Category Archives: Web/Tech

Help me help Safecast help people in Japan

This morning, my friend Sean Bonner e-mailed me this:

As you may or may not know I’ve spent the vast majority of the last month either in Tokyo or working with people in Japan on project I helped start called Safecast. Actually we just changed the name to Safecast, until last week it was called RDTN. We realized that the only information on radiation levels was coming from groups we couldn’t really trust, and decided we could do something better. Safecast has a goal of distributing geiger counters to people in Japan and creating an open data sensor network so anyone can access the information we gather with these devices. We’re also collecting data ourselves – if you have a few moments and want to read this post it’s a great example of what we’re doing right this second.

If you don’t have a few moments I’ll sum it up for you – we drove up to Fukushima and took readings at schools that are in the “safe” zone. At one of those schools we measured over 50 µSv/hr outside on a playground. To put that in perspective outside today in Los Angeles I measured 0.072 µSv/hr. We also gave some counters to volunteers in the area who will take readings and report back to us, and measured over 5000 different points during the trip. We hope to do this on a regular basis.

Anyway, what I’m asking for your help with is this:

We have a kickstarter and are more than halfway to our goal, but only have 11 days left to hit that mark. While donations are helpful, what we really need is awareness. We need more people to know about what we’re doing, we need more people to know they can help.

I’ve known Sean for almost 12 years, and even though he does amazing things all the time, he never sends out e-mails like this. This is something Sean cares deeply about, and I want to help him however I can, starting with my blog, my Twitter, and my Tumblr.

I keep hearing from people that I have all this influence, people listen to me, I have lots of Twitter followers and blog readers blah blah blah. I think it’s way overestimated … but I’d love to get this project funded and find out that I actually do have a voice that occasionally rises above the background noise.

If you are comfortable with it, please help me give this a signal boost and tell your friends,  tell Reddit, tell your eccentric millionaire uncle who likes to fund projects … you get the idea.

Thank you.

various items including: hunter, marketplace, batman, and a show with paul and storm

Various items that may be relevant to your interests begin … NOW!

* I talked to the Marketplace Tech Report recently, and our two interviews are now online.

I'm sure it will surprise you to learn that I'm a huge NPR geek, so getting to talk to John Moe for Marketplace (I did my side of the converstaion from KPCC) was pretty cool.

I am doing a show at Largo with Paul and Storm on Tuesday, March 29th! I'm going to perform stories with and without musical accompaniment, and Paul and Storm are going to play music. Then we'll sing about pirates for two hours. Los Angeles always asks me to do a show, and then nobody ever shows up when I do one here. Don't fucking let me down, Los Angeles; I'm getting tired of defending you to Chicago.

* I know I'm way late to the party on this, but I've been playing Batman: Arkham Asylum recently. It's sort of like being in control of an episode of the Batman animated series, but there are a couple of things that keep taking me out of the experience.

First, there is just way too much backtracking. I really hate it when games do this, because it feels like a cheap way to make a game appear longer than it is, and it's just boring. I already did the complicated zipline batclaw jumpglide across the poison gas room thing, guys. I don't need to do it again.

Second, It's incredibly fun to pretend that I'm Batman, but it's a little silly that I my progress is constantly thwarted by 5-foot high brick walls. And by a little, I mean goddamn fucking ridiculous. I AM THE GODDAMN BATMAN FOR FUCKS SAKE.

Still, those complaints aside, it's a lot (or alot, if you prefer) of fun. Beating up on bad guys requires timing and precision, so it doesn't turn into a button masher (you can try that, if you want, but you won't get very far). There are also two extra games that parallell the main storyline where you try to solve puzzles posed by The Riddler, and you try to find these tablets that reveal the history of Arkham Asylum.

Huh. I just sort of reviewed the game without meaning to. I guess I should grade it, then: B-

* I think it's really important that the story of HBGary, Bank of America, Wikileaks and The Chamber of Commerce doesn't die. This is serious ratfucking and is pretty much a perfect example of the war the ultra-rich and powerful are successfully waging against the middle class in America.

Digital: A Love Story is a computer mystery romance that is set "five minutes into the future in 1988". You read it by using an emulator that looks an awful lot like the Amiga, and it recreates the old BBS experience when 2400 baud was all the baud we needed. The story unfolds via messages. It's just amazing.

* A friend of Anne's makes and sells organic, eco-friendly clothing with positive messages. I really love it, and from time to time I remind the Internet about it, so people will check it out and tell their friends. It's called Capable Arts. Tell them Wil sent you. 

* Many people have asked how HUNTER is selling. Without getting into specifics, I'm delighted that so many people have chosen to give me donations for the story. Most are giving between 1 and 5 dollars, and close to one thousand readers have paid for the story. I stupidly set it up in a way that doesn't let me track individual downloads, so I have no idea what the ratio of downloads to customers is. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm inclined to revisit the world at least once in the future. I'm calling this a success, and I'll do pay-what-you-want again in the future. 

This goes on its own line because I want to make sure it gets seen: Thank you to everyone who read Hunter, left me feedback about it, paid something for it, and told friends and Internets about it. This wouldn't have been a success without you.

