Carpet designer threatens cosplayers with legal action

Cosplayers dressed in fabric that matches carpet

By Gavia Baker-Whitelaw from

Sometimes, dressing as your favorite superhero or cartoon character just isn’t enough. So at Internet culture convention DragonCon, cosplay often crosses the line into in-joke absurdity. Like dressing up as a rug.

One of this year’s highlights was a pair of intrepid cosplayers who dressed up as the memorably psychedelic carpet at DragonCon’s Atlanta Marriott hotel. It was a hit—for everyone but the carpet designer, who threatened legal action when photos landed on Facebook.

Photo via Facebook

In the world of cosplay, people don’t generally expect to get into trouble for dressing up as well-known characters like Superman or Spock, even though the legal teams at DC Comics or Paramount could probably crush them like a bug. Unfortunately, the designers of the Marriott’s patterned carpets didn’t get the memo about turning a blind eye to cosplay tributes.

Apparently the carpet costumes were so popular that one of the original cosplayers offered a version of the Marriott carpet pattern for the presumably vast number of people who also wanted to dress up in carpet-themed camo gear. Seeing this, carpet designers Couristan Inc. sent cosplay suppliers Volpin Props a Cease & Desist letter. As Volpin Props explained on their Facebook page today:

Of all the things to get a Cease and Desist over, of ALL the replicas I’ve made over the years, I’ve received one from Couristan Inc., designers of the Marriott Marquis Atlanta hotel carpet. Spoonflower has pulled the design, as is their right, so sorry everyone who wanted some fabric of their own!

The absurdity is palpable.

As one commenter pointed out, “If they were smart, they would contact you to do promotions FOR them.” After all, what other carpet manufacturer has its own fandom?

English is no longer the language of the web

Flags of the world

By Ethan Zuckerman from

Flags of the world

Conventional wisdom suggests that English is becoming “the world’s second language,” a lingua franca that many forward—looking organizations are adopting it as a working language. Optimists about the spread of English as a global second language suggest it will enable collaboration and ease problem solving without threatening the survival of mother tongues. Pointing to hundreds of thousands of Chinese children who learn English by shouting phrases back at teachers, the American entrepreneur Jay Walker offers the idea that English will be a language of economic opportunity for most speakers: they’ll work and think in their mother tongue, but English will allow them to communicate, share, and transact.

Cultural-preservation organizations like UNESCO aren’t as confident of this vision. They warn that English may crowd out less widely spoken languages as it spreads around the world through television, music, and film. But something more subtle and complicated appears to be going on. While English may be emerging as a bridge language, a wave of media is being produced in other languages, in newspapers, on television, and on the Internet. As technologies make it easier for people to communicate to broad and narrow audiences in their native languages, we’re discovering that linguistic difference is surprisingly persistent.

One way to consider the future of language in a connected world is to ask, “What percent of the Internet’s content is written in English?”

Look online for an answer to that query—posed in English—and you’re likely to encounter a website last updated in 2003, The site’s “English Facts and Figures” page asserts that “80% of home pages on the Web are in English, while the next greatest, German, has only 4.5% and Japanese 3.1%.” The sources behind this assertion are unclear, but it’s consistent with early research on linguistic diversity online. In 1997, Geoffrey Nunberg and Hinrich Schütze released a study estimating that 80 percent of the World Wide Web’s content was in English. The Online Computer Library Center followed in 2003 with a study estimating that 72 percent of online content was in English.

These early studies led researchers to suggest that English had a “head start” that other languages would find difficult to overcome. With such a large user base of English speakers online, many websites would publish content only in English, and web users would adapt to monolingualism by improving their language skills, which in turn would increase the incentive to publish in English. Neil Gandal of Tel Aviv University analyzed web use in Quebec, Canada, in 2001 and observed that native French speakers spent 66 percent of their online time on English-language websites. Furthermore, young Quebecois looked at more English content than their elders, suggesting that language barriers would be even less relevant for a future generation of web users. Given that Francophone Quebecois were willing to read English content online, Gandal argued, website developers wouldn’t bother to localize their content, leading to a future with more sites entirely in English.

Both the 70–80 percent English “fact” and the head start theory have lingered despite evidence that the linguistic shape of the World Wide Web has changed dramatically in the past ten years as it expanded both in scale and in the number of authors creating content. One reason the “fact” persists is that it’s incredibly difficult to generate a believable estimate of language diversity online. Early studies tried to create a random sample of websites by choosing a selection of IP addresses, loading whatever page emerged, and using automated tools to determine what language it was written in. This method works poorly these days, when sites like Facebook, reached via a single IP address, include multilingual content generated by more than half a billion users. Newer methods rely on search engines to index the web, then attempt to estimate coverage of different languages on the basis of the comparative frequency of words in different languages.

