Day: June 8, 2016

Families sue U.S. sperm bank after " healthy genius" donor turns out to be a psychotic criminal


Two Canadian families are suing Atlanta sperm bank Xytex for selling them sperm advertised as coming from a healthy PhD candidate in neuroscience engineering with an IQ of 160. In actuality, Donor #9623 was diagnosed in 2000 with “schizophrenia, narcissistic personality disorder, a drug-induced psychotic disorder, and significant grandiose delusions.”


While he was a donor, Donor #9623 was hospitalized for mental health reasons and arrested several times, according to court documents.

In addition, he had no degrees, was a convicted felon and had been arrested for burglary, trespassing, driving under the influence and disorderly conduct.

The donor is believed to have fathered 36 children.

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Coder fired after 6 years for automating his job


On the Career Questions forum on Reddit, user FiletOfFish1066 said he was hired seven years ago by an “incredibly well known” tech company in the Bay Area as a software developer. He wrote, “After around 8 months I had basically automated my own job by writing some programs to do it all for me. After that I would mostly just browse forums and do absolutely jack shit at work. My boss never really checked in on me and as long as the needed tests were taken care of he didn’t give a fuck.”

From around 6 years ago up until now, I have done nothing at work. I am not joking. For 40 hours each week I go to work, play League of Legends in my office, browse reddit, and do whatever I feel like. In the past 6 years I have maybe done 50 hours of real work. So basically nothing. And nobody really cared. The tests were all running successfully. I shit you not, I had no friends or anything at work either, so nobody ever talked to me except my boss and occasionally the devs for the software I was testing.

Yesterday my boss fired me. I guess IT found out after 6 years or so what I was doing and reported it to my boss. I explained I had automated my own job, but was still updating the automation tool, which was a lie. Anyway, I was fired.

He says that during those six years of goofing off, he forgot how to code, and now he doesn’t know what to do next. But 376 other Reddit users have advice for him, which you can read here.

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Dressing Your Octopus: help kickstart a paper doll book


Our friends at Baby Tattoo are running their first ever kickstarter, around the launch of Brian Kesinger’s fantastical Dressing Your Octopus.

Kesinger’s Otto and Victoria return, they’ve been in illustrated adventures, coloring books, and have travelled around the world. This installment lets you imagine their destiny on your own, as the octopus and his companion become paper dolls.

Here is some more info from Baby Tattoo:

If you long for the simplicity of toys made from paper, and the tactile satisfaction of D.I.Y. scissorsmanship, then you owe it to yourself to point your digital device to and put your electronic funds to some good, old-fashioned, analog use.


Dress your companions in stunning costumes, then take them on amazing adventures! We provide the ink-on-paper; you provide the imaginative fuel.

Become one of the first backers of the Dressing Your Octopus paper doll project on Kickstarter, and choose rewards that range from a pixel perfect wardrobe delivered digitally for only $5… to original art created by Brian Kesinger just for you!

  • Early Bird Pricing on the Softcover Edition Book
  • Limited Edition Hardcover Book with Metal Corners
  • Deluxe Boxed Edition (with a Bounty of Goodies)
  • A Day at the Aquarium with Brian Kesinger
  • Original Art by Brian Kesinger

Dressing Your Octopus, via Kickstarter

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Quidditch Through the Ages – a book every lover of the sport cannot do without


See sample pages of Quidditch Through the Ages at Wink.

Quidditch Through the Ages

by Kennilworthy Whisp

Arthur A. Levine Books

2015, 128 pages, 5.2 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches

$10 Buy a copy on Amazon

This slim volume, small enough to slip into the inside pocket of a sorcerer’s robe, is a book every lover of the sport of Quidditch cannot do without. It covers the development of the game, from its humble beginnings to the form it is played today. The history makes fascinating reading as it is not simply dry text, but illustrated throughout with facsimiles of news sheets reporting about the game, and excerpts of historical letters and diary pages speaking of the game.

The book also traces the development of the broomsticks and covers the game as it is played in Britain, lists the best 13 teams that compete for the League Cup and also mentions top teams in other countries. Strategies and game rules are covered as well as difficult plays that have been invented over the years by wizards and witches pushing themselves, their broomsticks and the game as far as they can.

