I make films. I'm also a nerd.

DARPA Creates Another Totally Non-Evil Evil Robot

Will Knight writes, for the MIT Technology Review:

The latest innovation from the U.S. Defense Department’s research agency, DARPA, is a humanoid robot called Atlas that looks as if it could’ve walked straight off the set of the latest Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster.

In fact, Atlas is designed to eventually take on some of the most dangerous and high-stakes jobs imaginable, such as tending to a nuclear reactor during a meltdown, shutting off a deep-water oil spill, or helping to put out a raging wildfire. And if Atlas proves itself at such daredevil tasks, then one of its descendants might one day be allowed to do something just as important: help take care of the elderly and infirm.

Actual Truth: This thing will come and kill you, in the night. Just look at this thing, and then look at some of DARPA’s other monstrosities, and try to convince me—with a straight face—that you aren’t terrified.

Amazing Animated .Gifs of Saturn And Its Moons

These animations from the Cassini probe—which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004—are strange and beautiful, and not unlike something from a Guy Maddin film.

HT Rodney Ramsey.

Russian Intelligence Reverts To Typewriters Due To NSA Surveillance

Miriam Elder writes in The Guardian:

In the wake of the US surveillance scandal revealed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Russia is planning to adopt a foolproof means of avoiding global electronic snooping: by reverting to paper.

The Federal Guard Service (FSO), a powerful body tasked with protecting Russia’s highest-ranking officials, has recently put in an order for 20 Triumph Adler typewriters, the Izvestiya newspaper reported.

Great, so we’re all going to revert to our 1972 selves now because the U.S. government desperately needs to know what sandwich my aunt photographed last night. We live in a shitty, shitty world.

Nokia Is Doing Cool Things With Cameras

From an appropriately skeptical c|net article:

The Lumia 1020’s 41-megapixel camera represents an elegant solution to the dilemma of offering an optical zoom capability without a bulky, physical lens. While the PureView camera juts out slightly from the Lumia 1020’s body, it is no where near as cumbersome as the recently unveiled Galaxy S4 Zoom, which does include an actual zoom lens.

I’m glad someone is trying the novel hack of cramming an insane number of pixels into a phone-camera sensor, but it’s too bad Nokia’s the one doing it. They rested on their Symbian laurels while the market moved out from under them, and then they decided they’d go with the operating system that’s in a very distant third place. They probably aren’t going to make it for very much longer.

Atheists in Florida…Wait, There Are Atheists in Florida?

The Huffington Post :

A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their nonbelief in God on Saturday to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse.

I grew up in the South, surrounded by undereducated hillbillies who feel the compulsion to shove their curiously non-Christ-like beliefs down everyone’s throats. This monument in Florida makes me giggle with glee.

Oh, wait…the atheists in this story aren’t from Florida. Yeah, that checks out.

Why Coffee Shops Shouldn’t Be Antagonistic To WiFi Users

Ben Brooks takes to task the thick-headed notion that letting people work in cafés is bad for the coffee-selling business:

Coffee Shops started sprouting up everywhere in the U.S. because of massive demand for the coffee shop — not massive demand for coffee, mind you, but for the seats in the shops. This is evident with the way most shops are setup, but no more evidence needed than to look at the move of Starbucks providing free WiFi, instead of paid WiFi they started with.

My own behavior can obviously only serve as anecdotal evidence, at best, but speaking as someone who often chooses and/or needs to get outside the house and work: I will never, ever buy coffee from a shop that won’t let me hang out for a while with a computer. That’s the whole point of a coffee shop.

I find myself less and less likely to spend any time—or money—at the downtown location of Philz here in Palo Alto, despite the fact that theirs is my favorite coffee in the world. I simply cannot stand the fact that their WiFi access is provided by Facebook, and requires me to “check in” before I can log on. Philz loses a lot of money I’d otherwise be giving them for even this. If they became completely antagonistic to their customers and tried to shoo them along, I’d soon find myself never buying anything from them ever again.

In Defense of the Sidebar

While I’m certainly in favor of any design trend which continues to take us farther away from the eye-crimes of yesteryear’s Web—please don’t get me wrong—there seems to be a growing propensity among design nerds to strip away everything on the page other than the “content.” That’s all well and good when the things other than “content” consist of useless cruft, but what about providing some kind of context for your content? What about designing a page which makes navigation easy instead of really, really hard? Why should we be so quick to damn the sidebar and make our Web pages harder to use? In our quixotic quest for the most minimal layout possible, don’t we realize somewhere along the way that the most minimal layout is simply a blank page?

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Quit Being Intolerant of Ignorant Bigots, Says Ignorant Bigot Orson Scott Card, Intolerantly

The A.V. Club nails it:

Issuing a plea to set prejudices aside and adopt a more open-minded, progressive approach to accepting things solely on their inherent worth, Orson Scott Card has asked that people stop persecuting the upcoming Ender’s Game [film adaptation] simply because he is a homophobe.

Idiots can say whatever they want–it’s a free country. Fortunately, we’re also perfectly within our rights when we ridicule hateful idiots.

One Roadblock Removed in Lawsuit Against NSA

Joshua Kopstein, The Verge :

…a federal judge ruled Monday that the Obama administration can not use its “state secrets” privilege to block a lawsuit originally brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2008.

That’s big news: until now, the administration has repeatedly invoked the privilege to block almost every legal challenge the NSA has faced over its surveillance activities, even after a secret court ruled that the programs had violated the Constitution “on at least one occasion.” But the ultimate goal — an official Constitutional ruling that would ostensibly bring an end to NSA’s warrantless data collection programs — is still a ways off, if it happens at all.

Let’s go ahead and assume that this whole case will be swallowed by a giant U.S.A.-shaped black hole eventually—as Kopstein notes, the government can always shut the case down with an invocation of “sovereign immunity.” For now, though, it’s nice to think that some judge might actually have to try to square PRISM with the Fourth Amendment.

By the way, here’s the full court document, for those interested.

Apple Cuts iPhone Production, Says Noted Con Artist

Hayley Tsukayama, shoveling B.S. for The Washington Post:

Apple shares took a dip in early trading Tuesday, after an analyst report claimed that the firm is planning to cut production of the iPhone by 20 percent in the second half of the year.

As CNBC reported, analyst Brian Blair of Wedge Partners said in a note that the firm has cut smartphone production by a fifth — planning to make between 90 million and 100 million rather than an original projected range between 115 million to 120 million. The cuts, the report said, include production for the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and as-yet unreleased (and unconfirmed) next generation of the iPhone.

What if I could just lie through my teeth and say that Apple was going to sell zero iPhones next year? The stock would go down, and I could buy it up at a bargain price. Then, when Apple sells 15 bajillion phones back in Reality World, I’d get really rich. Hmm… If only people were stupid enough to fall for my transparent manipulations of both their minds and their markets…