Cranky Geeks.

Dylan Tweney on Cranky GeeksI’m on the latest episode of John C. Dvorak’s video show, Cranky Geeks, this week. This was a fun one: The guests were former Ziffians Annaliza Savage and myself, both of whom are now working at, and we had a lively, pugnacious conversation with Dvorak about filesharing, China blocking YouTube, botnets, and the war. And I managed to piss out not only Dvorak but also a whole bunch of viewers with my suggestion that the RIAA’s proposed P2P surcharge might actually be a good idea. Check it out!

Cool Tool: Topeak Mini 6

This incredibly compact, bike-oriented multi-tool has five different sizes of Allen wrench plus a Phillips screwdriver head, all of which folds up into a little pod about the size of a walnut. Sometimes I’ll carry it in my pocket or toss it in shoulder bag; mostly I keep it in the under-seat pouch of my bike. It really comes in handy for quick adjustments: raising the seat height, tightening the rear view mirror, adding and removing accessories, etc. Because it’s so small it doesn’t give enough leverage for really tight nuts (you can’t remove a handlebar stem with it), but by extending the tools on the opposite side of the one you’re using you can get a handle that’s effectively 2.5 inches long, which is enough for small jobs. It also works well as a keychain fob, though at 58g it’s slightly on the heavy side.– Dylan Tweney

Link: Cool Tool: Topeak Mini 6

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Organized Chaos Reigns at Bil, the Alterna-TED

The annual TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Monterey, Calif. is a terrific, mind-expanding experience for all who attend. Or so I’ve heard: The $6,000 price tag has, so far, kept it well out of my reach. That’s why I checked out the Bil Conference, also in Monterey, a free, two-day, open-ended un-conference whose organizers cast it as a kind of complement to TED.

At Bil, as at other un-conferences, the agenda was set by whoever shows up. If you wanted to present on any topic, you just added your name to the wiki and to the whiteboard, then got on stage at the scheduled time. With that kind of event, everything depends on who shows up, and it seemed clear that the Bil crowd was an interesting, talented, passionate group of people with a keen interest in applying scientific and technological ideas to areas as diverse as transportation, security, art, body modification, life extension, and computer programming.

I organized two small sideshows. One was a half-hour of experimentation with kids, where we made two kinds of slime from recipes in Mark Frauenfelder’s excellent book, The Mad Professor: Concoct Extremely Weird Science Projects. The other was a twenty-minute discussion about open source journalism, in which I talked about some of the crowdsourcing experiments we have been doing at in the past year. I also collected some interesting suggestions about what we could be doing (finding ways to encourage editors on our How-To Wiki, playing with new data visualization tools) and what kinds of tasks crowdsourcing is best suited to (sifting through large data sets, generating original content from people’s personal experiences and/or creativity).

Unfortunately I didn’t get to attend many other sessions, due to my family schedule. (Other than the kids’ experimentation session I organized, Bil was not especially kid-friendly.) The ones I did hear were terrific, including a great presentation on educating gifted children by KV Fitzpatrick, a presentation on how to be a successful heretic by anti-ageing researcher Aubrey de Grey, and an interesting discussion of business lessons you can learn from social insects by Mark Fitzsimmons.

For a fuller report on Bil, stay tuned — we’ll have an article by freelance writer Quinn Norton up later today.

Link: Organized Chaos Reigns at Bil, the Alterna-TED

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