The physical book is produced to resemble a facsimile of a Hogwart’s library book, with worn covers, scribbles in the margins and a library check-out stamp in the front of the book listing borrowers no less noteworthy than R Weasley, N Longbottom and H Grainger (twice!). There is also an amusing Foreword by Albus Dumbledore explaining how such a volume came into the Muggle world with a warning not to mistreat it as the librarian Madam Prince might have left a jinx on it for its protection.

This is a book that all Harry Potter fans should enjoy having in their library. The added bonus is that sales of the book aids Comic Relief, an organization that uses laughter to fight poverty and injustice in some of the world’s poorest countries.

– Carolyn Koh

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How griefing got its game

Alex Nabaum for NYT

There’s a wonderful special section in the New York Times on “Internet Culture” this week. The sociology of online life fascinates me, and I love digging into good, meaty reporting on who we are and why we do what we do online.

How do tools and apps shape our behavior? How do virtual bonds originate, grow, and sometimes degrade differently than they do with face-to-face communication? This is stuff I think about a lot.

There’s a great feature in the section by Quentin Hardy about how “trolling” as we now know it sort of originated as “griefing,” in games.

In the gaming community, griefing historically meant doing stuff like “repeatedly killing the same player so that the person can’t move forward, reversing the play of newer gamers so they don’t learn the rules, or messing with other people’s play by blocking their shots or covering oneself with distressing images,” Hardy writes:

“Griefing was a way to have power over other people without any repercussions, since you can create multiple characters in the same game,” said Jack Emmert, former chief executive of Cryptic Studios, a maker of online games. “When there are no repercussions, some people will start to do crazy things.”

That was basically acceptable when online communities and games were made up of small groups that understood one another’s behavior, said Ian Bogost, a game designer and professor at Georgia Tech.

“Folks who are griefing or trolling feel like they are in a secondary universe that isn’t the same as the real world,” he said. “It was a ‘safe space’ for them, in which they did horrible things.”

The problem is that the internet is part of the entire world, where those practices have a different force and meaning.

How Gaming Helped Launch the Attack of the Internet Trolls

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Hieronymus Bosch: Complete Works


This beautiful collection of all twenty paintings, and eight drawings, assigned to Hieronymus Bosch, may be replacing the Codex Seraphinianus on my coffee table for a bit.

These surreal masterpieces by Netherlandish artist Jheronimus van Aken, better known as Hieronymus Bosch, are reproduced beautifully, on lovely paper, and are thoughtfully arranged. Some pieces, such as the Garden of Earthly Delights, fold out, so you may enjoy them in much more detail.

A must have in every collection.

Hieronymus Bosch: Complete Works via Amazon


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Help fund the Eugene, OR Junior Derby team’s trip to the Nationals


The Reservoir Dolls are going to the JRDA Nationals! Help the team travel from Lane County, Oregon to Lincoln, Nebraska!

Via their GoFundMe:

Our Junior Roller Derby Team, the Reservoir Dolls, has just been invited to participate in the JRDA Nationals for the first time! Coming from Lane County, Oregon, this is a tremendous honor for our Junior skaters and they are very excited to represent our county as they travel to Lincoln, Nebraska this summer.

For more information on the JRDA Nationals, please see the following link:

We are also excited to announce that 5 members of our Team have made it into the JUNIOR OLYMPICS for Roller Derby’s inaugural year! Psychotic Angel (Alexia Vinje), Deathwish (Maggie Coombs), Jubert (Rochelle Jubert), Bashful Babe (Felicity Farrell) and Mowder (Danielle Mowder). As the first year that roller derby will be a part of the Junior Olympics, it is especially exciting that so many of our local skaters were invited to participate. For more information on the Junior Olympic Games, please see the link below:

These two competitions are being held this July 9-13th in Nebraska. We are needing our community’s help in getting there! The cost is significant and many of the children on our team may only be able to make it to the competition with community assistance. We are needing help with Air travel, hotels, food and van rental for our whole team and several chaperones.

Thank you for any donation you are able to make! Our team thanks you!!

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MoveOn tells Sanders to move on


Progressive political advocacy group issued a statement today discouraging any attempts to use Super Delegates to overturn the popular vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has maintained that this is his path to the Democratic Party’s nomination, as results from state primaries show his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton with a majority of the popular vote, pledged delegates, and won states.