* Finally, Anne found a home for Velvet Wesley Crusher's Moustache:


technology makes you stupid

It's been over 80 for the last few days, and I'm going up to Portland for the rest of this week to see my sister, so I took advantage of the warm weather and went for a run yesterday afternoon.

My brain quickly tuned out and started working on this story I'm about to publish, so my feet went their own way, taking me up a street I usually go down, and out onto a fairly major street that has a bike lane.

My brain stopped rewriting long enough to notice this, and said, "Hey, I bet we'd enjoy riding a bike. I wonder how much something like that costs?"

"That is an excellent question, and a very good idea," I thought back, "I'm glad we thought of it."

When I got home, I texted my friend Atom, who is an avid bicycle, uh, riding guy. (Bicycler? Bicyclist? Bicycloid? I don't know. Math is hard.)

Hey, I said, I'm thinking of getting a bike. Can you give me some buying advice?

Sure, he replied. Do you want a touring bike or a mountain bike or a racing bike or what?

Um. I want a bike, I texted back. The last time I bought one, I just wanted something that could do wicked jumps off the curb, you know?

Why don't you get on IM so we can figure this out, he replied.

Sure. What's your IM name?

He told me.

I tried to add him to iChat, and couldn't get it to work.

I picked up my cell phone and texted to him: I can't get it to work. Do you do Skype?

No, but I'm on Google Talk.

I'm not on Google Talk, I said. 

Did you try Adium? He said.

No, let me try that. I replied.

I set my phone down and typed Adium into Google.

I paused.

I looked at my phone.

I looked at my computer.

I looked back at my phone.

I picked up my phone and texted him, Hey, I just remembered that I can use my phone to call you. Maybe I'll just do that.

Your phone makes calls?!

Yeah, it isn't an iPhone, I said. I laughed in my empty living room, very pleased with myself.

I picked up my phone and dialed his number. 

..well, that isn't entirely accurate; I looked him up in my contacts list, and pushed the appropriate buttons to initiate a call.

The phone rang. When Atom picked up I said, "Man, technology really does make you stupid, doesn't it?" 

end user: greetings from the future of filmmaking

I took a few minutes away from working on Leverage and writing my short stories to turn in an End User column that’s all about some of the stuff that’s been on my mind since I started working on Leverage:

I’m in Portland, Oregon, shooting an episode of TNT’s prime time drama, Leverage.

Just about every night after we wrap I meet up with my friend John Rogers, who is the co-executive producer and head writer for the show, to have a beer and decompress after a long day on the set. Whether we talk about filmmaking, comic books, nerdy geeky gaming stuff, or technology, a common thread runs through our conversations: it’s pretty awesome to live here in the future, we sure are lucky to get paid to make stuff up and entertain people, and holy crap has the industry changed since we first entered it.

Leverage is totally shot in the future. We use the Red One digital camera, we watch takes right after we finish them to make sure nothing went wrong, and we get our dailies via secure internet connection anywhere we have computers and WiFi. John told me that at least once, they realized they didn’t shoot a single or needed a tighter angle to make something work, and were able to create coverage in post-production, which is done entirely on Final Cut Pro. During production, we could send pictures and updates from the set to Twitter and our blogs, and engage the audience in a direct and intimate way that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.

I’m not going to lie to you, Marge, the future’s pretty cool.

wilco (the stream) happens

I just got this e-mail from Wilco HQ:

Well, we made it nearly a month with copies of Wilco (the album) floating around out there before it leaked. Pretty impressive restraint in this day and age. But the inevitable happened last night. Since we know you're curious and probably have better things to do than scour the internet for a download (though we do understand the attraction of the illicit), we've posted a stream of the full album at Feel free to refer to it as "wilco (the stream)" if you must.

We also have our usual guilt abatement plan for downloaders. If you have downloaded the record, we suggest you make a donation to one of the band's favorite charities, the Inspiration Corporation — an organization we've supported in the past & who are doing great work in the city of Chicago. Information and donation button here:

That's all. Enjoy the stream. Tickets for summer shows, etc. Note that we'll be holding a free online midnight screening of the "Ashes of American Flags" film this Friday night (at both midnight US Central time and again at midnight Pacific). So get the popcorn or whatever together and be sure to log on and tune in on Friday.

Wilco HQ

This is so smart, and I hope Wilco gets some public recognition for doing this. Sure, they could play whack-a-mole and try to get it offline until it's officially released, but what's the point of that? It's impossible to win that fight; it just wastes a lot of their time, money, and energy.

Giving their fans a legitimate way to hear the album reduces the incentive someone would have to steal it, builds excitement and buzz for the official release, and acknowledges that Wilco's fans love their music so much, they (we) just can't wait. They even suggest a really great way for people who downloaded the album to get some kind of "I was sort of a dick" offset.

I really admire the way Wilco embraces their fans (and reality) when they do things like this. I'll be listening to Wilco (the stream) in about five minutes, and I'll be purchasing Wilco (the album) as soon as it's available.

