08/04/2011 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nerd News Roundup: Paying Attention So You Don't Have To

Nerd News Roundup is culled from tech and science blogs, with special attention given to trends in media, politics, and journalism. It is designed for those who do not have the time or inclination to search for this stuff on their own.

I sort the news into categories, marked with a hash (#), which may change from week to week. Read the bits you find interesting. Feel free to ignore the rest.


Snail Mail My Email outsources your emotions to foreign hands

Cash and his global network of volunteers painstakingly re-create your digital salvos with the flourish of awkward and potentially illegible penmanship for free. (engadget)

9-year-old Game Designer of the Day

Owain Weinert, a kid suffering from pre-B Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, took his game concept, Allied Star Police, to PopCap as his Make-A-Wish Foundation Wish, and the company found that it was a lot more thorough than they expected.

“The minute he walked in the door he handed us a fully realized game design, figured out to the last detail,” said producer Matthew Lee Johnston. “He stuck with that vision, and directed the team through the development process like a pro.” (

US Army Declares War on Vision, Aesthetics, and Sanity with 100 Slide Comic Sans Powerpoint (gizmodo)

Put the brakes on using your brain power

German researchers have used drivers’ brain signals, for the first time, to assist in braking, providing much quicker reaction times (physorg)

Toyota’s new steering wheel could prevent heart attacks

Toyota is working on a steering wheel with contact sensors that can automatically slow a car down if it senses any irregular heart activity. (dvice)


  • Anti-Piracy Lawyers Rip Off Work From Competitor (torrentfreak via hacker news)

  • Fox could lose up to a third of web viewers to piracy

    “I’ll just go back to pirating my content”: That was the response some of our readers had after hearing about Fox’s plans to restrict online access to full episodes of its shows to viewers that can either authenticate themselves as Dish Network subscribers or pay for Hulu Plus. (gigaom via hacker news)

  • Music Piracy Endorsement of the Day

    Douglas C. Merrill, former Google CIO and former EMI President of Digital Business, just gave a keynote speech at the CA Expo in Sydney, Australia, where he revealed that Limewire (R.I.P.) users were some of the biggest iTunes customers.

    Merrill said that “going to sue customers for file sharing is like trying to sell soap by throwing dirt on your customers,” (boingboing via

  • French copyright enforcers: “Pirates are big spenders on legit content” (boingboing)


  • How Face Recognition Can Uncover SSNs

    Building on previous work showing that social security numbers are not random, CMU researchers ran experiments in which they predicted students’ social security numbers after taking a photo of them with a cheap webcam. Using off-the-shelf facial recognition technology and data-mining publicly available Facebook photos and profile information, they were able to come up with the social security numbers of several of the students. (forbes via slashdot)

  • SKorea: Alleged hacking attack hits Internet users

    The personal information of about 35 million Internet users in South Korea was stolen in an alleged hacking attack that originated in China, officials said Thursday. (physorg)

  • House Committee passes bill requiring your ISP to spy on every click and keystroke you make online and retain for 12 months (boingboing)

  • Microsoft Exposes Locations of PCs and Phones

    Microsoft has collected the locations of millions of laptops, cell phones, and other Wi-Fi devices around the world and makes them available on the Web without taking the privacy precautions that competitors have, CNET has learned. (cnet via slashdot)

  • Chief NSA Lawyer Hints That NSA May Be Tracking US Citizens

    Responding to questions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, Matthew Olsen, the NSA’s general counsel, said that the NSA ‘may’, under ‘certain circumstances’ have the authority to track U.S. citizens by intercepting location data from cell phones, but it’s ‘very complicated.’ ‘There’s no need to panic, or start shopping for aluminum-foil headwear,’ says blogger Kevin Fogarty, but clearly the NSA has been thinking about it enough ‘that the agency’s chief lawyer was able to speak intelligently about it off the cuff while interviewing for a different job.’ (itworld via slashdot)


  • This week I came upon a great series of articles called 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies. Here’s one of them: How and Why We Lie to Ourselves: Cognitive Dissonance ( via hacker news)

  • How the internet created an age of rage

    The psychologists call it ‘deindividuation.’ It’s what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. (guardian via slashdot)

  • A toss of the dice reveals the truth

    When a person is being questioned, they are first given a simple dice. They are told that before answering a question, they must throw the dice and that the researcher would not be able to see what number is rolled. If they throw a number one, they must respond to the question with ‘no.’ If they throw a number six, they must respond with the answer ‘yes.’ All other numbers they are to answer the question with a truthful answer.

