The Apocalypticon ~ Ripped off, data and destruction, loneliness infections, the weather


They’re ripping us off — The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year, according to a new report published by the Economic Policy Institute. The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of US$18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year.
Is it any wonder young Americans are souring on capitalism? Less than half, 45%, view capitalism positively, representing a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively.
While we’re talking about inequality, over 300 newspapers have denounced Trump’s attacks on the media in coordinated editorials.

Can of worms — Yes, we opened it. The White House was forced to backtrack after wildly misstating the level of job gains by African-Americans under Trump’s predecessor, the presidential [see what I did there?] Barack Obama. Trump’s regime was only wrong by 2.9 million jobs, though
Can Trump legally keep former staff quiet? No, probably not. Manigault Newman’s nondisclosure agreement, like others, contained a no-disparagement clause: a pledge to never, ever disparage the campaign, Trump, Vice President Pence, their families, their families’ companies, and so forth. [And she may have done some really dumb things in her life, like , you know, working for Trump, but at least she refused to sign it.]
Torturing CIA chief — Gina Haspel was confirmed by the US Senate to be director of the CIA on May 17th. But the public never got to see the memos that she wrote and authorised about the brutal torture of Al Qaeda suspects at a CIA black site that she oversaw in Thailand in 2002. Until now. [Yes, it’s weird and horrific. Yes, we should be deeply worried.]
Trade war — when Donald Trump had a brain-fart [does anyone have a better explanation?] and decided to embark on trade wars with America’s biggest trade partners, not many Americans realised what impact this would have in the shops. NPR has investigated what this may mean.

Devices, data and destruction — Artificial intelligence will reshape the world of finance over the next decade. It will do so by automating investing and other services – but it could also introduce troubling systematic weaknesses and risks, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Firefox snoops — Mozilla has removed 23 Firefox add-ons from its add-on store that snooped on users and sent data to remote servers, a Mozilla engineer told Bleeping Computer. [The real question being why were these ever allowed in the first place?]
Facebook and the murder gf Rohingya — More than 1000 anti-Rohingya posts featuring calls for their murder among other hate speech were live on Facebook last week. But it seems the network is still being used to encourage violence against the Muslim minority in Myanmar despite the tech firm promising to tackle the issue.
Speaking of which, the CW’s new Batwoman, Ruby Rose, is the latest high-profile actor to quit social media after facing harassment from so-called fans over her role. It’s becoming more common for actors and creators to leave social media platforms because of online abuse, enough that it’s starting to feel like an everyday annoyance we can ignore. It’s not. And we shouldn’t.
German kids drowning because of parents’ phone use — The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) has made a direct connection between children getting into difficulty in the water and parents being too busy on their mobile phones to notice. More than 300 people have drowned in Germany so far this year.
People maim their pets to get opioids — A recent survey suggests that some people struggling with opioid addiction might be turning to a tragically desperate method to get more prescription painkillers: hurting their own pets. And veterinarians themselves may be abusing opioids or helping to illegally sell them.
And forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests — The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

Sleepless people may infect you with loneliness — A new study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that poor sleep can be a nightmare for our social lives too. It just might turn us into lonely outcasts, capable of spreading our misery to others. [Damn it, I like being a lonely outcast!]

The weather — yeah, it’s really out there. Tiny though they are, microscopic phytoplankton, when infected with a particular virus, may influence atmospheric processes such as cloud formation, according to new research.
But there’s hope — a tiny sliver anyway. The US Department of Defence is one of the few federal agencies that still treats climate change as a threat under President Donald Trump. [The others have either been decapitated or have assumed the Ostrich Position.]
And … people are finally realising climate change is real — The scorching temperatures and forest fires of this summer’s heatwave have finally stirred the world to face the onrushing threat of global warming, claims the climate scientist behind the recent Hothouse Earth report. Following an unprecedented 270,000 downloads of his study, Johan Rockstrom, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said he had not seen such a surge of interest since 2007, the year the Nobel prize was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even in the US, whose president [that’s Donald Trump, although I still feel incredulous about this] has vowed to pull out of the Paris accord, public opinion surveys have shown a growing acceptance of climate science. [See? I always try and end on a good note after this avalanche of human stupidity.]

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Futurology ~ Star accelerator, superheat exoplanet, Human Cell Atlas, ghost village, Easter Island, Egyptians, Cretaceous pollinator


This chunk of 99-million-year-old Cretaceous amber contains a beetle with bits of pollen around it.

Surprising accelerator finding could change the way we think about neutron stars — Scientists using data from an American particle accelerator compared how protons and neutrons behaved in collisions between electrons and atomic nuclei. It’s an important nuclear physics result that has interstellar implications when it comes to understanding neutron stars, which are objects in space around 1.5 times to twice the mass of the Sun, but packed into a space less than 16km across.
 ~ This may surprise you, but it didn’t change my thinking coz I didn’t have any thinking (about neutron stars). 

