Ric on Twitter

  • 10 September, 2012 - 10:55
    Any watch freaks out there? Time for some early Xmas shopping! http://t.co/kM5C8cyx
  • 25 July, 2012 - 10:14
    Have you kicked the tires on the Joomla 3 Alpha? If so, I'd love to know what you think.
  • 17 July, 2012 - 17:25
  • 17 July, 2012 - 16:18
    The Alpha release of the new Joomla! 3.0 is out now. The release is primarily intended for extension developers... http://t.co/eX31fk0o
  • 9 July, 2012 - 23:45
    My latest book is out: Joomla! Search Engine Optimization http://t.co/3lToGUhh #joomla #seo

Feed Roundup

Syndicate content Boing Boing
Brain candy for Happy Mutants
Updated: 2 hours 14 min ago

Easter Bunny hates you

3 hours 42 min ago

I have always loved this. Happy holiday.

Video link

Categories: The Essentials

This Day in Blogging History: Warren Buffet v goldbugs; Norwegian pirates buy more music; Dozois leaves Asimov's

13 hours 8 min ago

One year ago today
Warren Buffet vs goldbugs: “If you put your money into gold or other non-income- producing assets that are dependent on what someone else values that in the future, you’re in speculation,” he said. “You’re not into investing....”

Five years ago today
Norwegian P2P downloaders buy more music: There's a simple explanation for this: if you really love music, you do lots of music-related things. If you're in the 20 percent of fans that buys 80 percent of records, you're probably in the 20 percent of downloaders that download 80 percent of music, the 20 percent of concertgoers that buy 80 percent of the tickets, and so on. The moral is that music superfans love music and structure their lives around it.

Ten years ago today
Gardner Dozois stepping down from Asimov's: Gardner's won the Hugo for best editor 14 times, making him one of the award-winningest editors in the history of the field, and the stories in Asimov's are stunningly well-represented at every year's Nebula and Hugo awards.

Categories: The Essentials

Orphan Black S02E01: Nature Under Constraint and Vexed [recap w/spoilers]

20 April, 2014 - 10:00

It’s good to be back in the Clone Club. The return of Orphan Black quite literally hits the ground running and never lets up in this action-packed, clone-filled premiere. “Nature Under Constraint And Vexed” reintroduces almost every major player from season one, readjusts the show’s antagonistic forces, and ends with a bombshell reveal. I’m not convinced it’s a pace the show can maintain for the entire season, but it’s a hell of a fun way to jump back into the world of Orphan Black.

“Can we back up for a sec?” asks Felix, who’s decked out in assless chaps and flirting his way into a five way. “No. We need to go, Fe,” responds Sarah. That could very well serve as a thesis statement—not just for Sarah but also for this premiere. This isn’t an episode interested in easing the audience back into its world or revisiting the past; like its protagonist, Orphan Black is only interested in moving forward. (Those who do need a refresher, however, can check out my season one recap.)

Before the opening credits role we’ve already met a new villain, watched two people die, and seen Sarah escape from an inescapable situation. The cold open is a heart stopping five minutes and one of the best action sequences this show has ever produced. Orphan Black is never more enjoyable than when its heroes are backed into corners (or tiny bathrooms as the case may be) and ingeniously fight their way out. When left without an escape route, Sarah Manning simply breaks through a wall. A lesser show might rely on a deus ex machina to save the day, but Orphan Black allows its protagonist to be remarkably intelligent in her response to danger.

Sarah drives most of the plot in this premiere with her attempts to acquire a gun, gate crash a Dyad Institute gala, and rescue her daughter Kira. When put under pressure (the “constraint and vexed” part of tonight’s title) Sarah acts on instinct and sees things in black and white. The Neolutionists have her daughter—or so she thinks—which makes them her enemy. For Sarah’s clone compatriots (who I lovingly refer to as her clone-sisters or “clone-sters”), the distinction between friend and enemy isn’t so clear-cut.

“This is my biology. It’s my decision,” Cosima tells Delphine as they draw blood in dim mood lighting. Cosima hasn’t ruled out that working with the Dyad Institute might be the best way to cure her respiratory illness. On the other hand, she’s not willing to lay all her cards on the table either. She knows the Dyad Institute patented the clones’ DNA—rendering them as property, not people—and she’s still trying to keep the Neolutionists at arm’s length. When constrained and vexed, Cosima thinks like a rational scientist. The only trouble is she’s also falling hard for her monitor Delphine. “I’m not going to apologize for my heart,” Cosima informs Felix and Sarah, “but I promise both of you guys I won’t get fooled again.” Behind the sci-fi shenanigans, Orphan Black is a show about female agency. Cosima may not be making the safest choice, but, importantly, it’s her choice to make and the other characters respect that.

Alison, meanwhile, is also exercising her right to choose. Last season she signed a contract agreeing to work with the Neolutionists in exchange for an unmonitored life. That life now includes cutting back on the booze and pills, salvaging her marriage with Donnie, and starring in a musical (that’s definitely not Cats). While the Dyad Institute hasn’t kept up its end of the deal—her secret monitor Donnie is still sneaking into her craft room in his underwear to check up on her—they are following the agreement to an extent. When Rachel’s right-hand-man Daniel realizes he’s accidentally kidnapped Alison instead of Sarah, he promptly apologizes and lets her go. Sarah sees Dyad as the enemy, but Alison has faith in her contract, mostly because it’s excuse to put the past—and the fact that she basically killed Aynsley—behind her. When put under pressure, Alison represses her emotions and puts on a happy face.

The season finale saw Sarah, Cosima, and Alison making drastically different decisions about their relationships to the Dyad Institute. While those splintered opinions could have divided the group, it’s refreshing to see that the Clone Club is as functional as ever. Alison might not want to be directly involved with breaking into the Institute, but she’s still more than happy to buy Sarah an unregistered gun from her Economart cashier/pill pusher Ramon. Whether their connection is natural or nurtured, these clone-sters still put each other first. The plot climaxes at the Dyad’s swanky event, but from a character point of view, the climax comes in a delightful scene in which the Clone Club and Felix reunite—with Alison on Skype this time—to come up with a plan.

