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Get Free Science Illustrations From the Biodiversity Heritage Library

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If you’re looking for a new wallpaper, a tattoo idea, or just an amazing time scrolling through illustrations from the past, the Biodiversity Heritage Library holds a treat for you. Its thousands of public domain images and digitized books are also educational, collecting observations of the natural world from seven…

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jepler
3 days ago
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Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
Manzabar
4 days ago
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Cedar Rapids
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Kickstarter workers make history with unionization vote

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Kickstarter employees work at a library in the company's Brooklyn headquarters in 2017.

Enlarge / Kickstarter employees work at a library in the company's Brooklyn headquarters in 2017. (credit: Jim.henderson)

Workers at Kickstarter voted Tuesday to form a union. It's the first time the white-collar workers at a high-profile technology company have formally chosen to be represented by a union. With growing unrest among workers at larger technology giants—including Google and Amazon—it could be the start of a trend.

Kickstarter has long been an unusual technology company. In 2015, the firm re-organized as a public benefit corporation, devoted to promoting the public interest rather than maximizing profits. In 2017, Fast Company reported that Kickstarter employed an equal number of men and women, paid its top executives less than five times more than the average employee, and was working hard to recruit interns from diverse backgrounds.

But Kickstarter became embroiled in controversy in August 2018 when it hosted a crowdfunding campaign for a comic book called "Always Punch Nazis." Conservatives cried foul, saying that Kickstarter's terms of service prohibit projects that encourage violence against others—and that some liberals have labeled mainstream conservative figures, including President Donald Trump, as Nazis.

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Manzabar
4 days ago
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Cedar Rapids
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State of Kentucky must pay $150,000 to man with "IM God" license plate following First Amendment suit

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Remember Ben Hart who sued the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (and won) after he was denied a vanity license plate that said "IM GOD?" Hart had the plate for more than a decade while living in Ohio (image above) and wanted to keep the message when he moved to Kenton County a few years ago. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet denied his application citing rules against personalized plates that are “vulgar or obscene.” Last year, American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom From Religion Foundation argued that the state had violated the First Amendment and won Hart the right to get the plate. Last week, a United States District Judge ordered the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to pay Hart $151,206 in attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. From Fox19:

Hart, who identifies as an atheist, says his personalized plate is his way of spreading a political and philosophical message that faith is susceptible to individualized interpretation.

“I can prove I’m God. You can’t prove I’m not. Now, how can I prove I’m God? Well, there are six definitions for God in the American Heritage Dictionary, and number five is a very handsome man, and my wife says I’m a very handsome man, and nobody argues with my wife,” Hart told FOX19 NOW.

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Manzabar
5 days ago
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Book nooks, miniature fantasy worlds on your bookshelves

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Now here's a miniatures hobby that I didn't even know existed until reading this article on Buzzfeed. Book nooks are spaces between the books on your shelves where you build (or buy) a diorama insert, usually depicting a scene or an environment from a book. There's a Reddit thread dedicated to them.

[H/t Jade Garrett]

Image: GIF screengrab

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Manzabar
5 days ago
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Why Do Josh Hawley's Cures For 'Big Tech' Always Oddly Omit 'Big Telecom'?

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Over the last year, giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple have all faced growing calls for greater regulatory oversight and antitrust enforcement, something that isn't particularly surprising. After all, experts have noted for decades that US antitrust enforcement has grown toothless and frail, and our definitions of monopoly power need updating in the Amazon era. Facebook's repeated face plants on privacy (and basic transparency and integrity) have only added fuel to the fire amidst calls to regulate "big tech."

But while Silicon Valley giants now face an endless cavalcade of outrage in DC, the telecom sector is suddenly seeing no scrutiny whatsoever. Whether it's the speed at which the problematic T-Mobile merger is being shoveled through the DOJ and FCC, or the blind eye being turned to major telecom privacy scandals (like location data), telecom lobbyists have been on a successful tear convincing well-heeled DC lawmakers to ignore the massive, obvious monopoly, privacy, and competition issues inherent in telecom to focus exclusively on the problems in "big tech."

