Odd Files

Spidey Sense Gets Real


Among the breakthroughs demonstrated by the computer chip company Intel’s RealSense system is a cocktail dress from Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht that not only senses the wearer’s “mood,” but also acts to repel (or encourage) strangers who might approach the wearer. Sensors (including small LED monitors) measure respiration and 11 other profiles, and if the wearer is “stressed,” artistic spider-leg epaulets extend menacingly from the shoulder to suggest that “intruders” keep their distance (in which case the dress resembles something from the movie “Aliens”) — or, if the wearer feels relaxed, the legs wave invitingly. The experimental “spider dress” was showcased at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Government in Action

Because Congress and presidents often change their minds, NASA recently continued to build on a $349 million rocket testing tower in Mississippi for a “moon” project that had been canceled back in 2010. The now-idle tower sits down the road from a second rocket testing tower being built for its “replacement” mission — an “asteroid” project. Critics, according to a December Washington Post examination, blame senators who believe it smarter to keep contractors at work (even though useless) because, Congress and the president might change their minds yet again. Said a high-profile critic, “We have to decide … whether we want a jobs program or a space program.” NASA’s inspector general in 2013 identified six similar “mothballed” projects that taxpayers continue to maintain.

Un-Government: About 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts claim their SWAT and other specialty operations are not “government” services, but rather not-for-profit corporate activities and are thus entitled to avoid certain government obligations. Even though their officers have the power to carry weapons, arrest people and break down doors during raids, these “law enforcement councils” refuse to comply with government open-records laws for civilian monitoring of SWAT activities. The latest refusal, by the 58 police agencies of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, was filed in state Superior Court in December.

DIY Policing in Seattle: A Seattle Times columnist suffered a “smash-and-grab” break-in of his car in October, but was brushed off by the Seattle Police Department and told simply to go file an insurance claim. However, he and his energetic 14-year-old daughter located the perpetrators themselves by GPS and called for police help, only to be chastised by the dispatcher, warning that they could get hurt. Only when a local crime-fighting TV show adopted the case, along with the suburban Sammamish, Wash., police department, was the gang of thieves finally pursued and apprehended (resulting in charges for “hundreds” of smash-and-grab thefts). (Bonus: One alleged perpetrator was quoted as saying the thefts were undertaken “because we knew the police wouldn’t do anything.”)

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