Crowd control infographic

Check out the graph along the bottom showing the number of significant protests worldwide over time. I’d like to investigate that a bit more, the only source they provide for this whole infographic is ‘SCMP research’.

This is interesting too:

Cause or effect?

Are the police only arresting, pepper spraying and teargassing protestors when violence erupts, or is it possible that these actions are triggering violence? A bit of both perhaps.

Shape of things to come

Crowd control inforgaphic

“From time to time, governments across the world need to control crowds, demonstrations and riots. Here we take a close look at the means available for law enforcement and the lates developments of the protests in Hong Kong.”


It’s a plastic world

If you think the brief reference to a ‘new continent made of plastic’ is just a bit of hyperbole, then read up on the Great Pacific garbage patch.

I do take issue with one point of the film though – that it’s our responsibility to change our habits. Ultimately we do need to make change happen, but not by just being more mindful at the supermarket. Instead we need to force those with the power to make meaningful change to do so. A very small percentage of the human race are benefiting from these cheap but environmentally costly processes: those who value profit above all else.

We can either try to gradually bring awareness to billions of consumers around the world, or we can force relatively few industry leaders to grow a conscience and do the right thing and make all the difference.

Shape of things to come

The X-37B space plane has been in orbit for 500 days, and we don’t know why

The X-37B is a kind of robotic space plane, built by the US. It’s been in Earth’s orbit for more than 500 days. And its real purpose is a complete mystery.

The X-37 started life way back in 1999 when NASA asked Boeing’s Phantom Works division to develop an orbital test vehicle. This was a civilian project, and the X-37 was originally spec’d as an unmanned, robotic spacecraft that would rendezvous with satellites to refuel, repair them, or crash them back to Earth once their lifecycle was complete. But, in 2004, the project was transferred to DARPA and since then, it has been highly classified.

The amateur skywatching community that documents satellites say it’s orbiting between 43.5 degrees north latitude to 43.5 degrees south latitude. That’s a band around the middle of Earth that takes in much of the US, Middle East, and Asia, but is away from Russia, and Europe. Spotters suggest that at the altitude of 350km, it is ideal altitude for spying, but too low to refuel or fix other satellites.

A plane has been in space for 500 days, and no one knows why – Techly

X37BOrbital Spaceplane Diagram

So the question is, what is X-37B actually doing up in space? The USAF’s official fact sheet says that “The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” This is probably only partially true (but Boeing is on the books to create the X-37C, which will at least 65% larger and have the ability to carry up to six astronauts). More realistically, X-37B is probably carrying prototype reconnaissance gear, for spying on the Middle East and other sensitive geopolitical regions.

US military’s mysterious X-37B space plane passes 500 days in orbit, but we still have no clue what it’s actually doing up there – ExtremeTech

Photos: Air Force’s 2nd Secretive X-37B Space Plane Flight –

9/11 Memorial coffee mug
Humans and other animals

Inside the 9/11 museum’s offensive gift shop

New York Post:

The 9/11 museum’s cavernous boutique offers a vast array of souvenir goods. For example: FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police T-shirts ($22) and caps ($19.95); earrings molded from leaves and blossoms of downtown trees ($20 to $68); cop and firefighter charms by Pandora and other jewelers ($65); “United We Stand” blankets.

Even FDNY vests for dogs come in all sizes.

After paying $24 admission for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for kids 7 to 17, visitors can shop till they drop.

About 8,000 unidentified body parts are now stored out of sight in a “remains repository” at the museum’s underground home.

“Here is essentially our tomb of the unknown. To sell baubles I find quite shocking and repugnant,” said Horning, who also objects to the museum cafe.

“I think it’s a money-making venture to support inflated salaries, and they’re willing to do it over my son’s dead body.”

John Feal, a Ground Zero demolition supervisor who runs the FealGood Foundation for ailing 9/11 responders, said he understands the need to raise money for costs, including six-figure salaries for execs like CEO Joe Daniels, who takes in $378,000.

In a twist, a plaque says the store was “made possible through the generosity of Paul Napoli and Marc Bern,” partners in a law firm that reaped $200 million in taxpayer-funded fees and expenses after suing the city for nearly 10,000 Ground Zero workers.

The museum Web site lists the firm as having donated $5 million.

Inside the 9/11 museum’s offensive gift shop

Cory Doctorow portrait by Jonathan Worth
Shape of things to come

How to talk to your children about mass surveillance

Cory Doctorow:

So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying on everything, she had some context for it.

“How can they listen to everyone at once?” “How can they read all those messages?” “How many spies are there?”

