The Null Device


In 1951, residents of a small French village named Pont-Saint-Esprit were struck by a wave of violent hallucinations. At least five people died, and dozens ended up in mental asylums. The hallucinations were believed to have been caused by bread contaminated with ergot (such incidents had occurred from time to time throughout history, and in the Middle Ages, were known as "Saint Anthony's fire"); but newly revealed information suggests that the hallucinations were the product of a CIA experiment into the use of LSD as a weapon:

One man tried to drown himself, screaming that his belly was being eaten by snakes. An 11-year-old tried to strangle his grandmother. Another man shouted: "I am a plane", before jumping out of a second-floor window, breaking his legs. He then got up and carried on for 50 yards. Another saw his heart escaping through his feet and begged a doctor to put it back. Many were taken to the local asylum in strait jackets.
Mr Albarelli said the real "smoking gun" was a White House document sent to members of the Rockefeller Commission formed in 1975 to investigate CIA abuses. It contained the names of a number of French nationals who had been secretly employed by the CIA and made direct reference to the "Pont St. Esprit incident." In its quest to research LSD as an offensive weapon, Mr Albarelli claims, the US army also drugged over 5,700 unwitting American servicemen between 1953 and 1965.

(via Boing Boing) bizarre cia conspiracy theories drugs lsd mind control 1

One of the problems with the iPhone is the lack of multitasking, or rather of non-system multitasking. Various officially blessed built-in applications (such as the phone call process, the built-in music player and the App Store downloader) can run in the background, but the system strictly enforces a ban on anything else from doing so. Which helps keep the iPhone (a small device with limited memory and battery life) from being bogged down under ill-behaved background processes, saves the user from having to contend with task managers and also reduces the risks of malware attacks, but at a cost; while an iPhone makes an eminently usable (mostly) single-task appliance, it falls down at tasks you'd want to run in the background. You can use it to listen to or SoundCloud or make Skype calls, but not whilst doing anything else. (And yes, I know you can jailbreak your iPhone and make it multitask to your heart's content, but that doesn't count.) Apple is a jealous god.

That wasn't as big a problem when the iPhone was the only phone of its class, but now, Android and WebOS have shown up, flaunting post-iPhone touch interfaces and being able to play your Spotify stream while you browse the web, and even hoary old dinosaurs like Nokia's Symbian are being brushed up and advertised as being able to multitask. Sure, a badly-written app there could drain your battery in no time, but that's beside the point; if multitasking works well enough (i.e., doesn't fail catastrophically often), Apple's system will look decidedly dated and overly conservative, and whatever Steve Jobs' aesthetic sensibilities say about it, Apple will have to put it in or risk becoming an also-ran. And, being subject to Steve Jobs' perfectionism, Apple's solution will have to not only bring in multitasking but do it without the compromises other systems have.

However, there is a rumour that the next version of the iPhone OS will do just that; i.e., will allow third-party developers to write processes that run in the background in some well-behaved way whilst managing to avoid the pitfalls of declaring a free-for-all.

I'm curious as to how they'll do it (assuming that the rumour is true, of course). My guess is that they'll focus on use cases such as processes needing to run a carefully constrained background thread, and communicate with it from the single-tasking UI process, and allow them to do this. Perhaps it'll use Apple's Blocks extension to C, and possibly a lightweight scheduling technology related to OSX's Grand Central Dispatch. That way, a background music player will be able to fetch and play audio until it is stopped or diverted by the UI (which can come and go).

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