An exoplanet has a surface so hot, it rips apart water molecules — It’s almost a star, but not quite; it’s an ultra-hot, Jupiter-like world located around 880 light years from Earth. It’s so hot, it rips water molecules into its components (oxygen and hydrogen), which makes it far different from any of the worlds in our own Solar System.
~ It looks more like a star than a planet. 

Ambitious Human Cell Atlas aims to catalogue every type of cell in the human body —For the last two years Aviv Regev, a professor of biology at MIT, has been co-leading a massive international effort to account for and better understand every cell type and sub-type in the human body, and how they interact.
The Human Cell Atlas has received less attention than the US$3 billion Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003 after 15 years of work, but it’s equally ambitious.
~ It’s all about those dang faulty proteins!

Scientists have found a rapid way of producing magnesite which could one day help remove CO2 from the atmosphere — If this can be developed to an industrial scale, it opens the door to removing CO2 from the atmosphere for long-term storage, thus countering the global warming effect of atmospheric CO2.
~ Ah, storing it where, guys? 

Heat wave reveals the outlines of hidden garden and ghost village — British Isles heatwaves and wildfires have been revealing hidden signs of the past, from crop marks dating back thousands of years to giant signs meant to signal World War II pilots. At Chatsworth House, a Derbyshire estate perhaps most famous for its connection to Pride and Prejudice, the heat wave exposed the outlines of a long-gone world: the gardens and village that existed here back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
~ So, a visual guide to the pride and, presumably, to the prejudice. 

Easter Island collapse theory questioned — The indigenous people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, experienced a societal collapse after the 17th century because they stripped the island clean of its natural resources. Or at least, that’s the leading theory. An analysis of the tools used by the Rapa Nui to build their iconic stone statues suggests a very different conclusion, pointing to the presence of a highly organised and cohesive society.
New research published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology is now offering a different perspective, showing that the Rapa Nui people maintained a thriving tool-building industry during the time of their alleged descent into ‘barbarity’.
~ Time to carve out a new theory. 

Egyptians preserving corpses long before the Pharaohs — Researchers had long assumed mummies that predate Dynastic Egypt (which begins around 3100 BCE), were preserved somewhat spontaneously by the natural scorching and parched sand of a shallow desert grave. Scientists have often considered this hands-off approach to be a major precursor to the painstaking process of deliberate mummification that was refined over the next 2000 years and reached its apex during the New Kingdom era (c. 1550–1070 BCE), when embalmers excised organs and drained fluids before swaddling a corpse in strips of linen.
But a new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests it was the result of a carefully concocted recipe, implying the body preservation culture predated the pyramids.
~ The Grand Mummies …

99-million-year-old beetle preserved in amber was a pollinator — Amber fossils containing bugs are nothing new, but the discovery of a beautifully preserved Cretaceous Period beetle with bits of pollen still around it is changing what we know about the planet’s earliest pollinating insects.
This beetle belonged to the boganiid family, which are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, but are known pollinators of cycads.
~ A bogan insect indeed.

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate on Earth, Trump in space, suspicious activity, nuking carrier, Chinese Muslims, Facebook bum shot, German sex alert, Monsanto to pay, iPhone ears


Welcome to the future, where the air is made of fire and your beach house is underwater — Our incredible planet is at risk of entering a ‘hothouse climate‘: Earth with a global average temperature of up to 5° Celcius higher than pre-industrial temperatures, and long-term rises in the sea level of between 10 and 60 metres.
Human-caused global warming of two degrees Celsius may trigger other Earth System processes, often called feedbacks, that can trigger further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases. [I guess this explains why Trump isn’t afraid of global warming – he isn’t human so he thinks he’s not responsible.]
Geoengineering won’t save us, either. A new study in Nature uses two historic eruptions to gauge how a global program of reflecting sunlight away from the Earth’s surface – an idea known as solar geoengineering – could impact agriculture. It finds that while cooling the planet could offset some of the negative impacts climate change will have on staple crops, it’s hardly a panacea.
First Nations’ wild rice under threat in the US — Northern wild rice, also known as manoomin, is a staple food in Ojibwe communities across the Upper Midwest, where it’s also used in traditional ceremonies. And, like any wild crop, some years yield more than others, depending on the weather. And now it’s under threat by climate change.
Aerial views show extent of Carr fire devastation — The pictures from the ground of the Carr Fire showed devastation on a human scale. But new aerial imagery released by the city of Redding puts the massive bushfire in a landscape context, revealing both the power and capriciousness of one the most destructive fires in California history.
Black Widows heading north — An updated species distribution map published in a new PLOS One study shows that the northernmost range of black widow spiders (Latrodectus variolus) has increased by about 50km over the past 60 years. Because climate is a major factor in terms of where black widows can live, the researchers suspect climate change has something to do with its expanding habitat.