Then I talked about not reading everything in realtime, and using text-search to pick potentially significant messages out of the stream. When I explained the spies were looking for “bad words” in the flow, she wanted to know if I meant swear words (she’s very interested in this subject). No, I said, I mean words like “bank robbery’’ (we haven’t really talked about terrorism yet – maybe next time).

And immediately she shot back, “That silly! What if I just wrote ‘I played bank robbery this afternoon’ in a message. Why should a spy get to read it?”

Locus Online: How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance

J. Michael Straczynski
Shape of things to come

Rules of the New Aristocracy

By Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski:

It doesn’t matter how much food costs increase, doesn’t matter if you can only afford fast food, we will always be able to buy steak. And we will invest heavily in fast food stocks to ensure we make money off this. Doesn’t matter how much gas costs, we will always be able to afford it.


In addition to poor food choices and health coverage, your kids will grow up without proper nutrition which will cause them problems on every level, from physical to educational difficulties. Our kids will grow up straight and true and healthy.

It doesn’t matter how much an education costs, doesn’t matter if your kids can’t afford to go to college or come out with massive debt, we will always be able to send our kids to university. And because a lot of our income is derived from tax incentives and taxpayer-financed bailouts your taxes are sending our kids to school. But you do not have the right to any of our money to send your kid to school.

If you or your kids want to start a business, you will find that because we’ve sucked all the money out of the economy, there is simply no available cash around to help you finance your startup. (Unless you want to go to your friends online at sites like Indiegogo, and isn’t that just cute?) We just cut our kids a check and tell them to go have fun.

Your kids are born with a glass ceiling above which they will almost certainly never have the opportunity to rise. Our kids are born with a marble floor beneath which they will never be allowed to fall.

Continued →

Use your words

xkcd PSA on free speech

xkcd 1357: Free Speech:

I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.

Alt text: I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.

Plus I saw this pretty perfect tweet by @gracepetrie on the same subject at around the same time:


Shape of things to come

Princeton study concludes that America is not a democracy


A new scientific study from Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.

It’s beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write:

“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy

Climate change denial pie chart

Out of 2,258 peer-reviewed articles published between November 2012 and December 2013 articles (9,136 authors in total), only 1 rejected the notion of human-driven global warming.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of climate change denial is how deniers essentially never publish in legitimate journals, but instead rely on talk shows, grossly error-laden op-eds, and hugely out-of-date claims (that were never right to start with).
Phil Plait, writing for Slate

Shape of things to come

The very, very thin wedge of climate change denial

If you listen to Fox News, or right-wing radio, or read the denier blogs, you’d have to think climate scientists were complete idiots to miss how fake global warming is. Yet despite this incredibly obvious hoax, no one ever publishes evidence exposing it.


RIOT is a simulation game based on real events that have been influencing western civilisation in the past few years.

What is that triggers such a strife? What does a cop feel during the conflict? In “Riot”, the player will experience both sides of a fight in which there is no such thing as “victory” or “defeat”.

To be released for PC/Mac/Linux, iOS and Android. Taking bets now on how long before it gets removed from the iOS app store, or if it will just be outright rejected!

Light-based media

Riot simulation game

RIOT is a simulation game based on real events that have been influencing western civilisation in the past few years.


Climate change map of the world by Jay Simons

The first map of its kind on such a scale and level of complexity, depicts our planet as it would look without its polar ice caps, with sea levels 260ft (80m) higher than they are today.

By Jay Jason Simons – Halcyon Maps

Shape of things to come

Climate change map of the world

This world map by Jay Jason Simons, inspired by a wide variety of historical maps, aims for bringing the best of traditional cartography to a contemporary setting, while reminding us about the dangers of global warming and subsequent climate change.


Poverty is not only the lack of income and wealth but also the poverty of power. A key part of the poverty of power is to be defined as dependent: dependent on charity, handouts, welfare.

Yet, it is the wealthy, not the poor, who are dependent on government subsidies. To transform dependency into self-determination is the work of poor people’s movements. To demonstrate the dependency of the wealthy on welfare as well as on the labor of the poor must be our collective work.
“Who is Dependent on Welfare” with Ananya Roy

Edward Snowden
Shape of things to come

Edward Snowden on freedom

Today, an ordinary person can’t pick up the phone, email a friend or order a book without comprehensive records of their activities being created, archived, and analysed by people with the authority to put you in jail or worse. I know: I sat at that desk. I typed in the names.