This crusade against "big tech" has seen no shortage of advocates who've historically been absent on glaring and painful monopoly and consumer protection issues in other sectors. Like Marsha Blackburn, who has rubber stamped every fleeting monopolistic and privacy-violating whim AT&T executives have ever had, yet is now branding herself as some sort of consumer advocacy and privacy expert as she rails against "big tech."

Another major voice in the "battle to fix 'big tech'" has been Josh Hawley, who has been endlessly vocal about the issues with big tech, but just as absent as Blackburn when it comes to criticizing the same exact problems plaguing the telecom sector. Last week, Hawley unveiled a plan to fix the FTC (pdf) -- an agency, he correctly notes, that has been largely feckless when it comes to reining in the bad behavior of lumbering giants like Facebook:

"As it stands today, the FTC lacks teeth. Its jurisdiction is divided. It wastes time in turf wars with the Department of Justice (DOJ) while failing to confront the increasing concentration in our economy, in the tech sector most obviously. And it is woefully unaccountable. The agency as presently constituted is in no shape to ensure competition in today’s markets, let alone tomorrow’s."

He's certainly not wrong on that. If anything, he undersells the problem. The FTC has somewhere around 8% of the staff focused on resolving privacy issues as its counterpart in the UK, despite the UK having a fifth as many people as the US. The FTC is also a cesspool of revolving door conflicts, with most employees having either recently left the companies they're supposed to hold accountable, or simply biding their time until they can go lobby for those same companies. And, like the FCC, its partisan majority makeup results in whiplash as the parties jerk the reins of policy from one side of the spectrum to the other.

This is not some inadvertent error. An understaffed, underpowered FTC is the intentional lobbying byproduct of giant U.S. companies that don't find taxpayer or regulatory accountability particularly exciting. It's why even when the FTC finally acts on an issue, its solutions (as we saw with Equifax or Facebook) are pathetic messes that in no way deter future bad behavior (and in some ways only encourage the problems to repeat themselves). It's a feature, not a bug.

Hawley's cure for this involves essentially gutting the agency as it stands, then rolling it into the DOJ to provide "clear and direct oversight." His effort would also eliminate the FTC’s five-member structure, which, like the FCC, is based on a partisan 3-2 split depending which party holds the Presidency. Instead, the FTC boss would fall under the authority of a Senate-confirmed single director serving a five-year term.

There's stuff under Hawley's plan that's certainly common sense -- stricter controls on ethics, antitrust enforcement being centralized, etc. The problem is several fold. For one, do we really want ex-Verizon lawyer Bill Barr in charge of the FTC? Couldn't giving that kind of leverage to Barr only aid his relentless effort to break encryption and put backdoors into, well, everything? Meanwhile, the partisan FTC strife Hawley claims to be eliminating would probably just jump over to the confirmation hearing process, and the numerous hearings and laws you'd likely need to make his plan a reality.

The other big problem: a lot of these regulatory "modernization" plans often wind up being little more than exercises in butchery dressed up as reform once they actually materialize in the wild.

Case in point: with its recent net neutrality repeal, the FCC recently neutered its authority over telecom providers at telecom lobbyist behest amidst claims it would create "internet freedom" and spur investment (neither happened). But contrary to public wisdom, the repeal didn't just kill net neutrality. It effectively gutted the FCC, shoveling much of its responsibilities over to the FTC -- an agency that lacks the authority or resources to actually police the telecom sector. This was, in case you're a little slow, the entire reason the telecom lobby pushed for it. It wanted consumer protection and accountability to fall into a deep, dark chasm. It's working, and a lot of blatant efforts by telecom to rip users off or violate their privacy have gone utterly unpunished amidst crickets from "big tech" reformers.

Gutting already shaky oversight is not really "reform," and I'm curious what happens to telecom oversight if we destroy the existing FTC and hand management of the telecom sector over to Bill Barr. Former Verizon lawyers would be running both the FCC and FTC, and both consumer protection and antitrust enforcement would fall to a duo who've shown less than zero interest in reining in AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, or the trio's thirty year track record of aggressively anti-consumer, anti-innovation, and anti-competitive behavior. Behavior that was being bone-grafted to the American institution while Google and Facebook were still just twinkles in youngsters' eyes.

