Thursday, January 27, 2011

Klingon iPhone stand


Looking for that special gift for your Klingon speaking friend? Billed as a steampunk accessory stand, this 'IH 'ach HeghmoH display unit from Austin area Etsy user voodoofabrication would look at home on any Bird-of-Prey or D5 Battlecruiser.

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Episode 524: Failed Shaving Throw

Episode 524: Failed Shaving Throw

One of the all-time classic pieces of GM assistance was the Wandering Damage System, printed in Dragon magazine #96, an April Fool's issue. It's simply too useful to keep secret any longer, so here it is in all its glory:

How To Use The Wandering Damage System

First there was the wandering monster. They serve well when applied in hordes, but why not cut out the middleman and just deal out damage to the characters directly? It makes for a smoother, faster-paced game, and if you want to kill off characters quickly, it can only be beaten by divine intervention by Cthulhoid godlings.

Instructions: Whenever a player annoys you in any way, by wearing tasteless clothes or eating the last corn chip, ask him to roll a d20. He may become worried that he's rolling a saving throw. Ha, ha!!! Little does he know that he just rolled on the Wandering Damage System matrix!!! Repeat the roll as often as desired.

The Wandering Damage System Matrix

Roll   Result
1   Your character has fallen down a flight of stairs; roll his dexterity or less on percentile dice, or else consult Limb Loss Subtable.
2   The monster your character just killed gets up and attacks him, doing 8-80 points of damage.
3   Your character smells smoke; his right arm is on fire. Take 14 points of damage and save vs. gangrene.
4   Your character cuts himself while shaving; consult Limb Loss Subtable.
5   Your character's nose hairs catch fire and he dies of smoke inhalation.
6   Your character stumbles backward into a yawning chasm and disappears from view.
7   The next time your character says something, he eats his words, chokes on them, and dies.
8   Something cuts your character's nose off, doing 2-12 points damage and really messing up his charisma.
9   Your character steps on a piece of glass; consult Limb Loss Subtable.
10   Your character suddenly catches a severe case of brain death.
11   Something invisible chews on your character, doing 6-36 points damage.
12   Your character develops an incredibly severe case of arthritis and can grasp nothing with his hands; he drops anything he's holding - and if that happened to be a sword or an axe, consult the Limb Loss Subtable.
13-20   Consult the Random Damage Subtable for no reason whatsoever.

Limb Loss Subtable (roll d6)

1 - Left leg gone
2 - Right leg gone
3 - Left arm gone
4 - Right arm gone
5 - Head gone
6 - Torso cut in half

Random Damage Subtable

Dice roll   Result
01-05   Take 10 hit points damage.
06-10   Take 15 hit points damage.
11-20   Take 30 hit points damage.
21-25   Take 10 hit points damage and consult Limb Loss Subtable, modifying die roll by +5.
26-30   Take 10 hit points damage and roll again on Wandering Damage System Matrix.
31-35   Take 15 hit points damage and then take 30 more.
36-40   Roll every die you own for damage.
41-45   Take 17 hit points damage.
46-50   Take 42 hit points damage.
51-55   Multiply your character's age by 5. Take three times that much damage.
56-60   Take 24 hit points damage and then take 31 more.
61-65   Take 1,000 hit points damage and roll again.
66-70   Roll every die within 30 feet for damage.
71-73   Add up the total hit points of everyone in the party. Take that much damage.
74-75   Take 3 hit points damage and consider yourself very lucky - for the time being.
76-00   What? You didn't get hurt? That's impossible - this system is foolproof. Roll again.

(Wandering Damage System is copyright TSR April 1985 and reproduced here as a small extract from an entire magazine for purposes of review and parody.)

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Gunslinger FOUND! Javier Bardem offered the Dark Tower lead

SCI FI Wire Atom Feed
Gunslinger FOUND! Javier Bardem offered the Dark Tower lead

I guess Christian Bale's front-runner status evaporated as soon as we reported it, as Ron Howard has decided who he wants to play the Gunslinger in his movie-TV juggernaut. The question is, will Javier Bardem say yes?