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Shocking video of an electric eel leaping from its tank


This intense slow-motion video, depicting an electric eel jumping from a tank to zap a faux alligator head, accompanies a new scientific paper by Vanderbilt University biologist Kenneth Catania. From Nature:

Catania first spotted the behaviour during earlier laboratory experiments with electric eels (Electrophorus electricus), when they would leap upwards to attack a metal-rimmed net as he was trying to fish them out of their tanks. He analysed it by presenting the eels with carbon rods and aluminium plates at which they struck; the video’s plastic alligator, with its flashing light-emitting diodes that are powered by the eel’s electrocution, is his dramatic demonstration of the effect…

The behaviour allows eels to directly shock their opponents, rather than having their voltage dissipated by water.

It is the first time that this has been recorded in a research paper, Catania says — although he argues that his discovery supports a widely disbelieved observation made more than 200 years ago by the Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. In a paper published in 1807, von Humboldt recounted that he had seen South American native fishermen herding horses into a pool of electric eels; the eels would discharge themselves against the horses and could be fished safely when they were exhausted.

According to Catania, there are other mysteries of the electric eels left to be solved, like how it can electrocute another creature without zapping itself in the process.

Leaping eels electrify threats, supporting Humboldt’s account of a battle with horses(PNAS)


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How to Speak Canadian


Dan Nosowitz of Atlas Obscura has posted a pair of funny pieces on how to “speak Canadian.” I was reminded of this clip from comedy legend John Candy.

Canada RULES! I love swearing in Québécois. Also, I deeply respect Boing Boing’s revered tech guru and sysadmin Ken Snider, who is Canadian.

Atlas Obscura’s short guide to cursing like a French Canadian is fantastic. Basically you mutter a bunch of religious terms under your breath, like tabernak and callise!

Nosowitz also tackled one of the great mysteries of North American language, the Canadian “about”. I’m still not sure I can get my head around it.

Via Atlas Obscura:

The Canadian diphthong in “about” starts with something closer to “eh,” and migrates to a blank space on the American linguistic map somewhere between “uh,” “oh,” and “ooh.” That transition is actually easier on the mouth than the American version; our vowels go from low to high, and theirs from mid to high.

To say that Canadians are saying “aboot” is linguistically inaccurate; “ooh” is a monophthong and the proper Canadian dialect uses a diphthong. “A-boat” would actually be a bit closer, but still relies on a monophthong. Why can’t Americans get their heads around the Canadian “about”?

“What’s going on is a compound of pronunciation and perception,” says Dailey-O’Cain. “The Canadians do pronounce it differently. Americans hear this and they know it’s different—they’re hearing a difference but they don’t know exactly what that difference is.” Americans do not have the Canadian diphthong present in the word “about,” which makes it hard to understand. We know that the Canadians are doing something weird, but in fact it’s so unlike our own dialect that we can’t even really figure out what’s weird about it.

Our best guess? Well, we can hear that the Canadians are raising that first vowel in the diphthong, even if we don’t know what “raising” means. But in a true American disdain for subtlety, we choose to interpret that as the most extreme possible raised vowel sound: “ooh.” It’s like a beach artist caricature that exaggerates a feature beyond realism and into cartoon-land: we hear a difference, and boost that difference to a height that isn’t actually correct anymore.

The Delightful Perversity of Québec’s Catholic Swears

What’s Going On with the Way Canadians Say ‘About’?

Xeni requests you now watch this:

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Do Robot Fireflies Dream of Electric Lights?


What could be more magical than the flickering glow of fireflies on a summer evening?

When I began my quest to capture that firefly magic, I wasn’t sure it
was possible, and my first attempts to photograph lightning bugs were
failed, out of focus blurs. It took several years to make a reasonably
good image.

Not only was I photographing after sunset, with my best light source
slowly disappearing, but I also never knew where the fireflies
would appear, so I had to be mobile, ready to move quickly.

How to light is my biggest concern, and a poorly lit firefly photo has
no magic. My best images use mostly available light. A firefly is
really just a small, black beetle, and they can easily disappear
against the darkness or any background vegetation, so the only way we
see them in the dark is by their glow. The males are harder to
photograph up-close as they flash in flight while trying to attract
females on the ground.