When we know we’re being watched, we impose restraints on our behaviour – even clearly innocent activities – just as surely as if we were ordered to do so. The mass surveillance systems of today, systems that pre-emptively automate the indiscriminate seizure of private records, constitute a sort of surveillance time-machine – a machine that simply cannot operate without violating our liberty on the broadest scale. And it permits governments to go back and scrutinise every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever spoken to, and derive suspicion from an innocent life. Even a well-intentioned mistake can turn a life upside down.

To preserve our free societies, we have to defend not just against distant enemies, but against dangerous policies at home. If we allow scarce resources to be squandered on surveillance programmes that violate the very rights they purport to defend, we haven’t protected our liberty at all: we have paid to lose it.
Edward Snowden

Prison Architect riot
Light-based media

​What to do with Prison Architect, a video game about building prisons?

Paolo Pedercini has written a thoughtful piece for Kotaku, about Prison Architect that questions some of messages arising from the game’s mechanics:

“Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration? As video games mature and tackle more serious topics, players and developers should be aware of the values embedded in their systems.

“In Prison Architect brawls and riots happen all the time, sometimes as soon as the inmates enter the building. Brawls often end up with inmates laying unconscious in pools of blood, injured guards, and damaged facilities.

“Simulations need to exaggerate feedback to prompt adjustments, and I certainly don’t expect my inmates to enjoy their residency. But the continuous, frustrating, over-the-top violence suggests that we are dealing with an irrational, murderous, and suicidal horde that deserves no sympathy.”
Paolo Pedercini

Prison Architect’s producer Mark morris and designer Chris Delay responded to the article in this video.

Chris explains that the game is currently unbalanced in many ways and that rehabilitation was always intended to be a part of the ‘end game’:

“It’s probably the hardest part of the whole game design I think, and it’s certainly the part we’ve left to last to do, because you can’t do an end game until you’ve got some sort of meaningful simulation of your prisoners in jail.”

Stay tuned to the very end of the video for a little fun with one of Pedercini’s own games!


Book of Bad Arguments - Cover

Bad Arguments

This book is aimed at newcomers to the field of logical reasoning, particularly those who, to borrow a phrase from Pascal, are so made that they understand best through visuals. I have selected a small set of common errors in reasoning and visualized them using memorable illustrations that are supplemented with lots of examples. The hope is that the reader will learn from these pages some of the most common pitfalls in arguments and be able to identify and avoid them in practice.

Humans and other animals

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

The literature on logic and logical fallacies is wide and exhaustive. This work’s novelty is in its use of illustrations to describe a small set of common errors in reasoning that plague a lot of our present discourse.

Arnold Kling
Humans and other animals

The Three Languages of Politics

Economist Arnold Kling argues that Progressives, Conservatives, and Libertarians each have their own language and way of looking at the world, making it easier for each group to demonise the others, resulting in ideological intolerance and incivility.

Speaking on the EconTalk podcast, Kling explains:

What I claim is that Progressives organize the good and the bad in terms of oppression and the oppressed, and they think in terms of groups. And so the good is to align yourself against oppression. The second axis is one I think Conservatives use, which is civilization and barbarism. The good is civilized values that have accumulated over time and have stood the test of time; and the bad is barbarians who try to strike out against those values and destroy civilization. And the third axis is one I associate with Libertarians, which is freedom versus coercion, so that good is individuals making their own choices, contracting freely with each other; and the bad is coercion at gunpoint, particularly on the part of governments.
Arnold Kling on The Three Languages of Politics

By understanding the mindset of others, Kling suggests we can do a better job discussing our policy disagreements and understand why each group seems to feel both misunderstand and morally superior to the other two.

Shape of things to come

The biggest company you’ve never heard of

The Guardian reports on Serco, a giant global corporation that hoovers up outsourced government contracts from prisons to rail franchises and now has the NHS firmly in its sights. The company stands accused of mismanagement, lying and even charging for non-existent work.

All told, its operations suggest some real-life version of the fantastical mega-corporations that have long been invented by fiction writers; a more benign version of the Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner, say, or one of those creations from James Bond movies whose name always seems to end with the word “industries”.

The strangest thing, though, is the gap between Serco’s size and how little the public knows about it. Not for nothing does so much coverage of its work include the sentence “the biggest company you’ve never heard of”.

Once I started looking, their logos were everywhere, suggesting a shadow state that has since grown ever-bigger. Their names seemed anonymously stylised, in keeping with the sense that they seemed both omnipresent, and barely known: Interserve, Sodexo, Capita, the Compass Group.