Now for some craziness — yes I mean Trump. In space. No one but US defence contractors and their accountants knows why America needs a Space Force. [Enlisting now for the Space Cadets!] But moments after announcing the new US military branch, the Trump campaign gave us a hint at this arguably idiotic idea’s true purpose: lining the campaign’s pockets. As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear…” [Seriously. No, I am not kidding.]
Fear versus immigrants — US immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small group of militant, anti-immigration hawks who cultivate fear to accomplish their goal of driving out undocumented immigrants. [OK, I could say Gestapo, KGB … oh wait, I did.]
More power forever — At least Trump is working to increase his power over government appointments.  [Didn’t see that coming. Oh wait, I did. Because, you know, Hitler and Stalin, and Mao for that matter.]
Republican decides insider trading is a good reason to quit — Chris Collins, the New York Republican who was indicted Wednesday on insider trading charges, announced Saturday he’s suspending his re-election campaign. [You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t often persuade it to drown itself.]

While we’re taking about falls — Broadcom co-founder Henry Nicholas was arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of trafficking narcotics, according to police. Authorities say the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist was found with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy in his hotel suite. [What, was he a Democrat? Coz why on earth would this guy need to traffic drugs? He’s stinkin’ rich!]
Facebook dispute results in shot bottom — A recent Facebook dispute between two strangers in Florida led to a bullet in the butt. Brian Sebring, 44, faces felony charges after he decided to take an argument offline.
“I went off the deep end,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.” [Really, Brian, you think?]

Costly decommission — Six years after decommissioning USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the US Navy is still figuring out how to safely dismantle the ship.
The General Accounting Office estimates the cost of taking apart the vessel and sending the reactors to a nuclear waste storage facility at up to US$1.5 billion, or about one-eighth the cost of a brand-new aircraft carrier.

China cracks down on Muslims — Thousands of members of China’s Hui Muslim minority have gathered at the site of a mosque in Weizhou, in northwestern China, in an attempt to block the government from demolishing the year-old building. This region has been known as a more ‘accepted’ Chinese Muslim minority so locals are mystified why authorities want to do this.  [Why? Because they can.]

Berlin Airport bomb scare was sex toys — Police investigated the matter for about an hour before calling in a bomb squad, then determined the “technical stuff” that the scanner showed was just a bunch of sex toys, with at least one vibrator. The terminal reopened around an hour later.

Robot takes kids’ jobs — That’s right. A creative agency called RedPepper built a robot that levels the Where’s Wally playing field using a camera and machine learning AI to spot the striped traveller in as little as four-and-a-half seconds. [Ooh, I know, how about a robot that plays in the playground so your kids don’t have to?]

Monsanto to pay US$289 million in Roundup cancer trial — Chemical giant Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages to a man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer. In a landmark case, a Californian jury found that Monsanto knew its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers were dangerous and failed to warn consumers. It’s the first lawsuit to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer. Monsanto denies that glyphosate causes cancer and says it intends to appeal against the ruling. [Let’s hope the floodgates open and put this bestial company out of business!]

Your iPhone isn’t listening to you — Apple has told US lawmakers its iPhones do not listen to users without their consent and do not allow third-party apps to do so either, after lawmakers asked the company if its devices were invading users’ privacy. [I guess that’s good news?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book about the Apocalypse: “If we move into the hills, behind us the cities will be collapsing. When the Romans left Britain starting in the 400s CE, people moved into their abandoned villas. As they lived in them, adapting them to their needs, parts of them collapsed without the skills left among the local population to fix them. Gradually they fell completely into ruin and were abandoned …”

Futurology ~ Strange planet, asteroid close-up, denser SSD, shoe-lace-bot, cancer breakthrough, chilli mice, Tsunami graves


Is it a star or a planet? No, it’s a, um, Starnet … Various news outlets have been discussing a strange object in space, which may or may not be a planet. New measurements show that what was thought to be a brown dwarf – essentially a “failed star” that is too small to generate nuclear fusion, but too big to be a planet – might be a planet after all. But that’s far from the strangest part of this story.
Scientists recently took another look at four nearby brown dwarfs, as well as at this strange object, which is located only 20 light years from Earth. The new observation demonstrated that the weird object actually straddles the boundary between planet and brown dwarf. That’s cool, but even more perplexing is how all five of these objects ended up with their intense magnetic fields.
~ I think I will call it the Halo-Dwarf.

Space wall of hydrogen — The New Horizons spacecraft, now at a distance nearly 6.4 billion kms from Earth and already far beyond Pluto, has measured what appears to be a signature of the furthest reaches of the Sun’s energy — a wall of hydrogen. It nearly matches the same measurement made by the Voyager mission 30 years ago, and offers more information as to the furthest limits of our Sun’s reach.
~ The Mexicans are very clear they did not pay for it. 

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft came tantalisingly close to asteroid Ryugu — It has offered an unprecedented view of the asteroid’s boulder-strewn surface.
The third descent of the mission saw Hayabusa2 come to within 851m of the asteroid, making it the closest encounter to date.
~ Shame that surface is so boring, right? 

