The newspapers couldn't figure out skateboards

Ratter offers a brief history of skateboards made of reactions to their ever-increasing popularity from contemporary newspapers.

Here's the most stupid/brilliant, from The Evening Independent in Masillon, Ohio, in 1975.

"About a decade ago, someone nailed roller skates to a plank, called it a skateboard and made a fortune from the Hula Hoop-rivaling craze that resulted."
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The Rat King: On the Fascinations (and Revulsions) of Rattus

In what he calls "an Experiment in Controlled Digression," Mark Dery touches on xenogastronomy, ortolan, Edible Dormouse, Victor Hugo's fondness for rat pâté, rat-baiting as a betting sport in Victorian times, the rat as New York's unofficial mascot, Luis Buñuel's pet rat, scientific research into such pressing questions as whether rats laugh, and whether rats will inherit the Earth as a result of climate change, Dracula's dominion over rats, and of course the (cryptozoological myth? well-documented phenomenon?) of the Rat King.

Spyware increasingly a part of domestic violence

Australian Simon Gittany murdered his girlfriend, Lisa Harnum, after an abusive relationship that involved his surveillance of her electronic communications using off-the-shelf spyware marketed for purposes ranging from keeping your kids safe to spotting dishonest employees. As Rachel Olding writes in The Age, surveillance technology is increasingly a factor in domestic violence, offering abusive partners new, thoroughgoing ways of invading their spouses' privacy and controlling them.

The spyware industry relies upon computers -- laptops, mobile devices, and soon, cars and TVs and thermostats -- being insecure. In this, it has the same goals as the NSA and GCHQ, whose BULLRUN/EDGEHILL program sought to weaken the security of widely used operating systems, algorithms and programs. Every weakness created at taxpayer expense was a weakness that spyware vendors could exploit for their products.

Likewise, the entertainment industry wants devices that are capable of running code that users can't terminate or inspect, so that they can stop you from killing the programs that stop you from saving Netflix streams, running unapproved apps, or hooking unapproved devices to your cable box.

And Ratters, the creeps who hijack peoples' webcams in order to spy on them and blackmail them into sexual performances, also want computers that can run code that users can't stop. And so do identity thieves, who want to run keyloggers on your computer to get your banking passwords. And so do cops, who want new powers to insert malware into criminals' computers.

There are a lot of ways to slice the political spectrum -- left/right, authoritarian/anti-authoritarian, centralist/decentralist. Read the rest

Inside the awful world of RATters - the men who spy on people through their computers with "remote administration tools"

Nate Anderson's long Ars Technica piece on RATters -- men who use "Remote Administration Tools" to spy on others, mostly women, via their laptop cameras, and to plunder their computers for files and passwords -- is a must-read. Anderson lays out the way that online communities like Hack Forums provide expertise, tools, and, most importantly, validation for the men who participate in this "game." Anderson explains the power of software like DarkComet, which allows for near-total control of compromised computers (everything from opening the CD trays to disabling the Start menu in Windows); the dehumanizing language used by Ratters (they call their victims "slaves"); and the way that these tools have found their way into the arsenals of totalitarian governments, like the Assad regime in Syria, which used these tools to spy on rebels.

For many ratters, though, the spying remains little more than a game. It might be an odd hobby, but it's apparently no big deal to invade someone's machine, rifle through the personal files, and watch them silently from behind their own screens. "Most of my slaves are boring," wrote one aspiring ratter. "Wish I could get some more girls with webcams. It makes it more exciting when you can literally spy on someone. Even if they aren't getting undressed!"

One poster said he had already archived 200GB of webcam material from his slaves. "Mostly I pick up the best bits (funny parts, the 'good' [sexual] stuff) and categorize them (name, address, passwords etc.), just for funsake," he wrote.

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Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon

“It’s still flying?” This is a question I and many of my fellow space enthusiasts have been hearing a lot lately. As the space shuttle program comes to an end, public excitement around space travel seems to be rekindled. Attention sparked up again as people heard that Space Shuttle Atlantis was preparing to launch for the last time, marking the end of the space shuttle program. But for one young person, that interest had never faded, and witnessing the shuttle's final flight became an imperative, a very personal hope and dream. That person was me.

