Air Pollution in Beijing is Crazy Scary

You may have heard that air quality in Beijing is hitting an all-time, low. Here are the photos to prove it.

Natural-color satellite image of Beijing from Jan 3, 2013. Normal levels of pollution.

For reference, the photo above is from before the spike in pollution. Now, here’s what Beijing looked like on Jan 14, 2013 during the middle of the smog spike:

Natural-color satellite image of Beijing from Jan 14, 2013 showing the extent of the air pollution.

The US has its own sensors at their embassy, and so we can get some idea of just how bad the air quality really is. According to the article at NASA, Beijing had 291 micrograms of fine particulate matter (tiny particles small enough to get into the passageways of your lungs) per cubic meter of air. The safe level is considered to be 25. The air quality index at the time of the second satellite image was 341, while anything above 100 is considered dangerous to all human beings (not just those already sick), and a level of below 50 is considered healthy. That’s bad enough, but the peak was actually on Jan 12 (two days before the second satellite image) when there were 886 micrograms per cubic meter and the AQ was 775, which isn’t even on the scale the EPA uses.

Artist Creates Anti-Drone Stealth Hoodies

Last year, British artist Adam Harvey created a line of facial makeup that can be used to foil face-recognition cameras. This year, he has created  a line of sweatshirts with thermal-blocking materials designed to hide people from drones.

According to the article:

Wearing the fabric would make that part of the body look black to a drone, so the image would appear like disembodied legs. He also designed a pouch for cell phones that shields them from trackers by blocking the radio signals the phone emits. For those airport X-ray machines, he has a shirt with a printed design that blocks the radiation from one’s heart.

Obviously the sweatshirts can’t make people invisible (not without cooking them by trapping all the thermal energy), and so I’m not sure if the hoodie is supposed to trick automatic tracking or just make people harder for human operators or drones to track, but with permits for domestic use of drones passing in the US it’s no wonder that libertarians and privacy activists believe it’s time for a little push-back.

It’s also interesting to think that the odd styles imagined by science fiction writers might emerge in part as a kind of arms race between surveillance states and their citizens. If only a few  people wear clothes or makeup like this, they will stand out. But if they actually gain even moderate acceptance, then we’ll be off to the races.

The Pursuit of Happiness Occludes Happiness

Viktor Frankl

There’s a great article from The Atlantic which ties into the recent piece I wrote about euthanasia and hedonism. And it quotes Viktor Frankl extensively, so there was no way I was not going to link to it. It turns out that the perspective of pleasure / pain (happiness) on one axis and meaning on another now has some research to back it up:

In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors write.

I had a really hard time picking just one quotation because the article is so full of good observations, so definitely check it out to read more.

Notre Dame: A Genuine Example of Rape Culture

Salon has a really sad article contrasting all the coverage of the bizarre story of Manti Te’s hoax girlfriend–an imaginary dead girl–with  the very real death of Lizzy Seeberg:

Less than a day into the Manti Te’o revelations, we’ve heard more about a fake dead girlfriend of a Notre Dame football player than a real dead girl. Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide, not long after being intimidated by Notre Dame football players for reporting a sexual assault by one of their teammates. A second woman who was taken to the hospital for a rape exam declined to formally accuse another Notre Dame football player after getting a series of bullying texts from players.

Read moreNotre Dame: A Genuine Example of Rape Culture

AutoRip: Another Reason Record Labels Suck

Amazon recently announced a service that would have been cutting edge in 1999. AutoRip lets you buy a physical CD and automatically get sent the MP3 files to go with it. Why didn’t someone think of this in the last century? Someone did. Michael Robertson started companies to offer this service in 1999, 2005, and 2007. Each and every one was torpedoed by the industry (with the occasional help of incompetent courts). Turns out some kind of stupid are just beyond helping.

Michael Robertson, whom I imagine saying, “I told you so!”

Read the ArsTechnica article for more of the sad story, and some excellent quotes from Robertson.

Don’t Blame This Man (For Your Lost Cell Phone)

The Las Vegas Journal-Review has an interesting article about what happens if Sprint decides to use the GPS coordinates for your home as the reference point for GPS navigation in your area. The answer includes numerous middle-of-the-night interruptions from people with phone-locating software who are convinced you have their device. Oh, yeah, and lots more interaction with the neighborhood cops than you might otherwise have.

The Minority Report UI Has Finally Arrived

You have to watch the video to believe it, so here goes:

This technology, as the Wired article makes clear, is not some academic prototype in an MIT basement lab somewhere. Nope, this puppy is ready for primetime. You can preorder it now, and it’s going to be bundled with Asus computers. The technology is incredibly well-timed because Windows 8 (which is being adopted at rates slower than Vista) is touchscreen-ready, and the Leap Motion allows users to access all the touch-screen options of Windows 8 without touching the screen. This is good if the screen is out of comfortable reach or if you don’t want to smudge your screen, and it means that Leap Motion isn’t just a shiny gadget. It’s a tool you can actually use.

I don’t know who is more excited right now, me or Steve Ballmer.

Penny-Arcade on Faith

So… I’m still having trouble picking my jaw up off the floor after coming across Extra Credit’s Religion in Games (part 2 of 2) over at Penny-Arcade TV. In response to the question, “Why aren’t there more examples of examining faith in video games”, they respond simply: “Because gamers are antagonistic to faith.” (I’m pararphrasing, these quotes aren’t word-for-word.)

As if that little nugget of honesty wasn’t enough, they followed it up with the bold claim that all science is faith-based. This is absolutely true, but I’m utterly shocked that a prominent voice in the gaming community would A – hold that opinion and B – have the temerity to state it publicly.

So, both as as a stunning departure from the party-line of secularism and as a pretty good explanation of reasonable faith in its own right, I commend this video to your eyeballs.

Why Banning Assault Weapons Is Futile

This is another really informative article on gun control and, specifically, on the futility of an assault weapons ban. Even though I’m generally well-informed on gun-control there were a lot of very surprising facts in here.

For example, the Virginia Tech shooter had nearly 20 magazines in his backpack, which is the reason he was able to reload so quickly. I’d always known that even 10-round magazines (the proposed limit in Senator Feinstein’s new version of the assault weapons ban) would provide ample bullets in theory, but I didn’t realize there was such a stark and tragic real-world example of this fact.

The article also includes two examples of assault weapons being used in actual home defense stories. In one, a 15-year old boy protected his 12-year old sister when 2 men broke into their home by firing at them with an AR-15 rifle. The story was actually well-publicized, but most journalists left out the fact that the rifle he used was an assault rifle.

In any case, read the entire thing and send it along to your friends.

Humble Indie Bundle 7, Ads, and Modernity

So, Humble Indie Bundle 7 is live.  You best believe I got in on that: it was just $6 to unlock all the games and soundtracks earlier this morning. I’m especially psyched for Dungeon Defenders as well as Shank 2. (Not to mention the soundtracks!)

I like the way they incentivize faster sales and a higher price (since you get to pick) by saying that if you pay more than the average paid to that point you get the extra unlocks, but there’s another wrinkle that’s either new or I simply hadn’t noticed before: the live dashboard of their current sales. 

Read moreHumble Indie Bundle 7, Ads, and Modernity