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Good news about America's scariest volcano


One of the most disconcerting moments I've ever seen in a nature documentary came a few years ago, when I watched Discovery Channel's Supervolcano—all about the, er, supervolcano located under Yellowstone National Park.

I remember the scientists talking about how they'd been looking for a caldera—the collapsed cone of an ancient volcano—in the Park for years, but hadn't found one. That is, until the day that someone looked around and realized that they couldn't see the caldera because they were standing in the middle of it. The Yellowstone caldera measures 34 miles by 45 miles, encompassing most of the Park. Meanwhile, the floor of the caldera has been swelling since 2004—as much as 10 inches in some places. That's the bad news.

The good news: It doesn't look like this supervolcano is heading for a super eruption.

Scientists think a swelling magma reservoir four to six miles (seven to ten kilometers) below the surface is driving the uplift. Fortunately, the surge doesn't seem to herald an imminent catastrophe, Smith said.

"At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption," said Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters. "But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren't so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we'd have been a lot more concerned."

Ground deformation can suggest that magma is moving toward the surface before an eruption: The flanks of Mount St. Helens, for example, swelled dramatically in the months before its 1980 explosion. But there are also many examples, including the Yellowstone supervolcano, where it appears the ground has risen and fallen for thousands of years without an eruption.

Based on geologic evidence, Yellowstone has probably seen a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation over the past 15,000 years, and the cycle will likely continue, Smith said. Surveys show, for example, that the caldera rose some 7 inches (18 centimeters) between 1976 and 1984 before dropping back about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) over the next decade.

National Geographic News: Yellowstone has bulged as magma pocket swells

Thanks to Marilyn Terrell for Submitterating

Pictured: A peaceful day in the middle of the Yellowstone Caldera

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Sergio Leone remix of truck-eating bridge

It, a website devoted to a low-clearance bridge in Durham, North Carolina that shaves the tops off of about a dozen trucks a year, created this video compilation of the nine trucks and one RV that were can opened in 2010. As Mr. Jalopy would say, "This is my favorite kind of problem - someone else's."

The Good, The Bad and Some Ugly Crashes

(Submitterated by yovo68)

Previously: Videos of 11-foot-8 trestle eating 12-foot trucks

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Woman paralyzed by hickey

A 44 year old woman in New Zealand presented with partial paralysis at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital emergency department; after examination, the doctors concluded that she'd suffered a mild stroke caused by a hickey near a major artery in her neck. She recovered after being treated with anti-coagulant.
"Because of the physical trauma it had made a bit of bruising inside the vessel. There was a clot in the artery underneath where the hickey was."

Wu said the clot dislodged and traveled to the woman's heart, where it caused a minor stroke that led to the loss of movement.

"We looked around the medical literature and that example of having a love bite causing something like that hasn't been described before," he said.

New Zealand Woman Partially Paralyzed by Hickey

(Image: File:Love bite.jpg, Janek B./Wikimedia Commons)

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Portugal: 10 years of decriminalized drugs

Here's a good Boston Globe report on the first decade of Portugal's bold experiment with drug decriminalization and increased treatment. Ten years ago, Portugal -- whose drug problem had been spiraling out of control -- decided to treat drug addiction as a public health matter, not as a criminal matter. They decriminalized possession of drugs, and increased treatment available to addicts, and experienced an immediate, dramatic and sustained drop in negative effects from drug use -- though the use of some drugs went up.
In this sense, one drug policy expert noted, the Portuguese experiment has become a sort of Rorschach test -- in the dark blobs on the page, people can see whatever they want to see. But Tom McLellan, the former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama, said he's happy for the conversation. While not in favor of decriminalization, McLellan believes that the American debate over drug reform has become too polarized, with one side calling for incarceration and the other for legalization. "And I just don't buy it," McLellan said. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, he believes, and perhaps that's where we can learn something from Portugal, a country that at least tried something new.

