Shared posts

31 Dec 00:12

A snow fort, but made out of wood

by Luka

Who doesn’t love a good wooden castle? Now, this fort by Jsnyder002 is not a new concept, but that doesn’t detract from the execution. The snow effects are realistic and the thatched roofing is just spot on. The most eye-catching part of the build must be the splash of water in the corner with a well-crafted dock. We recently featured a samurai’s house and woodland cottage by the same builder that were, like this one, built for the Colossal Castle Contest XIV.

Bálkr Fort

The post A snow fort, but made out of wood appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

30 Dec 20:11

Global sea ice, 2016

by Minnesotastan

You don't need a p value to see that 2016 is a striking outlier.

Note this is a graph of sea ice, not land ice, and that it includes both arctic and antarctic ice, which is why it doesn't have a unimodal curve.  More info at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

A related story from Wisconsin:
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently scrubbed language from an agency web page on the Great Lakes that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The DNR now says the subject is a matter of scientific debate.

The department made the changes on Dec. 21, striking out whole sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising levels of carbon dioxide.

It’s the most recent example of the DNR removing information related to climate change. More broadly, the changes reflect how the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker has de-emphasized the subject since he took office in 2011.

In the latest changes, the DNR says of climate change, “as it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Department of Natural Resources.”
Don't blame the staff at the Department of Natural Resources.  This change in language was mandated by Governor Scott Walker.
30 Dec 20:09

Warren Buffet describes the "Ovarian Lottery"

by Minnesotastan
From a transcription of Warren Buffet's comments at a meeting with University of Maryland MBA students in 2013:
(5) How has your understanding of markets contributed towards your political views?

WB: I wouldn’t say knowledge of markets has. My political views were formed by this process.  Just imagine that it is 24 hours before you are born. A genie comes and says to you in the womb, “You look like an extraordinarily responsible, intelligent, potential human being. Going to emerge in 24 hours and it is an enormous responsibility I am going to assign to you – determination of the political, economic and social system into which you are going to emerge. You set the rules, any political system, democracy, parliamentary, anything you wish, can set the economic structure, communistic, capitalistic, set anything in motion and I guarantee you that when you emerge this world will exist for you, your children and grandchildren.

What’s the catch? One catch – just before you emerge you have to go through a huge bucket with 7 billion slips, one for each human. Dip your hand in and that is what you get – you could be born intelligent or not intelligent, born healthy or disabled, born black or white, born in the US or in Bangladesh, etc. You have no idea which slip you will get.

Not knowing which slip you are going to get, how would you design the world? Do you want men to push around females? It’s a 50/50 chance you get female. If you think about the political world, you want a system that gets what people want. You want more and more output because you’ll have more wealth to share around. The US is a great system, turns out $50,000 GDP per capita, 6 times the amount when I was born in just one lifetime. But not knowing what slip you get, you want a system that once it produces output, you don’t want anyone to be left behind. You want to incentivize the top performers, don’t want equality in results, but do want something that those who get the bad tickets still have a decent life. You also don’t want fear in people’s minds – fear of lack of money in old age, fear of cost of health care.

I call this the “Ovarian Lottery”. My sisters didn’t get the same ticket. Expectations for them were that they would marry well, or if they work, would work as a nurse, teacher, etc. If you are designing the world knowing 50/50 male or female, you don’t want this type of world for women – you could get female. Design your world this way; this should be your philosophy. I look at Forbes 400, look at their figures and see how it’s gone up in the last 30 years. Americans at the bottom are also improving, and that is great, but we don’t want that degree of inequality. Only governments can correct that.

Right way to look at it is the standpoint of how you would view the world if you didn’t know who you would be. If you’re not willing to gamble with your slip out of 100 random slips, you are lucky! The top 1% of 7 billion people. Everyone is wired differently. You can’t say you do everything yourself. We all have teachers, and people before us who led us to where we are. We can’t let people fall too far behind. You all definitely got good slips. 
Other thoughts from the Sage of Omaha at the link.

BTW, his income this past year was about $32,000,000.

Per day.
29 Dec 19:29

The Best Misunderstandings Of 2016

by Jen

As we continue to sift through the wreckage of 2016 for some positive gleams amid the rubble, let us not forget that, no matter how dark the hour, no matter how lost the plot, we can always depend on these bakers to have no idea what you're talking about.

 

 

 

 

They asked for a rainbow between two clouds. Two CLOUDS.

 

And here they suggested the baker use Google for a reference:

 

*headdesk*

 

And best of all:

 

Thanks to Chris B., Taryn T., Judi S., Paige H., Michelle K., Charles F., Alyson A., & Carrie V. for phoning it in today.

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

28 Dec 20:00

The Best Literal LOLs Of 2016

by Jen

Everyone's calling 2016 the great Dumpster Fire of history, but lets be rational, minions: that's hardly fair to dumpsters OR fires.

Besides, even though lots of bad things happened this year, and even though we've lost way too many of our favorite celebrities, let's not forget that 2016 ALSO gave these cake fans exactly what they asked for:

 

 

 

 

"Because we want to really emphasize the 40 part. Women love that."

 

 

And finally, as it turns out, they actually CAN make a cake look exactly like your picture:

Cake-ception!

 

Thanks to Andy W., Phyllis M., Chris T., Margaret S., Sue M., Sylvia C., & Sarah O. for giving 2016 a photo finish.