Densest SSD take on a new shape — The chip giant Intel first set out this form factor a year ago, based on the Enterprise & Datacenter Storage Form Factor (EDSFF) standard for server makers to cut cooling costs and offer a more efficient format than SSDs in the classic square 2.5 inch size. Intel describes the new ruler-shaped Intel SSD DC P4500, which is 12 inches by 1.5 inches, and a third of an inch thick, as the world’s densest SSD. Server makers can jam up to one petabyte (PB) – or a thousand terabytes (TB) – of data into 1U server racks by lining up 32 of these 32TB Intel rulers together.
~ I love SSDs, they’re so fast and robust compared to hard drives. 

With a budget of just $US600 — a mere pittance compared to what robots such as ATLAS cost to develop — students from the University of California’s Davis’ College of Engineering created a machine that’s capable of tying shoe laces all by itself.
~ This will be really useful for tying the laces of people who can no longer bend over, presumably. 

Cancer put to sleep in Australia — In a world first, Melbourne scientists have discovered a new type of anti-cancer drug that can put cancer cells into a permanent sleep, without the harmful side-effects caused by conventional cancer therapies.
The research reveals the first class of anti-cancer drugs that work by putting the cancer cell to ‘sleep’, arresting tumour growth and spread without damaging the cells’ DNA. The new class of drugs could provide an exciting alternative for people with cancer, and has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers, as well as in delaying cancer relapse.
~ Basically, it stops the cancer cells dividing and replicating. 

Chili can keep rodents away from seeds they’d eat — New research suggests that capsaicin – the spicy element of chili peppers – can be a robust deterrent to seed-eating rodents. Ecologists interested in restoring ecosystems after disturbances such as wildfires conducted experiments with deer mice. They started with glass enclosures where on one side, the mice were offered regular old sunflower seeds, while on the other side were seeds that had been given a special, capsaicin-laced coating. The mice ate 86% fewer pepper-treated seeds than untreated ones. When they took the experiment outside to the Missoula Valley in Montana, the scientists saw the results play out. Seeds treated with capsaicin were far more likely to survive to become plants than ones left untreated.
~ But if they develop a taste for it the same way people can, all we do is vary their palettes. 

Prehistoric mass graves located along coastlines around the world may be linked to ancient tsunamis — Mass graves are common in the archaeological record. There’s the Viking-age Ridgeway Hill Burial Pit in the UK which contains 54 skeletons and 51 dismembered heads, or the Early Neolithic mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten in Germany, a likely massacre that resulted in the deaths of at least 26.
In these and similar cases, archaeologists attribute the burials to warfare or pillaging, as evidenced by wounds such as blunt-force trauma, injuries caused by weapons, or decapitations. But in some cases, where the cause of death isn’t obvious, and where no written or oral history exists to explain the presence of a mass grave, archaeologists can only speculate as to the cause.
New research suggests scientists have overlooked a possible cause of some ambiguous mass graves located along oceanic coastlines: ancient tsunamis.
~ They’re going mohave to find diatoms to prove it (really). 

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate, weather, fire storms, penguins, trade war, hackers, ransoms, facial recognition, begging robots, money choked off, French harassment, meat


The weather — US car companies knew about climate change 30 years ago and did nothing. The New York Times Magazine has been teasing out its upcoming issue in recent days, as it’s dedicated to a single story that focuses on how we had an opportunity to address climate change in the 1980s, but failed to do anything. Coinciding with the current administration’s proposal to roll back fuel economy targets, expected to be unveiled this week, the timing couldn’t be any better. [Coz money literally trumps everything else.]
And just when you thought this situation couldn’t get any worse, the Trump administration announced it would be putting Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards on hold and moving to replace them with watered-down regulations.
Penguin colony in steep decline — The last time scientists visited Ile aux Cochons in 1982, an island that is part of an archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, the king penguin population was booming. Over 500,000 breeding pairs (around two million penguins total) huddled together there, making the island the largest king penguin colony in the world. New research shows their numbers have been on a stiff decline since then — by as much as 88%
Firenado — California’s Carr fire, one of the most destructive fires in the state’s history, was burning in Redding, when conditions aligned to create a massive whirl of smoke and fire. It lasted for an hour and a half, and the people who caught it on video called it the ‘Firenado.’

It’s war! Trade war … China has announced a plan to impose new tariffs on $60 billion of American goods, in retaliation for the latest tariff threats from the Trump administration.
The White House said it was considering boosting tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, raising those tariffs from 10% to 25%.

