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Sword and Laser Podcast 170: The Lives of Wesley Chu

The Sword and Laser (S&L) is a science fiction and fantasy-themed book club podcast hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt. The main goal of the club is to build a strong online community of science fiction / fantasy buffs, and to discuss and enjoy books of both genres. Check out previous episodes here.

[Video Link] Wes Chu has had many interesting (and varied) careers, but we're happy that he's focused on the fascinating tales of Tao. In this Google hangout, we talk about the upcoming finale to the series, where he's taking the story next, and answer your questions!

Read show notes here.

Sword and Laser is not just a podcast; we’ve also been a book club since 2007! Each month we select a science fiction or fantasy book, discuss it during kick-off and wrap-up episodes of the podcast, and continue that discussion with our listeners over on our Goodreads forums. So come read along with us, and even get a chance to ask your questions to the authors themselves!

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'The Complete Modern Blacksmith' by Alexander Weygers

Longtime Boing Boing reader Charles Statman recently recommended I take a look at The Complete Modern Blacksmith by Alexander Weygers. This fantastic HOWTO book is detailed and fun, even for someone who can never hope to actually use it.

Weygers explains techniques and methods for making tools, and the tools to make tools. His diagrams are clear and concise, and the text is simple. I can absolutely picture how I'd undertake many of the projects he documents, I just don't think I ever will. This book, however, provides incredible opportunities to learn about how things are made without ever having to get your hands dirty! Be it making your own anvil or designing a water pump system, from making new tools to fixing a broken one, this tome is ridiculously complete. It is actually 3 out-of-print books combined into one.

The Complete Modern Blacksmith got my brain working. Weygers likes to improvise and find cheap ways to do things without spending a lot of money to solve a problem, and that is fun.

The Complete Modern Blacksmith by Alexander Weygers

(Thanks, Charles!)

Hand crank extension cord winder

I use several corded power tools around the yard and garden such as a chain saw, leaf vacuum, hedge trimmer, etc. Many’s the time I would put off a chore using them because I would have to uncoil the 100′ of power cord and probably have to untangle/unkink it before using it. After the job was done, it would take another few minutes to coil up the power cord and try not to tangle it in the process.

A couple of types of cord reels I tried didn’t work particularly well. So I bought this weird looking cord winder a few years ago. After installing the wall mount near the power outlet in my garage and winding my cord into the basket, I was quite surprised to discover I could pull out the 100′ of power cord, tangle/kink free in about a minute to the end of my driveway. I would do my chore (usually the leaf vacuum for lawn clippings and leaves) and, in another minute or two I could wind up the cord, detach the cord winder from the wall mount and put it on the shelf. Those chores now get done when needed instead of being put off since the cord unwinding/re-winding takes so little time. -- Jim Service

Wonder Winder Hand Crank Extension Cord Winder: $20

Why are diamonds clear, but coal black?

When Superman wants to super impress Lois Lane, he takes a lump of coal and squeezes it in his super fist until it becomes a diamond. Which is super.

Unfortunately, it’s not a scientifically accurate analogy for the creation of diamonds in nature. So when journalist Stephen Ornes’ 6-year-old son, Sam, asks how coal, which is black, can turn into diamonds, which are clear, there are actually a couple of issues we have to address. First, we need to know where diamonds actually come from. Then, even though diamonds aren’t coal, you’re still left with the basic question Sam is trying to get at—why can pure carbon be black under some circumstances and clear under others? Turns out, the answer has a lot to do with why life, itself, is based on carbon.

Coal is the compressed remains of ancient plants, dinosaur swamps sitting in the palm of your hand. But there are diamonds that are older than terrestrial plants. That fact alone should tell you that diamonds are not actually made from compressed coal. Instead, diamonds are probably formed deep in the Earth—much further down than the levels at which we find coal—where heat and pressure fuse atoms of carbon together into crystalline structures. Later, those crystals get vomited up from the depths with the help of volcanic vents. (You can read more about where diamonds really come from in a post I wrote back in 2012.)

It’s important to make the distinction between diamonds and coal because, if you don’t, then Sam’s question earns a misleadingly simple answer. Diamonds and coal are different colors because coal isn’t pure carbon. The stuff is loaded with impurities: Hydrogen, sulfur, mercury, and more. There’s a reason you don’t want to live next door to a coal-fired power plant and that reason is all the nasty stuff that gets released when the carbon in coal burns.