I’ve seen great images by many photographers capturing fireflies from a
distance, and the cumulative long exposure or time-lapse images are
beautiful. But I wanted to get as close as possible to individual
fireflies, if possible while in flight. This is easier using
speedlights, but the light is very unattractive and can overpower the
glow of the firefly.

Usually each night I ran out of time, the encroaching darkness forcing
me to give up, but I learned from my mistakes and improved each
evening. Firefly season where I live lasts from mid-June through the
end of July, sometimes into August. At the beginning there are fewer
fireflies and by the end you’ll find only lonely males, unsuccessfully
looking for love in their last days or hours, all the females having
found their mates.

The most important tools are my camera support and any extra lighting I
might need. I’ll get to my robots in a bit.

I’ve always believed it’s better to make your own tools if possible,
rather than buy them, so I scavenge from equipment I already have or
bits and pieces of junk I’ve collected.

I sometimes use small mirrors to help direct the light and I position
and support them using wooden sticks with a hinge and clamp at the top.
It helps to make them light and not too bulky.

Much of the time I use a ground-level tripod, but many of my best
images were made with a homemade “spike” that I attach to my camera and
can push into the ground wherever I need to be. I took the spike end
from an old, decorative axe and epoxied it to a 3/8” tripod mount
screw, which attaches to the ball-head. This has a smaller footprint
than a tripod, and is easy to move quickly. The wooden base and three
bolts you see in the image aren’t really needed, but make it a little
more stable.

The biggest hurdle is overcoming the disappearing daylight. I usually
have only about fifteen minutes before the skylight is gone and I have
to rely exclusively on artificial light. The easiest solution is to use
flash, but I don’t like the harsh look and in this case light from the
flash …read more

Mountainside "suicide" baffles investigators in England

Photo: Geoff Widdall

An old man lay by the path on a crag in the cold Peak District December. Dead, with a bottle of pills in his pocket and no identification, “Dovestones” sent investigators the other side of the world in search of answers. Who was he? Why strychnine? Why there?

The last person the man is known to have spoken to was the landlord of The Clarence pub in the village of Greenfield, where many walkers set off from.

He walked in at about 14:00 on the day before his body was found. “He just asked for directions to the top of the mountain,” says Melvin Robinson. “Just the top of the mountain.”

More, from William Atkins at The Guardian:

On 22 February, a routine toxicology report revealed an unusual alkaloid in his system: strychnine. Strychnine has been banned in the UK since 2006, when its only remaining legal use, in the killing of moles, was deemed unduly cruel. “There are very, very few deaths by strychnine poisoning,” Coleman says. “It’s a terrible death.” As a pesticide, it remains available in other countries, including Pakistan, where it is commonly used to cull feral dogs. When the empty thyroxine sodium bottle was analysed, it bore traces of the poison.

By interfering with neurotransmitters that moderate nerve function, strychnine causes muscles to contract uncontrollably. It is partly the violence of its effects that accounts for the poison’s regular appearance in Agatha Christie’s novels. The ultimate cause of death, which does not come quickly, is asphyxiation.

We can’t say for sure that Neil Dovestone knew what the thyroxine sodium bottle contained, or even that he was alone when he died (although alternative scenarios seem farfetched), but it’s fair to say that strychnine would not be the choice of someone who wished to go gently.

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Europeans: you can save the right to take pictures in public!

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Some EU countries’ copyright laws allow rightsholders to make claims against street photographers who capture potentially copyrighted works, from the facades of buildings to public art. The EU’s plan to harmonize a “right of panorama” (previously) would protect those of us who document the public world and upload our images to public places, from social media to Wikipedia to news-sites.

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Shoot like a pro with the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Bundle - now 87% off

For all its brilliance, Adobe Photoshop can be pretty intimidating for the novice user. Sure, you can figure out how to crop an image or maybe fix some “red eye,” but Adobe’s seemingly bottomless list of photo manipulation features can leave a newbie spinning.

It’s all there for a reason…so learn all the digital image tricks with this Adobe Creative Cloud Photography bundle, now 87% off in the Boing Boing Store.