Putting the main characters in one room not only allows for some nice character beats (“We love you Alison,” purrs Felix), it juxtaposes and clarifies the characters’ points of view. Hotheaded Sarah wants to break-in first and ask questions later while logical Cosima suggests negotiating with Rachel or at least forming a plan first. Alison also encourages Sarah to plan ahead, but asks to be kept in the dark so as to maintain plausible deniability in her new relationship with the Neolutionists. It’s a testament to creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett—who serve as the respective writer and director for this episode—that the characters of Orphan Black feel like distinctive individuals; there’s no mistaking an Alison line for a Sarah line. And Tatiana Maslany’s performances are so effortlessly unique, it’s easy to forget that ¾ of the characters in this scene are played by the same person.

Maslany also gets the chance to stretch her legs as Rachel, the newest clone iteration who made a quick appearance in the season finale but gets a proper introduction here. To its credit, Orphan Black plays its world building close to the chest, allowing details to emerge naturally rather than offering up forced exposition. It’s still unclear exactly how Rachel fits into the Dyad hierarchy. She doesn’t feel like the leader of the entire Institute, but she’s got authority over Leekie and enough clout to negotiate with both the Koreas. Rachel is an intriguing mystery and it will be interesting to learn more about her backstory, but so far the Dyad scenes rely a little too heavily on sci-fi tropes about mysterious organizations—especially when it comes to generic baddie Daniel, who seems largely perfunctory.

While the premiere fits in some nice character moments—like a stoned Felix asking Alison for a gun in the middle of the night—other plot mechanics are less organic. Detectives Art and Angie just happen to show up in the right place at the right time in one of the more contrived moments of the premiere. It’s not a major misstep, it’s just Orphan Black showing its work more than it does at its best. There’s a lot of dramatic potential in Art and Sarah’s uneasy relationship, but Angie continues to be one of the least developed characters on the show. Art and Angie temporarily arresting Sarah is perhaps one plot point too many in an already overstuffed premiere.

If the episode feels a bit constructed in the middle, it’s saved by a slam-bang ending. Once again proving she’s the best conwoman in town, Sarah impersonates Cosima—and even gets the hair almost right—to attend the Dyad gala. One awkward hug with Leekie later and she’s in the Dyad offices holding Rachel at gunpoint. Sarah and Rachel may look identical, but as Orphan Black proves time and time again, these clones are individuals. Rachel shares Sarah’s skills at manipulation, but she’s decidedly not a woman of action. Sarah, on the other hand, is more than happy to fire her gun—in a moment that made me jump out of my seat—and pin Rachel to the ground. When constrained and vexed, otherwise cool and collected Rachel is useless. It takes Paul—whose loyalties are still ambiguous—to both protect Rachel and let Sarah escape unharmed.

That would be plenty to sustain a season premiere, but, of course, this isn’t just any season premiere. Instead of cutting to credits as Sarah is about to confess everything to Art, we cut to a bloody boot and a shock of bleach blonde hair. “Excuse me, my sistra shot me,” Helena calmly explains before collapsing in a hospital waiting room. So everyone’s favorite unhinged Ukrainian is alive after all! It’s a genuinely shocking twist, not least of all because the cast has been so adamant about that fact that she’s gone.

It turns out this episode’s focus on the Dyad Institute was a red herring; the Proletheans are the ones who kidnapped Kira. Art tells Sarah that the mysterious man who attacked her in the dinner—Ali Millen’s creepy Mark—is a member of the extremist religious group. He works for a Mormon-esque sect that has apparently replaced Tomas’ old world branch. Mark shows up again alongside Helena at the hospital. But how did Helena survive a gunshot to the chest? What is her role in this newly organized Prolethean movement? And what do the Proletheans want with Kira?

Part of what made Orphan Black’s first season so exciting was the ever-expanding mystery around the clones and the people out to hurt them. Now that we have a decent number of answers to those questions, there’s a danger that the writers will keep expanding the mysteries until the show gets swallowed up by its own mythos (take a look at Lost if you want a prime example of that). With the addition of Rachel and Daniel to the Neolutionists, the introduction of this new Prolethean sect, and the return of Helena this show has a lot of antagonist forces in play. Given the strength of the first season, I’m willing to give Manson and Fawcett the benefit of the doubt that they can juggle all these storylines. This premiere is probably more action-packed than Orphan Black can sustain over the long term, but watching the show keep so many plates in the air tonight is exhilarating. Helena’s return is a reminder that in the world of Orphan Black anything is possible. Welcome to the trip, man.

Clone Club Conversations

• Welcome to Boing Boing’s Orphan Black reviews! I’ll be here all season talking about clones and craft rooms. I’m a big fan of the show and I’d love to discuss it more with you guys in the comments section or on Twitter!

• This week in Tatiana Maslany Shows Off: She speaks what I believe is German as Rachel, and she gets to do a whole song and dance number as Alison. Is there anything this girl can’t do?

• Last season all of the episode titles were phrases pulled from Charles Darwin’s The Origin Of Species. This season’s titles come courtesy of Francis Bacon. I watched this episode three times in preparation for this review and now I can’t get that song from Alison’s musical out of my head. “And we will sing, sing, sing…!”

• According to Leekie’s speech the Dyad Institute has been around since 1918 and has branches in 134 countries, including Vatican City. They also have enough power to influence real-life Supreme Court decisions!

• How did Sarah manage to bring a gun into an event that is apparently riddled with security? Maybe Dyad should invest in some metal detectors.

• Big Dick Paul continues to be the least interesting part of this series. Thanks to Dylan Bruce’s wooden performance it’s unclear when Paul is trying to play those around him and when he’s following orders. Can Tatiana just play Paul too?

