Patent Absurdity: The Movie on Patently O

By (author unknown), Groklaw NewsPicksApril 20, 2010 at 01:32PM

[PJ: I’m happy to tell you that the Patent Absurdity movie funded by FSF is now the top story on Patently O, and the comments are quite funny, as patent lawyers try to tell programmers to … well. I’ll let you read it for yourself. But here’s my personal favorite: “You might also ask yourself what good has Linux done? What is new about Linux?

And the model of development was not new by the way. Linus Turval did not innovate anything as far as can see.” Heh heh.
But I would like to commend Dennis Crouch for being willing to at least present the anti-software patents side of the story.] – Patently O

Volcanic Lightning, Eyjafjallajökull, and how it works [Starts With A Bang]

By Ethan Siegel, ScienceBlogs » HighlightedApril 19, 2010 at 09:30PM

If you are caught on a golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.

Lee Trevino, golfer who actually has been struck by lightning.

Today’s astronomy picture of the day is absolutely gorgeous.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download%0A the highest resolution version available.jpeg

Of course, this is the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, erupting and spewing up volcanic ash. But, of course, the most interesting part of this picture is the lightning, which looks like it both originates and ends in the Volcanic ash itself!

lightning close.jpg

(Image credit for both images above: Marco Fulle, via helicopter.)

First off, I’d like to be concrete about this. The way it looks — that the lightning originates in the volcanic ash — is exactly the way it is! This isn’t some “lucky shot” by a photographer, either. Check out this picture of Eyjafjallajökull from April 17th.


(Image credit: Snaevarr Gudmundsson, through Universe Today.)

Is it just this volcano? Eyjafjallajökull, it turns out, is not remarkable at all for having volcanic lightning. If we look at some other major recent eruptions, we can see volcanic lightning in the ash there as well. Here’s Chile’s Chaitin volcano, from its 2008 eruption.

PHOTOS: Chile Volcano Erupts With Ash, Lava, Lightning.jpeg

(Image courtesy of National Geographic.)

And here’s another one: Sakurajima, from its eruption in 1991.


(Image credit: Sakurajima Volcananological Observatory.)

All told, there have been more than 150 different eruptions over the past couple of centuries where volcanic lightning has been recorded. In fact, I’ve managed to dig up some photographs of volcanic lightning from before I was born! Here’s Mount Vesuvius — and the accompanying volcanic lightning — from 1944!

vesuvius lightning.jpg

(Courtesy of an old website.)

Okay, so now you’re convinced that lightning happens in volcanic ash all the time. Yes, it makes for a spectacular picture, but how do you get this in the first place?

Well, what is lightning? You create a big enough electric potential difference between two places, and you can get all of these excess charges to “jump down” to the lower potential. In air, it takes a voltage of about 33,000 Volts (!) to get a spark to jump even one centimeter! Lightning that goes from a high cloud down to the ground can have a voltage difference in excess of a billion Volts!


You can do this because you can get a huge amount of charge separation. For example, in a big lightning strike, you separate out about 1020 electrons! But ash and rocks — even molten rock — are electrically neutral, right? So how to we get a big voltage from neutral matter?

Thankfully, the ash that comes out is hot enough so that not every particle is neutral: many are positively charged ions and many are negatively charged ions.


If you can make something push the positive ions differently than it pushes the negative ones, you can create a charge separation! If you get enough charges separated, you can make a large enough voltage to give you lightning!


This should be easy, because when you get charged particles moving around, you make electric and magnetic fields, which is exactly the ingredient you need to separate these charges. As long as these fields are here, differently charged ions are doomed to separate away from one another! And as soon as you get a large enough charge accumulated in different parts of the sky, that’s the tipping point, and then you get lightning!

And for those of you who like details with your pretty pictures and explanations, there is some uncertainty as to the exact mechanism that gives you this separation of charge. (Some ideas are here, and some research into the topic is available here.) But this really is lightning from within the volcanic ash! It certainly makes for quite a show, so enjoy it, but enjoy it from a safe distance!

Read the comments on this post…

Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Eruptions

Henge Docks: finally, a well designed docking station for Apple’s MacBook line

By Darren Murph, Engadget RSS FeedApril 19, 2010 at 06:44PM

We’d love to say that many have tried, but really, the bona fide docking station market dried up years ago in every sector save for enterprise, and while a few companies have served up “universal” alternatives, none of them were particularly well-designed. Out of nowhere, Henge Docks has emerged in order to provide a solution to your MacBook docking woes, and we’ve got to say — for a first try, the products being offered up here look mighty fine. Designed to work with most modern MacBooks as well as 13/15/17-inch MacBook Pros, these all-white stands hold your machine vertical while providing seamless access to desk-strapped peripherals (a monitor, iPod dock, mouse, heated USB blanket, etc.) It also uses Apple’s own MagSafe adapter, and your optical drive is still flipped out if you need to access it. The 13-inch MBP model is available now for $59.95 to $64.95, while every other flavor is available for pre-order; check out a video after the break if you’re having issues pulling the trigger.