"I like that approach to drug policy," McLellan said. "Policy is really a product. And like a product, policy can be made better with experimentation and honest evaluation, rather than stupid polemic polarization of ideology."

Drug experiment (via Kottke)

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Image of the Day: Sexiest use of an R2-D2 swim suit

Image of the Day: Sexiest use of an R2-D2 swim suit

Presented without comment.

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Man paddles his canoe through a flooded McDonald's

[Video Link] I can't think of a better soundtrack for this video of a gentleman paddling his canoe through a flooded Brisbane McDonald's than "Fish Heads."

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Farting gentleman stabs partygoers, kills one

At a party this weekend in Bristol, Connecticut, a 21-year-old gentleman stabbed four people, killing one. Why? Apparently they were making fun of his farting. From CBS Local:
The Hartford Courant, quoting (court) documents, reported that Higgins told police he was angry at being derided and wanted to teach people that they shouldn't trifle with him.

Higgins appeared in court Tuesday charged with murder, assault and carrying a dangerous weapon, and was ordered held in lieu of $2 million bond.

"Cops: Flatulence Behind Fatal Stabbing In Bristol"

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Doctor Who construction toy figures

 Wp-Content Uploads Diy-Doctor-1
New Playmobil-esque Doctor Who toys will hit stores in a few months from toy company Character Options. From the BB Press Office:
This new brick based collection includes 3D micro-figures that are brought to life with sculpted facial features making the Doctor played by Matt Smith and Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan instantly recognisable.

Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have already had first sight of their new miniature alter egos. Matt Smith said: "It was very surreal and funny coming face to face with a miniature version of myself as the Doctor but I'm glad that the Doctor's trusty Sonic Screwdriver is in his hand, ready to fend off attacks from monsters!"

"Doctor Who builds on licensee portfolio"

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kid's petition against school's "No hugging" policy

On the Free Range Kids blog, a senior at a New England high school writes in to discuss the petition she's circulating to protest her school's "appropriate touch" policy ("the only appropriate touch is a handshake"). As she says, "As a college-bound 17-year-old, I am insulted by the presumption that I am too immature to decide which kind of touches are appropriate for school. If the administration seriously thinks we can't make that distinction ourselves, how do they expect us to survive in college?" Her petition is really good work, too:
* Interpersonal touch is not inherently sexual, and to treat it as such is to make it so. Touch can be a powerful bonding mechanism between friends, and any rule that fails to differentiate between acts of sex and acts of friendship seems arbitrary and inherently draconian.

* High school students will soon be turned loose and made responsible for their own decisions. Is it not the responsibility of educators to impart valuable life skills and ready us for autonomy? Outright bans are not the way to do so. Rather than be taught to see interpersonal touch as inherently bad, we should learn the nuances of what is and is not appropriate for public venues. Don't force us to look at the world in black and white. Show us the shades of gray.

* Imposing limits on interpersonal relationships merely divides "school" and "life" into separate and often warring factions. This further alienates many teens who already fail to find much real-world meaning in school. School should be a holistic place in which social as well as academic needs are met. If we're expected to integrate education into our lives, we should be allowed to bring our lives into our place of education.

"No Touching" at High School? A Student Protests!

(Image: sometimes, a hug is all what we need, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from eelssej_'s photostream)

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

A better way to get rid of Kindle DRM

Jacobsor sez, "This post provides a 'how to' guide for a simple way to remove DRM from Kindle, Nook and other ebook files using the open-source Calibre application in conjunction with some third-party plugins. I tried it on my Kindle library, and it works great, without needing to muck about manually with Python scripts. The Calibre program also allows you to convert files from one format to another, such as Kindle format (.mobi files) to epub files."

This is a followup from yesterday's somewhat more complicated Kindle de-DRM-ifier method.

Ebook Formats, DRM and You -- A Guide for the Perplexed (Thanks, Jacobsor, via Submitterator!)