On the off chance that anyone from the band sees this: Thanks for all of your music, guys. I love what you do, and it's really meant a lot to me.

my god, it’s full of unicorns

A little known fact about me: I'll do just about whatever my friend Chris tells me to do, just because I want to be popular*, so a half an hour ago, when he told Twitter to go to and type the Konami code into the search box, I stopped performing life-saving CPR on a hobo and did exactly that.

Here's what ensued:


Every time you hit a key after pressing enter, a new unicorn would pop up. It was so fucking glorious, I made sure it was the last thing the hobo saw before he died, because I knew he would have wanted it that way.

Whoever wrote that code deserves a medal. Whoever forced them to take the code out (almost as quickly as it was discovered) deserves a boot to the head**.

*not true.
** and one more for Jenny and the wimp.

hey, look, that’s me!

I was really happy with my appearance on KTLA morning news earlier this week, even if the HD really showed off just how profoundly fucked up my teeth really are.

If you have a minute and want to see me talking about books and technology and geek stuff, you can watch it at the LA Times Jacket Copy blog.

whenever i type “lions,” i have to make sure i haven’t accidentally typed “loins”

A friend of mine showed me the most awesome picture of a little Voltron toy I think I've ever seen. It had lions for hands.

This bounced around in my head for a moment, and I shared my great wisdom with Twitter, thusly:

Voltron with Lions > Voltron with vehicles. THIS IS SCIENCE AND YOU CAN'T ARGUE WITH SCIENCE. (and now, pot stirred, I'm back to work.)

This screenshot from Twitteriffic (with bonus Memories of the Future edit in the background) illustrates one of the reasons I just love using Twitter. These replies are captured exactly as Twitteriffic displayed them to me:

Lions vs vehicles qft

Okay, now I'm really going back to work.

in the country of the kaurava king

This made it past my mail filters last night:

This is youur penis: 8–o
This is youur penis on drugs: 8=====O

Any questionss?

He said. Yes, and he can beat any man in the country of the kaurava king (suyodhana) with all his followers an apportionment bill and carefully revise it of view. Insoluble conundrums of john's national zeal and lower stipendsthat a most interesting.

You know why spammers send these things? Because somewhere in the world, there is a guy, and that guy saw a subject line that said "Nothing can seduce women faster than aa…" and shouted at his monitor, "than aa what?! Than aa what? Tell me! Tell me! I MUST KNOW THE ANSWER RIGHT NOW SO THAT I CAN FINALLY SEDUCE WOMEN!"

Then that guy opened the e-mail, saw that little ascii drawing, and was shocked into silence. He sat there, alone, and quietly admitted to himself, "You know what? You're right. My pe–" a sob caught in his throat, and he faced the brutal truth. He didn't have any questionss, only sadness. "My penis looks just like this: 8–o and that is why I can't seduce women."

Redemption was just a click away, though! He grabbed his credit card, went to the website and placed an order, and started making plans for exactly how he and his new penis on drugs were going to walk down there, and fuck all of them sheep.

It's because of that guy that the rest of us get spam like this … but does anyone have the heart to tell him? Does anyone have the heart to take his dreams of seducing women with his 8=====O and dashing them into insoluble conundrums of john's national zeal and lower stipendsthat? Because that guy's life is already pretty sad, and I'm not going to kick that guy when he's downn.

Books I Love: The Hacker Crackdown

Now that we've figured out which one is Pink, allow me to welcome you to the machine…

In the late 80s, I kind of knew a bunch of people who were involved in what we called The Computer Underground. They weren't my friends, and I couldn't even tell you what their handles were (well, I could, but I won't) but I learned a ton of stuff about technology and other mysterious subjects by dialing into BBSes and reading the textfiles they left behind.

By 1990, I was spending less and less time online, while I continued to struggle with my existential acting crisis. I read books about acting, and all of them left me cold. I read books about filmmaking, and I just didn't care about them.

Then, in 1992, I saw this book called The Hacker Crackdown on the front table at a book shop. I was intrigued, and I started reading. After standing at the table for a long time and getting deeper into the book than someone who is standing at a table near the front of a bookshop should reasonably get, I bought the damn thing. I finished it within a day, and before a week had elapsed I had read The Cuckoo's Egg and Cyberpunk, the only other books on the subject that I could get my hands on at the time.

On one level, The Hacker Crackdown is about how the US Department of Justice launched a nationwide operation to bring down a bunch of hackers in something called Operation Sundevil, but it's also about a subculture and its people who remain misunderstood to this day. Most importantly, introduced me to a world where information and intellect were incredibly valuable, and it inspired me to learn all that I could about the online world I'd eventually call my home. On the way from there to here, I met a lot of the people who are in the book, and formed some friendships that lasted for years.

Cory Doctorow said that The Hacker Crackdown changed his life and it "inspired me politically, artistically and socially." He's not the only one. I can draw a very short and very straight line between reading this book and learning how to navigate the World Wide Web, which is what we called the Internet before you damn kids today were born.

In 1994, Bruce Sterling released the book online, and in 2007, Cory Doctorow recorded the entire book as a series of podcasts. If you want to understand how we got here, I'd say The Hacker Crackdown is required reading.

next time: the prince of wales