Categories: The Essentials

Adorable kittens, 9 days old, cry adorably and are available for adoption (video)

20 April, 2014 - 05:36


Happy Caturday. Ah, listen to this 9-day-old kitten's adorable squeals! Boing Boing pal Miles O'Brien was learning how to fly his camera drone with one hand after becoming one-handed. At the drone flying range near Washington, DC, a friend had a few 9-day old kittens hanging out on a blanket.

If you would like to adopt one of them, contact Nikki Driver at ndriver8411@gmail.com. Nikki is a vet, so they're in good hands. She and the kittens are near Charlottesville, VA.

One of the 9-day old kitties getting some milk from a bottle. Photo: Miles O'Brien.

One of the 9-day old kitties. Photo: Miles O'Brien.

Categories: The Essentials

Zentai: full-body masked spandex subculture from Japan

20 April, 2014 - 05:17

Zentai (short for "zenshintaitsu," Japanese for "full body suit") is a largely obscure Japanese subculture whose adherents go out wearing full-body patterned spandex suits that cover their faces. In a relatively unsensational article in the Japan Times, Harumi Ozawa talks to a few zentais about their hobby, and learns that for some proponents, being completely covered is a liberating experience. The zentais in the article describe the suit as an anonymizer that frees them from the judging gaze of society, which is a fascinating study in contradictions, since the suits undoubtably attract lots of judgmental looks, but these seem to adhere to the suit without penetrating to the wearer within.

Some zentais wear their suits in superhero fashion, and do good deeds in public, while others wear the suits for sexual kicks. They are often mocked in Japanese pop culture. One academic cited in the article believes that the wearers use the suits to hide their appearance in order to force others to deal with their "true" underlying identity.

By night, she dresses in a skin-tight, all-in-one Spandex body suit that covers everything — including her eyes — and sits in bars, alone but liberated, she believes, from the judgment of others.

“With my face covered, I cannot eat or drink like other customers,” said the woman, who is in her 20s and says her name is Hokkyoku Nigo (North Pole No. 2).

“I have led my life always worrying about what other people think of me. They say I look cute, gentle, childish or naive,” she said, her lips ruffling the tight, red shiny material.

“I always felt suffocated by that. But wearing this, I am just a person in a full body suit.”

‘Zentai’ fans search for identity in fetish suits [Harumi Ozawa/Japan Times]

(via JWZ)

(Image: Zentai.jpg, MonkeyMyshkin, CC-BY)

Categories: The Essentials

Playing Jenga with heavy earth-moving equipment

20 April, 2014 - 05:02

In Stack competitions, a bunch of earth-moving equipment plays a monster-scale game of Jenga with 600lb blocks of wood -- pretty amazing skill on the part of the operators!

This is pretty amazing, but don't get too excited about Cat's equipment. Remember, this is the company that bought an Ontario factory, got a huge, multi-year tax break out of the government, then, pretty much the day it ran out, demanded a 50% wage-cut from the union, refused to negotiate, then closed down the factory, fired its workforce just before Christmas, and split town, having waxed fat on corporate welfare. No amount of fun promotional Jenga games can change the fact that if Cat's corporate personhood was literal, the company would be such an obviously dangerous sociopath that it would be permanently institutionalized to protect the rest of society.

Built For It Trials - Stack: Largest Board Game Played with Cat Excavators (via JWZ)

Categories: The Essentials

Profile of Aeropress and Aerobie inventor Alan Adler

20 April, 2014 - 04:42

Alan Adler is a Stanford engineering professor and inventor who's had two remarkable -- and wildly different -- successes: the long-flying Aerobie disc, and the Aeropress, a revolutionary, brilliant, dead-simple $30 coffee maker that makes pretty much the best cup of coffee you've ever tasted. I've given Aeropresses to a dozen friends, I keep one in my travel-bag, and I've got Aeropresses at home and at the office. I use mine to make hot coffee and to filter cold-brew (including hotel-room minibar cold-brew that I brew in breast-milk bags).

Zachary Crockett has a great, long piece on Adler and the process that led to the creation of these two remarkable products. Adler's first success, the Aerobie, was the result of lucking out with the major TV networks and magazines, who provided him with the publicity he needed to get his business off the ground (literally). But with the Aeropress, the defining factor was the Internet, where a combination of coffee-nerd message-boards (where Adler could interact directly with his customers) and an easy means for coffee-shop owners all over the world to order Aeropresses for retail sale made the Aeropress into a global hit.

The Melitta cone, a device you place over your cup with a filter and pour water into, has “an average wet time of about 4-5 minutes,” according to Adler. The longer the wet time, the more acidity and bitterness leech out of the grounds into the cup. Adler figured this time could be dramatically reduced, quelling bad-tasting byproducts.

It struck Adler that he could use air pressure to shorten this process. After a few weeks in his garage, he’d already created a prototype: a plastic tube that used plunger-like action to compress the flavors quickly out of the grounds. He brewed his first cup with the invention, and knew he’d made something special. Immediately, he called his business manager Alex Tennant.

Tennant tasted the brew, and stepped back. “Alan,” he said, “I can sell a ton of these.”

A year of “perfecting the design” ensued: Adler tried out different sizes and configurations, and at first “didn’t understand the right way to use [his] own invention.” The final product, which he called the AeroPress, was simple to operate: you place a filter and coffee grounds (2-4 scoops) into a plastic tube, pour hot water into the tube (at an optimal of 165-175 degrees), and stir for ten seconds.

Aerobie disc


The Invention of the AeroPress [Zachary Crockett/Pricenomics]

Categories: The Essentials

Message to NETmundial: protect fundamental Internet freedoms

20 April, 2014 - 04:30

Jeremie from France's La Quadrature du Net sez, "The farcical illusion of 'multistakeholder' discussions around 'Internet governance' must be denounced! For the last 15 years those sterile discussions led nowhere, with no concrete action ever emerging. In the meantime, technology as a whole has been turned into a terrifying machine for surveillance, control and oppression. The very same 'stakeholders' seen in IGFs and such, by their active collaboration with NSA and its public and private partners, massively violated our trust and our privacy."