Continue reading on The Guardian →

New York Citi Bike Venn diagram
Humans and other animals

Why Do People Hate Citi Bike?

New York magazine’s Dan Amira summarized it all wonderfully with a Venn diagram.

“In a way, the depth of conservative animosity for a bike-share program makes perfect sense. Because, as the Venn diagram above indicates, Citi Bike finds itself at the very nexus of five different things that conservatives hate.”
CrazyBike — The Morning News

Humans and other animals

Pluralistic ignorance

Ever found yourself at odds with what you thought was the majority opinion? There’s a name for that: pluralistic ignorance.

A phenomenon I’ve often felt to be true, so it’s nice to have a name for it. The entire wine industry probably hangs on this kind of bullshit, and I suspect more important issues too, like anti-immigration hostility and austerity politics.

The term, coined in 1931 by psychologists Daniel Katz and Floyd Allport, describes the surprisingly common situation in which individual members of a group privately believe one thing, but think that everyone else in the group believes the opposite.

Katz and Allport came up with the term when their research revealed that students at Syracuse University generally didn’t object to the notion of allowing minorities into then-segregated frat houses and dorms, but were convinced their peers wouldn’t accept such a multicultural move.

Researchers have found similar syndromes at work in everything from vegetarian co-op members’ views of dietary rules to witch hunts in colonial Massachusetts.
Alone With Everyone Else – Pacific Standard

Shape of things to come

If you’re unemployed, it’s not because there isn’t any work

Be sure to read beyond the headline…

If you're unemployed it's not because there isn't any work

If you’re unemployed it’s not because there isn’t any work

Just look around: A housing shortage, crime, pollution; we need better schools and parks. Whatever our needs, they all require work. And as long as we have unsatisfied needs, there’s work to be done.

So ask yourself, what kind of world has work but no jobs. It’s a world where work is not related to satisfying our needs, a world where work is only related to satisfying the profit needs of business.

This country was not built by the huge corporations or government bureaucracies. It was built by people who work. And, it is working people who should control the work to be done. Yet, as long as employment is tied to somebody else’s profits, the work won’t get done.

The New American Movement (NAM) was an American New Left socialist and feminist political organization established in 1971.


Act of Terror

While filming a routine stop and search of her boyfriend on the London Underground, Gemma suddenly found herself detained, handcuffed and threatened with arrest.

Act of Terror tells the story of her fight to bring the police to justice and prevent this happening to anyone else, ever again.

Papers, Please: A dystopian document thriller

The communist state of Arstotzka has just ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin. Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists. Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.

Help the creators get the game made by supporting it on Steam Greenlight.

Half a penny

NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar—we can transform the country.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

NASA is making excellent use of Tumblr ( to promote its Penny4NASA campaign.


More things your penny can get you →

Shape of things to come

Penny for NASA

NASA is making excellent use of Tumblr to promote its #Penny4NASA campaign.

Shape of things to come

Have years of austerity been the result of a basic Excel mistake?

“I clicked on cell L51, and saw that they had only averaged rows 30 through 44, instead of rows 30 through 49.”
Thomas Herndon, grad student

This Excel mistake is in a spreadsheet that was used to draw the conclusion of an influential 2010 economics paper that was later cited to justify programmes of austerity in the UK and around the world. The researchers who wrote the paper, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, have now admitted it was wrong.

Another UMass Amherst professor, Arindrajit Dube, followed up on Herndon’s paper with additional proof that there were serious theoretical and causal problems (as opposed to just sloppy Excel work) in the study.

Oliver Stone
Humans and other animals

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States

From a fascinating Guardian interview with Oliver Stone:

[…] in 2011 the US federal government survey reported that only 12% of US high school students knew their country’s history. Why is that? “My theory is history is boring because the horror stories are left out. What’s left in is the sanitised Disney version – a triumphalist narrative. We kind of always win. And we’re always right.”

For five years Oliver Stone has been working with historian Peter Kuznick on a desanitised version — complete with horror stories — to be presented as a 10-hour TV series: The Untold History of the United States.

Margaret Thatcher

Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher

Much has been written about the death of Margaret Thatcher, but I wouldn’t have expected some the best writing to have come from Russell Brand. A few select paragraphs:

She is an anomaly; a product of the freak-onomy of her time. Barack Obama, interestingly, said in his statement that she had “broken the glass ceiling for other women”. Only in the sense that all the women beneath her were blinded by falling shards. She is an icon of individualism, not of feminism.

I know from my own indulgence in selfish behaviour that it’s much easier to get what you want if you remove from consideration the effect your actions will have on others.

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t.
Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher