Science and Technology

Conservatives Explore New Arenas of Self-Caricature

The internet, sort of. (Flickr/jurvetson)

In one of those now-frequent "I can't believe we're actually going to argue about this" moments, conservatives have now decided that the United States government did not actually have any meaningful role in the creation of the Internet, despite what everyone, including all the people who were there at the time, have always known. Why have they suddenly come to this revelation? All you need to know is that Barack Obama has recently been using the Internet as an example of where government can create conditions that allow private enterprise to flourish, and as Simon Malloy says, if Obama says something, "that, ipso facto, makes it false." Part of what's so crazy about this is that the tale of the Internet's creation and development is actually a story of public/private partnership that both liberals and conservatives ought to be able to celebrate.

RIP, Sally Ride

Sally Ride (Wikimedia Commons/National Archives and Records Administration)

Yesterday, the day before Amelia Earhart’s 115th birthday, Sally Ride joined the skies for a final time. At 61, she died of pancreatic cancer—a horrible disease. Back in 1983, it was thrilling to watch her smash the American gender barrier as she zoomed into space. When she headed off into the final frontier, it was not as it was with the subordinate Lieutenant Uhuru on the Enterprise—the closest analogue there was at the time—but as an equal astronaut. Ride strode up to the Challenger as if she belonged there—which, of course, she did. She had degrees in physics, astrophysics, and English—what an underachiever! When she saw a NASA newspaper ad seeking astronauts, she applied and got the job.

Frank Kameny Blazes Through the Skies

As some of you know, Frank Kameny was the real thing, one of the great trailblazers in the American gay-rights movement. In the 1950s, he worked as an astronomer for U.S. Army map service—until they discovered he was gay, and fired him. He spent his life fighting back, and by the time he died last October, he had been vindicated. He was in the room when President Barack Obama signed the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." He had a Washington, D.C. street named after him. How do you top that?

You name an asteroid after him, that's how:

Move Over, Mario

Recent sexist spats in the gaming world belie the fact that women are here to stay.

(Flickr/Anita Sarkeesian)

If you’re in any way connected to the world of gaming, you will have noticed in the last few months a series of nasty dustups over the role of women in the community.

The ugliness kicked off in May, when vlogger Anita Sarkeesian put together a Kickstarter to raise money for a documentary about sexist tropes in video games. Various male-dominated gaming forums organized a harassment campaign against her, which included posting porn on her Wikipedia page and creating a video game in which players beat her up. (Warning: Pictures from the game are upsetting.) A month later, Slate culture writer Alyssa Rosenberg wrote a thoughtful piece about why she thought the rape scene in the new Tomb Raider was a bad idea. The commentary incited a bunch of trolls to share their ugly rape fantasies with her. Around the same time, actress and gaming enthusiast Aisha Tyler faced a sea of abuse for having the nerve to be a presenter at a major gaming conference. Within the community, a long-standing battle has also been waged over the presence of booth babes—women hired to wear sexy outfits and stand around booths to attract attention—at conferences.

Why Windows 8 Might Force Microsoft into the Laptop Game

(Jamelle Bouie/The American Prospect)

Farhad Manjoo has a great column on the pitiful performance of PC trackpads:

I switched to Apple notebooks more than five years ago, and I did so precisely because of things like the trackpad. I’ve searched high and low for a Windows notebook with a touchpad that comes close to the buttery bliss offered by the MacBook line. I haven’t found it, and you won’t either. At best, you’ll find a trackpad that can perform satisfactorily after you tweak a lot of settings—which may work fine for pros, but it’s not the kind of just-works experience that most computer users want.

The Internet, Explained

60 Hudson Street in New York, which is sort of the Panama Canal of the Internet. (Flickr/Wally Gobetz)

Like many complex technologies, the Internet works because of systems and processes that are opaque to most of us who use it. But it turns out that at its most basic level, it's really not that complicated. What is a bit surprising, in that of-course-that's-true-but-I-never-thought-about-it kind of way, is that there are a lot of physical pieces to the Internet. Wires, obviously, but also buildings you could point to and say, "There's the Internet," and you'd sort of be right.

