Orwell’s birthday celebrated with party hats on surveillance cameras

Surveillance camera with purple party hat

By Anne Sewell from DigitalJournal.com:

Surveillance camera with purple party hat

Utrecht – The famous author of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, George Orwell, would have turned 110 on June 25, 2013 if he was still with us. Two Dutch artists found the perfect way to celebrate his birthday in the current surveillance climate.

With the current revelations by Edward Snowden about the NSA’s spying on citizens of the world, these artists could not have found a better way to celebrate Orwell’s birthday. Orwell was born on June 25, 1903, and the two Dutch artists, who call themselves FRONT404, created an impromptu art exhibit in Utrecht, Netherlands. They celebrated Orwell’s birthday with party hats placed on closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras throughout the city. For those that haven’t heard of Orwell’s novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four“, the novel tells the story of a citizen of a totalitarian society called Oceania, where Winston Smith lives in a state of constant surveillance, allowing the government to eliminate subversives. The Oceania government also to craft whatever societal narratives it desires to serve as the truth, and Smith’s job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Many people believe that these days that the Mainstream Media is doing just that. FRONT404’s two artists, Thomas voor ‘t Hekke and Bas van Oerle, wrote on the project’s website:

By putting these happy party hats on the surveillance cameras, we don’t just celebrate Orwell’s birthday. By making these inconspicuous cameras that we ignore in our daily lives catch the eye again, we also create awareness of how many cameras really watch us nowadays, and that the surveillance state described by Orwell is getting closer and closer to reality.

The city of Utrecht, like many other European cities, uses a series of surveillance cameras on lampposts and walls to monitor its resident’s activities. While this is usually unobstrusive and useful for reducing or solving crimes, it does also raise some legitimate concerns about privacy and also the morality of monitoring innocent people. In light of the US National Security Agency’s recent activities, this artistic prank is appropriate indeed. In a similar fashion to the government of the fictional Oceania, and without prior objection from the Congressional Intelligence Committees or the White House, the NSA had been spying on private citizens’ online activities and documenting their actions in an effort to root out potential threats to national security. On top of this, the NSA whistleblower himself, Edward Snowden, has been accused under the Espionage Act of being a potential traitor to the country.

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In an appalling decision, the Supreme Court stops use of a key part of the Voting Rights Act

Map of states affected by the Voting Rights Act

By from WashingtonPost.com:

Video: Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he was “very disappointed” with the supreme court’s invalidation of part of the Voting Rights Act. 

A divided Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a crucial component of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, ruling that Congress has not taken into account the nation’s racial progress when singling out certain states for federal oversight.The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the other conservative members of the court in the majority.

Read the decision

The court did not strike down the law itself or the provision that calls for special scrutiny of states with a history of discrimination. But it said Congress must come up with a new formula based on current data to determine which states should be subject to the requirements.Proponents of the law, which protects minority voting rights, called the ruling a death knell. It will be almost impossible for a Congress bitterly divided along partisan lines to come up with such an agreement, they said.

There could be immediate consequences from the court’s ruling. Just hours after the ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said his state will move forward with a voter-identification law that had been stopped by a panel of federal judges and will carry out redistricting changes that had been mired in court battles.

The act covers the Southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as Alaska, Arizona and parts of seven other states. It requires them to receive “pre-clearance” from the U.S. attorney general or federal judges before making any changes to election or voting laws.

Roberts said the court had warned Congress four years ago, in a separate case, that its decision to continue using a formula based on “40-year-old facts” would lead to serious constitutional questions.

“Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so,” Roberts wrote. “Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare [the formula] unconstitutional.”

He added, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

He was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

One sign of racial progress has been the election of the nation’s first African American president, who said Tuesday that he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision.

“For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act . . . has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans,” President Obama said in a statement. “Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”

In Virginia, the state government presumably will no longer need approval from Washington for its new voter-ID law. The law could still be subject to a legal challenge, but the burden would be shifted to plaintiffs to show that the law would hurt minority voters.