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

28 Dec 13:49

Interest Timescales

Sometimes, parts of a slowly-rising mountain suddenly rises REALLY fast, which is extra interesting.
28 Dec 07:23

A slice of architectural history

by Jonathan

eyescream54 certainly has an eye for mid-century modern architecture — this beauty looks like it belongs in Beverly Hills during Hollywood’s Golden Era. The decorative tile work adorning the front of this delightful home is exquisite. The builder has used different shapes and angles, contrasting each other and coming together splendidly. I like the little details like the light above the front door, the air conditioning unit on the finely crafted roof, and the shrub with the purple flowers.

6060 Alta road

The real surprises are around the back, where the house shows off its sharp lines and beautiful design. An interior is visible through the large ranch-style sliding doors leading out to a private pool and garden patio. Conjuring imagery of glamorous parties and fancy soirées, it’s not hard to imagine Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Frank Sinatra living it up at a place like this.

6060 Alta road back

The post A slice of architectural history appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

27 Dec 19:19

"Neoliberalism" castigated

by Minnesotastan
From an op-ed column in The Guardian:
It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by [neoliberalism]...

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning...

The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism...

The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute...

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation...

Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left.  
Much more at the source, or at the Wikipedia entry:
Neoliberalism (neo-liberalism) refers primarily to the 20th century resurgence of 19th century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. These include extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy...
27 Dec 19:15

The CIA confirms it overthrew Iran's Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddegh

by Minnesotastan
[Reposted from 2013 to serve as a counterpoint to all the recent hullabaloo about the possibility/likelihood that Russia influenced the most recent U.S. presidential election.]

Excerpts from an article at the National Security Archive:
Washington, D.C., August 19, 2013 – Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States' role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq's ouster has long been public knowledge, but today's posting includes what is believed to be the CIA's first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup.

The explicit reference to the CIA's role appears in a copy of an internal history, The Battle for Iran, dating from the mid-1970s. The agency released a heavily excised version of the account in 1981 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, but it blacked out all references to TPAJAX, the code name for the U.S.-led operation. Those references appear in the latest release. Additional CIA materials posted today include working files from Kermit Roosevelt, the senior CIA officer on the ground in Iran during the coup. They provide new specifics as well as insights into the intelligence agency's actions before and after the operation...

The issue is more than academic. Political partisans on all sides, including the Iranian government, regularly invoke the coup to argue whether Iran or foreign powers are primarily responsible for the country's historical trajectory, whether the United States can be trusted to respect Iran's sovereignty, or whether Washington needs to apologize for its prior interference before better relations can occur...

While the National Security Archive applauds the CIA's decision to make these materials available, today's posting shows clearly that these materials could have been safely declassified many years ago without risk of damage to the national security...

But all 21 of the CIA items posted today (in addition to 14 previously unpublished British documents — see Sidebar), reinforce the conclusion that the United States, and the CIA in particular, devoted extensive resources and high-level policy attention toward bringing about Mosaddeq's overthrow, and smoothing over the aftermath.  
The aftermath included the return to power of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ("The Shah of Iran"), and the establishment of the SAVAK (secret police), whose torture methods included "electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails."

One can't emphasize enough that Mosaddeq had been democratically-elected by the people of Iran.  The U.S. and Britain had him overthrown in order to gain access to Iran's oil resources.

Does anyone still wonder why many Iranians distrust and/or dislike the U.S.?

Additional details in the relevant Wikipedia entry.  Via Reddit, where other relevant coups are listed.

Addendum:  An article this week in Salon emphasizes the same point -
None of this gives Vladimir Putin a pass. We don’t see enough reporting on the repression of religion and the media inside Putin’s Russia. But failing to acknowledge our own dark side when it comes to internal and external covert operations to twist political outcomes makes us look hypocritical in a world where so many nations have been victimized by our covert machinations, often with deadly consequences.

Evidently, this is the real-world meaning of “American exceptionalism,” where only we are exempt from the requirement to respect other nations’ sovereignty. There’s no better example of this than the 2014 Edward Snowden revelations that the U.S. had spied on many other countries, even allies like Germany, France, Italy and Japan...

For decades both Democrats and Republicans working for Washington law firms and global crisis management outfits like Hill & Knowlton or Black Manafort & Stone have helped the world’s most brutal and oppressive regimes hang on to power and marginalize their opponents, all while continuing to get U.S. military aid...

The U.S. has manipulated the internal domestic politics of other countries with escapades in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean and even in Europe...

We rarely get a glimpse behind that black curtain unless an Edward Snowden or a Daniel Ellsberg puts everything on the line to pull it back for us. None of that excuses the Russian attempt to meddle in an American election, but we should not feign innocence Trying to shape world events and our own politics through fake news, disinformation, deceit and deception are as American as apple pie.
27 Dec 02:13

A modern fire station for a modern town

by Luka

Fire stations are a LEGO staple, both in sets and custom creations. There are many out there, but few as good as this one by S Asbury, who seems to be somewhat of a perfectionist, as indicated by his description of his fire department build: “It took me more than ten years to build a fire station. I’d start one, then start over after deciding it wasn’t up to par.” I must say that all the effort was worth it. The texture, clean lines and strong contrast are obvious characteristics of modern architecture, of which this fire station is a perfect example. The camera angle helps a lot too, putting the observer into the perspective of a minifig, and that is always a good way to make a model appear more immersive.

Lego fire station by Asbury

The post A modern fire station for a modern town appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

27 Dec 00:09

The Further Adventures Of Bembo, Pt. 2

26 Dec 23:14

Shortcut through a shady part of town

by John Moffatt

I would think twice about ducking through mike m.‘s narrow street, no matter how much of a hurry I was in. Piles of overflowing trash clutter the thin lane, and the myriad of signs hanging uncomfortably at head height do a wonderful job of making the place look just too unwelcoming for my taste. What I find most interesting is that the reflective nature of LEGO bricks, which usually gets in the way of making creations look realistic, actually looks like faded graffiti on the left wall. It took me a while to put my finger on it, and it’s a very neat effect.

