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. 

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Bullet-proof Backpacks for Kids

MotherJones has an article detailing several companies that make backpacks that include hidden bullet-proof plates.

Each of these backpacks includes a bullet-proof plate.

I think the article is meant to be sarcastic or just sort of “What is the world coming to?” because it also includes both children’s bullet-proof vests (clearly not for every day use) as well as a combined body-armor/weapon system that allows you to quickly deploy a chest-plate with a Mac-11 machine pistol. This is not something I imagine Mother Jones would ordinarily be willing to advertise, but effectively they’ve just done that. For free. Politics makes people do strange things.

As far as terrible gun-related advertisements go, these are pretty tame. I once got an ad from The Blaze (run by Glenn Beck) advertising a model of a new civilian rifle that came broken down in a carrying case and could be unpacked into a sniper configuration. At that point you might as well just label the gun “Assassination Model”, and that’s just a little insane.

I'm a fan of guns, and I think the carrying case is neat, but the way the advertisement was structured weirded even me out.
I’m a fan of guns, and I think the carrying case is neat, but the way the advertisement was structured weirded even me out.

I have two kids who go to school, and I’m not really interested in this product, but I wouldn’t look down on someone who bought one (just the backpacks, I mean). The reasons I’m not interested are first of all: my kids are about as likely to be involved in a school shooting as to be struck by lightning. Secondly, I’m not sure that the limited protection of a single plate would really do that much good. And finally, the armor in these backpacks is only rated for handguns, not the rifle that was used by the shooters at Sandy Hook, Aurora, or many other public mass shootings.

Still, I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Don’t Expect Major New Gun Control, This Is Why

It’s just a local article from the CBS Denver affiliate, but I have a hunch it actually speaks volumes about the state of gun control in our country:

The day after the shooting in Connecticut a lot of people in Colorado tried to buy a gun.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation says it received 4,154 requests for background checks from potential buyers on Saturday. That was so many the CBI couldn’t process them all and the backlog grew to nearly 18 hours. The Unit could only process 3,001 checks on Saturday.

Extra staff was brought in over the weekend and workers are still trying to clear the backlog.

There are a lot of ways you could interpret this, and a lot of potential conclusions you could draw. (Some would probably be true, others might not be.) The one stark reality seems to be that, no matter how much Americans may fear guns in the hands of ruthless killers, they see putting a gun in their own hand a part of the solution.

Robbie Parker and His Critics

Many of you have probably seen this video making the rounds of a tearful, stunned, and awkward Robbie Parker speaking to press about his daughter Emilie, who was the youngest victim in Sandy Hook.

I think the beauty of his statement stands on its own, and many have noted it. I want to share some other things I noticed, however. 

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Neurons from Urine


The ick factor is so outweighed by the cool factor it’s barely worth mentioning.

Nature covers an article in Nature Methods that describes how researchers were able to create new brain cells starting only with discarded cells flushed away in urine. This is terrific news for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that this stem cell treatment doesn’t require destroying human life. In addition, stem cells derived from embryos tend to be hard to control, but the brain cells cultured this way–when implanted into rats–didn’t lead to any tumors. It also helps that these cells are obviously easier to harvest (“We work on childhood disorders,” said one of the researchers. “And it’s easier to get a child to give a urine sample than to prick them for blood.”) Finally: this allows researchers to create stem cells for a patient from that patient’s own cells.

Sometimes, the future is rad.


Who Steals a Jet Engine?

The Slashdot headline definitely caught my attention (F-16 Engines Stolen From Israeli Air Base), and the story was indeed as advertised: Not one, not two, but several jet engines were swiped from an airbase. These engines weigh 3,700 pounds each, mind you, so it’s not like you can smuggle one out in your car.

An older version of the stolen F-100 engine. What do you think I can get for one of these on ebay?

It gets even better, however. Turns out someone helped themselves out to a five-fingered discount on eight F-15 and F-16 engines back in 2011, also from Israel. Maybe we should not give them so many toys if they can’t take better care of them? Oh, yeah, and in 2009 Malaysia suffered a similar heist. Someone absconded with a pair of F-5 jet engines which were subsequently tracked to Argentina before being recovered in Uruguay.

The world is a weird place.

The Next Stage of Gadgets is Not a Gadget

I was thinking about the next big leap forward in personal technology on my run today because that’s how I roll. Personal computing has basically gone from desktop to laptop to mobile, including both tablets and phones. What’s next? The limiting factor is primarily user-interface. Anything smaller than a phone will be too small to have a screen (no output) and too small to have any kind of keyboard (no input). Some kind of direct mental control might work for the input, but there are big privacy concerns. Google Glass is supposed to be the next leap forward in displays, but I’m skeptical. What we needed, I thought, was a contact lens with a screen in it. I figured that was still a long ways off, but the Internet is generous, and always provides. That’s right, folks, an LCD display on a contact lens is already a reality, although it’s just a simple monochrome display at this point.

So the next stage of personal computing will really be wearable devices where the device is actually distributed into smaller segments, like perhaps a CPU built into your watch that displays to a screen in your contact lenses.

Is the TSA a Threat to Male Egos?

Stewart Baker has some odd ideas about male psychology and the TSA. According to his view, men have a constant desire to perform in public. Demonstrating competence fuels our secret desire to attract a watching woman’s attention and get to have sex with her. But the TSA keeps changing the rules, and men feel humiliated when an authority figure shatters that facade of confidence. This, reasons Stewart, is the real root of anti-TSA hatred. To which I respond: really? The view of masculinity is weird (maybe I’m just a beta male), and the only time I get mad at the TSA is when I hear about how they mistreat children, the elderly, or other vulnerable folks. I’ve never had a problem with them myself. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the lone voice defending the TSA would have such an alien argument behind it…

Is Partisan Technology a Bad Thing?

There have been lots of articles about the wonders of the Obama campaign’s cutting-edge technology, but even as a sad Romney supporter it had never occurred to me that this might be a bad thing. Tom Steinberg begs to differ. His main point seems to be that the technical arms race between GOP and Democrats is wasteful because of mutual cancellation: “But everything you build in this field always attracts people trying to undo your work by directly opposing it.” Tom would rather people work on tech that won’t be counter-acted, and that will therefore make our lives better. That’s plausible, but the article made me wonder about something else. If a campaign can be won or lost on the basis of technical prowess or some other factor that’s independent of political differences, are we risking a society where democracy exists in theory, but in practice has already become irrelevant? If money can corrupt politics, can’t a decisive marketing advantage do the same thing?