The Null Device
A Chinese company claims to have reverse-engineered the Skype protocol, and are about to release software and/or details soon. No word on whether the specification of the protocol will be released, or just an API to an alternative proprietary tools. There are some more details here.
Hopefully this will result in the Skype protocol becoming publicly documented and opened up.
Five Americans who were injured in a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem are suing to seize ancient Persian clay tablets, on loan from Iran to Chicago University since 1939, to be sold for compensation for Iran's role:
The tablets were found in southern Iran in the 1930s by archaeologists from Chicago University. Many fear that the action will deter future loans of art to the United States, but David Strachman, the victims' lawyer, insists he is just collecting damages from Iran. He admitted he had "no idea" how much the tablets were worth.
The battle stems from an attack by three suicide bombers in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. The Iranian-backed Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility. Several Americans who were wounded in the bombing filed a suit against Iran and in 2003 a US judge awarded them $423.5 million (£246 million). Unable to make Iran pay up, five of the survivors went after Iranian art works and artefacts in the US.
Gil Stein, the director of Chicago University's Oriental Institute, said that the tablets were irreplaceable.Words fail me.
An economist at Yale is experimenting with training monkeys to use currency, with some success:
The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. The currency Chen settled on was a silver disc, one inch in diameter, with a hole in the middle -- ''kind of like Chinese money,'' he says. It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.
Then Chen introduced price shocks and wealth shocks. If, for instance, the price of Jell-O fell (two cubes instead of one per token), would the capuchin buy more Jell-O and fewer grapes? The capuchins responded rationally to tests like this -- that is, they responded the way most readers of The Times would respond. In economist-speak, the capuchins adhered to the rules of utility maximization and price theory: when the price of something falls, people tend to buy more of it.The experiments have not only shown that monkeys grasp the idea of money and basic economic principles (whilst succumbing to the same probabilistic fallacies people do), but have also demonstrated the emergence of behaviours including stealing and prostitution, entirely unprompted:
During the chaos in the monkey cage, Chen saw something out of the corner of his eye that he would later try to play down but in his heart of hearts he knew to be true. What he witnessed was probably the first observed exchange of money for sex in the history of monkeykind. (Further proof that the monkeys truly understood money: the monkey who was paid for sex immediately traded the token in for a grape.)
Nintendo have announced a microphone/headphone headset for their DS handheld game console, intended for use with games allowing voice communication between players. Though perhaps that's only the start; were Nintendo to bring out a VoIP package for the DS, it would turn the WiFi-enabled pocket game console into a reasonably useful internet phone. Given that a version of the Opera web browser is about to come out for the Nintendo DS, it's not entirely implausible to imagine Nintendo doing a similar tie-up with Skype (or perhaps Google Talk), or else bundling a standard SIP client with their handheld.
The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu goes into London's sewers with the "flushers" who work there:
There is one story that many flushers in London like to recount. It concerns a fat iceberg that had been building up below Leicester Square over the course of a whole decade. Eventually, this 150-square-foot "slug of hardened fat" grew so large that it was impassable. A gang of flushers armed with supersucker machines spent six weeks one blazing summer trying to dislodge it. By the time they finished they were reduced to using ice picks to hack away at the white mountain.
"It looks like a huge packet of lard. It shines in the dark and gives off this phenomenal transparent heat. Within ten minutes, as soon as you stick a shovel in it, you could slide through. The water comes at you like a dyke. The risks are colossal. Later, an animal food company got in touch because they wanted to buy and recirculate the fat."
An article in Prospect looks at the tradition of black humour behind the Iron Curtain:
Communism was a humour-producing machine. Its economic theories and system of repression created inherently funny situations. There were jokes under fascism and the Nazis too, but those systems did not create an absurd, laugh-a-minute reality like communism.
When Russian tanks rolled into Prague in 1968, the population fought back with wit. Every night graffiti appeared in Wenceslas Square with lines like "Soviet State Circus back in town! New attractions!" and "Soviet School for Special Needs Children—End-of-Term Outing." People cracked jokes: Why is Czechoslovakia the most neutral country in the world? Because it doesn't even interfere in its own internal affairs. And: Are the Russians our brothers or our friends? Our brothers—we can choose our friends. "We showed our intellectual superiority," one former dissident told me proudly.
Jokes under communism were shaped by the cultures that produced them, as they are anywhere else. For the Czechs, a sense of humour encapsulated a type of national resilience. East German jokes, meanwhile, tended to be touchingly self-deprecating. And yet there was a pan-communist umbrella of comedy that stood above national distinctions, just as the international socialist project itself did. What ultimately defined the genre was less the purpose it served than its style. The communist joke was by nature deadpan and absurdist—because it was born of an absurd system which created a yawning gap between everyday experience and propaganda. Yet sometimes, through jokes, both communists and their opponents could carry on a debate about the failings of communism.
(via Boing Boing)