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces Between Sentences

Here's an argument that everyone has something to say about: How many spaces are you supposed to put after a period? The answer is one. Putting two spaces between sentences, as many people learned to do in school -- and are still learning -- thanks to early monospaced typewriters "is totally, completely, utterly, and inarguably wrong," according to Slate's technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo -- and every major style guide.

Every modern typographer agrees on the one-space rule. It's one of the canonical rules of the profession, in the same way that waiters know that the salad fork goes to the left of the dinner fork and fashion designers know to put men's shirt buttons on the right and women's on the left. Every major style guide--including the Modern Language Association Style Manual and the Chicago Manual of Style--prescribes a single space after a period. (The Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, used widely in the social sciences, allows for two spaces in draft manuscripts but recommends one space in published work.) Most ordinary people would know the one-space rule, too, if it weren't for a quirk of history. In the middle of the last century, a now-outmoded technology--the manual typewriter--invaded the American workplace. To accommodate that machine's shortcomings, everyone began to type wrong. And even though we no longer use typewriters, we all still type like we do. (Also see the persistence of the dreaded Caps Lock key.)

The problem with typewriters was that they used monospaced type--that is, every character occupied an equal amount of horizontal space. This bucked a long tradition of proportional typesetting, in which skinny characters (like I or 1) were given less space than fat ones (like W or M). Monospaced type gives you text that looks "loose" and uneven; there's a lot of white space between characters and words, so it's more difficult to spot the spaces between sentences immediately. Hence the adoption of the two-space rule--on a typewriter, an extra space after a sentence makes text easier to read. Here's the thing, though: Monospaced fonts went out in the 1970s. First electric typewriters and then computers began to offer people ways to create text using proportional fonts. Today nearly every font on your PC is proportional. (Courier is the one major exception.) Because we've all switched to modern fonts, adding two spaces after a period no longer enhances readability, typographers say. It diminishes it.

Read the full story at Slate.

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HOWTO break Kindle book DRM

Most of the Kindle owners I know love their gadgets, but I always wonder how they'll feel about them if they decide to switch devices and can't bring their books -- dozens? hundreds? thousands? -- with them because of Amazon's use of DRM. To Amazon's credit, they now offer some DRM free books and have allowed me (at least) to include text with my titles telling you that I don't expect you to abide by their long, crazy EULA and instead only ask that you respect the copyright law of the country where you bought the book.

In this video, Too Smart Guys show you how to remove the DRM from your Kindle books using Python and Windows. The method looks pretty foolproof, too. Think of it as an insurance policy for your precious books.

How to Remove DRM from Your Kindle Ebooks

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A decade of Wikipedia: lesser-known miracles

wp-10th.jpg Image: a few of the remixable design elements, via Wikimedia Commons

It's no secret that I love Wikipedia, which I consider one of the grandest and most radical social experiments of our time, and the very best example of what the free culture movement offers for the world's future. I even love Wikipedia critics. There's nothing I love more than to improve an article after some whiny-baby complains about its quality with a copypasta example. For instance, novelist Jonathan Lethem was bagging on "the infinite regress of Wikepedia [sic] tinkering-unto-mediocrity" the other day. Too bad The Altlantic has no way for readers to fix that typo in the way I updated the article on Blake Edwards' cult classic The Party, which was the object of Lethem's scorn. He seems to miss the point that an encyclopedia article, even one about a screwball comedy, is supposed to be dry, factual, and not especially screwball. Just the facts, ma'am. I also love that his snapshot of the page is no longer that relevant.

In the past I have discussed Wikibumps (like the spike of a million readers who checked out the Salvia article in the week after the Miley Cyrus bong video) and the Click to Jesus game, where you see how few links it takes to get from a random Wikipedia article to the Jesus article. Here are a couple of other good reasons to love Wikipedia and its sister projects which you may not have seen:

Best of Wikipedia Tumblr page
Raul's Laws, possibly the best and wonkiest explanation of how Wikipedia works

Commons Picture of the Year contest winners

I hope you'll swing by, learn some things, maybe improve something (they even have a secure server option). There is still plenty to do, and it will never be completed. At the very least, just marvel at the possibilities for the future of free culture embodied in the project. What are some of your favorite things about it? Please share in the comments.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Oh, Deer

When a 911 caller reported a deer stuck in the ice of Maryland's Patapsco River, a natural resources officer and a crew from the Baltimore County fire department promptly arrived, then began discussing whether to rescue the deer. But two passersby decided to do more than talk. Khalil Abusakran got a rubber boat out of his truck, and Jim Hart joined him. They rowed out to the deer, breaking the ice along the way and opening up a path for it to get free. They were then fined $90 each for not having life vests on the boat.