One might feel better about this if the perils of telecom monopolies weren't so utterly absent from Hawley's rhetoric. When you dig through his plan or his lengthy treatises on reform over at his website or in speeches, big telecom is almost never mentioned -- despite the sector engaging in many of the same, or worse behaviors. Much like Blackburn, Hawley appears to have placed the entire onus for the modern internet's ills securely on the back of big tech, while giving telecom a free pass. Why do you think that is, exactly?

There are certainly plenty of reasons to criticize big tech giants like Facebook, whose face plants on privacy are now the stuff of legend. But big telecom is every bit as bad as big tech. As government-pampered giants that also enjoy unaccountable monopolies over internet access itself, in some ways the sector is arguably worse.

AT&T's massive ad ambitions rival anything Silicon Valley ever concocted, fusing television, mobile, location, and countless other data sources into what The Verge recently called an "ad tracking nightmare hellworld." From Verizon getting busted for covertly modifying user packets to track you around the internet to recent location data scandals, the sector's just as terrible on privacy as anything Silicon Valley has to offer. This is before you even mention that they're enthusiastically bone-grafted to the NSA.

As companies like Comcast NBC Universal and AT&T Time Warner increasingly push into the ad tech space, they've been eagerly pushing a crackdown on the big tech giants whose market share they hope to erode. Any quest to fix the US' broken antitrust and consumer protection enforcement has to take a bigger picture view that identifies both big tech and big telecom monopolies as part of the same giant problem.

Politicians that fixate exclusively on the former are either being painfully but genuinely myopic, or they're exhibiting a byproduct of relentless lobbying by the telecom sector, which has been pushing for this special brand of asymmetrical "reform" for several years now.



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Manzabar
5 days ago
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Open Source Voice Assistant Promises To 'Nuke From Orbit' Patent Troll

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Open source voice assistant company Mycroft AI (which we actually wrote about years back) appears to be the latest startup to recognize that the only way to properly deal with patent trolls is to fight back. This strategy was first pioneered by online retailer Newegg, whose refusal to give in to any patent trolls eventually (after years of litigation) meant that patent trolls stopped trying to shake the company down. More recently, Cloudlfare has taken a similarly successful approach.

It appears that these kinds of moves have inspired Mycroft's CEO, Joshua Montgomery, to take quite a stand now that a patent troll is trying to shake his company down:

Tod Tumey of Tumey LLP based out of Texas ( a venue famous for hosting patent trolls ) contacted us with a “Highly Confidential” letter offering to license his “client’s” “valuable” voice patents to Mycroft AI Inc. When we didn’t respond ( don’t feed the trolls! ) he filed suit in East Texas.

As a result, we’ve taken the time to develop an internal policy about how we’re going to deal with patent trolls. Here is how we’re going to handle them:

Our policy is also to attack bogus patents like U.S. Patent No. 9,794,348 and have them re-examined and invalidated where possible.  We’ll be doing this in the context of a strong open source community that includes other troll hunters like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Open Innovation Network – both of whom have a strong interest in protecting open technology from rent-seeking trolls.

Patent trolls get paid because short-sighted companies make the decision to pay. Simply put, it is usually cheaper in the short run to pay a troll than it is to litigate. It is also cheaper to give a schoolyard bully your lunch money than it is to visit a doctor. The thing is, once you pay the bully, he’ll just come back again and again and again. Eventually, that lunch money adds up to a lot more than a doctor’s visit. In the long run the best way to deal with a bully is to punch him square in the face. You might take a beating, but if you do it every time? The bully will find easier prey.

I don’t like letting these matters go quietly. In my experience, it’s better to be aggressive and "stab, shoot and hang” them, then dissolve them in acid. Or simply nuke them from orbit, it is the only way to be sure.

Don't hold back on letting us know how you really feel, Joshua.

Anyway, he also notes that the lawyer, Tumey, appears to have filed in the wrong venue (which one is not indicated), and so Mycroft is seeking to move the case, and then it's going to go after Tumey for legal fees. Good for them.



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Manzabar
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