Day: September 26, 2016

This guy collected 5 million travels miles


Travel writer Ben Schlappig uses something called “mileage running” to accumulate lots of travel miles.

Mileage running works by collecting miles on cheap flights and spending them on expensive ones. Over a week, Ben might take over 30 discounted flights. They only cost him $800 and he’ll earn over 62500 air miles. He then uses those miles to buy a first class ticket to Japan, which would have cost him $13,000.


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Kid makes a diorama of her neighborhood disguised as an RPG rulebook


Jim Jones writes, “I have been playing The Warren, Marshall Miller’s role playing game about being rabbits, with my three kids for a little over a month. We play in an area based on our suburban neighborhood. My second grade daughter chose to do a diorama of a suburb for school so she could talk about our game and we built it so that it appeared in the rule book for the role playing game itself.”

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Grilled Chicken Nachos in Foil with Sour Cream BBQ Sauce

Grilled Chicken Nachos in Foil with Sour Cream BBQ Sauce

When the fine folks of Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q reached out to us about developing recipes using their BBQ sauce, I practically jumped out of my chair with an enthusiastic YES!

I love Stubb’s. I have great memories of dancing up a storm in my cowboy hat and boots at their place in Austin (my gosh do Texans know how to put on a party, scroll down for evidence).

Their BBQ sauce (we used Stubb’s Original) is everything you’d ever want in a BBQ sauce—deep, rich, tangy, and smoky. (It’s also gluten-free for those of us who like to avoid gluten.)

This recipe for grilled nachos in foil makes use of BBQ sauce twice—once for tossing with the cooked chopped chicken that goes on top of the tortilla chips and cheese, and once again mixed in with some sour cream to drizzle over the nachos.

Continue reading “Grilled Chicken Nachos in Foil with Sour Cream BBQ Sauce” »

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Industrial Strength Design profiles the most famous designer you've never hears of: Brooks Stevens


See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World

by Glenn Adamson

The MIT Press

2003, 300 pages, 9.5 x 11 x 0.8 inches

From $10 Buy a copy on Amazon

This excellent book profiles the most famous industrial designer you’ve never heard of: Brooks Stevens. Sure, you know of designer Jonathan Ive and his Apple products, and maybe Raymond Loewy, who slimmed the Coke bottle and decked out Kennedy’s Air Force One, but flipping through this book you’ll instantly recognize Brooks Stevens’ equally famous mid-century creations: that 3M “Mondrian” packaging, The Excalibur custom car, the Miller beer “soft cross” logo, the “boomerang” patterned Formica, and yes, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile!

Stevens grew up in Milwaukee, and his unpretentious Midwestern work ethic and pro-business attitude was clear in all his work and writing. Unlike other designers who indulged in fantastic and lofty, theoretical designs, Stevens applied his styling skills and practical design sensibilities to suit local manufacturers of lawn mowers, outboard motors, cookware, and vehicles, resulting in increased sales and efficient manufacturing (if not design awards).

One of his most famous creations is the phrase “planned obsolescence,” which was widely attacked at the time by Vance Packard in his book The Waste Makers as an example of the manipulation of consumers and crass commercialism. Stevens proudly defended his approach of constant improvements and questioned so-called “good design” as actually elitist, unpractical and most damning of all in his mind, ultimately unprofitable. The debate goes on and you’ll have to come to your own conclusion: are manufacturers’ frequent new product variations kaizen-like progress, or just needless churning of the consumer. (Do you really need that new iPhone 9x?)

As an industrial designer trained in the old-school skills of drawing and rendering, I loved seeing the many samples of marker sketches, gouache renderings and airbrushed presentations drawings. Check out the crazy concept cars and boats – it’s like a trip back in time to a mid-sixties auto show.

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Bikes shipped in boxes with TV set printed on box suffer less delivery damage

Image: Twitter/@jasongay

Dutch manufacturer Vanmoof started printing a photo of a TV set on the boxes it uses to ship bikes. Now the bikes arrive at their destination in perfect condition.

From Cycling Weekly:

“No matter who was doing the shipping, too many of our bikes arrived looking like they’d been through a metal-munching combine harvester. It was getting expensive for us, and bloody annoying for our customers,” creative director Bex Rad wrote on the company’s blog.