Hacking recognition and all that — A recent review by UK cybersecurity firm Sophos in partnership with cryptocurrency firm Neutrino has concluded that the crew — or possibly one extremely proficient black hat hacker — behind the SamSam ransomware attacks have rolled in at least $US5.9 million in ransom payments, according to BleepingComputer. [And they can work from home.]
Amazon proves why it shouldn’t give it’s face recognition tech to the police — Days after the ACLU released a damning report on Amazon’s face recognition product ‘Rekognition’, Amazon’s general manager of AI, Dr Matt Wood, countered its findings in a blog post. The ACLU used Rekognition to scan the faces of all 535 members of US Congress, finding the software mistook 28 of them for suspected criminals. Dr Wood notes first that the ACLU doesn’t reveal its methodology or dataset in the report, then punctuates Amazon’s original response – that it encourages higher confidence thresholds for law enforcement.
But conspicuously missing from the blog was a specific rebuttal to the enormous racial disparity uncovered by the ACLU. For Congress as a whole, the error rate was only 5%,, but for non-white members of Congress, the error rate was 39%.
It’s harder to turn robots off when they beg you not to — A recent experiment by German researchers demonstrates that people will refuse to turn a robot off if it begs for its life. In the study, published in the open access journal PLOS One, 89 volunteers were recruited to complete a pair of tasks with the help of Nao, a small humanoid robot. In roughly half of experiments, the robot protested, telling participants it was afraid of the dark and even begging: “No! Please do not switch me off!” When this happened, the human volunteers were likely to refuse to turn the bot off. Of the 43 volunteers who heard Nao’s pleas, 13 refused. And the remaining 30 took, on average, twice as long to comply compared to those who did not not hear the desperate cries at all.

General malfeasance — Secretly tracking airline passengers: some Americans have been trailed and closely monitored by undercover air marshals as they travelled on US flights, as part of a previously undisclosed Transportation Security Administration program called Quiet Skies. The marshals take notes on the targeted traveler’s behaviour, sending detailed reports to the TSA.
Distraught parents going on hunger strike — Recent news stories have been filled with the joyous reunions of migrant parents who had been separated from their children at the Southwest border. Yet hundreds of families were reunited only to be detained again, this time together. Inside one of those detention centers in Texas, weary fathers are now staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.
Scientists stunned as non profit halts research money — On 24 July, 37 grant recipients received an email from the March of Dimes Foundation in New York City informing them their 3-year grants had been cut off, retroactively, starting 30th June. Many of the researchers were only a year into their projects, and had had just enough time to hire and train staff, purchase supplies and generate preliminary results. Now, several say that they might need to lay off employees, euthanise lab animals and shelve their research projects if they cannot find other funding – fast.
Apple’s dick move — Apple, which just became the world’s first trillion dollar company, has announced it will punish some of the people who helped build its success. Affiliates who’ve promoted apps and taken a small cut of the purchase price are being pushed out because they’re apparently no longer useful, since Apple had built better ‘discovery’ into its App Stores. [Apple, you really, really suck for this.]

Finally, some good news: French lawmakers have approved a measure outlawing sexual harassment in the street, rendering catcalling and lewd or degrading comments a crime punishable by on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros — or more than US$870. The country’s Senate passed the legislation late Wednesday as part of a broader package of measures targeting sexual violence, which the lower house of Parliament advanced earlier this year.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “As a further drain on the environment, each litre (about two pints) of milk produced requires up to 1000 litres of water. Large-scale meat production leads to high greenhouse gas emissions – another factor that might lead, or at least add to, an apocalypse.
However, I don’t believe meat is bad for humans per se – I have always believed that good meat is good for you. But overconsumption (not uncommon) of meat is definitely not great for people – eating too much processed meat, including bacon, salami and sausage, is linked to heart disease; too much red meat is linked to cancer.”

Futurology ~ Solar mission, space crew, future farms, Mayan drought, inner diamonds


Solar mission about to leave — NASA is scheduled to send human technology closer to a star than ever before from August 11th. What they learn could change our understanding of, well, the whole galaxy.
The Parker Solar Probe is a mission set to orbit the Sun at just 6.1 million kms. Earth’s average distance is 149.6 million kms; Mercury’s average distance is 57.9 million kms. The spacecraft will need to shield itself from temperatures as high as 1377C in order to find answers to the many questions scientists still have about our Sun and stars in general.
~ I guess it will have to leave during the day, or it won’t be able to find it … [lol]

Commercial space crew announced — NASA has announced the first astronauts who will head to the International Space Station on a commercially built spacecraft. These US astronauts previously flew aboard Russian spacecraft to get to the ISS. The coming launches will be the first from American soil since the Space Shuttle’s 2011 retirement, according to a NASA news release. The astronauts will travel in the new Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The team consists of 9 men and women from across the US.
~ Commercial, hey? So it should be called the Starship Enterprise. 

Future faming — How do you feed an increasing number of people without harming the environment? As it turns out, growing as much food as possible in a small area may be our best bet for sustainably feeding the world’s population, according to new research. It all comes down to how we manage greenhouse gases and climate change …
~ Didn’t see that coming. Well, OK, but didn’t we all?