Continue reading Henge Docks: finally, a well designed docking station for Apple’s MacBook line

Henge Docks: finally, a well designed docking station for Apple’s MacBook line originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 19 Apr 2010 17:44:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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IOGraph maps your mouse movements on Windows, Mac, and Linux

By Erez Zukerman, Download SquadApril 19, 2010 at 02:02PM

Filed under: ,


IOGraph is a Java application that traces your mouse movements while you work. The screenshot above shows about 1:20hrs of my work, during which I took a break (it shows up as the large blob near the middle).

The reason there’s a large blank area on the right side is that I have a dual-monitor setup. I usually use the right-side (secondary) monitor for displaying information, while keeping my main work area on the primary monitor. If you work in one application for hours on end (such as a graphics editor or a work processor), IOGraph can also provide interesting usability data when overlayed on a screenshot of your window (Photoshop, in this case, by the application’s developer).

While the application does perform its main function (and is the only one I know of, in this niche), not all options work. For example, there’s an option called “use desktop for background,” which just didn’t work, no matter how I tried to activate it (while recording, before starting, etc). If you do get it to work, tell me how you did it in the comments (or, of course, if there’s a better app for this).

IOGraph maps your mouse movements on Windows, Mac, and Linux originally appeared on Download Squad on Mon, 19 Apr 2010 13:02:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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More from Eyjafjallajokull

By (author unknown), The Big PictureApril 19, 2010 at 12:23PM

As ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano continued to keep European airspace shut down over the weekend, affecting millions of travelers around the world, some government agencies and airlines clashed over the flight bans. Some restricted airspace is now beginning to open up and some limited flights are being allowed now as airlines are pushing for the ability to judge safety conditions for themselves. The volcano continues to rumble and hurl ash skyward, if at a slightly diminished rate now, as the dispersing ash plume has dropped closer to the ground, and the World Health Organization has issued a health warning to Europeans with respiratory conditions. Collected here are some images from Iceland over the past few days. (35 photos total)

Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokul April 17, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

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Should We Allow Consumers To Sell Their Souls?

By Peter Friedman, Techdirt.April 19, 2010 at 10:01AM

To prove a point about how few people actually read the “terms and conditions” when making a purchase online, British game retailer GameStation decided to play an April fools joke on its customers, tricking many of them into agreeing to hand over the rights to their soul. GameStation’s current terms require online purchasers of its products to agree to the following:

By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from or one of its duly authorised minions.

The company provided a simple opt-out check-box and inferred from the number of shoppers who didn’t click the box (about 88%) that very little attention is paid to such agreements. The fact that so few people read the contracts they sign is not exactly news, but the troublesome part is that these contracts are generally enforced — although, in this case, GameStation admitted that they would not hold customers to the “immortal soul” clause. Contract law is founded on the notion that we are all free and equal individuals left to our own devices to enter into whatever transactions we wish. Moreover, many believe that any limitations on what individuals can be allowed to agree to (within certain well-accepted limits) are counter to economic wisdom. But when we face up to the fact so few people actually read these agreements, sooner or later we’re likely to have to admit that some limits on what retailers can require in these agreements may make sense.

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Heat Water First for Better Microwave Popcorn [Food Hacks]

By Kevin Purdy, LifehackerApril 19, 2010 at 08:10AM

Heat Water First for Better Microwave PopcornMicrowave popcorn is not all it could be, at least compared to its stove-top and popcorn machine brethren. Want a likely fix? Heat a bowl of water in your microwave right before it’s popcorn time, and you might get moister, fluffier results.

Photo by grantlairdjr.

Lifehacker commenter HeartBurnKid got this tip on a microwave popcorn bag handed out as a freebie by his health insurance company—we’ll presume it was of the “light,” or at least non-buttered variety. His directions call for a cup of water, heated for one minute on high, with a quick swap-in of the popcorn after it finishes. Popcorn maker Pop Weaver also calls the water-before-popcorn method the “first step in making great microwave popcorn.” If so, at least one Lifehacker editor has to look back on 29 years of movie nights and wonder why this never came up.

Have you given the water-heating popcorn hack a try? Tell us about your results, or any other popcorn improvements, in the comments. While you’re getting hungry, consider our previous tips on making movie-theater-style popcorn at home, getting fewer kernels in a microwave bag, and, what the heck, making popcorn with bacon fat.

Science Project #1 [Pop Weaver via #tips]

DIY Macro Lighting LED Ring

By udijw, -DIY Photography and Studio LightingApril 19, 2010 at 04:45AM

diy led ring lightA while back we had a piece about the power of using LEDs in photography. In that article we had a very primitive LED ring light. In this guest post, Tim Brook shares a much better way to create a LED ring light.

Browsing through the dealextreme website, I came across these LED car headlight rings and thought that they’d be ideal for making a Macro Lighting Ring so I placed my order and had a go.

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Implications of ‘intelligent design’ for human behavior

By (author unknown), ScienceDaily: Latest Science NewsApril 18, 2010 at 05:00PM

Although evolutionists and creationists strongly disagree about the role that intelligent design plays in the origins of bodies and brains, they curiously agree about the role that intelligent design plays in the origins of human inventiveness. However, both camps would do well to focus less on perceived foresight and purpose and more on the actual origins of behavior, according to one expert.