Open banjo instruction — pickers needed!

Patrick Costello, a hero of public-spirited music education, has launched The Old Time Banjo Project with some of his students. He’s looking for banjo-pickers to help record instructional videos that teach the instrument from total n00b to mad-skilled virtuoso.

To take part in the project, contact me at, choose a lesson and film a short video workshop.

For example, let’s say you choose to cover the C Chord. All you would have to do is introduce yourself (for example, “Hi. I’m Patrick from Manassas, Virginia and I am here to show you how to make a C chord”) and walk the viewer through the steps of making a C chord on the banjo.

You don’t have to be an expert. If you are worried about teaching a specific technique think about doing something simple like covering how to attach a banjo strap or how to make a D7 chord.

Once you have filmed your workshop, upload the video file in the highest quality format you can to the Internet Archive.

The Old Time Banjo Project (Thanks, Patrick, via Submitterator!)

AT-AT for America: restore America’s glory with a functional, full-scale Imperial Walker

Mike Koehler dreams of restoring America to greatness. He plans to do this by galvanizing a community of “nerds, makers, geeks, motorheads, sportos, dudes, steampunks, Jedis, halfwits, greasers and geniuses” to build a full-scale, functional Imperial AT-AT Walker. He calls the project AT-AT for America. I think that this plan is at least as good as the one where we gave all that money to those banks who destroyed the planet’s economy and then they gave it to their senior execs as performance bonuses.

We were once a country that made things: giantmetal cars, Hoover Dams, non-AutoTuned popular music.

But now we are stuck in an economy in limbo, surrounded by our Internets, our hipsters and our arguing politicians.

Nerds, I have a great idea to make America great again. We can show our brain power, our manufacturing prowess, our organizational skills and our geek-fueled eye for detail.

That idea: an AT-AT for America.

Now I have an idea, but no money and a total lack of mechanical aptitude.

The Dream: An AT-AT for America (via Make)

Lovecraft manuscript with musical wax cylinder

British Cthulhu emporium Yog-Sogoth have produced a lovely kit to accompany a manuscript for Albert Wilmarth’s HP Lovecraft’s story The Whisperer in Darkness: it includes a genuine musical wax cylinder with a 2:05 spooky composition meant to accompany the reading. I’ve got one on my desk and it is a fabulous bit of dead media, and perfectly fitting.

The prop kit features the following lovingly detailed items:

* Wax cylinder with a mysterious & chilling recording (2 minutes, 5 seconds).
* A 30 page copy of Albert Wilmarth’s manuscript describing the events in Vermont (HPL’s The Whisperer in Darkness).
* Two large (faux) contemporary photographs taken by Henry Akeley.
* A guide on how to handle your cylinder recording.
* A signed, sealed and numbered certificate of ownership.

The Whisperer in Wax: New Cylinder from Yog-Sothoth

France to require unhashed password storage

France’s new data retention law requires online service providers to retain databases of their users’ addresses, real names and passwords, and to supply these to police on demand. Leaving aside the risk of retaining all this personal information (identity thieves, stalkers, etc — that which isn’t stored can’t be stolen and leaked), there’s the risk of requiring providers to store plaintext unhashed passwords, as Bruce Schneier points out.

Well-designed systems don’t store passwords; rather, they take the password you supply and run it through a cryptographic hashing algorithm that turns it into another string (in theory, this string can’t be turned back into the password). When you re-visit the website and supply your password, it is run through the algorithm again, and then the result is compared to the stored version. That way, no one — not even the provider — knows your password (except you). Again, that which isn’t stored can’t be leaked. Requiring French online services to keep a record of unhashed passwords is a reversal of decades of best practices in security.

The law obliges a range of e-commerce sites, video and music services and webmail providers to keep a host of data on customers.

This includes users’ full names, postal addresses, telephone numbers and passwords. The data must be handed over to the authorities if demanded.

Police, the fraud office, customs, tax and social security bodies will all have the right of access.

Net giants challenge French data law

San Francisco to require ID scans, photos of everyone who goes to a venue — public meeting tonight!

San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission has proposed that all bars, clubs, and venues should be required to photograph and collect ID from everyone who comes in for a drink or a show. The photos and personal information would be retained so that police could get a list of every person who was in the club on any given night. Leaving aside the (obvious) fourth amendment issues inherent in governments collecting massive databases of presumed-innocent people’s lawful activities and movements, this is also a security nightmare, in which thousands of club staff and their friends would have access to personal information that would be of great interest to stalkers, creeps and identity thieves.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation will present their critique of this proposal to the Commission at a public meeting tonight (April 12). You can also attend and let the Commission know what you think.

Events with strong cultural, ideological, and political components are frequently held at venues that would be affected by these rules. Scanning the ID’s of all attendees at an anti-war rally, a gay night club, or a fundraiser for a civil liberties organization would have a deeply chilling effect on speech. Participants might hesitate to attend such events if their attendance were noted, stored, and made available on request to government authorities. This would transform the politically and culturally tolerant environment for which San Francisco is famous into a police state.

We are deeply disappointed in the San Francisco Entertainment Commission for considering such troubling, authoritarian, and poorly thought-out rules. The Commission should reject this attack on our most basic civil liberties. San Francisco cannot hope to remain a hub of cultural and political activity if we are stripped of our civil liberties the moment we walk through the door of a venue.

EFF to San Francisco Entertainment Commission: Don’t Turn SF into a Police State

(Image: Demonstration in Albert Square during the 1912 General Strike, Brisbane Police and ‘Specials’ in Albert Square, Wikimedia Commons/John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

Product design with sharing in mind’s Mary Fallon has a nice article called “Should Products Be Designed for Sharing?” that explores the current state of design for items that are intended for use by multiple people (such as shared-use short-hire bicycles) and looks at what the future might hold for them. Zipcar has just gone public and is looking to source cars that are specifically designed for their kind of use (as opposed to retrofitting standard cars to be used in car-share schemes).

This prototype station-free public bike-sharing system uses mobile communications, GPS, and a big secure lock that can be attached to any bike or bike rack. The appeal of a sharing system like Sobi is that you can deploy it anywhere and the start-up costs are minimal compared to other standard bike-sharing systems. The implication is that such technology can make bike sharing more scalable, and penetrate beyond major metros.

Should Products Be Designed for Sharing? (via Beyond the Beyond)

Central European folk-dancers illustrated sorting algorithms

Robbo sez, “Sapientia University has posted a series of videos using folk dances as a way to visualy demonstrate various sorting algorithms. It’s intensely geeky – and just downright cute too.”

I love sorting algorithms — I actually use bubble-sorts in real life all the time when I’m trying to make subtle qualitative distinctions (picking the best three flowers out of a bunch, say).

Take one Central European folk dancing team, a small folk band and an added overlay showing array locations and get them to dance the algorithms in time to “appropriate” folk music. The result is slightly surreal and for a time at least slightly hypnotic.

Sorting algorithms as dances (Thanks, Robbo!)