Mayan drought may have ended them — The ancient Maya were an innovative people who constructed intricate cities throughout the tropical lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula, communicated using one of the world’s first written languages, and created two calendar systems by studying the stars. But despite their achievements, the thriving Mayan civilisation mysteriously collapsed sometime between the eighth and ninth centuries. We still don’t know exactly why.
The general consensus is that the Mayan collapse was caused by a number of things, including disease, war, and other sociopolitical conflicts. One natural factor may have contributed to all of these issues: drought. A particularly bad drought would have made it difficult for the Maya to collect enough drinking water and to irrigate their crops. It also could have encouraged the spread of disease and increased the strain between Mayan leaders and their people.
~ And I reckon the Russians were involved. 

Rare blue diamonds deep in the Earth — Just 1 out of 200,000 diamonds are blue, and  eventually reach the surface through volcanic eruptions. Like all diamonds, they are made when carbon comes under intense pressure and extreme heat deep inside the Earth. As they form, they can trap tiny bits of rock inside – like fossils in amber. Steven Shirey, a geochemist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, and his colleagues used lasers to examine the diamonds’ imperfections – slivers of embedded rock – at the Gemological Institute of America. The researchers suggest that boron in the ocean floor was pushed down when plates that make up the Earth’s crust collided. The element allows the stone to absorb some red light, so the diamond looks blue.
~ So, once they can dig deep enough, they won’t be rare any more.

The Apocalypticon ~ World, Trump, Russia, moles, gnats, Twitter, Facebook, mouths


Nuclear power plants in Europe have been forced to cut back electricity production because of warmer-than-usual seawater. Plants in Finland, Sweden and Germany have been affected by the heat wave that has broken records in Scandinavia and the British Isles and exacerbated deadly wildfires along the Mediterranean.
Common food additives could have ‘lifelong’ health consequences, a US paediatrician group has warned.
US fascist eyes Europe: Steve Bannon built his career on right-wing politics inside the United States but now he’s taking on a new frontier: the European Parliament. He’s optimistic about uniting Europe’s right wing across its national boundaries. [Sorry, is ‘fascist’ too strong? How about Nazi, then, Steve?]
The doom of the ancient Cambodian city of Koh Ker may have been the result of bad engineering – plus some bad karma, baby.

The US — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday downplayed a threat by President Trump to revoke security clearances for a number intelligence officials who served under President Barack Obama as “trolling” and not a political act. [In this case, clearly, the trolling is a political act.]
Facial recognition technology made by Amazon, which is being used by some police departments and other organizations, incorrectly matched the lawmakers with people who had been arrested for a crime, the American Civil Liberties Union reported.
President Trump resumed acknowledging Russian election interference but said he fears that this year, it will benefit Democrats. [Right, because it’s clearly done wonders for them so far.]
Facebook is reportedly rolling out its ‘downvote’ button to a wider group of users in the United States. The feature began appearing on the service’s mobile app without a formal company announcement. The feature appears to currently be limited to public posts. Should your account be flagged for this week’s test, every comment in a thread will include a numeric value and small up- and down-arrows connected to that number. Other territories, particularly Australia and New Zealand, have seen wider downvote tests since April of this year. [That’s right, Facebook, get the users to do your work for you.]
And here’s new US hobby – destroying the lives of complete strangers. [Trump likes this one too, you know, putting those immigrant kids into cages.]
Gnats spreading disease — A disease spread by sandflies seen as an exotic nuisance in the US might not be solely a traveller’s disease after all. A new study suggests most American cases of leishmaniasis are actually spread by native bugs, not caught while travelling. And thanks to climate change, the parasitic illness may become even more common in the years to come.
Twitter shares fell 21% as the company reported that user growth had turned negative, even as its quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations. The decline was even greater than Facebook’s almost 19% plunge in shares after the social media giant reported disappointing results. [Oh. Gosh. Boohoo. Anyway, it’s something to share and tweet about …]

Russia — Russian hackers have broken into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by US utilities with relative easy by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies,” The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
Maria Butina’s story may point to a Russian effort, years in the making, to give the Kremlin influence in the US by connecting with American gun enthusiasts and religious conservatives, an effort that’s had a ‘surprising degree of success’. [Hardly surprising. But no doubt Trump will try and shoot this theory down.]

And finally, some good news — scientists have figured out how our mouths heal so fast. [Although the voluntary 3-metre wounds sound a little harsh – that was three millimetres, I suspect, Gizmodo copy editor!]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “In the present day, we might consider ourselves rugged individualists but we have libraries at our disposal, and we use roads, social services and communications networks all built by combined effort for our mutual benefit.”

