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In case anyone has missed the BBC's round-the-clock coverage of absolutely no articles at all, or the slightly better information in the papers (being this 'we support big media' piece in the Torygraph and this slightly better one in the Gruaniad), our beloved leaders have published a "Digital Economy Bill" as part of this year's legislative program.

The proposed law scares me, and not just me. It scares everyone who actually has an interest in constructing (rather than preventing) some kind of useful digital economy; it scares every serious creative worker who knows anything about the subject (I imagine the record companies will wheel out the usual collection of hugely rich tools who know nothing about computing to support the insanity, but...); if you know about it and it doesn't scare you, then it should. Why? I think I'll let Cory Doctorow at Boingboing express some of the problems:

It consists almost entirely of penalties for people who do things that upset the entertainment industry (including the "three-strikes" rule that allows your entire family to be cut off from the net if anyone who lives in your house is accused of copyright infringement, without proof or evidence or trial), as well as a plan to beat the hell out of the video-game industry with a new, even dumber rating system

In addition to which,
These changes will give the Secretary of State (Mandelson -- or his successor in the next government) the power to make "secondary legislation" (legislation that is passed without debate) - including creating new remedies for online infringements, the ability to "confer rights" for the purposes of protecting rightsholders and also the authority to impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement.

There's a good deal of additional discussion elsewhere (see, for example, Charlie Stross, Talk-Talk's understandably unhappy response to a proposed law requiring them to spend vast amounts of money spying on their customers for the benefit of another industry, and the thoughts of the Open Rights Group. [ETA: I'm pleased to see that at least one UK political party appear to have their communal head screwed on correctly about this; can't say I'm surprised which of the three main parties it is, either....]

Join the ORG, write to your MP, express to someone somewhere what a really bad idea this is. Either that, or move to Sweden.
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Further to previous reports, the bridge connecting Wilkins ice shelf to Charcot Island has finally snapped. But you must understand that there's absolutely no evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and no need to do anything about carbon dioxide emissions or anything like that. Absolutely not.
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The BBC has some fantastic footage of Narwhals travelling through cracks in Arctic sea-ice, while one of their reporters has blogged about the government's scientific drugs advisor's frustration with the way figures are taken out of context - both by the government and by the press.

In other news, current extinction risk models may be excessively cautious in their assumptions - the actual risks may be a hundred times greater, or even higher. The periodic reports that the Earth's magnetic field is just about to flip poles would seem to be rather overstating the risk of it happening soon, otoh. (nb: to a geologist, 'soon' means 'in the next four thousand years' :) Meanwhile, Ed Yong has posted summaries of a whole range of stuff, including rapid speciation in insects and their parasites, butterflies evolving resistance to bacteria that killed only the males, and the (unsurprising[1]) research suggesting that if people learn to distinguish better between members of another cultural group, their implicit bias against that group diminishes. Of course, if they're consciously bigoted, there's not much you can do for them.

[1] to me, at least. Pigeonholing people leads to stereotypes and bias; recognising that members of $GROUP all look different will make it harder to assume they're all the same inside (even for a determined bigot, I suspect, but certainly for anyone who wants to think of people as individuals rather than as $PROPERTY-people).
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Some interesting research done recently, and usefully summarised on the Effect Measure scienceblog, suggests that in fact a significant proportion of "microwave safe" plastic containers may actually be rather less safe than ideal. Many of these containers turn out to leak potentially-toxic chemicals left over from the manufacturing process into their contents when heated. Storing food in them at room temperature (or below) seems to be fine, but heating them in a microwave or oven may not be.

In even more alarming news, which I missed until recently, ESA satellite images show that the bridge connecting the Wilkins Ice Shelf to one of the islands that anchor has almost completely disappeared since February this year. The most recent data show new rifts in the main body of the shelf, suggesting it may now be on the verge of collapse.

Finally, on a lighter note, a Canadian police video camera captured some impressive footage of a meteor coming in low across the night sky:
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I've recently read various discussions of the Bechdel test. For those who've not encountered it, the test was originally proposed in "Dykes to watch out for", and a film passes the test if it meets the following conditions:

1) it contains at least two female characters
2) who talk to each other
3) about something other than men. (One reasonable extension also excludes marriage, babies, etc, as sole topics of conversation.)

Most Hollywood output still fails this test, and a large number of books do too.

But I've not yet seen a discussion that considers the way in which the rule potentially falls down when faced with some of science fiction's most interesting - and thoughtful - studies of gender issues. (Fundamentally, the rule is a good one, and it's notable that I can't think of a single major film that includes any of the issues I'm about to note, never mind gives them serious consideration.) I should probably say before I start that the text under the cut is quite long, and potentially contains minor spoilers for a couple of books )
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Someone elsewhere pointed me at this page, which collects together photographs from the half-dozen assorted probes currently orbiting round/sitting on Mars. It's actually about a month old, but there are quite a few images I'd not seen before there.


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May 2017

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