Music Piracy: The Extraterrestrial Threat

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I’m taking a week off from producing a full podcast, and am instead presenting what I hope will be a fun Thanksgiving road-trip accompaniment.

It’s an audibobook excerpt. But since it’s the very start of that audiobook – and as it’s read by the flat-out brilliant comedian/actor John Hodgman – there’s no need to hear the rest of the thing to enjoy this standalone hour-plus of playfulness. In other words, this is truly not intended as an advert for a long-ago book! But if you find the nature of the content awkward, by all means skip it. Otherwise, you can hear it by searching “After On” in your favorite podcast app, or by clicking right here:

The excerpt is from my novel Year Zero. Which was, of course, a literary exercise. But it was also a sort of primal scream therapy – intended to purge the demons still haunting me after years of imploring the music industry to allow me to launch the Rhapsody music service, which was the main product of a company I founded called

For those who don’t go back that far, Rhapsody was the first online music service to get full-catalog licenses from all of the major labels, as well as hundreds of indies (before even Apple). We were also the forerunner to Spotify, in that we were the world’s first unlimited on-demand streaming music service. Eventually, RealNetworks bought us out, then later sold half of the service to MTV. More recently, in a strange, ironic twist, Rhapsody was renamed … Napster.

For those interested in the birth of online music, and/or in copyright-related lunacy, I discuss those matters in a brief intro and longer outro to the excerpt. Or you can skip that, and just listen to the tale of a vast, alien civilization. One so into American pop music that they accidentally commit the biggest copyright infringement since the dawn of time – thereby bankrupting the entire universe. Yup. That is seriously the premise my first novel. And here’s a fun little trailer that we put together back when it debuted:

YouTube URL:

Though it’s (obviously) a highly playful story, Year Zero is also a serious critique of things that I deem badly broken about intellectual property law. For some context, I discussed a particularly odious law, which also features in the book, in this TED talk a few years back (it’s brief and will hopefully make you laugh).

If you enjoy listening to Hodgman tackle this madness a tenth as much as I do, this episode should be an hour-and-change well spent. Enjoy!

Illustrations from the best picture books of the year

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Every fall, New York City’s Society of Illustrators puts on this hidden-in-plain-sight gem of an exhibit. The Original Art Exhibit displays original illustrations from a selection of the best picture books of the year.

Not only do you get to view the original paintings, drawings, and even sculptures that were used to illustrate these books, but the books themselves are on display so you can see how they appear in the finished product.

As an adult who loves art and kids’ books, this is a blast for me. But it’s just about the best art exhibit you can take a kid to. Because paintings in an art museum can seem abstract to a kid, but these pictures are used to tell amazing, exciting, and/or funny stories, in a format they’re intimately familiar with.

And kids get a sense of how picture books are made. They don’t sprout up on library and bookstore shelves fully formed; they are made by real people’s imaginations and hands, using tools just like the ones kids use to make art.

My kids loved (and my nieces currently love) to find the books and the pages that match the original artwork on the wall. And we’ll make a list of their favorites and I’ll order them from the library — in a couple of weeks we have a stack of great picture books they have a personal connection to.

This year’s exhibit is great once again, and runs through December 30.

Above is the contribution of the great Adam Rex, who painted the covers of my two kids’ books (so far), the EMU Club Adventures series.

Watch the pitch reel for Jim Henson’s cyberpunk muppets TV series

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In 1987, Jim Henson produced and directed this pitch reel for Inner Tube (aka IN-TV), a cyberpunk, culture-jamming series that just wasn’t meant to be but did inform The Jim Henson Hour’s MuppeTelevision segments. From Jim Henson: The Biography:

At the heart of IN-TV was a clever concept; each week, a live guest star would get sucked into the television set and would have to work his way back out again, usually by moving from one bad television channel to another. It was a fun idea, giving Jim an opportunity to satirize the seemingly endless parade of upstart cable channels and lame public access shows that were common in the early days of cable.

(Muppet Wiki and r/ObscureMedia)

Medieval city plan generator

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The Medieval city generator does just that, with the right balance of abstraction and detail to give your imagination space to put it to good use. (previously)

This application generates a random medieval city layout of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not an accurate model of a city. Maybe in the future I’ll use its code as a basis for some game or maybe not.

Click one of the buttons to create a new city map of a desired size. Hover the mouse pointer over a building to see the type of the ward it belongs to. Press and hold SPACE to see all ward labels.

Toy Town is a 3d-visualizer for this generator. One day it may become a separate native application or a part of the generator, or both.

A cheap way to use Amazon Alexa

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At $20, the Eufy Genie Smart Speaker With Amazon Alexa is the least expensive hands-free Alexa speaker I know of. I got my first Alexa device last year (a Dot) and my family uses it many times a day to listen to podcasts, get NPR news briefings, weather forecasts, audiobooks, latest bitcoin price, word definitions, Wikipedia entries, kitchen timer and more. I don’t have this particular item, but I ordered one for upstairs.

Meet a professional D&D dungeon master. Yes, that’s his main gig.

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Timm Woods, 30, is one of New York City’s most popular Dungeons & Dragons dungeon masters-for-hire. He’s also working on his PhD dissertation, titled “Anything Can Be Attempted: Table-Top Role Playing Games as Learning and Pedagogy.” From Brian Raftery’s profile of Woods in Wired:

…While Woods is one of several DMs-for-hire out there, this isn’t his hobby or a side gig; it’s a living, and a pretty good one at that, with Woods charging anywhere from $250 to $350 for a one-off three-hour session (though he works on a sliding scale). For that price, Woods will not only research and plan out your game but also, if you become a regular, answer your occasional random text queries about wizard spells. “He’s worth the money,” says Kevin Papa, a New York City educator (and occasional DM) who’s been part of this Friday-night game for more than a year. “Being a DM requires a lot of brainshare. I don’t know how Timm absorbs it all.”

As it turns out, the very attributes that help form the core of every Dungeons & Dragons character—strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma—are the same ones needed to be a stellar Dungeon Master. Woods describes himself as “100 percent an introvert,” but the kind of introvert who doesn’t mind being the center of attention under the right circumstances. Which explains why he has been known to crack jokes in an elf’s voice or dramatically narrate castle-yard battles with cacophonous verve. When he was younger, Woods preferred to be alone, living inside his imaginary worlds; now he has a job in which, night after night, he must share those worlds with others. “Being a DM is very intimate,” he says. “In many ways, the people who watch me run a game have a more authentic sense of what’s going on in my head than many other people in my life….”

When Woods runs a game, his style is part dorm-room hangout and part one-man show. “I need to be cracking jokes,” he says. “I need to be acting as though we’re just a group of friends playing D&D, because that’s the experience everybody wants.”


(photo by Chris Maggio)

Drones to airdrop hundreds of thousands of mosquitos to fight disease

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One approach to fight mosquito-borne diseases is to introduce huge numbers of sterilized male mosquitos to beat out the wild males in competition for female mosquitos. The challenge is that it’s expensive to airdrop the mosquitos from airplanes and often difficult to traverse developing nations by ground. Now, WeRobotics has prototyped a drone that carries hundreds of thousands of mosquitos and releases them at just the right moment. The first experiments in South or Central America will take place in the next few months. From IEEE Spectrum:

The goal is to pack as many mosquitoes as possible into the drone. However, clumping is a problem because the insects form “a big collection of legs and wings,” he says. The trick, according to Klaptocz, is to keep them inside a precooled container: “Between 4 °C and 8 °C, they’ll fall asleep, and you can pack them up fairly densely.”

It’s also important to control the release of the mosquitoes, rather than dumping them out all at once. “We tried different systems to get the mosquitoes out of the holding canister, including vibrations and a treadmill,” he says. “Right now, we’re using a rotating element with holes through which individual mosquitoes can fall.” Once the mosquitoes fall out of the canister, they spend a few seconds in a secondary chamber warming up to the outside air temperature before exiting the drone, to make sure they’re awake and ready to fly.

Pick up these 8 acclaimed Mac apps for Black Friday pricing

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Macs are pretty usable out of the box without any extra software. But the bundled stock apps don’t cover every use case, and don’t always provide the most configurable experience. To give your desktop some helpful new powers, we’ve collected some of our favorite apps in the Black Friday Mac Bundle. It’s available in the Boing Boing Store now for $39, and you can save additional 15% off with coupon code GIFTSHOP15.

Here’s what’s included:

PDF Expert 2.2 for Mac

Making changes to a PDF typically requires that you have access to the original source file, as well as the software that generated it. PDF Expert eliminates needless dance by letting you edit text, swap out images, and update links inside the PDF itself. It’s also optimized to read large files, and provides a host of helpful annotation tools.

Roxio Toast 16 Titanium

Aside from offering a dead-simple solution for DVD burning, Roxio Toast 16 lets you easily create password-protected USB sticks, as well as capture media from multiple simultaneous sources like mobile devices, desktop screens, and external microphones. And once you’ve captured something, you can even edit and convert to different file types within the same environment. 

Default Folder X 5

Sometimes the macOS open and save dialogs can seem to have a mind of their own — defaulting to illogical locations on your drive can quickly throw a wrench in your productivity. Default Folder X 5 modifies these system windows to give you a handful pre-selected places to save your stuff, no matter what app you’re using. 

WALTR 2 for Mac

Apple’s AirDrop usually works great between iOS devices, but moving things from your Mac desktop to your mobile device usually means digging through the less-friendly parts of iTunes. To perform file transfers in a much more sensible way, check out WALTR 2. It handles all the metadata and conversion necessary for music files, ebooks, and ringtones, and even works with older iPods.

Flux 7

If you just need to throw together a quick website for a portfolio or side business, spending countless hours learning web development is definitely overkill. With Flux 7, you can design pages in a fully WYSIWYG environment. And if you already know basic HTML/CSS, it lets you modify the generated source code directly to provide as much customization as you want.

Stylizer 7

Stylizer 7 is another beginner-friendly website editor, but this one is has a greater focus on CSS. You just enter any valid URL to get powerful GUI controls for every style property on the page. To ensure that your edits work everywhere, you can view pages in three different browser engines at the same time.

Art Text 3

There’s no need to hire a professional designer if all you need is a simple word mark. Art Text 3 provides a huge selection of ready-to-use templates for logos, flyers, and other promotional materials. You can mix and match hundreds of textures, typefaces, and icons to create unique assets in no time.


When your Mac starts to run slow, it can be tough to determine the culprit. MacReviver helps you reclaim space on your disk, as well as optimize your system for faster startups and increased battery life. In the event that your computer is stolen, MacReviver also tracks its location and takes photos of the thief.

When Bob Odenkirk perfectly played Charles Manson

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Well before Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul (and even Mr. Show), Bob Odenkirk showed his comedic chops by playing Charles Manson on the short-lived 1990s TV sketch series The Ben Stiller Show.

In two of the skits, he plays the madman as a sort of incarcerated “Heloise” in “Ask Manson.” In them, he answers questions on stain removal and car troubles.

The third one takes a different, and completely inspired, turn. It’s Manson as Lassie and it’s one of my all-time favorites.

I won’t say anymore, just watch:

This Amazing Crazy “Tiny” Drink is a Meal for Two @nerdvana

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My mother used to make an incredible grilled cheese sandwich. It was neither greasy nor too buttery, but simultaneously buttery and toasty. The bread was pan fried golden brown with a nice crunch on the exterior, and it was evenly cooked all the way around and all the way through. I’ve never seen another one like it until last week, when I happened to be in Frisco, Texas, eating at the one-year old restaurant @nerdvana.

I had not ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, nor had anyone at my table. But someone had ordered a drink by the name of Tiny Tina’s TKO, which appears on the brunch menu.

The first thing you should know is that Tiny Tina’s TKO costs 20 bucks. If that sounds expensive for a drink, you should also know that it will feed two people. That’s brunch for two, with alcoholic beverage, for $20 (plus tax and tip). That’s about what you’d pay to eat at McD’s, but instead you will find yourself in @nerdvana, which is heaven for nerds, gamers, and folks who just like good food and spirits.

The portion in Tiny Tina’s glass is a killer Bloody Mary, while the skewers towering from the glass include two hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, bacon, celery, a big-ass Jalapeño pepper, and an entire grilled cheese sandwich cut into quarters. The only thing I ate was the grilled cheese sandwich, and it was mighty fine. My mama would have been proud.

@nerdvana is one year old and owned and run by Kristy Junio-Pitchford. (Full disclosure: I’m the editor and publisher of Genii, The Conjurors’ Magazine, which is owned by Randy Pitchford, husband of Mrs. Pitchford. If the food sucked, I would not be writing this piece.)

The menu was created by Mike Junio, while Kristy created the idea of having a Bloody Mary with “ridiculous shit on top” and the restaurant’s manager Cathy Brown developed the final product. Kristy calls her a “baller mixologist.” People are blown away by it and it’s one of the most instagrammable menu items.

Also really good is the French Toast, Randy’s concoction the Boss Monster Shake (skewers of chocolate covered strawberries and bananas growing out of a chocolate shake piled with whipped cream and chocolate bits), and at dinner the perfectly cooked and seasoned ribeye steak is as good as any steakhouse but at half the price.

@nerdvana is a fun restaurant for people to pig out and hang out. The place is a celebration of video games, with games available for customers to play and live simulcasts to watch of great gamers in competitions.

Me, I’m still dreaming of that grilled cheese, the steak, and that chocolate shake.

Visit @nerdvana

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