[Full article]

Supreme Court’s ruling overturns both the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier wave to the crowd

The Supreme Court’s ruling this week overturned both the Federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8, both of which restricted the right of same-sex couples to legally marry. Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, will be one of New York City’s LGBT Pride Parade’s Grand Marshals.

From HuffingtonPost.com:

NYC LGBT Pride 2013: Edie Windsor Joins Harry Belafonte And Earl Fowlkes as Grand Pride Marshal

Nyc Pride Marshal

The 83-year-old plaintiff in the case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will lead the 2013 New York City LGBT Pride March as a grand marshal.

Edith “Edie” Windsor will serve as a grand marshal alongside singer Harry Belafonte and black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocate Earl Fowlkes in the 2013 march, Heritage of Pride officials confirmed in a statement to HuffPost Gay Voices.

Chris Frederick, Managing Director of NYC Pride, described the trio as “great waves in a sea of hope,” pointing out ” Edith’s never-ending battle for marriage equality, Harry’s unending fight for human rights, Earl’s focused leadership and selfless spirit.”

Echoing those sentiments was Mike Dunlap, March Director for NYC Pride, who said, “This year’s Grand Marshals have enriched the LGBT community through their dedication, accomplishments and commitment to the LGBT civil rights movement.”

[Full article]

From YahooNews.com:

Couples Sandra Stier and Kristin Perry, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarillo, plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, exit the courthouse after the verdict along with their attorneys.

Proposition 8 plaintiffs and their attorneys exit the courthouse.

Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier wave to the crowd after being the first couple married at San Francisco City Hall.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier wave to the crowd

[Full article]

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Earthenware Wari bottle

By George Dvorsky from Gizmodo.com:

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

A massive royal Wari tomb has been unearthed in Peru — and it’s full of mummies and artifacts made of silver and gold. Remarkably, the 1,200 year-old site has never been touched by looters, which is a rarity as far as these things go.

Above image: A pair of heavy gold-and-silver ear ornaments featuring a winged supernatural being. Credit: National Geographic/Daniel Giannoni.

The tomb was discovered in northern Peru by Polish archaeologist Milosz Giersz and his team many months ago. But to avoid looting, they kept it a total secret. Digging quietly for months, they unearthed 63 individuals, including three Wari queens. The archaeologists suspect that some of them were human sacrifices.

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Photo: Daniel Giannoni.

The tomb, which dates back to sometime between 700 and 1,000 A.D., contains over a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools.

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Photo: Milosz Giersz

The find will undoubtedly help archaeologists and anthropologists understand the life of the Wari, a vibrant civilization that lived in the Andes centuries before the rise of the Incan Empire.
National Geographic describes this “overlooked” empire:

The Wari lords have long been overshadowed by the later Inca, whose achievements were extensively documented by their Spanish conquerors. But in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., the Wari built an empire that spanned much of present-day Peru. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world’s great cities. At its zenith, Huari boasted a population conservatively estimated at about 40,000 people. Paris, by comparison, had just 25,000 residents at the time.

Just how the Wari forged this empire, whether by conquest or persuasion, is a long-standing archaeological mystery. The sheer sophistication of Wari artwork has long attracted looters, who have ransacked the remains of imperial palaces and shrines. Unable to stop the destruction of vital archaeological information, researchers were left with many more questions than answers.

[Full article]

The Lowly Luggage Tag Gets a High-Tech Makeover

e-luggage tag

By Damon Lavrinc from Wired.com:

We shop for flights on our laptop, book hotels on our tablet, and have a QR code boarding pass on our smartphone. So why are we still walking up to the ticket counter to get a printed sticker when we check our bags? British Airways and Designworks asked the same question and think it’s time for the luggage tag to evolve.

Next month, the airline and design firm will begin testing a reusable, e-ink luggage tag that connects with your smartphone. Using NFC, the app will beam your flight information to the tag, displaying your destination and a barcode on the e-paper screen. There’s no GPS-tracking, but the display is compatible with existing luggage scanners, so there’s no need to update the existing infrastructure at airports.

BA employees will be testing the tags during a three-month trial before the airline rolls out the system to its passengers next year. However, NFC will likely be ditched in favor of Bluetooth so the system is compatible with all smartphones that run BA’s app. And the airline estimates that travelers using the tag will be able to have their bags dropped off and checked in less than a minute.

