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An Update on SOPA, PIPA, and Last Week's Petitions

Last Wednesday (January 18), Wikipedia and other sites went dark in a protest of pending legislation before the US Congress. Now that the dust has settled, here are some details of what happened.

Let the Backpedaling Begin

On Friday (January 20) Lamar Smith, chief SOPA sponsor, pulled the bill from consideration. At roughly the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a scheduled vote on PIPA in the Senate. Of the original 13 co-sponsors of the two bills, 7 backed out, saying they couldn't support the bills in their current form.

Lots of people online celebrated all this news by saying "SOPA is dead" and suggesting that PIPA is on life-support. This may or may not be true; many legislators are saying that they want to rewrite the bills and then pass some revised flavor of them (ahem, have y'all seen the OPEN Act? We've got your rewrite right here). This is either legislators trying to gracefully back away, or they're saying exactly what they mean -- which is that, with some tweaks, they might go ahead and pass SOPA/PIPA 2.0. Stay tuned.

Wikipedia's Efforts

The Wikimedia Foundation reported that more than 162 million people saw their blackout message, and 8 million viewed their page about contacting Congress. In a "Thank You" page, Wikipedians wrote:

More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down Congress’s switchboards. You melted their servers. From all around the world your messages dominated social media and the news. Millions of people have spoken in defense of a free and open Internet. ...

For us, this is not about money. It’s about knowledge. As a community of authors, editors, photographers, and programmers, we invite everyone to share and build upon our work.

Our mission is to empower and engage people to document the sum of all human knowledge, and to make it available to all humanity, in perpetuity. We care passionately about the rights of authors, because we are authors.

They also warned in a Learn More page that the bills are not dead. They pointed to a TED Talk by Clay Shirky on "why SOPA is a bad idea":

In self-congratulatory news, I'm weirdly proud that my article from last week rapidly became the #1 result for the Google search "Why is Wikipedia Down?"

Google's Petition

On January 18, Google asked visitors to sign an anti-SOPA/PIPA petition, using the tagline End Piracy, Not Liberty. They received over 7 million signatures, out of 13 million visitors to the petition page.

Mozilla (Firefox)'s Message

Mozilla updated the default landing page in Firefox with a message about SOPA and censorship. They later reported reaching 40 million people, of whom 1.8 million visited the SOPA info page. From there, 360,000 emails to Congress were generated.

The "Quote" Controversy Du Jour

So MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) head Chris Dodd made some remarks on Fox News last week. He said, in part, "Those who count on quote Hollywood for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. ... Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake." In a brief nerd note, I find it deliciously amusing that this quote includes the word 'quote' because Dodd never managed to close his quotation verbally, so we can't just put quotation marks around the word "Hollywood" when quoting him. Ahem, moving on. But you get the point -- this appears to be a threat from Dodd to stop providing those big fat Hollywood campaign contributions (primarily to Democrats), if legislators don't pass the legislation he wants.

Boom! Pow! Another online petition is born! (As I write this, 18,000 people have signed a petition asking that Dodd be investigated for "bribery.")

What's interesting about this "controversy" is that it's not news -- Hollywood has long been affiliated with Democrats. In an excellent write-up at Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee pointed out that Republicans have been very quick to disavow SOPA and PIPA, while Democrats' reactions have been more muted. (Indeed, all four Republican presidential candidates came out in opposition to the bills in Thursday's debate. While President Obama is also against the legislation, but you may notice that PIPA's Democratic co-sponsor Patrick Leahy is still firmly for the bill.) In general, SOPA and PIPA started out with broad bipartisan support; at this point, a ProPublica interactive allows you to browse supporters and opponents. By using the "Party" filters, you'll see 39 Democratic supporters and co-sponsors still in favor of the bills, but only 21 Republicans remaining.

Some Other Stuff that You Might Want to Read

The best source I've seen for news on SOPA, PIPA, and technology law in general is Ars Technica. The Ars team has been cranking out terrific coverage day after day -- it's worth a bookmark.

Tech fund Y Combinator wants to "Kill Hollywood" by providing money to disruptive entertainment industry startups.

Tim O'Reilly (of those famous computer books with animals on the front) wrote a Google+ article in which he questions the core assertion that piracy is causing actual economic harm. Singer Jonathan Coulton chimed in on his own blog, discussing the Megaupload shutdown...which, I should remind you, has little to do with SOPA, and might actually be good evidence that we don't need laws like SOPA to shut down online pirates, even overseas ones.

Andy Baio wrote Why SOPA and PIPA Must Die, describing how his own creative career has been hampered by copyright legislation, and suggesting we don't need yet more of it.

Julian Sanchez posted a longish read on Ars Technica entitled SOPA, Internet regulation, and the economics of piracy, running the numbers on how piracy works from an economic point of view. You should read it.

Stay tuned for further developments. If you haven't read my previous articles on this topic, check out Why is Wikipedia Down? and What’s Wrong With PROTECT IP and SOPA?

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This 'Smokeless' Fire Pit Promises a More Efficient Burn
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BioLite

For thousands of years, people have gathered around open flames to cook food, find warmth, and share stories deep into the night. Campfires have been around since the dawn of humanity, but what if there was a way to use modern technology to make them even better? The people at BioLite believe they've found one.

The FirePit is the outdoor gadget startup's answer to the recreational, backyard fire. It offers the same benefits as a more conventional product: a space for building wood or charcoal fires, a removable grate for grilling, and metal screens on each side to protect onlookers from embers. But the yellow battery pack is what sets it apart from anything else on the market. With the press of a button, a fan inside the FirePit stokes a hotter, more efficient blaze without producing all of the smoke and soot people are used to.

Couple sitting by a firepit on the beach.
BioLite

"Air injection makes the fire burn more completely," Ryan Gist, one of the lead engineers on the project, told Mental Floss. "So you basically get all the energy out of your fuel." The result is a fire you can enjoy without worrying about your eyes and throat burning, moving your chair every five minutes to avoid a gust of smoke, or having your clothes stink for weeks.

It also makes for a fire capable of burning longer and brighter with less wood. Smoke is made of tiny fuel particles that haven't fully burned up. Using a fan, the FirePit can draw that runaway fuel back into the fire before it has a chance to escape. "It's like when you're stuck on the highway behind a truck and it's got black stuff coming out of the tailpipe," BioLite marketing director Erica Rosen told Mental Floss. "When you see black stuff coming out of a fire, it's the same thing. So what we've done is, we've given fire a tuneup."

FirePit's built-in fan makes the fire easy to control. If campfire gazers want to see big, roaring flames through the box's X-ray mesh, they can turn the air down low. The higher fan setting produces a smaller, more intense burn, which is perfect for chilly autumn nights. Adjusting the blaze can be done remotely with the BioLite Energy app or manually from the control panel on top of the battery pack.

People sitting by a fire.
BioLite

BioLite designed the FirePit for backyards, but its foldable legs make it convenient to carry to the beach, a campsite, or anywhere else where you might bring a cooler of the same size. Once it's cooled down after an evening of grilling hot dogs and toasting marshmallows, the pit fits neatly into its solar panel case, where it can recharge in time for the following night (the battery also features a USB plug for charging indoors).

The FirePit recently debuted on Kickstarter, where it's available along with its solar carrying case for a special deal of $169 (once the first 300 FirePits go, it will be sold for the regular price of $199). To help the campaign reach its $100,000 funding goal, you can reserve yours today with shipping estimated for May of next year.

Skewers cooking on a grill.
BioLite

All images courtesy of BioLite.

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ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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