But that doesn’t mean pure carbon always looks like diamonds. As an example, George Bodner, professor of chemical education at Purdue University, points to carbon black—the black stuff you see when you burn something in the flame of a candle. Another good example, this one from David McMillin, a Purdue professor of inorganic chemistry, is graphite. Like diamond, graphite is carbon. Unlike diamond, it’s a shimmery, silvery black. So what gives?

This is where things get complicated, because the differences between diamonds and carbon black, or diamonds and graphite, happen at the molecular level.

Think about the illustration of an atom—the big ball of a nucleus surrounded by a cloud of electrons whirling through shells designated by energy level. An atom of carbon has six electrons. Two in the lowest shell, closest to the nucleus, and four in the second shell. The lowest shell can only hold two electrons, so, for carbon, that shell is full and stable—an old married couple with a minivan and a cat. But the second shell can hold eight electrons, and carbon only has half that number. That means the electrons in carbon’s outer shell are on the market. They can attract electrons from other atoms, swap and share, binding the atoms together and forming new molecules.

Once that happens, an idea called molecular orbital theory comes into play, because becoming part of a molecule seems to change how electrons go about their business. You can’t think of a molecule of two atoms as a couple of nuclei planets, each with its proprietary electron satellites still distinctly circling. Instead, the electrons of both atoms merge to the point that, when we talk about orbits, we’re talking about molecular orbits now, not atomic ones.

There are two types of molecular orbits, pi bonds and sigma bonds, and each of those has a bond and an antibond. (You can imagine them as twins, one of whom has an inherently evil moustache.) It’s the difference in bonding that makes diamonds clear and other forms of pure carbon black.

Diamonds are entirely constructed from sigma bonds. When two carbon atoms come together to form diamond, the electrons are snugly held, right in between the nuclei. The sigma bond is a tight bond. In molecular chemistry, the tightest bonds happen at the lowest orbitals … the lowest energy levels. So if your bond is very low energy, then its evil twin—the antibond—must be the opposite. Very, very high energy.

Why does this make the diamond clear? The secret is in that big difference between the bond and the antibond. When a photon of light energy slams into a stable material, it can pass through it, be absorbed, or be scattered back in the direction it came from. The net energy (or wavelength) of that photon is a critical factor. When a bunch of atoms are as tightly joined as the ones in a diamond, the photon has to have a lot of energy to be absorbed and excite an electron into an antibonding level; it’s like throwing a bowling ball at a brick wall. A molecule of diamond is like the wall. And by the time you get out the heavy construction equipment and hit that wall with enough force to take a piece out of it … well, that little piece is also going to contain a lot more energy. In this case of the photon is outside the relatively low-energy spectrum of visible light.

So it’s not really that diamonds are clear—that they don’t absorb any of the light that hits them. It’s that our eyes can’t see the colors of really high energy photons. “If you looked at it with UV eyes, you’d see something different,” McMillin said.

In graphite, on the other hand, one quarter of the bonds are pi bonds. In a pi bond, the electrons have a little bit more leeway, like toddlers on a tether. They’re still tightly held, but the nuclei don’t confine them so much and they roam more through the material. And the difference between the bond and the antibond is less extreme. If a sigma bond is a brick wall, the pi electrons are more like bowling pins. Relatively low energy photons can energize them. In fact, graphite virtually absorbs every colored photon in the visible spectrum. None come through or scatter back toward us and we therefore see black. (It’s worth noting that this absorption isn’t like a black hole, where energy has almost no chance of escaping. Instead, in graphite, the energy is absorbed, but then exits again in a changed state—as much smaller bundles of heat energy.)

The difference between sigma-bonded diamonds—which throw off photons outside the spectrum of visible light—and pi-bonded graphite—which absorbs all colors of visible light is extreme. The fact that both are carbon is pretty important, because it means that carbon is extremely versatile. And that, George Bodner said, is what makes carbon such a great element to build life around. “You need strong bonds because you want this thing held together. But there are also times when you want it to, under right conditions, to open up or react. Carbon is so good at that, better than anybody else. And life on this planet evolved around that.”

Photo: Shutterstock

Hitman GO for iOS - a 3D boardgame

[Video Link] The graphics for Hitman GO are beautiful. I have not played it yet. Can someone who has please review it in the comments? Is it worth $5, plus all the in-app purchases required to move to the next chapters? Hitman GO is a turn-based puzzle game where you will strategically navigate fixed spaces on a grid to avoid enemies, infiltrate well-guarded locations and take out your target on beautifully rendered diorama-style set pieces. Hitman GO

The visual history of April O'Neil

Chasing Sheep posted part 2 of its visual history of Turtle-loving reporter April O'Neil; read part 1 first. One key issue: is April O'Neil a whitewashed person of color? Apparently, her ethnicity was never definitively settled in the original comic. Then the TV show happened, and that was that.