    With this little catch, a respondent’s ‘yes’ answer may not always be ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ may not always be a ‘no.’ Because of this fact, respondents seem to be more willing to give truthful answers when the numbers two through five are rolled. (physorg)

    This concept seems similar to giving a firing squad a mix of blanks and live ammunition, so the shooters cannot say who bears responsibility for the execution. The dice in the above study provide a layer of deindividuation, to reduce cognitive dissonance in the respondents, who simultaneously hold competing ideas: I should tell the truth and I should not incriminate myself.

  • Investors driven by emotion, not facts

    Individuals investing in stocks let their emotions guide them more than facts, often to their financial detriment, a new UC Davis study finds. (physorg)

  • Fair play – a question of self-image?

    Why do people behave selfishly and accept that their behaviour may have negative consequences for others? Astrid Matthey and Tobias Regner from the Max Planck Institute of Economics in Jena investigated this question in a laboratory experiment. They found that such behaviour often depends on whether information about the consequences for others can be ignored. (medicalxpress)

    If you can ignore the problems you cause, then what’s the big deal?

  • The evolution of disgust

    Scienceline has a 5-minute podcast about a new theory on the origins of disgust. (boingboing)

  • Study finds conformity does not equal cooperation

    The study, published in the August issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences, shows that people who do not conform are most likely to work together for the greater good, while conforming to social norms can actually make people less likely to co-operate (medicalxpress)

    People who seek to conform to the status quo are generally more individualistic. People who do not seek conformity to the status quo are generally more communitarian. Am I the only person seeing a direct line between this and the differences between political conservatives (who uphold the status quo) and liberals (who disrupt the status quo)?

  • Monkey see, monkey do? The role of mirror neurons in human behavior

    In the latest issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, a team of distinguished researchers debate whether the mirror neuron system is involved in such diverse processes as understanding speech, understanding the meaning of other people’s actions, and understanding other people’s minds. (medicalxpress)


  • Scientist tests promising drug on those with Down syndrome

    A University of Colorado School of Medicine scientist is finishing a major clinical trial on a drug that could boost cognitive function in those with Down syndrome, significantly improving their quality of life (medicalxpress)

  • Mitochondria share an ancestor with SAR11, a globally significant marine microbe

    Billions of years ago, an astounding evolutionary event occurred: certain bacteria became obliged to live inside other cells, thus starting a chain of events that resulted in what is now the mitochondria, an organelle found in all eukaryotic cells. (physorg)

  • South Korean Scientists Create Glowing Dog

    A research team from Seoul National University (SNU) said the genetically modified female beagle has been found to glow fluorescent green under ultraviolet light if given a doxycycline antibiotic. (reuters via slashdot)

  • New Liquid Biomaterial Can Rebuild Faces Without Surgery

    Doctors are testing a new liquid polymer that can be injected under the skin, molded and sculpted, then set in place with a LED array. (gizmodo)

  • Low income, poor diet linked to accelerated aging

    A new study of the DNA of people living in Glasgow suggests that earning less than the average wage and eating an unhealthy diet could accelerate the ageing process. (medicalxpress)

  • WHOI study reports microbes consumed oil in Gulf slick at unexpected rates

    More than a year after the largest oil spill in history, perhaps the dominant lingering question about the Deepwater Horizon spill is, “What happened to the oil?” (physorg)


  • Technology + Politics = Facepalm

    Earlier this week, Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada’s Green Party, took to her Twitter account and declared war on Wi-Fi. (techcrunch)

  • Is Twitter Politically Polarized?

