The Null Device


And more on unintended consequences: in the US state of Vermont, the decals on police cars are manufactured by prison labour. Now, it turns out, one creatively-inclined inmate has made a subtle, and unilateral, improvement to the state crest on the logo, by inserting the silhouette of a pig (hidden as a spot in the cow on the state logo):

"This is not as offensive as it would have been years ago. We can see the humor," Flynn said. He said the artist has talents that could be used elsewhere. "If that person had used some of that creativeness he or she would not have ended up inside."

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In the 1930s, an African wild grass known as gamba grass was introduced to Australia as food for livestock, its attraction being that it grew quickly in the less than ideal Australian climate. Unfortunately, it was a little too good for its new environment, and started spreading rapidly, displacing native grasses, and growing too large for kangaroos or cattle to keep under control. Oh, and it also burned far more intensely than the native grasses. Now one ecologist has proposed a solution: introduce elephants and rhinoceri into Australia to keep it under control.

Australia, geographically isolated from much of the rest of the world's ecosystems, prides itself on its extremely stringent quarantine regime, as anybody who has ever taken anything made of wood or straw through an Australian airport will know, so the idea of introducing any new species (especially elephants) is bound to be controversial, to say the least. Professor David Bowman (the proponent of the scheme, not the astronaut in 2001) says that the elephants and rhinos wouldn't be allowed to roam freely and reproduce, but would serve as a carefully monitored "machine" for pruning the grass, with each being tracked with a GPS transmitter and otherwise meticulously accounted for. Other scientists, however, are sceptical about whether elephants are necessary or whether introducing them, even in a tightly controlled fashion, wouldn't lead to more unintended consequences.

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