New Disruptors 71: Bike Activist and Publisher Elly Blue

Elly Blue is a bike activist, writer, and publisher, and has run more Kickstarter campaigns than nearly any other person or group. She is fiercely in favor of using bikes as a primary mode of transportation, and is a feminist bicycle activist. We talk funding, publishing, and persistence. (Photo by Caroline Paquette.)

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This episode is sponsored by:

New Relic helps everyone's software work better, and if you’re in any business today, you’re in the software business. Software powers our apps, runs our databases, manages our accounts, and runs ecommerce sites and email programs. New Relic monitors every move your application makes, across the entire stack, and shows you what's happening right now. Visit to find out more.

Abraham Finberg, CPA: From dealing with those pesky 1099Ks to complex accounting needs, go to for all your financial support. Services can be as simple as a 15-minute phone consultation session all the way up to outsourcing your whole internal accounting office. Use promotion code DISRUPT to get a free phone consultation today!

Things we mention in this episode:

Elly has launched 19 Kickstarter campaigns; the 18 completed campaigns have all funded successfully. Her 19th is underway. A children's book, Zoom! The story of a boy and his balance bike, was her biggest project with over $10,000 raised. (Sign up for her mailing list.)

Jean MacDonald spoke to us about App Camp for Girls; she recently left her for-profit job to become executive director of the program she helped found. Amelia Greenhall explained the purpose of and process to create Double Union, a women-oriented makerspace in San Francisco. (Amelia and colleagues recently launched the publication Model View Culture, and just shipped their first quarterly issue.) Elly's boyfriend, Joe Biel, founded Microcosm Publishing. I talked to Matt Bors about his book crowdfunding campaign.

I wrote an Economist item recently about the perils of taking a book aimed for print production and creating an ereader edition. Elly mentioned George Packer's lengthy article about in the New Yorker. Elly wrote about Dutch-style cargo bikes, bakfietsen, for The Magazine.

The New Disruptors is a podcast about people who make art, things, or connections finding new ways to reach an audience and build a community. Glenn Fleishman is the host, and he talks with new guests every week. Find older episodes at the podcast's home.

Support The New Disruptors directly as a patron at Patreon starting at $1 per month, with on-air thanks, premiums, and more at higher levels of support. We do this show with your help.

JOHN WILCOCK: Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce" will conclude next week.
View previous installments of the John Wilcock comic here and here.

Supplemental material:

Discussing Lenny Bruce in the sixties, Nat Hentoff writes, "I might be able to understand - though not really - why anyone with a knowledge of the major tensions of our time would not find Bruce funny; but I cannot understand how other [cultural critics] fail completely to comprehend what he is saying." (Read the entire Village Voice column, April 6, 1960.)

Paul Krassner's Impolite Interview with Lenny Bruce for The Realist.

Marc Maron's WTF podcast interviewing Paul Krassner, discussing Lenny Bruce.
(Maron also followed up with this entertaining tweet about Dilaudid.)

WFMU and Kliph Nesteroff present:
"Actual Audio of a Lenny Bruce Gig Being Raided by the Cops, Chicago 1962" (Soundcloud)

Neurological differences don't necessarily mean impairment

There's a new study out that's being touted as proof that marijuana makes you dumb. But, while the results do show differences in the brains of people who smoked pot, the conclusion about what that means is seriously flawed, writes Maia Szalavitz at The Daily Beast.

Most of the time, it's difficult to explain why scientific research or a conclusion about research results is flawed. That's not the case here. You only have to understand two concepts: "normal" and "healthy".

The 20 marijuana-smoking participants, who took the drug at least once a week, were deliberately selected to be healthy. If they had any marijuana-related problems—or any psychiatric problems or other issues—they were excluded from participating.

Are you beginning to see what’s wrong? Although the pot-smoking participants showed brain differences in comparison to the controls who were also selected to be normal— both groups were normal! If the smokers had any marijuana-related problems or any type of impairment, they would not have been included in the first place. Therefore, the brain changes that the researchers found were—by definition—not associated with any cognitive, emotional, or mental problems or differences.