" shortcut"

The post Shortcut through a shady part of town appeared first on The Brothers Brick.

26 Dec 06:19

There's a reason it's called "coeruleus"

by Minnesotastan

Scarus coeruleus is the blue parrotfish.  Wow. 

Photo via the Pics subreddit.
25 Dec 16:28

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - The Chosen Ones

by tech@thehiveworks.com


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
'Why is the alien an abstract circle thing?' Because it's easier to draw than an abstract square thing.

New comic!
Today's News:
25 Dec 04:48

The St. Olaf choir in Norway

by Minnesotastan

Beautiful.  Posted in memory of my mother and the multiple generations of my Norwegian family who attended (and loved) St. Olaf.  Filmed in Trondheim in conjunction with the Nidaros Cathedral Girls Choir.

For full appreciation, click the fullscreen icon in the lower right corner of the video
24 Dec 04:20

tinysaurus-rex: nestregards: IMPORTANT NEW DISCOVERYHE’S PERFECT SCIENCE ALERT!!

tinysaurus-rex:

nestregards:

IMPORTANT NEW DISCOVERY

HE’S PERFECT

SCIENCE ALERT!!

23 Dec 18:56

Canadian woman sent home after trying to smuggle ‘very quiet’ cat into New Zealand for holiday

by The Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A Canadian woman who authorities say managed to hide her 4-year-old pet cat Bella in her handbag during a flight across the Pacific Ocean had her vacation cut short when border agents discovered the ruse at Auckland Airport.

Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman Craig Hughes said Thursday that the woman was refused entry into the country and was forced to catch the next flight home with her cat after she tried to smuggle it across the border. He called the woman’s actions “reckless and dangerous.”

New Zealand has strict regulations for importing pets. Cats and dogs from most approved countries must have an implanted microchip and be kept in quarantine for a minimum of 10 days after arrival.

Hughes said the woman and her husband, both in their mid- to late-20s, managed to conceal the cat from the flight crew and other passengers during the 11,300-kilometre flight from Vancouver to Auckland.

“Apparently it was a very quiet cat. Very docile,” Hughes said, adding that it may have been given some drugs to make it drowsy.

He said that when the couple arrived at the airport, they said they had nothing to declare. He said border agents then determined they had muddy boots which needed inspecting. Agents then moved the couple’s bags to an X-ray machine.

She had plans to have a nice holiday with her husband in New Zealand. And her cat

Hughes said the woman was “very reluctant” to have her small handbag X-rayed and insisted it had already been checked. She finally admitted there was a cat inside, Hughes said, but then said she’d told a ticketing agent about Bella when she purchased her ticket.

Hughes said even if the woman’s story were true, which he doubted, it was still unacceptable to bring a cat across the border without declaring it. He said foreign cats could bring with them ticks and diseases that aren’t present in New Zealand.

He said the woman got upset about being sent back home.

“She had plans to have a nice holiday with her husband in New Zealand,” Hughes said. “And her cat.”

23 Dec 18:54

Before You Pay that Ransomware Demand…

by BrianKrebs

A decade ago, if a desktop computer got infected with malware the chief symptom probably was an intrusive browser toolbar of some kind. Five years ago you were more likely to get whacked by a banking trojan that stole all your passwords and credit card numbers. These days if your mobile or desktop computer is infected what gets installed is likely to be “ransomware” — malicious software that locks your most prized documents, songs and pictures with strong encryption and then requires you to pay for a key to unlock the files.

Here’s some basic advice about where to go, what to do — and what not to do — when you or someone you know gets hit with ransomware.

Image: nomoreransom.org

Image: nomoreransom.org

First off — breathe deep and try not to panic. And don’t pay the ransom.

True, this may be easier said than done: In many cases the ransom note that hijacks the victim’s screen is accompanied by a digital clock ominously ticking down the minutes and seconds from 72 hours. When the timer expires, the ransom demand usually goes up or even doubles. Continue to ignore the demands and your files will be gone, kaput, nil, nyet, zilch, done forever, warns the extortion message.

See, the key objective of ransomware is a psychological one — to instill fear, uncertainty and dread in the victim — and to sow the conclusion in the victim’s mind that any solution for restoring full access to all his files involves paying up. Indeed, paying the ransom is often the easiest, fastest and most complete way of reversing a security mistake, such as failing to patch, opening a random emailed document e.g., or clicking a link that showed up unbidden in instant message. Some of the more advanced and professional ransomware operations have included helpful 24/7 web-based tech support.

The ransom note from a recent version of the "Locky" ransomware variant. Image: Bleepingcomputer.com.

The ransom note from a recent version of the “Locky” ransomware variant. Image: Bleepingcomputer.com.

Paying up is certainly not the cheapest option. The average ransom demanded is approximately $722, according to an analysis published in September by Trend Micro. Interestingly, Trend found the majority of organizations that get infected by ransomware end up paying the ransom. They also found three-quarters of companies which had not suffered a ransomware infection reported they would not pay up when presented with a data ransom demand. Clearly, people tend to see things differently when they’re the ones in the hot seat.

And for those not yet quite confident in the ways of Bitcoin (i.e. most victims), paying up means a crash course in acquiring the virtual currency known as Bitcoin. Some ransomware attackers are friendlier than others in helping victims wade through the process of setting up an account to handle Bitcoin, getting it funded, and figuring out how to pay other people with it. Others just let you figure it all out. The entire ordeal is a trial by fire for sure, but it can also be a very expensive, humbling and aggravating experience.

