The Null Device


Two Dutch designers are taking on the growing menace of muggers with handbags embossed with outlines of guns; they also have ones with the shapes of knives and crucifixes (the last are presumably for use against vampires), not to mention laptop bags embossed with groceries to make them look less stealable. (Not sure how well that works; the outlines in the photos look a bit too cartoonish and unrealistic. I imagine that simple non-rectangular lumpiness, of the "I'm carrying lots of soft, non-valuable things", would probably be more effective in practice.) (via bOING bOING)

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An interesting article titled The Rise of American Fascism. No, it's not about the PATRIOT Act and FOXNews, but starts over 100 years ago with the introduction of the Pledge of Allegiance, and goes on to the massive popularity of the Ku Klux Klan (who, back then, were mainstream in the way that Bill O'Reilly is), the epidemics of lynchings, the eugenics movement, internment camps, various Red Scares, the influence of the likes of Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, multinational corporations having a bob each way during WW2: (via gimbo)

Ford had developed a "Sociological Department" for his company, the goal of which was to "put a soul into the company." Ford told the head of the department that he wanted him to, "put Jesus Christ in my factory." In order to qualify for the $5 a day wage that Ford was offering a worker had to submit to corporate surveillance of his lifestyle by the Sociological Department. Employees were subject to home inspections, had to prove they were sober, prove they regularly saved a portion of their paycheck, and prove that they were not "living riotously," which included activities such as gambling or staying out late.
The article puts the 1950s as the time when "America would truly became a fascist country in both the economic and social sense":

This last change to the pledge is very symbolic of the finalization of the fascist state in America. During the 1950s, as happened in Italy and Germany, the barriers between Church, State, and Corporation had all been broken.

In 1956 Congress changed the national motto from "E Pluribus Unum" to "In God We Trust", and "So help me God" was added to federal oaths (despite the fact that the Christian Bible clearly states not to swear on God or any other person, place, or thing when taking an oath. Matthew 5:33-37, James 5:12).

All of this is exactly the same type of thing that took place in Fascist Europe, and just as in Europe these were changes that were not forced upon people by the State, but they were in fact supported by the people out of the increasingly conservative social climate.

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Libyan president-for-life Muamar Gadaffi seems to have taken a leaf out of Fidel Castro's public-relations book; Libya is now hosting tours by indie rock bands; Gadaffi's answer to the Manic Street Preachers is Californian four-piece Heavenly States (who are known for "Bush-baiting" pop-punk with distorted violins, but also for sharing a split single with Coldplay (a band sometimes touted as "like Radiohead before they went weird" but best known for making bland music for thirtysomething ex-indie types to play in their Land Rovers whilst taking the kids to school)).

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IBM have turned over 500 software patents to the open-source community. IBM will continue to hold the patents, though have pledged not to assert them against software distributed under an OSI-approved open-source licence. (It's legally binding, too, so there's no possibility of a change of guard at IBM reneging on it.) They have, however, reserved the right to assert them against anyone suing open-source projects for patent infringement; i.e., those who don't get with the programme may find themselves out on a limb.

"The 500 patents include U.S. Patent number 5,185,861, registered in 1993, which covers technology that helps microprocessors use their memory caches efficiently; and U.S. patent number 5,617,568, registered in 1997, for allowing non-Windows based systems to act as file servers for Windows-based clients, according to IBM Asia Pacific spokeswoman June Namioka. Other examples include patents related to handwriting recognition, she said."
"There's little argument that over the past dozen years, the world has come to view things differently: free software is one aspect of this; globalization of trade is another; both have been profoundly influenced by access to the Internet and the Web, and the easy access to information they provide. Knowledge is, indeed, power. As the models change, people who are stuck in the older mode, like Gates . . . look increasingly like Pope Urban VIII and rms looks more like Galileo: despite 'common knowledge' the world was moving. IBM's freeing-up of patents is another step toward proliferating knowledge."
Which is a good start; perhaps a neo-Galambosian world where all concepts are privatised and monetised isn't inevitable after all. Mind you, we're not out of the woods yet. The existence of software patents (in the US and Australia, at least; the EU has so far managed to escape this fate) still creates a minefield which threatens to take down anyone without an extensive patent portfolio of their own, cross-licensing agreements and a hefty legal department, and threatens to establish an oligopoly on software development and invention. Though, hopefully, the establishment of a "patent commons" of valuable patents, free to use for open-source projects but defensively assertable against those threatening such development, may act as a deterrent.

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A new bill in the US state of Virginia's legislature will require women to report miscarriages to the police within 12 hours, or else face up to 12 months in prison.

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The MacWorld Expo keynote is out, and the rumours look like being all true. There's the Mac Mini, a tiny white rectangular no-frills Macintosh for PC (which looks like a squat, non-transparent Mac Cube, and ships without keyboard or mouse), which will sell for US$500 (which will probably be A$800 or so in Australia, and £300 or so in the UK) and is aimed at PC users seduced by the iPod. Speaking of which, there's also the iPod Shuffle, an innovative 512Mb/1Gb iPod smaller than a stick of gum. In other words, just another MP3-playing flash drive, only in white, except that the latest iTunes will auto-fill it with a random selection of tunes. (I would imagine this iTunes functionality is disabled for cheaper, non-Apple USB MP3 players.) Not to mention a new office suite and a new version of iLife.

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bOING bOING has uncovered, entirely by accident, an online guestbook, apparently in the demo section of a guestbook software site, which ended up being used as an appointment diary by a Florida brothel/escort agency.

We have two new girls: Mercedes and Rose. Please put a wheelchair next to Rose (meaning don't book her) until we get proof of age from her. Of course, if anyone needs "Clarity" forms, they can get them at the pickup sp
Other than the wacky hijinks that go on in the course of running such an establishment, it contains details such as workers' real names and clients' phone numbers; either "Anne-Marie" (the operator of the brothel; real name: "Frank") was oblivious to the privacy implications of using a free online guestbook test page for storing confidential information, or he just didn't care.

On a tangent, The Age has the poignant story of one man's career as a (gay) phone-sex worker:

One call that really tugged at my heartstrings was someone who called from the country. He had just lost his boyfriend in a car crash and said he was feeling very lonely. The worst part of it was that, because he was from a small town where "you'd get the crap beaten out of you if they found out you were gay", he had no one he could talk to. So he called me. I didn't know what to say. What's a sex phone operator supposed to say in these circumstances? My 20-minute coffee with the boss certainly didn't include a crash course in grief counselling. All I could suggest was that he get out of town every now and again.

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