Eccentric axe uses physics to make splitting firewood easier

If you've ever tried to split your own firewood, you know it's kind of a pain in the tookus. Swinging the axe with enough force to drive the wedge into the wood and also split said wood (rather than just getting the axe head stuck) is not easy. That's why lumberjacks have big arms.

So Finnish inventor Heikki Kärnä redesigned the axe. Instead of working as a wedge, his axe is a lever. And it's sort of mesmerizing to watch.

It works because the Kärnä axe's center of gravity is to the side, rather than in the center, of the blade.

Upon hitting the top of the log and penetrating it slightly, the leading edge of the axe head begins to slow down. Where the axe blade widens sharply it stops the axe’s penetration. However, the mass of the axe head still has kinetic energy and the off line center of gravity forces it to rotate eccentrically down towards the wood. This rotational movement causes the leading edge, or sharp edge of the blade to turn in a lever action, forcing a split with all the force of the kinetic energy of the axe multiplied by the leverage of the axehead. The widening blade edge also has a benefit in that it helps to prevent the axe from penetrating into the wood and getting stuck there as is often the case with traditional axes.

The 1.9kg axe head has a significant amount of kinetic energy when it begins the rotational movement. While the centre of gravity of the head continues first to the right and then downwards the edge moves in a rotational direction to the left. This movement uses the rotational torque to split a log and push it away from the wood. In total the edge opens the wood by 8 cm. When the axe has rotated sideways it has used most of its energy and ends on top of the log on the in a sideways fashion. This safety feature ensures that the axe does not continue towards your legs and the axe remains totally in control. In addition, the axe holds the log steady on the chopping block ready for the next swing.

Also, the official company "Tale of the Vipukirves Axe" is sort of hilarious, in a Lake Wobegon kind of way.

Throughout his arduous work the axe often swung close to the hard working man's calves. The axe struck him more than once, but luckily the man was wearing protective overalls with his hems stiff into his rubber boots. After receiving a few mighty blows from the axe, he was forced to toss his boots into the trash. When the hard day's work was over, the man collected all the resinous branches into one pile and the trunks cut with a power saw in the other. They would wait to be cut into firewood.

“Darn it!” the man said in despair. “Making firewood is so much work, and it's dangerous too!”

He sat down on a stump, threw his gloves in the moss, wiped the sweat from his forehead and started cogitating. He grabbed the axe that the hardware salesman proclaimed to be the best on the market and began to examine the blade and the handle, turning the piece of metal in his sap-covered hands. Then it came to him.

”Eureka! I need to work on this!”

Video Link

UK Tory MP who helped kill Legal Aid is wiped out by defending himself against sexual assault claim

Alan sez, "At least he's got the sense to own up and say he's sorry. Nigel Evans used to be in Parliament. While there he helped cut legal aid. As a result, people who are charged by the government but found innocent can't recover costs. Mr Evans is now looking at a (UKP) 130,000 legal bill (plus VAT) after defending successfully against an allegation of sexual assault. Of course, were he in the US he'd be in the same or worse shape."

He's been wiped out, and has pledged to try to undo the damage he's done to Legal Aid if he gets reelected. Meanwhile, the real victims of this are poor crime victims, especially women in abusive relationships, who are grappling with a system where only rich people get lawyers.

He said he was stunned to learn he would have to pay his legal fees even if he was acquitted - plus value added tax. Mr Evans, whose life savings have been wiped out, has pledged to campaign on the issue after his return to the Commons.

Tough new rules on the amount of cash acquitted defendants could claim back were passed in 2011 as the Ministry of Justice sought to trim the legal aid budget.

Bill Waddington, the chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, said: "It is interesting it takes something like this for MPs to realise that only two years ago they actually voted for this change against vociferous opposition from the legal community.

£130,000 poorer in fees, Nigel Evans admits regret for past support of legal aid cuts (Thanks, Alan!)

‘X-Men’ director Bryan Singer accused of raping teen boy in 1999; case mentions sex offender Marc Collins-Rector of DEN

'X-Men' director Bryan Singer. Photo: Reuters

A 2007 mugshot of sex offender Marc Collins-Rector, former chairman of DEN. He is mentioned in the 2014 lawsuit against Singer.

Bryan Singer, the director of the forthcoming film “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is accused in a lawsuit filed today in Hawaii federal court of drugging and raping a teenage boy in 1999.