“Earlier this year our co-founder Ties had a flash of genius. Our boxes are about the same size as a (really really reaaaally massive) flatscreen television. Flatscreen televisions always arrive in perfect condition. What if we just printed a flatscreen television on the side of our boxes?

“And just like that, shipping damage to our bikes dropped by 70–80%.”


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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa

NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

Astronomers working with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope have captured images of what might be water vapor plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. “This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes,” reports NASA. “ The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.”


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Star-shaped polymer kills superbug strains without antibiotics


Shu Lam, a 25-year-old PhD student at the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering, has developed a polymer that rips apart the cell walls of superbug strain bacteria.

From Science Alert:

The polymers – which they call SNAPPs, or structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers – work by directly attacking, penetrating, and then destabilising the cell membrane of bacteria.

Unlike antibiotics, which ‘poison’ bacteria, and can also affect healthy cells in the area, the SNAPPs that Lam has designed are so large that they don’t seem to affect healthy cells at all.

“With this polymerised peptide we are talking the difference in scale between a mouse and an elephant,” Lam’s supervisor, Greg Qiao, told Marcus Strom from the Sydney Morning Herald. “The large peptide molecules can’t enter the [healthy] cells.”

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Come see me in Portland, Riverside, LA, and San Francisco


I’ve got a busy couple of weeks coming up! I’m speaking tomorrow at Powell’s in Portland, OR for Banned Books Week; on Wednesday, I’m at UC Riverside speaking to a Philosophy and Science Fiction class; on Friday I’ll be at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, speaking on Canada’s dark decade of policy denial from climate science to digital locks; and then on Oct 6, I’m coming to SFMOMA to talk about museums, technology, and free culture. I hope to see you soon! (Image: Alex Schoenfeldt Photography,, CC-BY)

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Oculus execs defend founder's support of Nazi propaganda machine


Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey was exposed last week backing a pro-Trump “meme factory” that churns out Nazi-themed images and anti-Hillary Clinton propaganda—then spotted at a Trump rally wearing one of the nativist candidate’s T-shirts. He at first walked back his involvement, but Luckey now has the backing of top colleagues at the Facebook-owned virtual reality startup.

“Everyone at Oculus is free to support the issues or causes that matter to them, whether or not we agree with those views,” Oculus CEO Brendan Trexler Iribe wrote on Facebook. “It is important to remember that Palmer acted independently in a personal capacity, and was in no way representing the company.”

Another executive, Jason Rubin, said that the company did not “condone, or spread hate.”

“I take him at his word. Those of you who have known me before I joined Oculus know that I would not work in a place that I thought condoned, or spread hate. Nor would I remain silent if I saw it raise its head. I have always believed that games, and now especially VR, have the potential to bring people together. My view is unwavering. I continue to believe that Oculus can make the world a better place.”

However, the company itself has remained silent on the matter, reports Ars Technica, offering no response to their inquiries.

Luckey, a near-billionaire thanks to the Facebook buyout, used some of the cash to juice Nimble America, an organization dedicated to shitposting memes that generally involve offensive stereotypes of politicians, pundits, racial minorities, Jews and other typical targets of the far right. (For their part, outspoken white supremacists seem divided between those who appreciate a wealthy ally and those who count “Cuckey” as an opportunist trying to co-opt the “Alt Right” movement.)

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What is "design fiction?"

Press Pictures: Copyright 
Siemens press photos may only be used for editorial purposes. The copyrights belong to Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin, and remain undiminished if the pictures are incorporated into an archive, either electronically or manually. Pictures used for editorial purposes, modified, duplicated and/or electronically altered must bear the credit "Siemens press picture". Commercial use or sale of the pictures and data, even in electronically manipulated form, is prohibited.

Press Pictures: Copyright 
Siemens press photos may only be used for editorial purposes. The copyrights belong to Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin, and remain undiminished if the pictures are incorporated into an archive, either electronically or manually. Pictures used for editorial purposes, modified, duplicated and/or electronically altered must bear the credit "Siemens press picture". Commercial use or sale of the pictures and data, even in electronically manipulated form, is prohibited.