In the end the extortionist may bargain with you if they’re in a good mood, or if you have a great sob story. But they still want you to know that your choice is a binary one: Pay up, or kiss your sweet files goodbye forever.

This scenario reminds me of the classic short play/silent movie about the villainous landlord and the poor young lady who can’t pay the rent. I imagine the modern version of this play might go something like…

mustpaytherentVillain: You MUST pay the ransom!

Victim: I CAN’T pay the ransom!

Villain: You MUST pay the ransom!

Victim: I CAN’T pay the ransom!

Hero: I’ll pay the ransom!

Victim: Oh! My hero!

Villain: Curses! Foiled again!

Okay, nobody’s going to pay the ransomware demand for you (that’s only in Hollywood!). But just like the hero in the silent movie, there are quite a few people out there who are in fact working hard to help victims avoid paying the ransom (AND get their files back to boot).

Assuming you don’t have a recent backup you can restore, fear not: With at least some strains of ransomware, the good guys have already worked out a way to break or sidestep the encryption, and they’ve posted the keys needed to unlock these malware variants free of charge online.

But is the strain that hit your device one that experts already know how to crack? 

WHERE TO GO?

The first place victims should look to find out is nomoreransom.org, a site backed by security firms and cybersecurity organizations in 22 countries. Since its launch on July 25, 2016, nomoreransom.org estimates that it has been able to save 6,000 victims of ransomware more than $2 million USD to date. Last week the group announced the site is now available in Dutch, French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.

ransomnote

Visit the Crypto Sheriff page at nomoreransom.org, upload one of the files encrypted by the ransomware, and the site will let you know if there is a solution available to unlock all of your files for free.

Another destination that may be useful for ransomware victims is bleepingcomputer.com, which has an excellent Ransomware Help and Tech Support section that is quite useful and may save you a great deal of time and money. But please don’t just create an account here and cry for help. Your best bet is to read the “pinned” notes at the top of that section and follow the instructions carefully.

Chances are, whoever responds to your request will want you to have run a few tools to help identify which strain of ransomware hit your system before agreeing to help. So please be patient and be kind, and remember that if someone decides to help you here they are likely doing so out of their own time and energy.

Bleepingcomputer.com's ransomware guide.

Bleepingcomputer.com’s ransomware guide.

HOW NOT TO BE THE NEXT RANSOMWARE VICTIM

Regularly backup your data, and make sure the backups are not connected to the computers and networks they are backing up. Most ransomware variants can encrypt files on any attached drives or network files that are also accessible to the host machine (including cloud hosting and cloud-based backups if those passwords are stored on the machine). Bleepingcomputer’s Lawrence Abrams just published this a nice primer called How to Protect and Harden a Computer Against Ransomware.

Many companies are now selling products that claim to block ransomware attacks. Those claims are beyond the scope of this article, but don’t be lulled into thinking these products will always protect you.

Even products that could somehow block all ransomware attacks can’t prevent the biggest reason that ransomware attacks succeed: They trick victims into taking an action that inadvertently undermines the security of their device — be it a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer.

This usually involves clicking a link or downloading and opening a file that arrives in an email or instant message. In either case, it is an action that opens the door to the attacker to download and install malware.

Remember my Three Rules of Online Security:

...For Online Safety.

…For Online Safety.

1: If you didn’t go looking for it, don’t install it.

2: If you installed it, update it.

3: If you no longer need it (or, if it’s become too big of a security risk) get rid of it.

These rules apply no matter what device you use to get online, but I’ll add a few recommendations here that are more device-specific. For desktop users, some of the biggest risks come from insecure browser plugins, as well as malicious Microsoft Office documents and “macros” sent via email and disguised as invoices or other seemingly important, time-sensitive documents.

Microsoft has macros turned off by default in most modern Office versions because they allow attackers to take advantage of resources on the target’s computer that could result in running code on the system. So understand that responding affirmatively to an “Enable Macros?” prompt in an Office document you received externally and were not expecting is extremely risky behavior.

Enterprises can use a variety of group policy changes to harden their defenses against ransomware attacks, such as this one which blocks macros from opening and automatically running in Office programs on Windows 10. Other ransomware-specific group policy guides are here, here and here (happy to add more “here’s” here if they are worthy, let me know).

Also, get rid of or hobble notoriously insecure, oft-targeted browser plugins that require frequent security updates — like Java and Flash. If you’re not good about updating these programs frequently, you may fall victim to an exploit kit that delivers ransomware. Exploit kits are malicious programs made to be stitched into hacked or malicious Web sites. People who visit these sites or who are redirected to them and who are browsing the Web with an outdated version of Flash or Java can have malware automatically and quietly installed.

Mobile users in general need to spend just a tiny fraction more time discerning the origin and reputation of the applications they wish to install, as mobile ransomware variants tend to mimic or even piggyback on popular games and applications found in app stores and other places. Don’t just download the first app that matches your search. And always download from the original source whenever possible to ensure you’re not getting a copycat, counterfeit or malicious version of the game or application that you’re seeking.

For more tips on how not to become the next ransomware victim, check out the bottom half of the FBI’s most recent advisory on the topic.

23 Dec 04:26

Shortlist announced for Brothers Brick LEGO Creation of the Year 2016 [News]

by Rod

For over a decade the Brothers Brick has been bringing you the best LEGO creations, and 2016 has stood out as a bumper year. To celebrate 12 months of great models, the Brothers Brick team has looked back over everything we’ve featured and pulled out the best LEGO builds of 2016.