Images: Designworks

[Original article]

Desktop Backgrounds Designed to Make You Smarter

Typeface anatomy

From Mashable.com:
Anyone can throw an image of the periodic table onto a desktop and call it a background, but the creations in the gallery above combine useful information with strong aesthetic appeal.

1. Periodic Table of Typefaces

Type%2520tableStudy the popular, influential and notorious typefaces with this background. Image courtesy of Flickr, Jeff McNeill

2. Typeface Anatomy Wallpaper

Typeface_anatomy_wallpaper_Take a closer look at the components of a typeface with this simple wallpaper. Image courtesy of Kevin Wittevrongel

3. Brain


This wallpaper displays the dichotomy between our creative right and scientific left. Image by Jack

4. Solar

SolarScience enthusiasts will enjoy this simple depiction of the solar system. Image by Jouhl Zamora

5. Konami Code

Konami-codeCheat your way to victory with this simple trick. Image by Teles Maciel

6. Fibonacci


Spiral out of control with Fibonacci’s sequence. Image by amitabher

7. Periodic Light


Optimal for memorizing the families in the Periodic Table. Image by Chris Bogie

8. Moog


You’ll get familiar with the parts of a Moog sequencer when you make this your background. Image by Ania Haho

9. World Map


Memorize the countries around the world with this map of the world desktop background. Image via iStockPhoto, bamlou

Show As Gallery

[Full article]

Prairie dogs’ language decoded by scientists

Human-animal translation devices may be available within 10 years, researcher says

From CBC News

Prairie dogs give each other detailed descriptions of humans nearby, including the colour of their clothing, their size and whether they have carried a gun. Prairie dogs give each other detailed descriptions of humans nearby, including the colour of their clothing, their size and whether they have carried a gun. (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)

Did that prairie dog just call you fat? Quite possibly. On The Current Friday, biologist Con Slobodchikoff described how he learned to understand what prairie dogs are saying to one another and discovered how eloquent they can be.

Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at North Arizona University, told Erica Johnson, guest host of The Current, that he started studying prairie dog language 30 years ago after scientists reported that other ground squirrels had different alarm calls to warn each other of flying predators such as hawks and eagles, versus predators on the ground, such as coyotes or badgers.

Hear the full interview with Con Slobodchikoff on The Current

Prairie dogs, he said, were ideal animals to study because they are social animals that live in small co-operative groups within a larger colony, or “town” and they never leave their colony or territory, where they have built an elaborate underground complex of tunnels and burrows.

In order to figure out what the prairie dogs were saying, Slobodchikoff and his colleagues trapped them and painted them with fur dye to identify each one. Then they recorded the animals’ calls in the presence of different predators.

They found that the animals make distinctive calls that can distinguish between a wide variety of animals, including coyotes, domestic dogs and humans. The patterns are so distinct, Slobodchikoff said, that human visitors that he brings to a prairie dog colony can typically learn them within two hours.

But then Slobodchikoff noticed that the animals made slightly different calls when different individuals of the same species went by.

“With a sudden intuition, I thought, ‘What if they’re describing the physical features of each predator?'” he recalled.

He and his team conducted experiments where they paraded dogs of different colours and sizes and various humans wearing different clothes past the colony. They recorded the prairie dogs’ calls, analyzed them with a computer, and were astonished by the results.

Clothing colour, size described

“They’re able to describe the colour of clothes the humans are wearing, they’re able to describe the size and shape of humans, even, amazingly, whether a human once appeared with a gun,” Slobodchikoff said.

The animals can even describe abstract shapes such as circles and triangles.

Also remarkable was the amount of information crammed into a single chirp lasting a 10th of a second. “In one 10th of a second, they say ‘Tall thin human wearing blue shirt walking slowly across the colony.'”

Besides being a researcher, Slobodchikoff is an author of the book Chasing Doctor Doolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, in which he profiles many other animals with complex language, including crows and ravens, chickens and vervet monkeys. He believes complex speech is probably common within the animal kingdom.