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Angry Birds board game coming this May from Mattel

Here's one of CES 2011's less technical, but most awesome, revelations: Mattel is working on a board game adaptation of Rovio's mobile hit, Angry Birds. The game looks like a pretty authentic recreation of its source material; players draw "Mission Cards" depicting structures of bricks and pigs, which they then build using plastic models included in the game. Oh, and then they shoot birds at those structures using a tiny slingshot. That part is pretty integral to the whole experience, apparently.

The game will cost $14.99 when it launches worldwide this May. Even if you don't want the board game, $14.99 is a perfectly reasonable price for a tiny catapult. Just think of all the tiny things you can terrorize with a catapult of that size!

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The Japanese T-Shirt Folding Technique

Maybe it's post traumatic stress from my days working at the Gap when I was 16, but to this day I still obsess over my t-shirts looking perfectly merchandised on my closet shelf. Luckily, I recently discovered the Japanese folding technique, which creates a perfect fold in mere seconds. Next step is to add a little magician's flair so I can give that guy who's always juggling his socks at the laundromat a run for his money. Check out an explanation in English as well a couple of amusing bonus folds after the jump.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

The heartbreaking beauty of Pixar in EXACTLY 7 minutes

The heartbreaking beauty of Pixar in EXACTLY 7 minutes

A young Brazilian filmmaker spent 11 days watching Pixar's assorted films, painstakingly selecting the more than 500 clips that make up this touching ode to the house that Toy Story built.

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Kindle book lending quietly goes live

Amazon today quietly turned on Kindle book lending. The feature promised earlier mimics that of the Nook and lets users share a book once for two full weeks. The original owner's access to the book is temporarily revoked, but the feature works on both the Kindle reader and all apps....

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"I will dig you out."

It began with a simple "let me know" Tweet a few hours after Sunday's blizzard dumped more than two feet of snow on New Jersey's largest city. Soon, Tweets by Newark residents were providing Mayor @CoryBooker with critical real-time information as he directed the massive cleanup.

Booker is no stranger to Twitter. He has logged nearly 5,000 Tweets and gained more than one million followers since joining in 2008. In the last four days, he's demonstrated to his community tangible examples of individual engagement that may have even inspired others to act in kind.

Patrolling the streets of his city with a Blackberry in hand, Booker responded to a report of a woman in labor – arriving to aid the expectant mother before EMS could get to the scene. As residents reported unplowed streets and stuck cars, the mayor dispatched city plows and tow trucks, often showing up himself to help shovel or push.

Booker is setting a great example for how local public officials can use Twitter to better manage crisis. His effort did not go unnoticed. Check out Vanity Fair's list of the "10 Most Valiant Snow-Rescue Tweets from Cory Booker," and coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, or this piece by Frank Reed for more.

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Who should star in Dark Tower: Viggo Mortensen or Javier Bardem?

Who should star in Dark Tower: Viggo Mortensen or Javier Bardem?

Viggo Mortensen vs. Javier Bardem? They're equally talented actors, and it would be difficult for any director to choose one over the other in a starring role. But looks like that's the very dilemma director Ron Howard is facing for The Dark Tower

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BBC documentary foiled by polar bears

It sounds like a great idea at first—"We'll make robot cameras and disguise them as icebergs and piles of snow, so we can film polar bears in the wild without their noticing!"

But, unfortunately for the robot cameras, polar bears are not so easily fooled ...

Via BotJunkie and Christopher Mims

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