In 3 days SaoPaulo will host the NETmundial forum. Will it be one more occurence of the "multistakeholder" farce? Governments have a moral obligation and a duty to protect their citizens' fundamental freedoms against aggressions by public and private entities. We expect them to protect the decentralized architecture of a Free Internet as a common good. This is why we put up http://netmundial.net.

End Global Surveillance and Protect the Free Internet (Thanks, Jeremie!)

Categories: The Essentials

Hobby Lobby, IUDs, and the facts

19 April, 2014 - 22:00

Later this year, the US Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the case of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. — answering whether a corporation can have religious beliefs that enable it to opt out of the mandate requiring company-purchased insurance to cover all forms of birth control. That’s the legal question. But the case also orbits around a separate question that has roots in both science and religious belief. Hobby Lobby doesn’t want to provide health insurance that covers the costs of birth control because that includes IUDs, or intrauterine devices.

The owners of Hobby Lobby believe that IUDs actually cause abortions. Birth control activists say IUDs never cause abortions, and work by preventing pregnancy, just like you’d expect birth control to do. Who is right? According to scientific research, neither of them — though the birth control activists are much closer to being right than Hobby Lobby.

IUDs are basically just little pieces of plastic. In the United States, there are two types available, both shaped like a capital “T”. One, the ParaGard, has thin copper wire wrapped around the bars of the T. The other, Mirena, secrets a type of progestin, a hormone that’s used in other forms of birth control, like the Pill. Either way, a doctor uses a thin tube to slide the IUD, T arms folded, through a woman’s cervix and into her uterus. You can leave it there for years. There’s nothing to remember, as with the pill or a condom. And it has a low failure rate — fewer than 1 in 100 women will get pregnant in a year while using an IUD. Compare that to the Pill — 9 pregnant women out of 100 in a year — or a condom — 18 out of 100 — and you can see the appeal. As a bonus, the IUD, and particularly the ParaGard, is also a form of birth control that nursing mothers can use without affecting their milk supply.

But how do they work? To understand this better, I turned both to scientific research — most of which dates to the late 1970s and early 1980s, little has been done since — and to experts. In particular, Horacio Croxatto. He’s a surgeon and biologist, and founder of the Chilean Institute of Reproductive Medicine. He’s also one of the scientists who conducted the studies that people are referring to when they say that IUDs don’t cause abortions.

The confusion surrounding how IUDs work dates back to animal studies conducted in the 1960s, Dr. Croxatto told me. The first study to examine the mechanism of IUDs was done in 1964 on rats and clearly showed that, in rats, IUDs do prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. But, Dr. Croxatto said, those results turned out to not be applicable to human women. Or, for that matter, to females of other animal species.

Rats have a reproductive system that’s very different from humans. Instead of a large, central uterus, their uterus branches into two distinct horns. Because of that, scientists were able to use one horn as the control and put an IUD in the other. They mated the rats, and then killed and dissected them at 1, 2, 5, and 10 days after mating. When they cut the rats open, they could see how eggs were being fertilized and developing normally on both sides, but those fertilized eggs were only implanting and growing in the uterine horn that had no IUD. In other words, the IUD was preventing fertilized eggs from becoming viable pregnancies. Biologists and doctors define pregnancy as beginning at implantation. So, technically, preventing implantation isn’t an abortion. That said, the people who own Hobby Lobby define pregnancy differently, as beginning at fertilization. If humans were like rats, then their fears would be justified.

But, when scientists tried to replicate the results in other test animals, they found completely different mechanisms. For instance, a similar study in sheep, which also have uterine horns, showed that eggs weren’t being fertilized in the control side, or the side with an IUD. Researchers eventually figured out that the presence of an IUD made the peristaltic contractions — muscle movements in the uterus that usually move sperm towards the fallopian tubes — operate in reverse.

When scientists tested the mechanism of IUDs in other animals they also found it working in different ways. Basically, Croxatto said, you can’t extrapolate the results in one species to assume how IUDs work in another. The Human Studies

It wasn’t until the 1970s that scientists actually studied the mechanism of IUDs in human women. The studies done on animals couldn’t be replicated exactly in humans. (Anybody up for mating followed by death and dissection?) So, instead, researchers came up with other ways to do the tests.

For example, they looked for the hormone released when an egg has been fertilized and is in the process of implanting in the uterus. Human chorionic gonadotropin is the same hormone that a pregnancy test looks for and it’s present beginning about 7 days after ovulation. HCG can’t tell you much about the earliest stages of fertilization, but we know that levels of the hormone rise and then fall in women who have very early miscarriages that failed to implant, so it stands to reason that, if IUDs were preventing fertilized eggs from implanting, you’d see the same sort of thing.

The trouble is, there’s lots of different ways to measure HCG. Some of those methods are more sensitive than others. And it’s a measurement that’s easy to get wrong, with a risk of both false positives and negatives. Because of this, we don’t even know, exactly, what percentage of pregnancies end in miscarriage — some studies say it’s as low as 6%, some say as high as 57%. It’s not surprising, then, that studies of HCG levels in women with IUDs have had varying results. In 2007, though, Dr. Croxatto reviewed the research. He found five studies that showed transient increases in HCG in 15-44% of the cycles of women with IUDs. He found 14 studies that showed HCG increasing in only 0-2.7% of the cycles of women with IUDs. In general, the 14 studies that suggest HCG levels don’t increase very often, if at all, in women with IUDs were done with better techniques and are considered more reliable.

With the help of microscopes, scientists also searched for actual eggs, both fertilized and unfertilized. You can do this in a couple of ways. First, scientists can inject liquid into the uterus, flushing it out like you’d flush out hard-to-reach engine systems in a car. Then, you collect the fluid that comes out and look for eggs. For instance, a study that Croxatto did in 1974 found eggs (some fertilized, some not) in 22% of the uterine flushes they did on women who weren’t using birth control. In women with IUDs, on the other hand, flushing revealed eggs in only 1.5% of the searches.

