The Null Device


Almost a decade ago, they brought us the year September never ended; now AOL are adding blogging to their homepage services. Prepare to see an influx of dittohead blogs and britneyblogs. Within a year or two, the typical level of commentary may well look like "u r a doody-head!!1" (via The Fix)

Maybe WebTV should follow suit and set up a blogging service, with automatic syndication from CNN and FOXNews, and menus of pre-prepared "witty comments"?

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Idea to ponder: believing in conspiracy theories as explanations of events is similar to believing in a god or gods. Both are products of the human tendency to ascribe intelligent design and planning to patterns and complex phenomena, an instinctive bias part of the human psychological makeup.

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Just the thing to wear for when Osama comes to take out the mall: Mickey Mouse gas masks. Originally designed for children during World War 2, perhaps we can expect them to return to shops in a few terrorist alerts' time. Though perhaps this day we'd be more likely to see Hello Kitty or Jar-Jar Binks gas masks. (via bOING bOING)

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I went to the anti-war rally this afternoon. It was pretty big; Swanston St. was packed solid from Flinders St. to past the State Library. The range of people were fairly diverse: everyone from church-going grannies to schoolkids to trade unionists to punks and ferals to private-school girls wearing Socialist Party badges to fringe conspiracy theorists.

(Speaking of the latter, I ran into a member of a certain local band there; he had a rather novel theory on 9/11; he thinks there's no way that one could learn to turn a 747 in a sufficiently tight circle to aim it into a skyscraper with anything less than 20 years of experience, and thus that the Bush cabal must have organised the WTC attacks, recruiting veteran pilots to the cause. I, myself, have some doubts about this (firstly, simulators would make learning to fly a plane a bit easier, and secondly, the logistics of organising such a conspiracy, well ahead of time, and keeping it secret would be a bit implausible).)

(I also ran into a guy in a "#!/bin/bash" T-shirt, who turned out to be a Linux/BSD-based experimental musician. I heard a rather intriguing rumour from him: apparently Steinberg have a proof-of-concept port of Cubase SX to Linux, which they're beta testing. Though it isn't clear whether they'll actually release it, because of driver issues and such.)

Anyway, back to the rally. Some of the more memorable slogans: "Make Lego Not War", "Frodo has failed, Bush has the ring", "sub-sonic sonar is a weapon of mass destruction". And it seems that the Che Guevara icon (as seen on consumer products) has been largely replaced by the Palestinian flag as a symbol of Liberation/Resistance/the Oppressed/&c. I wonder how long it has until trendies appropriate it as a radical-chic fashion symbol.

Oh, and the speakers. They kept things fairly middle-of-the-road; no calls to smash capitalism or apologetics for Saddam Hussein or anything. Though Buffy Stott-Despoja came across as somewhat of a lowest-common-denominator populist.


Happy Hallmark Day: Mobile phone operators in the UK are bracing for a bumper crop of SMS messages this Valentine's Day, as people send flirtatious text messages to each other. I wonder if they'll take a hint from the floral industry and jack the price of SMS messages up on Feb. 14? (Remember, if you express your love on any other day of the year, it doesn't count.)

Yet all this consumerism, patriotic as it may be, is not without cost: A survey has found that the effort people put into sending amorous text messages, buying cards, arranging romantic dinners with a loved one and seeking out gifts is estimated to cost British business more than £92m. Which is an outrageous toll on productivity. Perhaps we need a levy on Valentine's Day price hikes to make up for lost profits and productivity?

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From his recent book of essays A Devil's Chaplain, Richard Dawkins on genetic engineering, and why (some) public opposition is more based on superstition than fact:

What, then, of the widespread gut hostility, amounting to revulsion, against all such "transgenic" imports? This is based on the misconception that it is somehow "unnatural" to splice a fish gene, which was only ever "meant" to work in a fish, into the alien environment of a tomato cell. Surely an antifreeze gene from a fish must come with a fishy "flavour". Surely some of its fishiness must rub off. Yet nobody thinks that a square-root subroutine carries a "financial flavour" with it when you paste it into a rocket guidance system.

Which suggests that people intuitively understand biology in terms of Aristotelian essences; i.e., a fish is a fish because it has the quality of fishness, and there's a strong gut feeling that natural organisms aren't merely the sum of their DNA, but are natural because they carry Mother Gaia's blessing in their essence or something like that, and You Can't Tamper With Nature. Which is interesting as a study in psychology (much as "naïve physics" is), but when it comes to policy-making, it comes down to legislation-by-disgust, which is never a good thing.

(An insight: the difference between "natural" and "artificial" is whether someone knows or once knew how it was made.)

Dawkins, of course, doesn't dismiss all concern about genetic engineering; any sane scientist would agree that there needs to be sufficient testing for unintended effects. However, that's a far cry from the burn-down-the-laboratories attitude of some of the more ludditic doomsayers; which, Dawkins argues, given the popularity of such views in the Green movement, could hurt the Greens' credibility on other issues.

And as heated as opposition to genetic engineering is, it could be a storm in a teacup compared to the upcoming row over nanotechnology.

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Life imitates Reefer Madness: Man goes on psychotic rampage after smoking 100 bongs a day. It is believed that the staggeringly huge quantities of primo-grade ganja consumed by the man led to a violent psychosis. So remember kids: don't smoke marijuana; it'll make you go mad and kill people.

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The scarily left-wing regime in Venezuela is tipped as a hot candidate for next target in the War On Terrorism after Iraq is knocked over; and now we have a convenient pretext: Venezuelan national arrested at Gatwick with grenade. Clearly this shows that we must now crack down on Venezuelan terrorism just like we did on Chilean terrorism in 1972.

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The results of the 2001 UK Census are in; use of Gaelic is in decline (though the decline is slowing), but Welsh is experiencing a resurgence (thanks to people like Jim). Meanwhile, Britain has 390,000 Jedi; 2.6% of yoof party centre Brighton and Hove reports its religion as Jedi, and university towns and the bohemian parts of south London also report high concentrations.

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