The Null Device

2004/2/23

Now this takes balls: Oxford engineering student Matthew Richardson was approached to deliver some lectures on economics in China (possibly on account of his having the same name as a US professor of economics); so he bought an A-level textbook, crammed it on the flight there, and blagged it. Until he ran out of material, and did a runner.

The real Prof Matthew Richardson, speaking from the business school at New York University where he is a lecturer in finance, said: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it seems as if this young man will go far. I do not know if the Chinese students were expecting me. I feel sorry for them if they feel let down, but there was no real harm done."

(via 1.0)

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The Observer speaks to computer virus writers. According to this article, most of them are European teenagers, and the guys-without-girlfriends stereotype isn't strictly accurate; more to the point, most of them (if they are to be believed) write viruses just for the technical challenge and don't actually release them. (Though they do show them off, and consequently script kiddies and miscellaneous impulsive psychopaths do end up releasing them.)

The people who release the viruses are often anonymous mischief-makers, or 'script kiddies'. That's a derisive term for aspiring young hackers, usually teenagers or students, who don't yet have the skill to program computers but like to pretend they do. They download the viruses, claim to have written them themselves and then set them free in an attempt to assume the role of a fearsome digital menace. Script kiddies often have only a dim idea of how the code works and little concern for how a digital plague can rage out of control. Our modern virus epidemic is thus born of a symbiotic relationship between the people smart enough to write a virus and the people dumb enough - or malicious enough - to spread it.

In related news: German magazine c't apparently has evidence that virus writers are selling 0wned machines to spammers. In this case, "virus writers" probably means "hoodlums who hang around virus writers' forums".

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Journal of a Schizophrenic, a lucid first-person account of one person experiencing (and later playing pool with) a "voice" in his head and having delusions of persecution at work.

Me: Jesus H. Christ, I need to see a shrink.
It: That's not necessary. We could play some pool, and talk. Not out loud, please.
Me: .... Are you really there? Prove it - tell me something I don't know.
It: That's not how it works. We share the same physical body, we have the same hippocampus, the same brain; the same memories. We think differently, act differently.
Me: Then how can we play a game of pool?
It: It will be very difficult. Set up the table, take a shot, and then step back. I promise that I will step back after the game.
Me: No way. This is insane.
Sometimes, I confess, I do miss the voice. I suppose it's difficult to have a more meaningful metaphysical conversation than with someone in your own head. And true: I don't have very many friends; I spend very little time with my family; I've never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend. But the thing is, I wouldn't have it any other way. I live in my books, through my writing, and because of my ideas. While I am often alone, I am very rarely lonely.

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It's the end of an era for a fine American institution. Eddie Clontz, the editor/ringmaster of the Weekly World News (which is sort of like The Onion for people who never went to college or something), has died:

His own politics were mysterious. Under the pseudonym "Ed Anger", he wrote a News column so vitriolically right-wing that it possibly came from the left. Anger hated foreigners, yoga, whales, speed limits and pineapple on pizza; he liked flogging, electrocutions and beer. No, Mr Clontz would say, he had no idea who Anger really was. But he was "about as close to him as any human being".
Mr Clontz also always denied that his staff made the stories up. It was subtler than that. Many tips came from "freelance correspondents" who called in; their stories were "checked", but never past the point where they might disintegrate. ("We don't know whether stories are true," said Mr Clontz, "and we really don't care.") The staff also read dozens of respectable newspapers and magazines, antennae alert for the daft and the bizarre. When a nugget was found, Mr Clontz would order them to run away with it, urging them to greater imaginative heights by squirting them with a giant water-pistol.
The result of this was that many readers appeared to believe Mr Clontz's stories. Letters poured in, especially from the conservative and rural parts of the country where Ed Anger's columns struck a chord. If a sensible man like Anger kept company with aliens and 20-pound cucumbers, perhaps those stories too were true. When the News reported the discovery of a hive of baby ghosts, more than a thousand readers wrote in to adopt one. But the saddest tale was of the soldier who wrote, in all seriousness, offering marriage to the two-headed woman.

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Life imitates Virulent Memes: a US TV network is making "Black Eye For The White Guy" (actual title: "Make Me Cool").

Now the next step would be to merge that with American Idol, resulting in a reality-TV show based around the boy-band manufacturing process; find several groups' worth of handsome, moderately musically talented white boys, have some brothers teach them how to act "real" and "from the streets" (i.e., play up Afro-American stereotypes that the consumers will eat up, especially on pretty white boys), and then play them off against each other, with the winners getting indentured servitude to a recording company. For bonus points, take the show overseas, and make it into a search for the most stereotypically "Afro-American" white boys in the non-English-speaking world. Gospel-tinged R&B boy bands from Russia and west-coast-gangsta-rap bands from Belgium, here we come.

It'd be a good idea for near-future fiction, except that it stands a middling-to-good chance of becoming reality before any story would have a chance of being published.

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A secret Pentagon report (suppressed by the oilmen in the Whitehouse) reveals that climate change will destroy us within 20 years. The forecast is for mass flooding in Europe, Siberian climates in Britain, and global outbreaks of nuclear warfare as the wretched remnants of humanity fight it out over the world's dwindling food and water supplies; the threat, which the Whitehouse publicly denies exists, is said to eclipse that of terrorism.

Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.

The skeptic in me, though, notes that they have been saying similar things since the time of Malthus, and that (as Steven Pinker pointed out) the imminent extinction of humanity appears to be a constant perceptual illusion resulting from a tendency to underestimate technological progress. Perhaps that's the case with this report as well, and we'll all survive in shantytowns in the Alps, living off vat-grown genetically-modified algae and/or Soylent Green. Or maybe this time, it's for real, and we're all, not to put too fine a point on it, fucked.

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A few recent photographs of an old office building in St. Georges Rd, North Fitzroy, that's being demolished to make room for designer lifestyle apartments:

In contrast, here is the same building as it was in June of last year:

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