Fourteen years later, a study done by a different set of researchers turned up similar results. This study examined the fallopian tubes of women who had gone in for surgical sterilizations. Some of them had IUDs, some didn’t. Most of the women abstained from sex before their surgeries, at the request of the researchers. But among the small group that did not, the scientists found fertilized eggs in 50% of the control subjects. They found none in the women with IUDs.

That study also had an interesting twist. Among the women who had abstained from sex, scientists found significantly lower numbers of unfertilized eggs in the women with IUDs. Why would having an IUD reduce the number of unfertilized eggs in a woman’s reproductive tract? Croxatto says that seemingly weird result points towards the mechanism that makes IUDs work. Biological Recoil

All over your body, your immune system is hard at work, looking for invaders and jumping into action to drive them out. The front line shock troops in this battle are white blood cells, which seek out unwelcome microbes and attack them — poisoning some and devouring others in a process called phagocytosis. The bulk of evidence suggests that this same process is what makes IUDs work, Croxatto says. When you put an IUD in your uterus, your immune system registers it as an intruder and starts to attack. White blood cells can’t kill a piece of plastic and copper, but they give it their best shot, and those efforts end up killing the majority of sperm that reach the uterus. The effect is even stronger in IUDs made with copper, like ParaGard, because copper ions are also toxic to sperm.

There have been at least two studies that asked women who were planning a sterilization surgery to have sex first, so scientists could look for sperm in their discarded fallopian tubes. As you might expect, women who weren’t using birth control had lots of sperm up in there. Women who were using inert plastic IUDs (a type of IUD that’s no longer sold in the US) had some sperm. Women using copper IUDs had none. Not a single sperm.

That’s a stark contrast between humans and those rats that IUDs were first tested on. Croxatto says the difference lies in how sperm travel. In rats, sperm reach the uterus protected by a bubble of semen that keeps angry white blood cells at bay. Human sperm have no such luck, their semen gets left behind in the vestibule of the vagina. So if an IUD is in place, the immune response it creates kills sperm.

And Croxatto thinks that same process explains why scientists also found fewer unfertilized eggs in women who used IUDs. There’s not really a barrier between the uterus and the fallopian tubes in human women. So uterine fluid, filled with white blood cells and copper ions, is free to move into the fallopian tubes, where it destroys unfertilized eggs the same way it destroys sperm. That idea isn’t as well established as the effect on sperm. But it makes sense. Science and religion

So, does that mean the birth control activists are right? That IUDs never prevent fertilized eggs from implanting? Not exactly.

While we know IUDs do an impressive job of preventing fertilization, we also know that they’re perfectly capable of preventing implantation, as well. ParaGard, the copper IUD, can be used as emergency contraception. Say you have sex, and the condom breaks. You can go in to the doctor the next day, or even as many as five days later, get a ParaGard, and almost eliminate your chances of getting pregnant. But sperm reach the fallopian tubes within minutes of ejaculation. So the IUD can’t be working by killing off sperm. “In that case, it’s clearly abortifacient,” Croxatto says. “No doubt about that.”

When birth control activists and religious groups face off about how IUDs work, what they’re actually arguing over is the primary mechanism of IUDs. People like the owners of Hobby Lobby believe that IUDs mostly work by preventing implantation, which is, to them, an abortion. Activists (and scientists) point to the data that strongly suggests the opposite — IUDs can prevent implantation, but they mostly work by preventing eggs from being fertilized in the first place. Then, of course, there’s also that pesky semantic disagreement about what constitutes a pregnancy and, thus, an abortion.

This is what I mean by both sides being right, but birth control activists being moreso. If you go by the scientific definition, where pregnancy begins at implantation, then IUDs definitely don’t work by causing abortions. If your religious beliefs lead you to think pregnancy begins at fertilization, well, the data suggests that, sometimes, rarely, IUDs used as birth control might abort a fertilized egg. In that way, everybody’s right. But the science — what we know about IUDs from evidence — suggests that the primary mechanism is to prevent fertilization, not to prevent implantation. So, in that way, Planned Parenthood is more correct than Hobby Lobby, no matter what deeply held religious beliefs the company’s owners may have.

There's more to the research than I've written about here. If you want to learn more about how IUDs work and how we know how they work, I'd recommend these sources:
A 2007 peer-reviewed paper by Horacio Croxatto that reviews and summarizes previously published research.
A 1989 editorial published in the scientific journal Studies in Family Planning by Irving Sivin, senior scientist at The Population Council.
A 1987 World Health Organization report on IUDs, their safety and mechanism of action.

DISCLAIMER: I’m personally pro-choice. I think birth control should be covered as a part of health care, no different than birth, pap smears, or any other aspect of women’s health. I use an IUD, myself, and do not particularly care if it occasionally prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in my uterus.

Photo: Shutterstock

Categories: The Essentials

This Day in Blogging History: Free Conan audiobooks; RIP JG Ballard; EFF vs bullshit patents

19 April, 2014 - 21:00

One year ago today
Great free reading of Robert E Howard's "Conan and the Queen of the Black Coast": This is the Ur-stuff, the sword-and-sorcery material that turned me into a stone Conan freak when I was 12 years old. It's all mighty thews and straining jaws and blood-drenched swords -- and pirates and sinuous dances and so on.

Five years ago today
JG Ballard (1930-2009): "Picturing the psychology of the future is what it's all been about." --JG Ballard

Ten years ago today
EFF waging war on bullshit Internet patents: EFF is going to start actively busting bullshit Internet patents, hunting down prior art and getting the USPTO to revoke the patents.

Categories: The Essentials

Kickstarting Maker's Alphabet: an ABC book that celebrates creativity

19 April, 2014 - 17:45

Melody writes, "We're grad students in the MFA Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. We launched a Kickstarter project called Maker's Alphabet. It's an ABC book that features whimsical illustrations and verses to celebrate creativity of all stripes."