Futurology ~ Star speedster, wetter Moon, battery resource, fly brain, Russian worm, new dinosaurs


Chinese palaeontologists have a new dinosaur species

Star spotted speeding near black hole at centre of Milky Way — Astronomers have observed a star speeding close to the massive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way for the first time. The observations, made using the Very Large Telescope in Chile, tracked a star called S2 as it passed through the extreme gravitational field at the heart of our galaxy. As the star approached its nearest point to the black hole on 19 May, it was accelerated to mind-boggling speeds, causing it to be subject to effects predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
~ This remarkable observation required a telescope powerful enough to see a tennis ball on the moon from Earth. 

Damp Moon — Scientists from Birkbeck, University of London speculate that recent results show that the moon is wetter than scientists have previously thought, increasing the possibility for it to have the necessary conditions for life. “Whether life ever arose on the Moon, or was transported to it from elsewhere, is of course highly speculative and can only be addressed by an aggressive future program of lunar exploration,” they write in the article, published in the journal Astrobiology.
~ Yay, something intrinsic with which to damp down that ‘killer dust‘!

Packs of robot dogs — By July of next year, Boston Dynamics will be producing the SpotMini robot dog at the rate of around 1000 units per year. The broader goal is to create a flexible platform for a variety of applications. According to Raibert, SpotMini is currently being tested for use in construction, delivery, security, and home assistance applications. The SpotMini moves with the same weirdly smooth confidence as previous experimental Boston Dynamics robots with names like Cheetah, BigDog, and Spot.
~ As long as they also build robot owners to pick up the robot dog pooh, I’m good with it. 

Lithium-in battery recycling — Zheng Chen, a 31-year-old nanoengineer at UC San Diego, says he has developed a way to recycle used cathodes from spent lithium-ion batteries and restore them to a like-new condition. The cathodes in some lithium-ion batteries are made of metal oxides that contain cobalt, a metal found in finite supplies and concentrated in one of the world’s more precarious countries. The Los Angeles Times reports it works works by regenerating the degraded particles.
~ Talking ’bout regeneration! Hope I get reused before I get old …

Nano-sliced fruit fly brain — Two high-speed electron microscopes, 7062 brain slices, 21 million images. For a team of scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, these numbers add up to a technical first: a high-resolution digital snapshot of the adult fruit fly brain. Researchers can now trace the path of any one neuron to any other neuron throughout the whole brain, says neuroscientist Davi Bock, a group leader at Janelia who reported the work along with his colleagues on July 19 in the journal Cell.
~ OK, now teach it not to ruin the wine. 

Russian scientists claim to have resurrected 40,000-year-old worms buried in ice — They apparently discovered ancient nematode worms that were able to resurrect themselves after spending at least 32,000 years buried in permafrost.
~ Now they will have to learn all about the internet and everything. 

‘New’ dinosaurs from China — The gigantic, long-necked sauropods are an iconic group of dinosaurs – and it seems scientists have discovered a new one. Palaeontologists were able to define the new species, known as Lingwulong shenqi, using seven to 10 partial skeletons from four separate dig sites in China. The new fossils date back to 174 million years ago, making Lingwulong the earliest known neosauropod.
~ Well, I’m no expert, but they look a lot like all the other ones to me.  

The Apocalypticon ~ hackers hack, the rich make money, morals don’t matter, NZ and Norwegian glimmers


Lots of people really admire people who are smart and greedy enough to make themselves mega-rich. I fit, needless to say, neither of those categories. Elon Musk — maker of a mini-sub that never got used, hypothetical saviour of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, general over-promiser and under-deliverer — has been one of the biggest donors to a political action committee with the primary goal of maintaining Republican control in the US House of Representatives. He’s been giving to Republicans for years including to accused child sex abuser Dennis Hastert and Dana Rohrabacher, a man who believes it is ok to refuse to sell your home to a gay person. (To be fair he has also given money to Democrats)
The bottom line is, he supports those he thinks will support his own aspirations. However, he has signed (along with Australian scientists) a pledge against killer robots.
Speaking of rich twits who can’t seem to align morals with business, after a rough week of criticism over Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s shoddy explanation for why he won’t ban conspiracy site Infowars — including a very awkward tangent into apparently believing Holocaust deniers are not “intentionally getting it wrong” — the social media giant has announced it will begin removing misinformation that provokes real-world violence. According to The New York Times, the new policy is largely a response to episodes in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India where rumours spread rapidly on Facebook, leading to targeted attacks on ethnic minorities.

Google — Yeah you knew it was coming … Commenting on the record $5 billion fine on Google by the European Commission, privacy focused search engine DuckDuckGo said it welcomes the decision as it has “felt [Google’s] effects first hand for many years and has led directly to us having less market share on Android vs iOS and in general mobile vs desktop.”
Up until just last year, it was impossible to add DuckDuckGo to Chrome on Android, and it is still impossible on Chrome on iOS [of for goodness sake, is there anyone on iOS still using Chrome? JUST DON’T!]. We are also not included in the default list of search options like we are in Safari, even though we are among the top search engines in many countries. The Google search widget is featured prominently on most Android builds and is impossible to change the search provider. For a long time it was also impossible to even remove this widget without installing a launcher that effectively changed the whole way the OS works. “Their anti-competitive search behavior isn’t limited to Android. Every time we update our Chrome browser extension, all of our users are faced with an official-looking dialogue asking them if they’d like to revert their search settings and disable the entire extension”. Google also owns http://duck.com and points it directly at Google search, which consistently confuses DuckDuckGo users. [DuckDuckGo is an untraceable search engine with a focus on privacy – Apple users can default it over Google as Safari’s search engine.]