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Social Networking in the 1600s

1600s men at coffeehouse

By Tom Standage from the New York Times Sunday Review:

Men enjoying a drink and a chat in a 17th-century coffeehouse. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

LONDON — SOCIAL networks stand accused of being enemies of productivity. According to one popular (if questionable) infographic circulating online, the use of Facebook, Twitter and other such sites at work costs the American economy $650 billion each year. Our attention spans are atrophying, our test scores declining, all because of these “weapons of mass distraction.”

Yet such worries have arisen before. In England in the late 1600s, very similar concerns were expressed about another new media-sharing environment, the allure of which seemed to be undermining young people’s ability to concentrate on their studies or their work: the coffeehouse. It was the social-networking site of its day.

Like coffee itself, coffeehouses were an import from the Arab world. England’s first coffeehouse opened in Oxford in the early 1650s, and hundreds of similar establishments sprang up in London and other cities in the following years. People went to coffeehouses not just to drink coffee, but to read and discuss the latest pamphlets and news-sheets and to catch up on rumor and gossip.

Coffeehouses were also used as post offices. Patrons would visit their favorite coffeehouses several times a day to check for new mail, catch up on the news and talk to other coffee drinkers, both friends and strangers. Some coffeehouses specialized in discussion of particular topics, like science, politics, literature or shipping. As customers moved from one to the other, information circulated with them.

The diary of Samuel Pepys, a government official, is punctuated by variations of the phrase “thence to the coffeehouse.” His entries give a sense of the wide-ranging conversations he found there. The ones for November 1663 alone include references to “a long and most passionate discourse between two doctors,” discussions of Roman history, how to store beer, a new type of nautical weapon and an approaching legal trial.

One reason these conversations were so lively was that social distinctions were not recognized within the coffeehouse walls. Patrons were not merely permitted but encouraged to strike up conversations with strangers from entirely different walks of life. As the poet Samuel Butler put it, “gentleman, mechanic, lord, and scoundrel mix, and are all of a piece.”

Not everyone approved. As well as complaining that Christians had abandoned their traditional beer in favor of a foreign drink, critics worried that coffeehouses were keeping people from productive work. Among the first to sound the alarm, in 1677, was Anthony Wood, an Oxford academic. “Why doth solid and serious learning decline, and few or none follow it now in the University?” he asked. “Answer: Because of Coffea Houses, where they spend all their time.”

Meanwhile, Roger North, a lawyer, bemoaned, in Cambridge, the “vast Loss of Time grown out of a pure Novelty. For who can apply close to a Subject with his Head full of the Din of a Coffee-house?” These places were “the ruin of many serious and hopeful young gentlemen and tradesmen,” according to a pamphlet, “The Grand Concern of England Explained,” published in 1673.

All of which brings to mind the dire warnings issued by many modern commentators. A common cause for concern, both then and now, is that new media-sharing platforms pose a particular danger to the young.

But what was the actual impact of coffeehouses on productivity, education and innovation? Rather than enemies of industry, coffeehouses were in fact crucibles of creativity, because of the way in which they facilitated the mixing of both people and ideas. Members of the Royal Society, England’s pioneering scientific society, frequently retired to coffeehouses to extend their discussions. Scientists often conducted experiments and gave lectures in coffeehouses, and because admission cost just a penny (the price of a single cup), coffeehouses were sometimes referred to as “penny universities.” It was a coffeehouse argument among several fellow scientists that spurred Isaac Newton to write his “Principia Mathematica,” one of the foundational works of modern science.

[Full article]

Why Social Media Is the Front Line of Disaster Response

Social media statistics in disasters

An infographic from Hurricane Sandy, but equally relevant in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado yesterday.

By Zoe Fox from

Nearly one million people are affected by natural disasters each year. In the U.S. alone, some 400 people die from disasters that cost the economy $17.6 billion. Helping respond to these cataclysmic events, social media is now a go-to tool for those effected by disasters.

One in five Americans has used an emergency app. Of those Americans effected by natural disasters, 76% used social media to contact friends and family; 37% of used social media to help find shelter and supplies; and 24% used social media to let loved ones know they’re safe.

SEE ALSO: 13 Gadgets to Prepare You for a Natural Disaster

This infographic, created by our friends at USF’s Online MPA, details how social media has revolutionized communications during natural disasters.

At the bottom of the infographic, you’ll find a FEMA tweet sent during Hurrcane Sandy, which exemplifies why social media is becoming the best way to spread information during dangerous events: Phone lines can get congested, so updating social networks can be the ideal way to let loved ones know you’re okay.

Homepage image courtesy of iStockphoto, Krakozawr