From kombucha-making to coding, Maker’s Alphabet will remind all of us what it means to be a maker in 2014.

We’re carefully crafting all aspects of the book, from big illustrations to little typography details, from thoughtful verses to playful layouts. We envision a final artifact that will shine on any shelf, coffee table or desk!

More importantly, we’re focused on telling a story that will inspire kids of all ages to go out into the world and make. Here’s a look at some of the content and sketches we’ve explored so far.

Maker's Alphabet

Categories: The Essentials

Scattered: Short film adapted from Ken MacLeod story

19 April, 2014 - 17:41

Joshua sez, "This atmospheric film is the first ever screen-adaptation of the work of award-winning sci-fi author Ken MacLeod. Scattered examines society's relationship with its past through a son's relationship with his father, and challenges our established ideas of destruction and terrorism through a crime that is as surprising as it is all-consuming. As all great sci-fi should, Scattered offers a vision of the future that illuminates the present."

McCloud's work is brilliant -- have a look at my review of his dystopian masterpiece Intrusion. (Thanks, Joshua!)

Categories: The Essentials

UK tax authority caught sneaking in plan to sell Britons' private financial records

19 April, 2014 - 14:00

Just weeks after a plan to sell "anonymized" sets of British health-records collapsed in the face of massive public criticism, a new plan has emerged to sell the country's tax records to companies and researchers, prompting an even more critical response. One Tory MP called the plan "borderline insane," and tax professionals are in an uproar. The plan was buried as a brief mention in the autumn budget. HMRC's defense rests on the idea that the information in the datasets will be anonymized, something that computer scientists widely believe is effectively impossible.

Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, said the information could be highly useful to credit rating agencies, advertisers, and retailers wanting to practise price discrimination.

He also raised concerns about any government claims to have made data fully anonymous.

"This is going to be a big battleground," he said. "If they were to make HMRC information more available, there's an awful lot of people who would like to get their hands on it. Anonymisation is something about which they lied to us over medical data … If the same thing is about to be done by HMRC, there should be a much greater public debate about this."

"We are concerned that even the strictest safeguards and deterrents may not prevent misuse of the data, or identification of the underlying taxpayer," he said. "There are already examples of aggregate data being provided at such a granular level which would enable identification of the relevant individuals, and we are anxious that any broadening of HMRC's powers of disclosure will inevitably lead to the identification of individuals, and a consequential breakdown in trust between HMRC and taxpayers, not to mention contravention of legislation such as the Human Rights Act."

HMRC to sell taxpayers' financial data [Rowena Mason/The Guardian]

(Thanks, Neil!)

Categories: The Essentials

Spooky music made by abusing turntables and cutting up and reforming vinyl records

19 April, 2014 - 11:00

Knitmeapony sez, "This is the raddest, most atmospheric thing ever. All kinds of delightful, spooky distortions, creepy static, half-heard voices and mashed-up music, created by physically altering vinyl records and record players and manipulating them as they go. A serious delight."

Categories: The Essentials

Craigslister seeks woman to sit in bathtub full of ramen noodles

19 April, 2014 - 09:39

Brooklyn women who have bathing suits, are down for a 30 minute soak in a tub full of ramen noodles, and are looking to make a quick $175: Look no further.

There's got to be an anime about this already.

Woman to sit in my bath tub full of ramen noodles (brooklyn) Thanks Tessa!

Categories: The Essentials

Tetraflex, treat dispensing dog toy

19 April, 2014 - 09:19

My dog Pretzel tries out another treat dispensing toy, this time it is the Tetraflex! This dimpled ball with cupped opening is simple, durable and has provided well over an hour of entertainment to a young Cavalier this evening.

I went with the medium size, knowing that Nemo, my Great Pyrenees, doesn't have a ton of interest in these types of toy. It is a pretty good size for dogs 15-40 lbs. A larger dog would destroy it. Perhaps the size Large is made of thicker rubber.

Tripple Crown Treat Dispensing Tetraflex Pet Chew Toy, Medium

Previously on Boing Boing:

Treat Triad dog puzzle

Another great dog distraction - the Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble

KONG Extreme dog toy

Categories: The Essentials

Kickstarting a film adaptation of "Dark Side of Disney" - guide to getting high, drunk & laid while on Disney vacation

19 April, 2014 - 09:00

Ricky sez, "Director Philip B. Swift has announced a feature-length documentary film called 'The Dark Side of Disney' based on Leonard Kinsey's travel guide of the same name, to feature topics like finding and buying dirt cheap park tickets and time shares, drinking around Epcot, having sex in the parks, obtaining and using drugs while on an Orlando vacation. The film has just hit Kickstarter, trying to raise $20,000. Last year Swift released 'The Bubble,' a documentary about the Disney-created town of Celebration just outside Walt Disney World."

The Dark Side of Disney [Amazon]

“The Dark Side of Disney” documentary film to explore adult side of theme park vacations, hits Kickstarter for funds [Ricky Brigante/Inside the Magic]

(Thanks, Ricky!)

Categories: The Essentials

On the Internet, no one knows you're not the mayor

19 April, 2014 - 07:25
Matthew says: "Peoria police raided a home, seized computers and phones, and hauled several people in to be questioned about who is running a fake Twitter account of Peoria's mayor."

Categories: The Essentials

Get a load of these crazy old shoes for rich people

19 April, 2014 - 07:04

Moorish chopines likely evolved from wooden stilt shoes, like this pair of 19th century Ottoman qabâqi, which were worn by women to protect their feet from the heated floors of public bathhouses. Image courtesy the Bata Shoe Museum.

Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says: "Hunter Oatman-Stanford just interviewed Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum, who has spoken to us in the past about high heels and flip flops. This time, we chatted with Elizabeth about chopines, an elevated form of footwear that was popular among aristocratic ladies and courtesans in 16th-century Italy and Spain."

Collectors Weekly: Were chopines limited to upper-class women?

Semmelhack: Originally yes. Though it was somewhat confusing because during the 16th century, dowry inflation grew completely out of control, and it became prohibitively expensive to marry off one’s daughter. Venice was a republic and the ruling men of Venice all had to dress with a confraternal sameness, like when you go to Bay Street in Toronto [the financial district] and all the men are dressed the same. Because of that, women’s dress carried a greater burden of expressing individual family wealth. Marriages were an opportunity to show the wealth not only of the bride’s natal family but also of her nuptial family. By the end of the 16th century, the cost of weddings and all this costume became so prohibitive that wealthy families could only afford to marry one daughter per generation.

This resulted in a surplus of girls and boys who couldn’t find mates. Many girls were sent off to nunneries, and some boys were also sent off to join the church, but both state and church became concerned that men would turn to sodomy in order to satisfy their natural urges. In response, both church and state sanctioned what was called the “honest courtesan,” who behaved as an escort for upper-class men. A courtesan had access to the noble court and moved within that very high social circle. Courtesans were expected to dress like upper-class women, which meant they wore chopines.

But a courtesan was not sequestered at home like true upper-class women: She could walk the streets. When visitors came to Venice and they saw these women clumping around in chopines, they began to assume that chopines were only worn by courtesans, as opposed to the fact that courtesans were aping the dress of wealthy women. Were these honest courtesans upper class? They were of a different class. But they were wearing chopines because of this association, because of the particular social conditions from which the shoes emerged.

These Chopines Weren't Made for Walking: Precarious Platforms for Aristocratic Feet

Categories: The Essentials

Get ready for Orphan Black's return tomorrow night with this season one recap

19 April, 2014 - 05:15

What constitutes a family? Are they the people who give you life, the people who raise you, or the people you choose as your support network? Or are they your identical clones created by a mysterious organization seeking to advance human evolution to the next level? That last one might not be a question most family dramas are interested in asking, but Orphan Black isn’t most family dramas.

Like the best sci-fi shows, BBC America’s addictive Orphan Black uses its fantastical lens to explore realities of the human condition. Where Battlestar Galactica examined politics and terrorism using a fleet of spaceships and Buffy the Vampire Slayer depicted the struggles of adolescence through demons and witches, Orphan Black uses human cloning to explore the nature of family. That unifying central theme, a slew of fantastic characters, and an absolutely stellar central performance (well, performances) from star Tatiana Maslany combine to make Orphan Black one of the best shows of 2013 and one you should absolutely check out before it returns for a second season on April 19.

The heart and soul of Orphan Black is Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, and it would be virtually impossible to oversell her talents. Over the course of the first season she plays four leading roles and three featured ones, turning each into a recognizable human being with her own physicality, vocal quality, and mannerisms. She occasionally plays characters pretending to be other characters as well, and what sounds confusing on paper (Helena poses as Beth, while Sarah-as-Beth is away from the office) becomes clear storytelling in Maslany’s capable hands. Refreshingly, Orphan Black doesn’t use its one-actor-plays-multiple-roles conceit as a cheap gimmick; it simply calls upon its lead actress to inhabit the full reality of each of her characters. Maslany’s performance deserves ample praise—and every award they can throw at her—but Orphan Black is much more than just one impressive performance.

And that’s because the show’s ever-complicating plot is grounded by solid character work all around. Well before the sci-fi elements are introduced, the show raises questions about the nature of family through the rather unconventional one at its center. The first episode, “Natural Selection,” opens with Sarah Manning—a British punk rocker and con-woman—returning to town (vaguely Ontario) to reclaim her seven-year-old daughter, Kira. Sarah’s biggest ally is her foster brother Felix—a gay rent boy and artist who’s alternately the show’s comic relief, its moral compass, and its secret weapon (actor Jordan Gavaris is the only one who comes anywhere near Maslany’s level). They may not be biologically related, but Sarah and Felix’s sibling bond is probably the most grounded relationship on Orphan Black. Which is good because Sarah desperately needs all the help she can get to win back the daughter she dropped off for a one-night stay 10 months ago. Felix and Sarah’s former foster mother Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has been taking care of Kira ever since, and after years of dealing with Sarah’s reckless behavior, she isn’t too keen to relinquish custody.

Thankfully, Sarah’s uncanny ability to get herself into and then work her way out of tight corners is one of Orphan Black’s most engaging qualities. After seeing a woman who looks just like her commit suicide-by-train, it takes Sarah all of eight seconds to decide to steal the dead woman’s purse, break into her apartment, and form a plan to impersonate her and steal the $75,000 she has in a savings account. With that money Sarah will finally have the financial stability she needs to start a new life with Kira and Felix. The only hitch is that the life of Beth Childs—Sarah’s doppelganger—is not nearly as perfect as her stunning abode and equally stunning boyfriend would suggest.

The first three episodes mine most of their drama from watching Sarah-as-Beth squirm to manage a disciplinary hearing, a tense relationship with Beth’s co-detective Art (Kevin Hanchard), and the suspicions of Beth’s hunky-but-boring boyfriend Paul (Dylan Bruce). Where a lesser show might introduce a deus ex machina to get Sarah out of these tight spots, Orphan Black lets its protagonist be incredibly crafty—confidently lying, flirting, and faking her way out of danger. She’s always just one step ahead of getting in too deep, until the third episode “Variation Under Nature,” when she finally uncovers Beth’s biggest secret: She was one of many identical clones living all around the world, and before her death she was working with two of them to investigate their past.

It’s admirable that a show about clones takes three whole episodes to even introduce the word, an example of Orphan Black’s supreme confidence in its world building. Once the concept is introduced, however, it raises new questions about the nature of family. Sarah’s biological daughter and her adoptive brother are clearly her family, but what relationship does she have to these other women who look just like her? Biologically identical but raised in separate environments, what—if anything—do these girls owe to one another? The mystery of their creation ties them together into a “Clone Club,” but is their bond professional or personal? After all, Sarah could not be more different from her clone “sisters” (let’s call them “clone-sters” for short).