LEGO Creation Of The Year 2016

Take a look at these ten amazing shortlisted models, and stay tuned for the final announcement of our LEGO Creation Of The Year 2016 on New Year’s Eve!

LegoJalex‘s brilliant ET model wasn’t just a great bit of character building, the surrounding room was wonderfully done too…

E.T. is getting the idea to build the communicator

Letranger Absurde‘s Room With A View sneaks into contention — although it was posted on NYE 2015, we didn’t blog it until a couple of days later!

Room With A View

Photos struggle to do justice to Paul‘s stunning brick-built Batman comic book cover. The brick-built logo and city skyline provide an impressive backdrop to the action-packed motorised scene in front of the theater…

LEGO Batman vs Joker Gotham Theater Showdown

In a year stuffed with classy Star Wars models, this X-Wing by Maciej Szymański was a standout creation. Not just a well-built model, but brilliant presentation…

X-wing - installing the droid

From one classic spaceship to a massive Classic Space SHIP. Mark Neumann‘s deep space exploration vehicle was nearly 12 foot long and featured motorised sections, a detailed interior, and lighting…

LL2016

Before he wowed us with his ET, LegoJalex taught us all about brilliant building with this wonderfully retro 80s-era classroom scene…

Classroom

Brick Martil‘s Merkabah Gunship was a uniquely-shaped craft with beautiful color-blocking — a genuine breath of fresh air in the cold vacuum of space…

merkabah space 2

LEGO-built vehicles don’t always have to be futuristic spacecraft, as made clear in this amazing vintage racing car model by red. Excellent shaping, nice color choices, and lots of attention to detail…

1930's racing car

But sometimes, the best vehicles really are futuristic ones. The Ares 7 Rover by Jeremy Williams took inspiration from The Martian but then added twin-axle steering, remote control, a detailed interior, and lighting…

LEGO martian rover

And last, but by no means least, in our shortlist is this astonishing F-14A Tomcat by crash_cramer. Nine months in the building, it features motorised elements amongst its 8,000+ parts, and is over a meter long…

F-14A Tomcat Front Qtr

We hope you agree these ten models represent some of the finest LEGO building we’ve seen this year. If you don’t agree, and you think we missed something special, please let us know in the comments!

Stay tuned for our announcement on New Year’s Eve when one of these shortlisted models will be crowned the Brothers Brick LEGO Creation of the Year 2016.

22 Dec 19:41

The perfect winter scene

by Luka

I could go through every detail of this digital build by Bigboy99899 and tell you why it is perfect… but just take a closer look for yourself! One can almost feel the weight of the snow on the trees’ branches and the slipperiness of the ice, not to mention the warm-looking cottage. But even with all the details, the best part must be the presentation; the render looks like real LEGO at first glance and the lighting is perfectly wintery. “Emotions: Winter” is appropriately titled – can you say you don’t feel the emotions of winter (whatever they are) when looking at this build?

Emotions:winter

21 Dec 21:01

Things You Learn

Guess who has two thumbs and spent the night in an ER after trying to rescue a kitten that ran under his car at a stoplight and climbed up into the engine compartment? And, thanks to antibiotics, will continue having two thumbs? THIS GUY. (P.S. kitten is safe!)
21 Dec 11:32

Why Eggs Need to Be Refrigerated in the U.S., But Not in Europe

by Stephanie Lee on Vitals, shared by Alan Henry to Lifehacker

On a recent visit to Paris, I found it so strange that their eggs sat next to dried goods, at room temperature, since I’m used to refrigerating eggs in the U.S. We’re all concerned about the potential of Salmonella to make people sick, but the U.S. and Europe just protect against this threat in different ways.

Read more...

21 Dec 11:17

LEGO’s biggest modular yet: 10255 Assembly Square [Review]

by Caylin

2017 is a year of anniversaries for LEGO: it marks 40 years for Technic, and the 10th year for LEGO’s Modular Buildings. These highly detailed sets clock in at over 2,000 pieces and are most definitely fan favorites. In October, LEGO announced 10255 Assembly Square to celebrate the decennial anniversary of the line. LEGO sent us an early copy, so today we’re pleased to bring you a full hands-on review. It’s packed full of Easter eggs celebrating 10 years of these fantastic sets, and is the largest modular yet with 4,002 pieces. It is available beginning January 1 and will retail for $279.99 USD.

10255 Assembly Square

So just how impressive is this set? Read on, because we’re going to tell you all about it.

10255 Assembly Square

Before we dive in, let’s take a look back at ten years of Modulars. Prices listed are the original MSRP, all in USD:

2007: 10182 Cafe Corner: 2,056 pieces @ $139.99
2007: 10190 Market Street: 1,248 pieces @ $89.99
2008: 10185 Green Grocer: 2,352 pieces @ $149.99
2009: 10197 Fire Brigade: 2,231 pieces @ $149.99
2010: 10211 Grand Emporium: 2,182 pieces @ $149.99
2011: 10218 Pet Shop: 2,032 pieces @ $149.99
2012: 10224 Town Hall: 2,766 pieces @ $199.99
2013: 10232 Palace Cinema: 2,196 pieces @ $149.99
2014: 10243 Parisian Restaurant: 2,469 pieces @ $159.99
2015: 10246 Detective’s Office: 2,262 pieces @ $159.99
2016: 10251 Brick Bank: 2,380 pieces @ $169.99

Each of those sets is definitely a highlight of its year. So, how about the newest addition?

2017: 10255 Assembly Square: 4,002 pieces @ $279.99

This behemoth is just shy of twice the size of the original modular, Cafe Corner, and priced over $100 more as well. But don’t let that dissuade you; this set is worth every penny — in fact, at around $0.07 per piece, it’s quite a bargain. Here’s the brand new Assembly Square lined up with its original ancestor; they fit together perfectly.

