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      Paul Bunyan and other fiberglass advertising giants ride again at Bell Plastics in Hayward California

      Before we had several tiny screens to entertain us on road trips, we were confined to but one: the window. Imagine being stuffed into the back seat of your mom’s gold Plymouth Duster, rolling through endless miles of dust, fields, and mountains, your eyes feeding your brain a never-ending litany of “tree….tree…cow….tree….rock…rock…tree…” and then, “…Paul BUNYAN??”

      Beginning in the early '60s, a brethren of Colossus began to fan out across the American countryside. These 14-to-25 foot tall fiberglass giants stood sentry outside tire shops and cafes, designed to act as a homing device for the family station wagon. Though they were known collectively as “Muffler Men,” they also took the form of Paul Bunyan, space men, pirates, cowboys, bikini babes, an Alfred E. Neuman look-a-like, even a chicken or two. A company called International Fiberglass in Venice Beach, CA produced about a thousand of these advertising giants during their heyday, transforming small roadside businesses into landmarks worthy of an ogle.

      The proliferation of freeways and uptight city zoning laws contributed to the decline of Muffler Men. All of the original molds were destroyed when International Fiberglass closed in 1976. Though a few can still be spotted in the wild, many now belong under the stewardship of private collectors.

      One such collector, the Bay Area’s Bell Plastics, is refuge to what is perhaps the world’s largest conglomeration of original muffler men. Once a year, they invite the public into their warehouse for a unique opportunity to wander amongst various advertising giants, including the rare Uniroyal Girl (a bikini-clad female “Muffler Man” who is said to be modeled after Jackie Kennedy), two of San Francisco’s beloved Doggie Diner heads, a slightly demented Santa, a pair of industrious car washing octopi, and other oversized company shills. What makes this event even more special is that Bell Plastics has reconstructed the goliath molds using the original figures and now Big Mike threatens to roam the earth once more.

      This year, they their machines up and running at the event so the curious could see how blow mold figures are made.

      To attend next year's open house, visit Bell Plastics Facebook page.

      Kai Wada Roath

      Janelle Hessig

      Janelle Hessig

      Janelle Hessig

      Janelle Hessig

      Janelle Hessig

      Top Image: Kai Wada Roath

      What will happen when Bitcoin mining rewards go away

      Approximately once every ten minutes, the Bitcoin network issues one "miner" with a block reward of freshly minted bitcoins. When bitcoin launched in 2009, the block reward was 50 bitcoins. Every four years, the reward is cut in half. Currently the block reward is 12.5 BTC. In May 2020 it will go down to 6.25 BTC. (Here's an interesting page with live data about bitcoin and mining rewards.) The only other incentive besides block rewards are transaction fees miners require to add a transaction to a block.

      So what happens when the mining reward becomes so small as to be inconsequential (it will reach zero in about 120 years, and the reward we be on the order of 0.00000001 BTC, or about 1/100 of a penny at the current exchange rate). In this video Heidi of Crypto Tips describes of the scenarios that could play out.

      Image: YouTube

      Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, in jail for life, draws his prison cell

      Ross Ulbricht, the creator of The Silk Road darknet marketplace, is serving a double life sentence plus forty years with no possibility for parole for "money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics by means of the Internet." [Wikipedia] Above, a detail from his incredible drawing of his cell and cellmate at the MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Center).

      In a Medium essay titled Life in a Box, Ross writes:

      Try, if you can, to imagine being in this 65-square-foot cell, just you, your cellie and a pet mouse. Mail comes in and out. You get the occasion visit or phone call, but otherwise this and the prison is your universe. Now imagine living here day after day. You lay down in the bunk at night and wake up in it every morning. You eat here. Some days you weep here. Year after year, this is it. No breaks, no weekend off, and you are told you will never be let out, ever.

      What can one live for under these conditions?

      Surprisingly, there is much. At the very least, I know that rarefied states of mind, states of pure bliss that dedicated monks experience after many years of devotion, are available to me if I live a spiritual life in here. I know also that all the world’s knowledge is still available to me between the covers of books (some I was reading at the time I drew “Life in a Box” can be seen stacked on my bunk).