“It’s just that we have not looked,” he said. He blames the fact that humans have long assumed animals are incapable of such intelligence.

[Full article]

Scientists use electron ‘ink’ to write on graphene ‘paper’

Electron microscope image image of "N" on graphene

By Lisa Zyga from Phys.org:

Scientists use electron 'ink' to write on graphene 'paper'
Images taken by a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) of electron ink on graphene paper, showing the letter “N” and the symbol “Ʌ.” Credit: Wei Zhang, et al. ©2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.

(Phys.org) —Nanoscale writing offers a reliable way to record information at extremely high densities, making it a promising tool for patterning nanostructures for a variety of electronic applications. In a recent study, scientists have demonstrated a simple yet effective way to write and draw on the nanoscale by using an electron beam to selectively break the carbon atoms in single-layer graphene.

The researchers, Wei Zhang and Luise Theil Kuhn at the Technical University of Denmark in Roskilde, Denmark; and Qiang Zhang and Meng-Qiang Zhao at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, have published their study on using electron ink to write on graphene paper in a recent issue of Nanotechnology.

“The ability to record information has been directly correlated with the process of human civilization since ancient times,” Wei Zhang told Phys.org. “Paper and ink are the two essential factors to record history. Currently, information communication has proceeded onto an unprecedented scale.”

Nanoscale writing, which is essentially the manipulation of matter on the nanoscale, has already been widely explored. The current methods can be classified into two groups: lithography (top down), which imprints a pre-made pattern on a substrate, but has restricted resolution; and (bottom up), which manipulates atoms or molecules individually, but faces challenges with controllability.

Herein, the researchers proposed a combination method based on both types of methods to overcome the difficulties of each, which they demonstrated on “the thinnest paper in the world”: graphene.

“The rise of graphene calls for broad attention,” Qiang Zhang said. “One distinct characteristic is its flatness, which provides the perfect opportunity to be regarded as the thinnest paper. In order to directly write on this ultimate thin paper, the suitable ink must be found. At the small scale, typically nanoscale, the ink candidate must meet the qualification as both high-resolution writing and visualization function. Therefore, high-energy electrons in a transmission electron microscope (TEM) are the best choice. The can be manipulated as ink for direct writing, but is by itself invisible.”

Scientists use electron 'ink' to write on graphene 'paper'
When an electron beam (green) writes on graphene paper, some of the carbon atoms in the graphene are kicked off, and external carbon atoms are deposited onto the dangling bonds to form an irregular structure that appears as “ink.” Credit: Wei Zhang, et al. ©2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.

[Full article]

Public Art Marks Hurricane Evacuation Spots in New Orleans

"Evacuteer" sculpture

By Anya Kamenetz from FastCompany.com:

Storm season is coming soon, so look for the giant stick figure to get out of town.

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, over a quarter of New Orleans households did not have access to a vehicle. Therefore nearly 100,000 people did not evacuate the city, creating hellish scenes in the Convention Center and Superdome with people stuck for days without adequate food, water, sanitation or medical care, not to mention the tragic loss of over a thousand lives in the flood itself.

Ten years and a couple of evacuations later, the city has finally introduced a solution: “City-Assisted Evacuation,” providing the elderly and others in need free pickups and rides from 17 access points in case of a large storm headed their way. But according to Evacuteer, a nonprofit that trains volunteers to help with the CAE effort, there was just one problem. The city was marking the access points with a tiny metal sign covered in fine print that looked like any old parking sign. No one was likely to notice the sites or remember them when they needed them.

They started being installed this month, in time for the official start of hurricane season June 1.

So Evacuteer raised money from hundreds of donors and commissioned an artist, Douglas Kornfeld, to create a series of 12-foot sculptures to mark each access point. They look like giant steel stick figures reaching up to hail a cab, or maybe grab some Mardi Gras beads. They started being installed this month, in time for the official start of hurricane season June 1.

“People may think the waving guys are beautiful, and others may think they’re ugly,” the director of the project, Robert Fogarty, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “In either scenario, they at least remember where it was—and that’s what matters.”

[Full article]