Also mentioned in the lawsuit is Marc Collins-Rector, sexual predator and founder and chairman of Digital Entertainment Network (aka DEN or <EN), an early internet video startup. Collins-Rector is a registered sex offender who fled to Spain, and was arrested there in 2002. In 2004, Collins-Rector pled guilty to charges he lured minors across state lines for sexual acts. The allegations of sexual abuse involving Collins-Rector and other DEN executives shocked the web startup world in 1999, and led to the collapse of DEN's IPO.

Variety reports on the charges against Brian Singer filed today: The plaintiff, Michael Egan, claims he was 17 when Singer forcibly sodomized him, among other allegations. Egan’s lawyers, led by Jeff Herman, allege that Singer provided him with drugs and alcohol and flew him to Hawaii on more than one occasion in 1999. His suit claims battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy by unreasonable intrusion, and it seeks unspecified damages.

Singer’s attorney, Marty Singer, called the lawsuit “absurd and defamatory.” “The claims made against Bryan Singer are completely without merit,” the attorney said. “We are very confident that Bryan will be vindicated.” Collins-Rector isn't named as a defendant, but Variety reports that he "is accused of initiating the sexual abuse of Egan and arranging for Singer to assault Egan at a house in Encino, CA."

In 1999, when the DEN sex abuse story broke, I was a reporter for Digital Coast Reporter, an online and print magazine that covered technology news in Southern California. I covered the DEN scandal for the publication, and drove to that house in Encino with my editor to photograph it. The home was once the residence of notorious hip-hop mogul Marion 'Suge' Knight. How strange to hear it, and Collins-Rector, mentioned again after all these years.

The lawsuit alleges that Collins-Rector and his Digital Entertainment Network investors, including Singer, would lure young men to a house dubbed the M & C Estate in Encino to intoxicate and sexually assault a number of teenage boys and that many in the Hollywood industry were aware of the “notorious parties.”

Egan, an aspiring actor and model at the time, claims that Singer provided him with several drugs, including cocaine, a pill identified as “green triangle” which is believed to be a reference to the drug Ecstasy, Xanax, Rohypnol, and Vicodin or Percocet, in addition to alcoholic beverages.

The Wrap is also reporting on the allegations against Singer, and has published excerpts from the court documents:

Defendant, BRYAN JAY SINGER, manipulated his power, wealth, and position in the entertainment industry to sexually abuse and exploit the underage Plaintiff through the use of drugs, alcohol, threats, and inducements which resulted in Plaintiff suffering catastrophic psychological and emotional injuries. Defendant Singer did so as part of a group of adult males similarly positioned in the entertainment industry that maintained and exploited boys in a sordid sex ring. A Hollywood mogul must not use his position to sexually exploit underage actors. More at The Wrap, including lengthy graphic/sexually explicit descriptions of the alleged sexual crimes.

The lawyer representing the man who says Singer assaulted him is the same attorney who represented the plaintiff in the case against former Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash. The defense will hold a press conference on Thursday in Beverly Hills.

This is not the first time such allegations have been made against Brian Singer. In 1997, A 14-year-old movie extra filed a lawsuit claiming that Singer and others "ordered him and other minors to strip for a scene that was shot in the showers of a school locker room."

Miyazaki beer label

I could (and probably will) write an essay about all the ways in which the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo is amazing and totally different from the usual museum (shortlist: limited capacity managed through waiting lists instead of price-hikes; exhibits that are intended to be handled, even the fragile ones; no cult of personality for founders; emphasis on both wonder and production; modest and beautifully stocked shop; overall non-commercial emphasis; quirkiness that is commensurate with the actual films), but for now, I'll leave you with this: the beautiful Miyazaki-esque beer-labels from the hot-dog and ice-cream stand.

Miyazaki beer label, Ghibli Museum, Tokyo, Japan

RiYL podcast 048: 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental

Recommended if You Like is Boing Boing's weekly podcast of Brian Heater's cafe conversations with musicians, cartoonists, writers, and other creative types.

When 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental swung by New York to address the Inside 3D Printing conference in Manhattan, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss the technology. The company has been at the forefront of the space since 1986, when co-founder Chuck Hull invented the process of stereolithography, which gave rise to the world of industrial additive manufacturing. The company’s been a player on the business side since then and has also spent the last several years developing a consumer facing arm for the quickly growing world of desktop 3D printing. We covered the viability of consumer technology, the on-going patent wars, and the recent controversies surrounding 3D printed weapons.

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