      From what I can see, here are the books in Ross's cell: A book on Quantum Physics, a book called Modern A.I., Gai-Jin by James Clavell, a Math book, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, a book about Salvador Dali, a Lonely Planet travel guide, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald, and the CIA World Factbook,

      Nepal is banning single-use plastic on and around Mt. Everest

      Nepal is banning disposable plastic soda bottles and other single-use plastic items in Khumbu, the region where Mount Everest is located. In May, volunteers collected more than six thousand pounds of trash from the mountain. This new ban is meant to reduce the amount of garbage left by tourists and climbers on Everest and in the villages surrounding it. From CNN:

      Nepalese authorities said they will ban plastic soft drink bottles and single-use plastics under 30 microns thick (0.0012 inches, or 0.03 millimeter) in the Khumbu region... The ban will prevent hikers from bringing the plastic goods in -- and stop shops from selling them.

      The rules won't come into effect until January next year, and won't apply to plastic water bottles, said Ganesh Ghimire, the chief administrative officer of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu rural municipality.

      "We are consulting with all sides about what can be done about plastic water bottles," he told CNN Thursday. "We will soon find a solution for that."

      image: "The sun rising on Everest in 2011" by Sebastian Werner (CC BY 2.0)

      The events that could kill us all (and how we might prevent them)

      Science journalist Bryan Walsh visited scientists from a variety of disciplines, devoured the scientific literature, and identified the catastrophic events most likely to kill us all. The list is a greatest hits of doom, from climate change and asteroid impact to bioengineered pathogens and supervolcanoes, which he wrote about this week in the New York Times. Failing those, we always have nuclear war to worry about. But fret not (too much, anyway), Walsh's new book End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World not only presents “the disasters that could end the human story in midsentence," but also describes how scientists are trying to alleviate the risks. From a review in Science News:

      To understand asteroids, he spends a night at Mount Lemmon Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., where astronomers are tracking space rocks that might intersect with Earth’s orbit. In theory, there are ways to deflect an incoming asteroid before it slams into Earth, such as trying to change the asteroid’s speed or approach. Walsh suggests that countries with space programs spend more on planetary defense and start practicing asteroid deflection. NASA and the European Space Agency have plans to do just that: In 2022, they intend to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid to try to alter its trajectory...

      He also discusses more theoretical solutions that scientists have thought up, like how to cool magma beneath a supervolcano to prevent an eruption. Drilling nearly 10 kilometers into the belly of a supervolcano to inject cold water may not really be practical and could cost about $3.5 billion. But offering solutions that seem fantastical is still important, Walsh argues, “because doing so demands that we step outside our brief human time frame.” Thinking big about how we could protect the future of our species might lead to more feasible plans of action.

      End Times: A Brief Guide to the End of the World by Bryan Walsh (Amazon)

      Seagull helps man avoid weed bust

      When two plain-clothes police officers approached a woman smoking a joint at the Gothenburg Cultural Festival in Sweden, they noticed a fellow sitting nearby toss what they say was a bag of weed. As they were moving in for the bust, a seagull snatched the bag and flew away. While the police were distracted by the bird, the man reportedly took off.

      “What the policemen did not expect was that a third party would interfere,” explained police spokesperson Stefan Gustafsson.

      My hope is that the man and the seagull were in cahoots.

      (The Leaf Desk)

      image: Ring-billed Gull photographed by Jiyang Chen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

      Dataviz of burger-satisfaction rankings

      The market-research firm Market Force Information surveyed 7,600 people to find out which burger chains the liked the most and least, ranking them by eight attributes, like "food quality", "speed service" and "staff friendliness".

      Over at Flowing Data, Nathan Yau took that info and charted it out in a superb dataviz:

      Dataviz of burger rankings, by Nathan Yau of Flowing Data

      What's interesting here isn't just the burger info. What's fun is noticing how beautifully Yau's dataviz here takes eight tables of data -- hard to look at, hard to spot patterns in (you can see the original tables here) -- and transforms it into something that tells a story at a glance: The customer approval for chains like In-N-Out and Whatabuger are pretty well-rounded, while people seem to have only one big thing they like about chains like Steak 'N Shake (value for the money) or Jack in the Box (speed of service.)

      Yau's stuff is always good, but this one is a particularly nice object-lesson in the value of well-done data visualization.

      The "One HTML Page Challenge", a great example of view-source culture

      Image of the "one html page challenge" web site

      Behold the "One HTML Page Challenge" -- to build a one-page site using just the code in a single html file: "Practice your skills with no assistance from libraries, no separation of files, and no assistance of a modern framework."

      There are a just few entries so far, but they're pretty cool -- like this one that creates a slowly-growing ant colony in ASCII, or this racing game, or this quiz to see if you can identify the correct name of a color.

      I dig the constraints here -- all code in one file, no outside code libraries -- because it really honors "view source" culture.

      When I was interviewing developers for my latest book Coders, all the ones who grew up during the late 90s and early 00s web talked about how powerful view-source was in teaching themselves to code and make stuff online.

      But web development these days has grown byzantine in its complexity; if newbie is trying to learn, view-source is liable to just cough up a slurry of incomprehensible, minified javascript. It closes off the easy onramps that existed back in the earlier days of the web.

      So, projects like this one-page challenge are awesome, because the whole goal is to encourage the writing of web-site code that's more legible and tractable. If you view-source any of the entries, some might be a little complex for newbies, but if you spend enough time walking it through, you can figure out what's going on. Sites like Glitch or CodePen are other terrific examples of rebooted view-source culture too. We need as many resources like this we can get!

      Rochester, Buffalo: My band The Delorean Sisters plays your cities this weekend

      PIcture of the Delorean Sisters playing live at the Wayback Station in Brooklyn NY

      Hey upstate NY state folks: My band The Delorean Sisters is in your neck of the woods, tonight and tomorrow!

      We're a country-Americana band -- our first album was a fun concept project, where we took 80s synthpop hits by acts like Depeche Mode and Eurythmics and transformed 'em into country/bluegrass, with three-part country harmonies and banjo. (This worked surprisingly well, since wow -- 80s synthpop has some of saddest damn lyrics I've ever heard. It's basically already hurtin' country music.) Our second album from this spring is an EP of originals', in the same vein of Americana. 'Tis all on Spotify, or Bandcamp if you're looking for glisteningly DRM-free MP3s or vinyl.

      Tonight, Fri. Aug. 23 we're in Rochester, playing at Abilene Bar & Lounge at 9 pm; tomorrow night, Sat. Aug. 24 at 8 pm we're in Buffalo, playing Sportsmen's. Come on out and hassle me!

      (In the photo, that's our three singers, Gary, Lizzie and Diane, with our bass player Danny -- I'm hiding behind Diane, on electric.)

      The end of the Delta rocket nears

      The last planned launch of a Delta IV single stick rocket was a success. The single-core Delta rocket will now be retired, as SpaceX is cheaper.

      The iconic Delta IV Heavy is still in use with its multiple boosters.


      A 2017 report by the US Government Accountability Office put the per-unit cost of a single-core Delta launch at $164 million. This is nearly three times the price of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which can not only be re-used but has comparable or better performance.

      To compete more effectively in this new landscape, United Launch Alliance is phasing out its use of heritage Delta and Atlas rockets in favor of a new Vulcan-Centaur rocket. In dropping the Delta IV Medium, the company is eschewing Aerojet Rocketdyne's costly RS-68A main engine in favor of the less-expensive BE-4 engine under development by the new space company Blue Origin. Similarly, it is seeking to cut costs on Vulcan in other ways, while maintaining its performance.

      This is not the last Delta rocket to fly, however. The US Air Force will continue to support the Delta IV Heavy program—which consists of three cores and is the second most powerful rocket in existence after the Falcon Heavy—until other heavy-lift alternatives emerge. The final flight for that vehicle is likely to come in 2024, when it lofts a heavy spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.

      Image via Wikipedia

      Viral black and white Roku'd TV now available as glow-in-the-dark enamel pin

      Remember the guy who rigged up his first-gen Roku to an old black-and-white TV to watch The Twilight Zone? Well, that "guy" is my artist pal Josh Ellingson and he's taking his viral moment to the next level. He's created glow-in-the-dark enamel pins of his Roku-enabled 1975 General Electric model 12XB9104V TV. That's cool on its own but he's also made a pack of stick-on screen decals that make it look like a vintage show or movie is playing. The pin shown in the photo above depicts the Moon landing but there are others, like the Nosferatu below. He's made the pins available on Indiegogo?for $10 each, or two for $18, which includes the sticker pack. As of this writing, the campaign is 931% funded.


      Life in prison plus 150 years for monster who secretly filmed kids in their bedrooms

      Ryan Alden, a 39 year-old professional sack of filth/security technician, was charged with 28 felonies after getting caught by the cops doing some incredibly invasive, heinous shit.

      From Gizmodo:

      Nichols Hills Police Chief Steven Cox told News9 that one of the homeowners had called a heat and air company to come and take a look at a climate control issue in their home. Cameras were then found zip-tied to air vents in the teen daughter’s bedroom, bathroom, and closet, according to court documents. As the home was under renovation, several different crews had been in and out of the residence and Alden became a suspect.

      After an investigation into Alden’s personal devices, it was discovered that there were victims outside of just the individuals in the homes he had serviced, and an officer with the Edmond Police Department said the recordings could fill 12 spindles of compact discs, News 9 reported. Police said that there was child pornography on five of his computers and two of his phones.

      But it doesn't stop there. According to the Associated Press, the investigation into Alden's crimes uncovered that he'd also installed cameras in public bathrooms, clothing store change rooms, schools and gyms. The investigation, which started in 2018 after one of the clients serviced by Alden's company uncovered the cameras secreted away on their property. Upon raiding his Alden's home, the police discovered that he had what was described as "tens of thousands of files" in his possession. Alden was found guilty of all 28 felonies and, for his crimes, was committed to life in prison, plus 150 years. That seems fair. During sentencing, the judge overseeing the trial addressed the court, declaring that she would have Alden castrated if she could.

      Alden's lawyer argued that the sentence was far too harsh. He stated that 10 years would be more appropriate. After all, it's not like his client had actually touched any kids.

      Image via Wikipedia Commons

      News plagiarism sites run real stories through thesaurus to avoid detection, to hilarious effect

      Jesselyn Cook noticed that a site called NewsBuzzr had ripped off one of her stories at Huffington Post. It turned out to be some kind of awful plagiarism bot that uses a thesaurus to avoid detection as duplicate content, resulting in hilariously mangled prose. Cook calls it "truly excellent “Florida Male” content" and I hope that term sticks.

      The intro to my story, which describes a woman feeling an “urgent tap” on her shoulder, had been changed to say that she felt a “pressing faucet” instead. The term “sex videos” had become “intercourse movies,” and the quote “I was definitely shocked” had morphed into this nonsense: “I used to be indisputably surprised.” The entire piece had been altered, seemingly word-by-word, rendering some sentences far less coherent than others.

      Humor aside, the scale of the scam is such that it makes real money, which it is ultimately depriving its victims of. There was a point about a decade ago where the number of sites scraping Boing Boing became uncountable, but sadly none of them turned our hard-driving coverage into magnetic storage delineations.

      The screengrab above is from the NewsBuzzr-world's own science educator, "Invoice Nye the Science Man." Google has already banned NewsBuzzr from AdSense.

      This Linux computer plus router is the size of a ring box

      If there's one thing that stayed consistent through the last decade or so of tech industry turmoil, it's the love affair between techies and Linux. There's just a ton you can do with the OS, and its open-source format means you can customize your rig from the ground up.

      Apparently not content with that level of devotion, the good folks at VoCore have gone and made a tiny Linux computer that is impossibly cute, on top of its multiple applications.

      The VoCore2 Mini Linux Computer packs a wireless router and 16M of onboard storage into a cube about the size of a coin. Just hook it up to any display monitor through a standard USB2.0 port, and you're ready to put it to work. With 128MB of DDR2 memory and an MT7628AN MIPS processor, it's equally useful as a streaming station, VPN gateway, data storage - you name it.

      The standard VoCore2 package comes with an Ultimate Dock that takes MicroSD cards for $42.99 - a full 14% off the list price. For those who want to get cracking right out of the box, there's a VoCore2 Mini Linux Computer Bundle for $69 (a 13% discount), including an 800 X 480 screen just perfect for the tiny powerhouse.

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