You’ll not only get a one year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan, including access to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, but also 6 courses to help you navigate those programs:

  • Photoshop CC Camera Raw
  • Photoshop CC Color Management
  • Photoshop CC Fundamentals
  • Photoshop CC Selections
  • Lightroom CC/6 Fundamentals
  • Lightroom CC Slideshow

Crop images, make adjustments, correct exposure, increase clarity, learn color management and retouching…it’s your one-stop guide to boosting your photo game from simple selfies to serious artist.

Own and understand the world’s most popular image editor with this complete Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Bundle, usually priced at $1,200, but now 87% off before this deal expires.

And don’t forget, pictures are how many of us document our lives. Don’t hand that responsibility to sub-standard equipment or training ever again. Here’s a quick reminder to check out the camera that has redefined the photograph.

Lytro Illum Camera


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The amazing, shitty robots of Simone Giertz

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Simone Giertz’s oeuvre of “shitty robots” doesn’t end with her marvellous slap-in-the-face alarm clock: her Youtube channel is full of examples of her work, each better than the last, from arms on her phone that let it commando-crawl along the sidewalk to the world’s greatest hair-washing bot and the world’s most alarming chopping bot.

Though her channel also has many delightful videos in which Giertz explains her philosophy and techniques, this brief documentary offers a good overview of how and why a non-engineer came to be such a prolific creator of shitty robots.

Giertz is a consummate physical comedian and a self-taught bot-maker, and it’s such a winning combination that I urge you to mark out a couple of hours to just watch every video she’s ever made. If Rube Goldberg were alive today, he would be a she, and she would be Simone Giertz.

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Hacker puppets explain why malware and popups are still a thing online


Gus the hacker puppeteer (previously) writes, “Most of us have a relative whose computer or phone is still a snake’s nest of pop-ups and malware. The ‘YOUR COMPUTER HAS A VIRUS, CLICK TO SCAN’ attack is still a thing, 2016 though it may be. And there are enough people asking ‘why do ads pop up (on my iPhone, computer, etc)’ for that question to register on Google search autocomplete.”

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Hillary Clinton secures Democratic nomination

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the University of Miami in Florida

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won the California Democratic primary last night, cementing her status as the party’s prospective nominee. The first woman to clinch a major party’s nomination, Clinton remains the favorite to win the general election in November.

The BBC reports that an overwhelming majority of Bernie Sanders supporters plan to back Clinton after all, with only a few percent switching to her Republican rival Trump.


Perhaps it’s the case that having been engaged in politics, young people who would never otherwise have voted for Clinton are now very much aware that she isn’t like Trump at all. While Clinton might not have much to offer them, the difference for others would be stark.

Sanders vowed to fight on at least until Washington D.C.’s vote next week, but he and President Obama are meeting tomorrow at the White House—a graceful exit plan in the offing?

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Why you judge something on the basis of the source of information


We often overestimate and overstate just how much we can learn about a claim based on where that claim originated, and that’s the crux of the genetic fallacy, according to the experts in this episode.

The genetic fallacy appears when people trace things back to their sources, and if you traced back to their shared source the ad hominem attack (insulting the source instead of attacking its argument) and the argument from authority (praising the source instead of supporting its argument), you would find the genetic fallacy is the mother of both kinds of faulty reasoning.

You might be in danger of serially committing the genetic fallacy if your first instinct is to ask where attitude-inconsistent comes from once you feel the twinge of fear that appears after a belief is threatened.

In this episode, listen as three experts in logic and rationality when we should and when we should not take the source of a statement into account when deciding if something is true or false.

This episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast is the eighth in a full season of episodes exploring logical fallacies. The first episode is here.


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Support the show directly by becoming a patron! Get episodes one-day-early and ad-free. Head over to the YANSS Patreon Page for more details.

BobBob Blaskiewicz is an assistant professor who teaches, among other subjects, critical thinking at Stockton University. He also writes about logic and reasoning at, and is a regular guest on the YouTube show The Virtual Skeptics.


Julie Galef is the president and co-founder …read more

A logical guide to 2016 Democratic Primary outcomes


Today marks the end of any major contests among presidential candidates in the U.S. Democratic Primary. The election has been steady and relatively predictable at the polls. It seems hardly a contest at all, if you look at the math. But math hasn’t stopped a flaming screamfest about lifted chairs and cheating complaints, system-rigging, and general disharmony between two candidates with voting records that actually align 92% of the time.


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