was taken down and later restored.

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

20 May 00:00

Digital Data

“If you can read this, congratulations—the archive you’re using still knows about the mouseover text”!
19 May 16:00

Hookers for Jesus Wants to “Save” Sex Workers Whether They Want It or Not

by Jamie Bernstein

Hookers for Jesus is an absolutely real non-profit organization started by Annie Lobert, a former sex worker, in order to save women from the evils of prostitution via the most condescending and judgy methods possible.

Hookers for Jesus wants to “save” women from sex work. Whether those women actually want to be saved isn’t really taken into consideration. There are so many issues with the way this organization, which purports to help women, actually is hurting them.

Hookers for Jesus considers all sex work to be sex trafficking.

Hookers for Jesus’ website makes it clear that they are all about helping victims of sex trafficking. A deeper look though and it’s clear that Hookers for Jesus uses the terms “prostitution” and “stripping” and “sex trafficking” interchangeably. They don’t seem to take into consideration the fact that many sex workers actually like being sex workers. To Hookers for Jesus, any woman in sex work is there against her will. Sometimes that will is her decision to be a sex worker, which she thinks she made all on her own, but Hookers for Jesus knows that women who choose sex work choose it because they are just misguided and haven’t come to Jesus yet, something which they will fix by giving them a gift basket

Hookers for Jesus does nothing to help actual sex trafficking victims.

Although Hookers for Jesus wants you to think they are helping sex trafficking victims, none of their programs seem to do anything to address actual sex trafficking. They seem entirely focused on converting current or former sex workers to Christianity and convincing sex workers to leave sex work. For example, their Keeping Innocent Sisters Safe (KISS) Project is all about bringing bible studies and religious themed literature to women’s prisons. Other programs fund a team of volunteers to give Jesus-themed gift baskets to strippers or prostitutes in order to convince them to quit sex work and convert to Christianity. They also run religious events and support groups for former or current sex workers looking to leave sex work.

The only programs they run that might actually be helpful for sex workers who want to leave sex work is their financial support network and safe house, which provides monetary help and a safe place to stay to sex workers who are trying to leave the industry and need help transitioning. However, this help doesn’t come without strings attached. Hookers for Jesus says they “have developed requirements and criteria for participation that will encourage completion of the program and ensure self-sufficiency in the years to come.” They give no other information about what these requirements are or how stringent they are. Are they required to attend church? Can they go on dates or even have sex with someone of their choosing? Are they allowed to dress however they wish? Are any of the requirements things that are out of the woman’s control, for example a requirement to find a job within a set time period?

Even giving them the benefit of the doubt that their monetary fund and safe house do not have stringent requirements on the women they are purporting to help, not one of their programs addresses actual sex trafficking victims as they claim. Instead, they are focused on converting sex workers to Christianity and convincing them to leave sex work. The fact that they don’t even distinguish between women who are forced into sex work against their will, those that don’t want to be sex workers but economically feel they have no choice, and those that choose to be sex workers because they want to be is telling. To Hookers for Jesus all women in sex work are sex trafficking victims that need to be saved.

Hookers for Jesus shames women for being sex workers.

Hookers for Jesus treats all sex workers as victims and strongly implies that women who choose sex work are making a misguided choice. They say they are trying to establish “positive character traits and increase the young woman’s ability to make responsible decisions as involved members of our community.” In other words, women that choose to be sex workers are making “irresponsible” decisions and don’t get to be counted as “members of the community.” It’s cool though, because Hookers for Jesus will make all their future decisions for them in order to ensure they all meet a standard of responsibility. 

Remember when I mentioned they have a program to give Jesus gift baskets to strippers? It’s called the Diamonds and Pearls program. The reason it’s called that is because “the purpose of Diamonds and Pearls is to let each lady know that her worth and value is above and more precious than the diamonds and pearls.” Hookers for Jesus believes that strippers are stripping because they don’t believe they have any self-worth. Although every individual is different and there is no doubt many women including strippers have a low self-worth, it’s condescending and super judgy to assume that all sex workers have a low opinion of themselves.

It’s particularly odd that they want women to value themselves more than diamonds and pearls, materialistic evidence of wealth. In Hookers for Jesus’ founder Annie Lobert’s memoir, she writes that “she became one of the most sought-after high-class escorts, fielding calls from celebrities, musicians, politicians, and other men with endless supplies of cash.” It’s hard to imagine that when Annie Lobert was an escort she thought of herself as having less worth than diamonds and pearls when she was literally making the equivalent of diamonds and pearls. In fact, if their problem with sex work is the treating of women’s bodies like a commodity, then why the fuck would you then compare women to literal commodities.