10255 Assembly Square

The Box

Assembly Square comes in a very substantial box much like other large sets we’ve reviewed, such as 75827 Ghostbusters Firehouse Headquarters. Inside are the numbered bags, baseplates, instruction manual, and another large box containing even more numbered bags. The box and its contents are pictured here with a reference cat for scale.

Both the front and back of the box feature a 10th Anniversary logo, and the top displays the full inventory. Thankfully, the box is big enough to show all the parts, because there are a lot.

10255 Assembly Square

The Build

The build takes several hours to fully construct. There are 33 bags covering six segments, and a single 306-page instruction manual. The minifigures are spread throughout the bags.

The first notable aspect is the intricately tiled sidewalks and floors. Unlike past modulars, the sidewalks are sprinkled with 1×1 plates, allowing you to pose minifigures without fearing the gentlest bump will send them sprawling.

10255 Assembly Square

Assembly Square is made of numerous small apartments and businesses, and comes apart into 7 individual pieces when fully expanded. Let’s dive into the sections one by one.

10255 Assembly Square

10255 Assembly SquareThe Bakery is full of detail. There are four baked goodies in the oven, and many on display. The back wall features an assortment of very fancy cakes, but the real jewel here is the three-tiered wedding cake in the front window. As far as I’m aware, this may be the first time LEGO has used stacked 1×1 round plates to represent minifigures in an official set. The base is a round wheel hub, which works really well as a fancy tiered wedding cake.

The oven door is all brick-built, and ends up looking like a properly massive iron door. The entryway uses some clever SNOT techniques, making use of the 1×1 round tile with pin (inkwells) to invert the large semi-sphere over the door. A similar technique was used to invert portions of the facade in 10253 Big Ben. The windows are made using garage door panels, and the lights make use of the welder’s torch to give a fancy look. From the bakery, there is a passage to the Flower Shop.

10255 Assembly Square

The Flower Shop is pretty small, and the designers took this into account by designing a removable section in the back upper wall. The shop uses a 1x4x1 lattice fence as a bouquet-holder, which is clever and effective. The parrot hangs out here, presumably greeting customers.

10255 Assembly Square

The Coffee Shop is light and airy, with a few seats for indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor patio tables are made from Technic discs. Inside, you’ll find a clever little espresso machine. The back of the shop features the steps to get up to the second level for this building. The Coffee Shop is attached to the Flower Shop by a nice plant-covered grate, which also acts as a covering for the doorway to the stairs.

10255 Assembly Square

Both the Coffee Shop and the Bakery feature mosaics in the sidewalk using the new 2×2 angled tiles. The center of the square has a fountain, and the base has some nice mosaic work. Sadly, the fountain itself leaves something to be desired, especially since it’s one of the last things to be built in this otherwise highly detailed set.

The Dentist’s office is quite nice, although if it’s in the USA, HIPPA violations will abound since the dental exam is out in the open for everyone to listen to how you don’t floss your teeth enough. The front desk is very simple but effective with a phone and a few magazines. As far as the exam area goes, there are a lot of great details here to ogle. The sink is great, making use of a new piece (a 1×2 45 degree slope with tile). There are a few surprises in the drawers, including a billy club. Don’t ask what a dentist needs with one of those.10255 Assembly Square

 

10255 Assembly SquareThe exam chair is very well done, and the use of light aqua tiles just screams “DENTIST!” The window features a printed glass window insert emblazoned with the words “Prevent Yellowing.” Long-time LEGO fans will get the joke. The cool window feels lost though, since it’s used on the window inside the square, which is hard to see when you’re looking at the build from the front. I understand it wouldn’t fit with the aesthetic of the front-facing walls, but it’s sad it’s been tucked away.

10255 Assembly Square

10255 Assembly SquareThe star in the Photography studio is the old camera. It’s highly recognizable and is only 20 pieces. It uses rods with balls as the tripod, which are held between two 1×1 plates with clips. The room is dominated by a brick-built backdrop that employs the curved 1x3x2 bricks to make a nice, even studio backdrop. It’s even got the master roll of paper hanging at the top.
10255 Assembly Square

There’s also a nifty little portrait of some old fellow in a business suit as an example of the photographer’s work; it will make the perfect decoration in an executive’s office.

10255 Assembly Square

The Music Shop is fun. There is a bright red electric guitar and a classic acoustic guitar, along with a saxophone on display and a drum set. The drum set is well done even though it uses few parts. The register makes use of two of the new 1×2 45 degree angle with tiles in grey.

10255 Assembly Square

10255 Assembly SquareThe Dance Studio is very simple, perhaps more so then any other part of this build. This floor has just one thing in the room: a piano. However, it’s a wonderfully designed upright piano, making use of a tan 1×2 3 tooth piece for pedals. The other item of note here is the practice bar. There’s a mirror, made of a clear 1x4x6 door frame insert with a beautifully reflective surface applied to one side. This comes packed in its own resealable baggie so it won’t be scratched. It’s held to the wall by the clips holding the bar, two 1×1 clips, and a row of 1×2 plates with door rails. It’s quite secure and looks perfect.

10255 Assembly Square

The roof is mostly just architectural details. There is an access point and a skylight, and the sides of the roof use half-arches and 1×1 bricks with scrolls. For the corner detail, it uses a white Nexo-Knight shield tile.