    Yes, according to a new paper by M. D. Conover, [et al.]. But there still is some interesting interaction between Twitter users from different political perspectives. (themonkeycage via hacker news)

  • Feds Approve $44K Doctor Reimbursement for Using Drchrono’s iPad App

    As we’ve written in the past, drchrono’s iPad app allows doctors to schedule patient appointments, dictate notes via audio, take pictures, write prescriptions and send them to pharmacies, enable reminders, take clinical notes, access lab results, and, most importantly input electronic health records. (techcrunch)

  • US Congress embracing social media: report

    Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate from both parties have seized on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and integrated them into their communications operations, according to a report published on Tuesday. (physorg)

  • Endorsements matter but voters are wise to media bias

    Newspaper endorsements for presidential candidates can influence voting decisions, according to newly published research co-authored by Brown University economist Brian Knight. The paper, co-authored by Chun Fang Chiang, demonstrates that voters are more likely to support the recommended candidate following a newspaper’s endorsement, but any degree of influence depends on the credibility of the paper’s pick. (physorg)


  • Minority rules: Scientists discover tipping point for the spread of ideas

    Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. (physorg)

  • Exposure to U.S. flag moves voters to the right

    “A single, incidental exposure to the flag a couple weeks before the election changed how people voted,” Ferguson said. Yet 90 percent of those surveyed said they believed seeing the flag would not influence their voting. (physorg)

  • Psychology of debt talks is all in game of chicken

    Shapiro called it a “very deadly game of chicken,” noting that chicken is a negotiation scenario well studied by psychologists, sociologists, economists and diplomats. (physorg)

  • People tend to exaggerate influence of political ads on others

    The push for campaign finance reform may be driven by a tendency to overestimate the power of political messages to influence other people’s opinions, according to researchers. (physorg)


  • GAO Report: DoD Incompetent At Cybersecurity

    According to a scathing report from the GAO (PDF) released July 25, the Department of Defense only started to take cyberwar seriously during the past two or three years, after ignoring warnings for about 2 decades. And when we say, ‘take it seriously’ we mean ‘throw gobs of money at it’ – to little effect. (itworld via slashdot)

  • National crowdsourcing project to better predict world events

    A new model for crowdsourcing predictions called Aggregative Contingent Estimation System (ACES) is transforming the way future events are forecast - combining the collective knowledge of many individual opinions in a unique way that improves accuracy beyond what any one person or small group of experts could provide.

    Intelligence agencies have historically relied on experienced specialists to provide forecasts on world events. ACES recruits everyday citizens as research participants to help improve the accuracy of forecasting methods for intelligence analysis. (physorg)

  • The DIY Terminator: Private Robot Armies And The Algorithm-Run Future Of War

    But as the tech becomes more democratized and more deadly, what happens when anyone can assemble an army of killing machines? (fastcompany via hacker news)

  • Tiny, Pirate-Hunting Helicopter Is the Newest Terrifying Way to Get Tased (gizmodo)


  • The New Yorker has sold 20,000 annual paid iPad subscriptions (tuaw)

  • Designing a big news site is about more than beauty

    even more talked about, on Hacker News anyway, was web designer Andy Rutledge’s unrequested redesign of the website of The New York Times. He finds the current site too busy, too data-dense, and he suggests an alternative (niemanlab via hacker news)

  • For Supposed Journalists, a Sense of Repulsed Detachment

    Were you wondering what cliches, stereotypes, and distortions the elite media establishment would use when it tried to suss out the latest “hacker” arrests? Wait no longer! (coderspiel via hacker news)

  • Linkbait, Content Farming and Advertorial: Welcome To New Media (Circa 1842) (techcrunch)

  • NY Times Paywall Off to A Great Start (rww)

  • More Americans watching online video: survey

    Seventy-one percent of online Americans were using video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo as of May, up from 66 percent a year ago and 33 percent five years ago, according to the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. (physorg)

  • 5 Websites For The English Writer That Help In The Search For Clichés (makeuseof)

  • NYT Reporter Responds to Media Bias Accusations Over #Compromise Hashtag

    “As [Obama] said, it is ‘time for a #compromise on behalf of the American people,” tweeted Macon Phillips, the White House director of new media.