A veritable smorgasbord of short links

Steve Jobs offers a $100 store credit consolation prize to early iPhone adopters who got boned by yesterday's $200 price cut announcement: Link. Here's some iRage from angry customers on the Apple boards: Link.

(image above) -- Tech/fashion designer Angel Chang recently presented a new collection inspired by a visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. Snip from Style.com: "One of Chang's most delightful innovations for Spring is a Manhattan map print that she developed in conjunction with Red Maps (they also did the show invite), which publishes guides for the design-centric crowd. The heat-sensitive print only becomes legible when exposed to warmth–from the touch of a hand, say. One thing to keep in mind: Chang's newfangled, lo-fi take on the GPS pretty much eliminates the 'I got lost' excuse for tardiness."

Meerkats prefer Canon SLRs: Link

War Comes Home: "hidden costs on the US, as told by veterans who have served." Link.

Glamour magazine has photoshopped "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera into the size zero for their latest cover: Link.

The Rape of the Real Doll: ultrarealistic sex dolls and the people who use them (and sometimes have relationships with them, or simulate rape with them, or -- eh, just read the article). Link, see also this previous Boing Boing post: When Amber Met Amber.

Yahoo Finance launches an ajaxy "sentiment scraper" to sniff out and display the "bullish/bearish" vibe of a given online discussion, which can then be compared to actual stock value. Read the rest

Prescription stimulants on campus

In yesterday's Washington Post, Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution, writes about the popularity of drugs like Adderall and Provigil to increase focus and wakefulness during academically stressful times. From the article:
"I'm a varsity athlete in crew," says Katharine Malone, a George Washington University junior. "So we're pretty careful about what we put in our bodies. So among my personal friends, I'd say the use is only like 50 or 60 percent..." For a senior project this semester, Christopher Salantrie conducted a random survey of 150 University of Delaware students at the university's Morris Library and Trabant Student Center. "With rising competition for admissions and classes becoming harder and harder by the day, a hypothesis was made that at least half of students at the university have at one point used/experienced such 'smart drugs,' " Salantrie writes in his report. He found his hunch easy to confirm. "What was a surprise, though, was the alarming rate of senior business majors who have used" the drugs, he writes. Almost 90 percent reported at least occasional use of "smart pills" at crunch times such as final exams, including Adderall, Ritalin, Strattera and others. Of those, three-quarters did not have a legitimate prescription, obtaining the pills from friends."
Link (Thanks, Jason Tester!) Read the rest

Katrina approaches New Orleans, US Gulf Coast

Big shout-out to all of our friends and readers in the path of Hurricane Katrina today, including often-BB-cited bloggers Susannah Breslin and Jonno of New Orleans (update: we've since learned that both are safe).

We hope you're all out of harm's way whenever you read this.

Here's a partial list of NOLA-based blogs: Link.

The New Orleans metblog is full of first-hand reports, including this evacuation account from contributor Craig Giesecke:

Not much traffic on the way out, as early as it was, and pretty much smooth sailing all the way to Florida. Part of me felt glad to be leaving, but another part felt like a quitter on my city and yet a third part was missing the action. (...)

We're determined to make this as much a vacation as we can, despite the budget limtations. I used to live in this part of the world, so I know the free stuff and the places to go. But they're also recovering from Dennis back in early July. We have no idea what we'll be going back to and, if predictions hold, my business location will be ruined. But y'know -- it's only stuff.

For now, we've got plenty of rum, some money, a pickup truck, a motel room with a pool, a box of Wheat Thins and a cooler half-full of smoked cheese. Life could be a hell of a lot worse.

Another local blog to check for updates: Jon Donley of NOLA.com has been posting from his "Hurricane Bunker" on the third floor of the Times-Picayune building. Read the rest

Prattern Recognition dissected

Joe Clark has started a project to dissect William Gibson's new novel, "Pattern Recognition," one chapter at a time. Link Discuss Read the rest