Hookers for Jesus doesn’t seem to realize that LGBTQ sex workers exist.

Only one page I could find on the Hookers for Jesus website makes any mention of male sex workers, the vast majority of whom are gay. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of transgender sex workers who are disproportionally represented in sex work, likely because they face high rates of job discrimination.

Hookers for Jesus doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that LGBTQ sex workers exist. Nowhere on their website do they make it explicit that they accept LGBTQ sex workers into their many programs or their safe house. Although it’s possible they just forgot to mention this, based on the paternalistic way they treat sex workers as mistaken non-believers who can’t make responsible decisions, I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting that they will treat queer sex workers equally and give them the same help they provide to cisgender heterosexual Christian sex workers.

Hookers for Jesus cares more about converting people to Christianity than helping sex workers.

It’s clear from everything on their website that Hookers for Jesus does not care about helping sex workers. If they did they would do things that provide actual help to sex workers, such as advocating for decriminalization of sex work, supporting the “ban the box” movement so that sex workers with a criminal history who want to leave sex work will find it easier to get a job, helping pay for lawyers to help sex workers who have been arrested, providing birth control, STD testing, abortion services, and other healthcare to sex workers so they can stay safe and healthy in their work, supporting the passing of laws that make discrimination against transgender people illegal, and so many other things, none of which involve Jesus-themed gift baskets, condescendingly telling women that you can teach them how to make “better” decisions, and requiring them to follow stringent religious requirements in order to get monetary or housing help.

Hat Tip to George for letting us know about Hookers for Jesus

19 May 20:23

papermagazine: This Home Depot Employee Wearing An “America Was...

19 May 20:28

You don't seem to be aware of the relationship between Clinton's gender and her politics. Women who want to be president have way more bias to overcome, especially on foreign policy and being "tough" enough for the job. You sound like those white people who "don't see color" and insist that all lives matter right now, and it's disappointing to see from you of all people.

No. Insisting that “all lives matter” deliberately takes away from the importance, significance, and real issues raised by Black Lives Matter.

I am fully aware of the relationship between gender and politics, and I am fully aware of the terrible way men treat women who are in politics.

Hillary Clinton, regardless of her gender, believes in a neoconservative foreign policy that I find abhorrent. I found this foreign policy abhorrent under George W. Bush, I find the drone war and under Barack Obama abhorrent, and based on her record in congress and as Secretary of State, I will likely find a future President Clinton’s foreign policy abhorrent.

I have never, ever, made this about gender. For me, this primary has always been about policy. The only people making this about gender in discussions with me are Clinton supporters.

19 May 20:53

the-future-now: Using a series of sensors, Dua’s bot detects...


Using a series of sensors, Dua’s bot detects when a person is about to run into something and beeps to them. The project took her a total of four days to build. Her prize is every Marvel fan’s dream.

Follow @the-future-now

19 May 07:13

Raise a glass to this LEGO brewery

by Rod

Rick Bewier has built a fantastic LEGO brewery scene, complete with an old-school dray lorry picking up its next delivery. The truck itself is a nice little model, but what makes the scene for me is the excellent use of color in the building itself, and things like the sliding warehouse doors and the lights.


I work for a brewery “in real life” and so I appreciated the other touches Patrick has added. The roof is obviously pretty cool, but what I particularly liked was the chimney — a spot-on detail for a compelling recreation of a classic redbrick Victorian-era brewery.


19 May 14:01

LEGO Creator Expert 10253 Big Ben officially announced [News]

by Chris

LEGO’s Sydney Opera House was released in 2013, but now LEGO has finally announced their next Creator Expert model of a famous piece of architecture, that grand icon of England, 10253 Big Ben. It will retail for $249.99 USD, and will be available beginning July 1, just in time for Big Ben’s 137th birthday.

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben
Ages 16+. 4,163 pieces.
US $249.99 – CA $299.99 – DE 219.99€ – UK £169.99 – DK 1999.00 DKK
*Euro pricing varies by country. Please visit for regional pricing.

Build the world’s best-known clock tower!