    Preston, rather than rewriting Phillips’s tweet, retweeted it. Apparently, the Daily Caller interpreted the retweet as having been written and endorsed by Preston. The blog wrote a post to that end, accusing Preston of media bias. The tweet associated with the story read, “New York Times reporter advises White House media staff on Twitter.” The story was picked up by Drudge Report and other news sources, and continued to circulate. Preston was slammed by Twitter users accusing her of media bias. (mashable)

  • What to Do When Police Tell You to Stop Taking Photos, Video (poynter via hacker news)

  • TiltView: One Continuous Stream From A Variety Of News Sources

    Including content from Al Jazeera, France24, The Associated Press and many more […] It’s not live; it’s an automatically generated playlist covering the big stories of the day. (makeuseof)


  • See what’s eating up all your hard drive space: TUAW’s Daily Mac App: GrandPerspective (tuaw)

  • NameChanger for Mac Quickly Renames Groups of Files (lifehacker)

  • SecureHome Turns Your Mac into a Security Alarm (lifehacker)

  • Lifehacker Pack for Mac: Our List of the Best Free Mac Downloads (lifehacker)


  • AirMusic Streams Your iPhone’s Music Library to Your Xbox, PS3, and More (lifehacker)

  • Griffin Beacon Universal Remote: Hey This iPhone Universal Remote Doesn’t Suck (gizmodo)

  • 50 funky iPhone 4 cases to hold you over until the iPhone 5 (dvice)

  • Pixeet’s App and Fisheye Lens Shoots Full 360 Degree Photos On iPhones (gizmodo)


  • iPad App Gives Pilots Cheap Synthetic Vision (wired via hacker news)

  • 175 Magazines and Newspapers Can Now Be Downloaded On the iPad’s Nook App (gizmodo)

  • The Atlantic’s New iPad App Combines the Magazine, the Website and The Atlantic Wire in One (gizmodo)

  • US iPad Users Will Be Watching Top Gear On the BBC iPlayer App By End of Year (gizmodo)

  • Turn your iPad into a mini-keyboard with ION’s Piano Apprentice (tuaw)

  • Calendar and task manager app: TUAW’S Daily iPad App: Pocket Informant HD (tuaw)

  • NASA Visualization Explorer App Brings Science To Your iPad (gizmodo)


  • iOS App Scans Printed Music Notes, Plays Them In Real-Time (Video) (techcrunch)

  • Evoz Turns Your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad into a Baby Monitor (lifehacker)


  • Smooth Gestures Adds Mouse and Trackpad Gestures to Chrome (lifehacker)

  • Eventnote for Chrome Adds Google Calendar Events to Evernote (lifehacker)

  • 2 Hotkey Add-ons That Will Speed Up Your Browsing (makeuseof) (See: the second of the two)

  • Msgboy Makes All Your Favorite Websites a Push Experience (rww)


  • OneLiner Consolidates Firefox’s Tab and Navigation Bars into One, Slim Bar (lifehacker)

  • 2 Hotkey Add-ons That Will Speed Up Your Browsing (makeuseof) (See: the first of the two)


  • RemoteRinger For Android Helps You Find Your Phone In The Couch (techcrunch)

  • Visidon AppLock for Android: Pretend You Work for the CIA and Unlock Apps with Your Face (gizmodo)

  • Gmail v2.3.5 for Android adds label-specific ringtones and sync priority mail only options (engadget)


  • PC Monitor Controls and Monitors Your Windows PC from Your Phone or Tablet (lifehacker)

  • Lifehacker Pack for Windows: Our List of the Best Windows Downloads (lifehacker)

  • Wireless Network Watcher Displays the Computers and Devices on Your Network (lifehacker)

  • Papercrop Rebuilds PDFs to Play Nice With Cellphones and Kindles (lifehacker)


  • 5 Ways To Send Files To Your Dropbox Without Using Dropbox (makeuseof)

  • How To Increase The Lifetime Of Your Laptop Battery (makeuseof)

  • Readefine Desktop 2.0 Beautifies Google Reader or Any RSS Feed (lifehacker)

  • Best of Gizmodo: Our Favorite Laptops, Phones, Gadgets, Gear, and More (gizmodo)


  • The Biggest Lie the Internet Ever Told: Free Everything, All the Time

    Since you clicked your first link, you were promised one thing about the internet: you may have to pay a cover charge, but once you’re in, everything’s free. Except that suddenly doesn’t seem as true anymore. You know what? Good. (gizmodo)

  • A Billion Dollars Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Basic Human Decency

    The Internet – particularly “web 2.0”, with its communities and tagging and reuniting and friending and liking – was supposed to civilize us all. (techcrunch)

  • GETTING BIN LADEN (newyorker)

  • How to Build a Computer from Scratch, Lesson 1: Hardware Basics (lifehacker)

Please send useful and interesting links to shannon at huffingtonpost dot com, or tweet @bradjshannon.