Alison Hendrix is a type-A soccer mom with a nebbishy husband named Donnie, a fabulous color-coordinated craft room, and two adopted kids (Sarah appears to be the only clone who was able to conceive a child). Cosima Neihaus is a dreadlocked, tattooed grad student studying evolutionary development (that’s “evo-devo”), with a soft spot for gorgeous French women. With Cosima offering the brains and Alison bankrolling their operations (with that $75K), Beth rounded out the Clone Club with her pragmatism and access to police intel. With Beth dead, Sarah fills the much-needed role of group badass. United by the mystery of their creation and the threat of death—there were at least four European clones who were either assassinated or killed by a potentially-hereditary disease—the Clone Club’s investigation into their past keeps Orphan Black’s momentum moving forward at a breakneck pace and also serves as the backdrop for some of the show’s most compelling inter-clone relationships. Perpetual-student Cosima easily slots into the role of “younger sister” of the group while Alison and Sarah bond over their mutual motherhood. (It’s easy to forget that the same actress plays all three women, as Maslany’s unshowy trio of performances keeps the focus rightfully on the relationships.)

The show smartly extends its thematic exploration of family to its antagonistic forces as well, giving some much-needed humanity to the shady organizations that seem requisite to the sci-fi genre. At the end of episode three, Sarah-as-Beth discovers the person who has been assassinating the clones is in fact another clone—a blonde, feral Ukrainian named Helena. Raised by a malevolent religious order known as the Prolethians, Helena was brainwashed by her abusive father figure named Tomas and trained to rid the world of unnatural clones. Through Helena (Maslany’s entirely unhinged, often hilarious iteration), the show explores the dark side of family. Instead of offering love and encouragement, those central emotional bonds can also be used for more sinister purposes.

While Orphan Black has yet to fully explore the nature vs. nurture debate it seems tailor-made for, it comes closest in its juxtaposition of Helena and Sarah. The penultimate episode, “Unconscious Selection,” reveals that Helena and Sarah are actually sisters—a single egg that split into twins in their surrogate mother’s womb. Despite being raised thousands of miles apart, Helena and Sarah have a bond they don’t share with their fellow clone-sters. Orphan Black at first seems to be making a case for the power of biological sisterhood over artificially created clone-sterhood, but the season finale takes a sharp turn in the opposite direction. When push comes to shove Sarah kills Helena in order to protect the family she chooses—cloned, adopted, and otherwise—over the one she shared a womb with.

As with the nature vs. nurture debate, Orphan Black debates religion vs. science in only the loosest sense. On the flip side of the religiously fanatic Prolethians are the scientifically fanatic Neolutionists, a mysterious institution attempting to artificially speed up human evolution by giving themselves tails and running nightclubs. The Neolutionists’ Dyad Institution created the clones back in the 1980s and now that they’ve become self-aware, Dr. Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer) wants to work in partnership with his “daughters.”

Yet the Neolutionists are not the benevolent parental figures Leekie makes them out to be. It’s one of the show’s creepier reveals that the clones are being unwittingly monitored in their sleep every so often. The aforementioned Paul (he was Beth’s monitor in addition to her boyfriend) and Cosima’s monitor Delphine (Évelyne Brochu) struggle between their professional duties as observers and their emerging affection for their subjects. These tortured relationships are meant to give the show a dose of sexual tension, but Orphan Black is much better at creating familial relationships than romantic ones. Cosima and Delphine work just fine, but Paul and Sarah’s romance is too often a drag on the first season’s pacing.

But while the show hasn’t quite figured out what it wants to do with Paul (and actor Dylan Bruce has little to bring to the table), that’s a minor misstep given how well Orphan Black manages to flesh out its other characters in the span of only 10 episodes. Creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett have always maintained Orphan Black is a character drama first and a sci-fi adventure second, and the show has a knack for pairing off its characters in unlikely ways and then slowly figuring out just what they have in common. While it would have been unthinkable in the first few episodes, by the end of the season it makes perfect sense that Felix is giving Alison a brotherly pep-talk or that Cosima shows up on Sarah’s door in need of a hug.

After spending a season carefully building bonds between its characters—transitioning them from strangers to friends to family—the show proceeds to blow most of those relationships up in the explosive season finale, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.”

Alison—looking to take her life into her own hands—decides her nosey neighbor Aynsley is her monitor and allows her choke to death as revenge (in a scene that doubles as a PSA about wearing scarves near garbage disposals). Wracked with guilt, she lets Donnie’s idea of “starting over” serve as her clean slate. She signs a contract agreeing to work in conjunction with the Neolutionists, just as the audience receives the gobstopping reveal that Donnie has been her monitor all along (sorry Aynsley). Cosima, meanwhile, appears to be sick with the same respiratory disease that infected some of the European clones, Paul has yet to decide if he’s fighting for the clones or against them, and Sarah finds evidence that Mrs. S has been working with the Neolutionists all along.

Helena put a familiar face on the Prolethians and the finale reveals there’s an identical one behind the Neolutionists as well. It turns out Leekie is just a flunky working for the Neolutionists’ true leader, Rachel Duncan, a “pro-clone” raised by the organization (Maslany’s chance to play an icy, bobbed Brit). Rachel’s relationship with her clone-sters in the second season will be made more difficult by the fact that Cosima and Sarah now know the Dyad Institute built a patent right into the clones’ DNA—making them property rather than people.

The episode’s final reveal—that the Neolutionists have kidnapped Kira—leaves Sarah helplessly screaming out a window for her daughter. (It’s appropriate that the season begins and ends with Sarah longing for Kira from afar). Before learning about her clone heritage, Sarah survived by keeping a narrow focus on the two people she cares most about: Felix and Kira. Season one complicated her life with a myriad of new family-like relationships, but without her laser focus, Sarah slipped up and put her daughter in danger. With Kira missing, Sarah’s allegiance to her new found clone-sters will be put to the test. Sarah Manning is at her best when she’s fighting for her family; season two will have to figure out exactly who they are.

Categories: The Essentials
Syndicate content