The Null Device


Ah yes, Rockbox 2.1 is out now, with a raft of new enhancements, including loadable plugins, a calendar application, a swag of new games, and a Chip 8 emulator. (I believe Chip 8 was some very primitive hobbyist home computer of the 1980s, and allowed the sufficiently masochistic to program games in machine code or something like it. It's not quite a Commodore 64 emulator on your MP3 player, but it's something.)

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A heartwarming look at the reconstruction of Iraq's shattered schools, being carried out by military contractor Bechtel, as a PR humanitarian exercise:

Most of the cheap plastic cisterns are already broken. Even a broken banister that resulted in one child falling one floor down - was not considered to be part of Bechtel's renovation plan. So the director ordered to weld it again, paying the work out of his own pocket. The work on the school, according to Abdel-Razzaq, was completed without a single person from the Bechtel corporation appraising the work. "Why do we need Bechtel? They have done absolutely nothing," he said.
"The first time they came here, they went from classroom to classroom with guns dangling over their shoulders, asking the terrified children whom they loved more, Saddam Hussein or George Bush."

(via MeFi)

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A while ago, various atheists, secularists, scientific rationalists and freethinkers started calling themselves "Brights", to differentiate themselves from the benighted wretches still living in a mediæval world-view governed by invisible spirits. The Bright movement has attracted prominent figures such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett; however, that doesn't make it any less silly:

The problem with the word bright is that it is too easily seen as confirming this link between atheism and intellectuality. Or to put this more precisely, if people with no belief in god begin to self-identify as brights, they run the risk of apparently confirming what many religious people already suspect about them, that they consider themselves to be better or more intelligent than people who believe in a god.

My view exactly; to the uninitiated observer (whose hearts and minds the movement is ostensibly trying to win) saying "I am a Bright" would look a bit too close to waving one's MENSA card in their face. Never mind that that's not the intended purpose; the perception is what counts. Which makes it looks like the Bright movement is the product of the classic wonks with plenty of abstract intelligence, a good deal of pride in it, but not enough basic social nous to avoid rubbing people the wrong way; not exactly the people you'd want doing your PR.

But that's not the only possible flaw with the "Bright" movement; the belief that people who don't believe in the supernatural are immune to dogmatic beliefs is a fallacy, as anybody who has ever spoken to a Marxist or an Objectivist (and there's another sect claiming to be guardians of "rationality") will know.

Which thoughts lead on to the second point about the kind of movement the brights idea is likely to foster. It is certainly going to contain some odd bedfellows. Scientific atheists and Marxist atheists will be united in thinking that there is definitely no god, but they'll fight like cats and dogs over the fate of the bourgeoisie. The agnostics will irritate both groups by sitting on the fence, whilst freethinkers drive themselves crazy trying to find a viewpoint unique to themselves. The skeptics will watch the whole thing from afar with slightly cynical smiles, and the postmodernists will talk past themselves, as per usual. As for the rest of the world? They wont see past the name. And laughter and parody will be the result. Therefore, one can only hope that the bright meme fails on its evolutionary journey.

And then there will be the inevitable "What Kind Of Bright Are You" test all over the blogosphere and LiveJournals everywhere. (via Stumblings)

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A wanted on-line auction con artist has tried auctioning a dinner date with herself, at a "mystery location", in which she would spill the beans on her scams. Elisabeth Von Hullessem (probably a pseudonym) has been responsible for a number of scams, including organising fraudulent "writers' conferences" and running over her mother in a car, and has written books about her career in crime. Bidding started at $10,000, before the auction was withdrawn. (via TechDirt)

(Another business idea for you, Lev?)

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