Get up close to Big Ben! The clock was first started on May 31st 1859, and Big Ben’s first chime rang from the 96-meter Elizabeth Tower on July 11th of the same year. This over 23” (60cm) high LEGO® interpretation of the iconic structure is a tribute to its engineering and architecture. It features a detailed facade with statues, shields and windows, and a clock tower with 4 adjustable clock dials and a removable roof allowing access to the belfry, plus buildable exterior elements including a sidewalk, lawn and a tree depicting the building’s location. This model makes a great display piece for the home or office.
• Big Ben features a detailed section of the Westminster Palace and the adjoining Elizabeth Tower, 4 detailed clock dials with movable hour and minutes hands, and a sidewalk, tree and grass area depicting the building’s location.
• Remove the top of the tower to access the Big Ben bell.
• Put your LEGO® building skills to the test!
• Special elements include 4 printed clock faces.
• Rare elements include ski poles, flowers and corner plates in molded gold color, and tinted-translucent elements.
• This set includes over 4,000 LEGO® pieces.
• This set offers an age-appropriate building experience for ages 16+.
• Big Ben measures over 23” (60cm) high, 17” (44cm) wide and 7” (20cm) deep.

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

10253 Big Ben

See more images in the Flickr gallery.

19 May 18:52

Immigration to the United States

by Minnesotastan

I've seen many immigration charts; this is the first one I can remember that plots the data as a percentage of the population at the time.  It's interesting how each group was reviled at the time and how each then resented those in the subsequent wave.

From Metrocosm, via Neatorama.
18 May 21:22

the-future-now: Watch: This hilarious ad perfectly skewers the...

18 May 22:38

landscape-photo-graphy: This Village Without Roads Is Straight...


This Village Without Roads Is Straight Out Of A Fairytale Book

The village Giethoorn known as the “Venice of the Netherlands” was founded in 1230 and resembles some of the most beautiful fairytale passages. The stunning oddity contains no roads or modern transportation. With the help of canals and 176 bridges, people are able to navigate through its wonders.

Keep reading

Impulsive me wants to sell everything right now and move there.

18 May 22:54

That’s no moon! Expansive fan-built LEGO Death Star play set is a nod to classic Star Wars toys of the 80’s

by Iain

French builder Eric Druon‘s nostalgia for old toys has been featured here before, with his LEGO versions of such classics as GI Joe and Adventure 2000. This time though he’s really cranked things up a notch with this huge Star Wars themed LEGO play set inspired by the Kenner series of Death Star toys released back in 1982.

In many ways I think this makes for a better play set than LEGO’s official Death Star set, with it’s labyrinthine arrangement of platforms and corridors, and perfect reinterpretation of the Death Star’s interior design. Many memorable scenes from the original Star Wars movie are in there, plus a few easter eggs too. See if you can spot them all!

Like the original system, Eric’s version is comprised of three separate components that can be pushed together to form one giant play space: Battle Station Escape, Battle Station Compactor and Battle Station Throne Room. He’s even provided downloadable instructions on his website, for anyone that wants to recreate all this with their own bricks. You’ll also find lots more closeup photos of the play sets over there too. And for context, here is one of the original toys that Eric was inspired by:

18 May 14:48

Copyright Holders Dominate Closed-Door DMCA Hearings

by Andy

Earlier this year the U.S. Government ran a public consultation to evaluate the effectiveness of the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions. These include issues such as ‘notice and takedown’ plus short-comings and abuses that arise from the current system.

In the final days of the consultation Fight for the Future (FFTF) and popular YouTube channel Channel Awesome launched a campaign urging the public to get involved. What followed was a massive response to the U.S. Copyright Office coordinated via the associated TakedownAbuse site. But that was just the beginning.

Thanks to the huge support FFTF and Channel Awesome (CA) were able to convince the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) to give them seats at the table in a series of closed-door meetings on DMCA reforms held in San Francisco last week. Jeff Lyon (FFTF) and Mike Michaud (CA) attended and they report that discussion was heavily skewed in favor of copyright owners.

“Unfortunately, the hearings appeared to be rigged against the public interest, and unless we step up our game, it’s looking very likely that the USCO will make the DMCA even worse, with major giveaways to the copyright industry that put SOPA-style restrictions on independent content creators,” Lyon reports.