So what happens when you click on a link to go to a web site? The friendly nerds at the World Science Festival created a little video to explain it:

How to Save the Internet—Again

Online organizing helped stop SOPA and PIPA, but how much staying power does the internet freedom movement have?

(Flickr/witness.org)

On January 18, the Internet went on strike. Tens of thousands of Web sites—including Google, Wikipedia, and Wordpress—went offline or blacked out their interfaces to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Many feared the breadth of the proposed anti-piracy laws—which could force entire domains to shut down because of the actions of a small number of users—would be used to censor online content and chill innovation. Protestors sent millions of e-mails and placed calls. Organizers of the strike estimate that nearly one billion people were exposed to their message. PIPA and SOPA were tabled. It was, by all measures, an overwhelming success.

Eternal Coach Class

So no complaining.

Ever wonder what it'll be like when we can finally live forever? Oh, come on, sure you have. In case you're new to this subject, there are essentially two possibilities out there. One is that an ever-growing series of advances in the science of aging allows us to arrest the process to where we can keep our bodies going indefinitely, or at least for a very long time. The other is that advances in brain science eventually allow us to map your entire brain down to every last neuron, and we're able to upload your mind. At that point, provided nobody drops the thumb drive containing your consciousness down the toilet by mistake, we can either transfer the file into some kind of robotic body, or, more plausibly, download you into a virtual environment where you can exist forever. And presumably, by the time we're able to do that, the virtual environments we're able to create will be orders of magnitude more realistic, complex, and vivid than what we can create today. In other words, you'll live in the holodeck.

Keyboard Jihadist?

(John Ritter)

It’s unusual for a domestic terrorism suspect to have a fan club. But every morning of Tarek Mehanna’s eight-week trial late last year on federal terrorism charges, supporters packed the domed, ornate courtroom in downtown Boston, smiling and waving whenever Mehanna turned to face them. 

Six States, Six Fates for Pro-Life Bills

(Flickr/SMN)

As states around the country consider legislation to limit access to abortion and reproductive rights, the outlook isn't bright for women's health advocates. Here's the latest from five states:

Rise of the Machines

What's he doing in my office? (Flickr/brixton)

Seemingly intuiting my desire for a quick diversion from politics into a more important topic, Kevin Drum links to this post by Stuart Staniford discussing the day, not long in coming, when Planet Earth's robots outnumber its humans, including a semi-serious projection that shows Them outnumbering Us some time in the early 2030s. Should we be worried? Well, yeah, but not because they're going to kill us all. The problem is capitalism.

To Infinity—and Alabama

(Flickr/NASA Goddard)

I have one word I want to say to you: Spaceports.

The space shuttle program may be over, but for some states, now's the time to get excited about the great beyond, thanks to the idea of launch sites for cargo, satellites, and—of course—commercial flights

The Federal Aviation Authority has already licensed eight such sites in six states across the country. Now Alabama is shooting to get one of its own.

Tennessee Travels Back to 1925

(Flickr/latvian)

By the end of this week, teachers in Tennessee will likely have new protections if they teach creationism alongside evolution or rely on dubious reports that climate change is a myth.

A measure awaiting gubernatorial approval explicitly protects teachers who give countering theories to evolution, climate change, and the like, in an effort to foster critical-thinking skills. The bill received overwhelming legislative support, and the governor is expected to approve it.

Internet Killed the Political Party Star?

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)

One of the most visible publicity campaigns at South by Southwest Interactive festival this year featured two guys dressed up as a fighting elephant and donkey. They ran around downtown complete with gloves, satin boxing shorts, and even a referee. Americans Elect—the political group they represented that wants to nominate an independent presidential challenge for the 2012 election—tweeted photos of the pair fighting. They also tweeted attendees to invite them to the group's lounge. The room featured t-shirts, hats, and "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots"—with a donkey and elephant head instead of robotic heads. Of course, the biggest draw was the free beer, which they advertised nonstop.

Pages