We saved the best for last: the Loft Apartment. This room is packed with so much detail. This is where the LEGO Fan lives. And seriously, props to her to have such a great loft apartment and still afford all the sets she’s got on display — and food (she has a kitchen, so I am assuming she can afford to eat). There’s a super tiny micro version of 10182 Cafe Corner, 10190 Market Street, and 10185 Green Grocer up on the shelf. She even has a MISB Cafe Corner stored against the wall!

10255 Assembly Square

This studio loft features a tiny bathroom, a tiny kitchen with microwave, and a pull-out couch that actually functions. The couch pulls out and lays flat nicely, though getting it back into couch position is a tad difficult due to cramped quarters too small for most human hands — and I say this as a person with fairly small hands. By the window there’s a pretty large train layout with landscaping, and a teensy-tiny 10233 Horizon Express going round the layout. On the shelf is a micro version of the 10242 Mini Cooper and the 10220 VW Camper Van, and in the window you’ll find the cutest little 10181 Eiffel Tower.

10255 Assembly Square

No loft apartment is complete without a roof-top patio. In this case, you’ve got some plants, furniture, and a great grilling area. The much-vaunted use of excavator scoops for the roof actually works really well. The roof over the loft apartment is pretty simplistic, using more 1×1 bricks with scrolls and a white chicken. Between the 1×1 bricks with scrolls are two stacked jumper plates topped off with a 1×2 plate, giving a nice half-stud overlap on each row.

One thing that will be a bit of an annoyance to the LEGO men and women who live and work in Assembly Square is the access to all the floors, since all of the upper floors require access through another room. To get to the dentist’s office, you go through the bakery. You go in one door and out the other at the dentist’s office to go upstairs to the loft apartment. Access to the music shop comes from an external door at the back of the coffee shop; but you can’t get to the dance studio without passing through the music shop (that’s one way to drum up business, eh?).

10255 Assembly Square

For a build with lots of details and some repetition, Assembly Square manages to avoid feeling repetitive at all (even when stacking the same bricks and putting tiles on for that sweet sweet exterior of the dentists office) unlike 10253 Big Ben.

The Parts

Like all Modulars, there are no stickers, only printing. Isn’t it wonderful? The amazing prints include a gorgeous 2×3 light blue tile as 10182 Cafe Corner. The dentist’s window is printed, as are all of the 1×1 round tiles with donuts and pastries. There are 1×1 quarter-circle tiles printed as pie, too. There’s the banker’s portrait, the suspension bridge, and a newspaper printed on 2×2 tiles. And while we’re on the topic of printing, there’s an unprinted white chicken.

10255 Assembly Square

Assembly Square brings us enough new pieces to keep parts monkeys occupied for quite some time. There are both new colors for existing elements as well as a number of brand new elements.

The recolors include:

  • 1×4 Bow Window in black
  • Cheese slopes in medium dark flesh
  • Inkwells in black (the 1×1 round tile with rod)

A large number of fantastic parts are found in only one or two other sets. And if you are looking to stock up on 1×2 bricks with grill in sand blue, you’ll find plenty of them here. In addition to the re-colored parts, there are plenty of brand new parts:

Parrot: the parrot is a new mold and a bit different from the classic pirate’s companion. Here’s a comparison of the new parrot (blue and yellow dual-injection) and a classic parrot.
10255 Assembly Square10255 Assembly Square

2×2 Angled tile: 12 white, 7 light grey, 18 dark grey, and 4 dark blue
2×2 Curved tile:  6 light grey
4×4 Curved tile: 4 light grey
10255 Assembly Square

1×2 Slope with tile: The angle and textured surface precisely matches that of a 1×2 45 degree slope. You’ll get 2 dark grey, and 2 white.

10255 Assembly Square

1×1 brick with studs on 2 adjacent sides, which we’re calling a “half Travis brick“: 36 tan
10255 Assembly SquareAngled door frame: 1 each in white and black

10255 Assembly Square

The Minifigures

10255 Assembly Square
Like all Modulars, the minifigs in this set have the classic yellow smiley face. There are eight minifigs in this set, plus a baby, which comes with a plain white body. The dentist features a new torso.

10255 Assembly Square

The Verdict

10255 Assembly Square is not likely to go on sale often, but it’s well worth it at full price. This set is a love letter to the fan community, and is packed with details we love, new parts to drool over, Easter eggs galore, and is beautiful just to look at.

10255 Assembly Square

10255 Assembly Square will be available January 1, 2017.


The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

20 Dec 20:38

Marble run with magnets

by Minnesotastan
Luke.stirling

Mesmerising

20 Dec 19:49

Nature Picks ‘Pirate’ in This Year’s Top People in Science

by Ernesto

alexandraLast year, academic publisher Elsevier filed a complaint against Sci-Hub and several related “pirate” sites.

It accused the websites of making academic papers widely available to the public, without permission.

While Sci-Hub is nothing like the average pirate site, it is just as illegal according to Elsevier’s legal team, which obtained a preliminary injunction from a New York District Court last fall.

The injunction ordered Sci-Hub’s founder Alexandra Elbakyan to quit offering access to any Elsevier content. However, this didn’t happen.

Instead of taking Sci-Hub down, the lawsuit and the associated media attention only helped the site grow. Just a few months ago we reported that its users were downloading hundreds of thousands of papers per day.

Elbakyan put her finger on one of the biggest frustrations of scientists; the fact that so much fundamental research is hidden behind a paywall, where only an elite group can access them.

While piracy is ‘not done’ for most academics, at least until after they graduate, Sci-Hub has received a lot of support. This week the prestigious publication Nature even picked the site’s founder as one of the ten people that mattered in 2016.