I’ve been writing “design fiction” for years (see, for example, Knights of the Rainbow Table), and when people ask me to explain it, I say something like, “An engineer might make a prototype to give you a sense of how something works; an architect will do a fly-through to give you a sense of its spatial properties; fiction writers produce design fiction to give you a sense of how a technology might feel.”

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Sweden proposes tax breaks for repairing things, extra tax on unrepairable things

Image: Wikipedia

Sweden’s ruling coalition of Social Democrat and Green parties has a tax plan that will make it cheaper to fix broken things and more expensive to buy things that can’t be fixed after they break.

From FastCo:

The proposed legislation would cut regular tax on repairs of bikes, clothes, and shoes from 25% to 12%. Swedes would also be able to claim half the labor cost of appliance repairs (refrigerators, washing machines and other white goods) from their income tax. Together, these tax cuts are expected to cost the country around $54 million per year. This will be more than paid for by the estimated $233 million brought in by a new “chemical tax,” which would tax the resources that go into making new goods and computers.

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Cryptpad: a free/open, end-to-end encrypted, zero-knowledge shared text editor


Tools like Etherpad and Google Docs are transformative ways to collaborate on text (including code); I’ve used them in contexts as varied as making unofficial transcripts of statements at UN agencies to liveblogging conference presentations — but they all share a weakness, which is that whomever owns the document server can see everything you’re typing.

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Machine-learning photo-editor predicts what should be under your brush


In Neural Photo Editing With Introspective Adversarial Networks, a group of University of Edinburgh engineers and a private research colleague describe a method for using “introspective adversarial networks” to edit images in realtime, which they demonstrate in an open project called “Neural Photo Editor” that “enhances” photos by predicting what should be under your brush.

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Twitterbot catalogs every face in Donald Trump's crowds, looking for humanity


Weird twitterbot herder Shardcore writes, “@everytrumpette draws from the large corpus of photographs of the attendees of Trump rallies. A face detection algorithm identifies a member of the crowd, and then zooms in. Who are these people? How can they not only accept, but openly embrace an ideology of hate? This bot examines them, one by one, to try and see the humanity.”

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Wasp nest found in attic


As seen in this photo, taken by Pest Professionals of Northampton, England, there was a wasp nest in the attic of house in Pipewell.

Pest controller Gary Wilkinson, of Northamptonshire pest controllers Pest Professionals, who found the nest, said: “It’s an impressive wasp nest alright – much bigger than a barrel. Normally we get called in at the first sign of wasps causing a problem to people. This community has been allowed to go about its business undisturbed for a whole summer season. Although you wouldn’t want it in your own loft, you have to say it’s a very impressive and in its own way a very beautiful thing.” Carcasses of hundreds of dead wasps found next to the nest indicate that the colony was created by the common wasp (Vespula Vulgaris).


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Horses can communicate with people using symbols


Researchers from the Norwegian Veterinary Institute developed and tested a system for horses and people to communicate using a symbolic language. From the Daily Grail:

…Twenty three horses learned to tell trainers if they wanted to wear a blanket or not. Subjects were shown three symbols: a horizontal bar to say “I want a blanket”, a blank square for “No change”, and a vertical bar for “I don’t need a blanket”. They learned the meanings in a day or two and using them to convey if they were too warm or too cold, building the case for self-awareness…

(In the scientific paper, the researchers write that,) “When horses realized that they were able to communicate with the trainers, i.e. to signal their wishes regarding blanketing, many became very eager in the training or testing situation. Some even tried to attract the attention of the trainers prior to the test sit- uation, by vocalizing and running towards the trainers, and follow their movements. On a number of such occasions the horses were taken out and allowed to make a choice before its regular turn, and signalled that they wanted the blanket to be removed. It turned out that the horses were sweaty underneath the blanket.”

Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences(Applied Animal Behaviour Science)


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Climate denial's internal contradictions spring from a need to defend economic doctrine


A trio of scholars who study the psychology and philosophy of science have written a fantastic paper for Springer’s Sythese looking at the way that climate change conspiracy theorists construct their view of the world, and how these conspiracy theories contain self-contradictory theses (like the idea that climate change can’t be predicted and the idea that the data shows we’re actually headed for an ice-age).


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