The FFTF CEO says that while Google, EFF and Mozilla were in attendance (pdf), they were outnumbered by pro-copyright groups including the MPAA, RIAA, Copyright Alliance (who previously labeled FFTF’s campaign participants as “zombies“), Creative Future, Disney, Paramount and NBCUniversal.

Speaking with TorrentFreak, Lyon says that one of the key copyright industry demands is for a “take down, stay down” system which would require platform owners to proactively police user-uploaded content.

“I can say for sure that there was overwhelming consensus in favor of ‘take down, stay down’ from members of the discussions affiliated with the copyright industry,” Lyon says.

“The idea is that once a copyright holder files a DMCA takedown for a particular piece of content, for example a music clip, it should then become the responsibility of the website operator to proactively scan everything uploaded by users and block that content from being posted in the future.”

Lyon says that this would effectively eliminate a user’s right to file a counter-notice, since they would be unable to post any content with a copyright claim against it, even in a fair use situation.

“Being unable to post copyrighted content also means users would be less able to sue copyright holders to assert a fair use right, since the content would be blocked by the website, instead of being taken down by a legal claim made by the copyright holder,” he explains.

TorrentFreak asked Lyon if copyright holders had made any suggestions on how such a complex system could work in practice. Apparently some feel it is Google’s problem.

“Keith Kupfershmid of Copyright Alliance said something to the effect of ‘I’m not a techie, but if they can make self driving cars, they can surely figure out how to keep copyrighted material from being posted,” he said.

However, also in attendance was Tony Rodriguez of anti-piracy outfit Digimarc. Lyon says that Rodriguez suggested that his company has the ability to deal with the job.

“It was strongly implied that Digimarc’s scanning technology could be adapted for use by website owners to comply with staydown requirements. I think Digimarc is practically salivating at the prospect of being in control over a government-mandated copyright protection racket, where they can serve both copyright holders and website owners who are held hostage by new staydown rules,” he explained.

“Overall the attitude was that it should be the tech industry’s problem to figure out how to do it and pay for it. Nobody had a good answer for determining fair use scenarios programmatically.”

While physically outnumbered by copyright holders, Google senior copyright counsel Fred von Lohman agreed with Jeff Lyon that content filtering technology is extremely expensive and burdensome for website owners to develop, noting that Google had spent over $40 million and deployed 100 software engineers to develop its Content ID system. Others weighed in too.

“One of the best points was made by Daphne Keller from Stanford Law,” Lyon says.

“She backed up my and von Lohman’s claims that content scanning systems are generally expensive, but added that good content scanning algorithms that could protect fair use rights will be very expensive. Thus if sites are required to implement content scanning, they will be incentivized to use cheap options that would err on the side of filtering out lawful content and fair use.”

Interestingly, sitting right next to Lyon in one of the sessions was MPAA attorney Dean Marks. He appeared to have SOPA on his mind.

“After some light-hearted joking banter with the regulators, the MPAA attorney suggested new legislation to take down entire websites (aka SOPA) for suspected copyright infringement,” Lyon explains.

“He spoke briefly and near the end of the meeting, so it was really almost in passing. He did not get into specifics about overseas websites [per SOPA], only mentioned that torrent sites only exist to spread pirated material and should be taken down completely.”

Overall, Lyon says he gets the impression that rather like with the SOPA debate, these DMCA discussions are being framed as “copyright industry vs. tech industry”, something which undermines the public interest. Nevertheless, FFTF and groups including EFF are putting up a fight.

“The general public is more affected by the DMCA than they even know. Copyright holders are abusing the process to censor negative reviews and commentary from the Internet. Creators are discouraged from fighting back, facing lost revenue and permanent bans from online platforms,” Lyon says.

“The sheer number of copyright holders at the meetings allowed them to push the discussions toward their ‘take down, stay down’ agenda, and they repeatedly tried to discredit nearly 100,000 comments sent by the public calling them out for mass censorship and abuse of the existing DMCA takedown rules. The copyright industry is clearly engaging in a massive lobbying effort to bring new SOPA-style legislation back in front of Congress.”

FFTF acknowledge that their opponents are powerful lobbying forces but they believe they have the tools and the public backing to put up a fight.

“We’ve beat them before and we can do it again. The copyright industry was blindsided by nearly 100,000 comments sent to the Copyright Office in the span of one day. When the next round of public commenting opens up, we will be ready, and our voices will be impossible to ignore,” Lyon concludes.

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