“Few people support the fact that she acted illegally, but many see Sci-Hub as advancing the cause of the open-access movement, which holds that papers should be made (legally) free to read and reuse,” Nature writes.

sci-hublarge

One of the open access supporters who praises Sci-Hub’s founder is Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley

“What she did is nothing short of awesome,” he tells Nature. “Lack of access to the scientific literature is a massive injustice, and she fixed it with one fell swoop.”

For now, Elbakyan doesn’t see any reason to stop what she’s doing. When Elsevier shut down Sci-Hub’s domain name, the site simply moved to a new one, continuing business as usual.

This stance is welcomed by many researchers, especially in developing countries where universities often don’t have the funds to pay for access to these papers. As such, Elbakyan believes she’s doing the right thing.

“Is there anything wrong or shameful in running a research-access website such as Sci-Hub? I think no, therefore I can be open about my activities,” she says.

At the same time, the pushback against Elsevier continues to grow. Just recently, Taiwanese universities and German research institutions decided to cancel subscriptions to its journals, stating that the costs are unreasonably high.

On the legal front, progress in the case between Sci-Hub and Elsevier has been slow. There’s a pre-trial conference scheduled for February next year, so it will take a few more months at least before that concludes.

Meanwhile, the download counter at Sci-Hub keeps on spinning. Thus far, the site has served up 75 million downloads this year, which by one estimate is good for three percent of all science publisher downloads worldwide.

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

20 Dec 19:44

A "double elephant" Audubon book

by Minnesotastan

Last month I posted a link to information on book sizes ranging from "folio" to "sixty-fourmo."  Not included in that list are the formats that are bigger than your average sheep.  Last week the BBC reported that the "world's most expensive book" was to be sold by Sotheby's - referring to a complete edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America.  It contains life-sized illustrations of the birds, and thus is a huge book.

The BBC article showed only a print, but I located a photo of another copy at the website of the Cincinnati Public Library (embedded above).  It apparently is a "double elephant" folio format [the "elephant folio" is up to 23" tall, the "Atlas folio" up to 25" tall, and the double elephant is 50" tall.]

Reposted from 2010 to add this photo "from archives of Prague castle" (photo credit M. Peterka) found at Book Porn:


 Yes, I have seen the comments that it may be a normal book and a very tiny librarian...
20 Dec 07:39

Solstice 2016

by Robot Hugs

New comic!

Happy solstice, everyone. it’s the longest night in the longest ridiculous year and i hope that next year is better to all of us.

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19 Dec 19:28

Finland will test giving people a free "basic income"

by Minnesotastan
Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance. For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again.

Now, the Finnish government is exploring how to change that calculus, initiating an experiment in a form of social welfare: universal basic income. Early next year, the government plans to randomly select roughly 2,000 unemployed people — from white-collar coders to blue-collar construction workers. It will give them benefits automatically, absent bureaucratic hassle and minus penalties for amassing extra income...

The answers — to be determined over a two-year trial — could shape social welfare policy far beyond Nordic terrain. In communities around the world, officials are exploring basic income as a way to lessen the vulnerabilities of working people exposed to the vagaries of global trade and automation. While basic income is still an emerging idea, one far from being deployed on a large scale, the growing experimentation underscores the deep need to find effective means to alleviate the perils of globalization...

Universal basic income is a catchall phrase that describes a range of proposals, but they generally share one feature: All people in society get a regular check from the government — regardless of their income or whether they work. These funds are supposed to guarantee food and shelter, enabling people to pursue their own betterment while contributing to society...

A Silicon Valley start-up incubator, Y Combinator, is preparing a pilot project in Oakland, Calif., in which 100 families will receive unconditional cash grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 a month. Voters in Switzerland recently rejected a basic-income scheme, but the French Senate approved a trial. Experiments are being readied in Canada and the Netherlands. The Indian government has been studying basic income as a means of alleviating poverty...

Strikingly, basic income is being championed across the ideological spectrum...

Some people think basic income will solve every problem under the sun, and some people think it’s from the hand of Satan and will destroy our work ethic,” says Olli Kangas, who oversees research at Kela, a Finnish government agency that administers many social welfare programs. “I’m hoping we can create some knowledge on this issue.”
From an interesting long read at The New York Times.  I scanned the article for the use of the word "inflation" and didn't see that aspect discussed.
19 Dec 18:47

Do heads of government age more quickly?

by Minnesotastan

That's the question asked in this Christmas' issue of the British Medical Journal.
We assembled data on elected and runner-up candidates for national elections occurring in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, using online sources including Wikipedia and national lists of leaders..

The sample included 540 candidates: 279 winners and 261 runners-up who never served. A total of 380 candidates were deceased by 9 September 2015. Candidates who served as a head of government lived 4.4 (95% confidence interval 2.1 to 6.6) fewer years after their last election than did candidates who never served (17.8 v 13.4 years after last election; adjusted difference 2.7 (0.6 to 4.8) years). In Cox proportional hazards analysis, which considered all candidates (alive or deceased), the mortality hazard for elected candidates relative to runners-up was 1.23 (1.00 to 1.52).
Details at the link.  Photo source lost.
19 Dec 18:46

"Preinstalled ransomware"

by Minnesotastan
That's the term that has been suggested regarding proposed legislation in South Carolina:
People buying computers in South Carolina would be limited in their access to porn online under newly proposed legislation.

A bill pre-filed this month by state Rep. Bill Chumley would require sellers to install digital blocking capabilities on computers and other devices that access the internet to prevent the viewing of obscene content...

Both sellers and buyers could get around the limitation, for a fee. The bill would fine manufacturers that sell a device without the blocking system, but they could opt out by paying $20 per device sold. Buyers could also verify their age and pay $20 to remove the filter...