Around the world — Hackers account for 90% of of e-commerce sites’ global login traffic, according to a report by cyber security firm Shape Security. They reportedly use programs to apply stolen data acquired on the dark web in an effort to login to websites and grab something of value like cash, airline points, or merchandise.
A bill just passed in Egypt that empowers the government to block users on social media for spreading “fake news” if they have over 5000 followers. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi still needed to ratify the legislation into law, which he is expected to do given his government’s unmerited crackdowns on journalists and critics.
China: A prestigious college in Beijing reportedly tried to bar a student because his father was on a government blacklist and it’s causing huge controversy in China. According to state media reports, a high school student with the surname Rao in the eastern city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, was accepted on the back of his score in China’s fiendishly difficult and incredibly competitive national college entrance exam. But before his family could enjoy Rao’s accomplishments, the college notified them he may not be able to attend because of his father’s poor credit standing …
Chinese police are reportedly testing waste water for the presence of illegal substances, using the data to find illegal drug manufacturers in the country. As drugs pass through people’s bodies, they may be leaving a trail for police to follow.
Chinese government reading iCloud data: Six months ago Apple caused controversy by announcing its intentions to move Chinese users’ iCloud keys out of the US and into China, in order to comply with Chinese law. Now, that data, which includes emails, text messages and pictures, is being looked after by government-owned mobile operator China Telecom, so users and human rights activists alike have big concerns.
The New Zealand company behind a landmark trial of a four-day working week has concluded it was an unmitigated success, with 78% of employees feeling they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance, an increase of 24 percentage points. Job and life satisfaction increased on all levels across the home and work front, with employees performing better in their jobs and enjoying them more than before the experiment.
Rich Norwegian millennials — Best known for its Viking history, snow sports and jaw-dropping fjords, Norway is making a new name for itself as the only major economy in Europe where young people are getting markedly richer. [Neo Liberals, you let this country escape your clutches!] People in their early thirties in Norway have an average annual disposable household income of around 460,000 kroner (around US$56,200). Young Norwegians have enjoyed a 13% rise in disposable household income in real terms compared to Generation X (those born between 1966 and 1980) when they were the same age. These startling figures come from the largest comparative wealth data set in the world, the Luxembourg Income Database, and were analysed in a recent report on generational incomes for the UK Think Tank The Resolution Foundation.

Futurology ~ New moons, asteroid duo, 3D-printing space parts, robot art, Rolls-Royce cockroaches, time capsule, lost society


Robots are painting ‘art’ now – but cockroach jobs are still safe.

12 new moons have been found orbiting Jupiter and one is on collision course with the others — Researchers in the US stumbled upon the new moons while hunting for the mysterious ninth planet that is postulated to lurk far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in the solar system. The team first glimpsed the moons in March last year from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, but needed more than a year to confirm that the bodies were locked in orbit around the gas giant. The fresh haul of moons brings the total number of Jovian moons to 79, more than are known to circle any other planet in our cosmic neighbourhood.
~ A head-on collision would create a crash visible from earth.

Odd asteroid duo — An asteroid discovered late last year is actually two gravitationally-bound objects in orbit around each other. But this particular duo, dubbed 2017 YE5, belongs to an exceptionally rare class of near-Earth objects. In June, the object made the closest approach it will make to Earth for the next 170 years, allowing scientists to take a closer look.
~ These self-orbiting rocks are as dark as charcoal, so they’re hard to spot.

3D-printing space parts — Lockheed Martin has finished quality control tests for its largest 3D-printed space part to date: an enormous titanium dome meant to serve as caps for satellite fuel tanks. The component measures 1.22 metres (4 feet) in diameter.

Robots that paint — CloudPainter creates evocative portraits featuring varying degrees of abstraction. One of its images was created by a team of neural networks, AI algorithms, and robots. Robotart’s founder, Andrew Conru, told MIT Technology Review that this year’s entries have shown refined brushstrokes and composition.
~ Yes, it’s really in how you read ‘Robotart’…

Rolls-Royce ‘cockroach’ robots — Rolls-Royce has announced it is teaming up with robotics experts at Harvard University and the University of Nottingham to develop tiny ‘cockroach’ robots that can crawl inside aircraft engines to spot and fix problems. These robots will be able to speed up inspections and eliminate the need to remove an engine from an aircraft for repair work to take place. The next step is to mount cameras on the robots and scale them down to a 15-milimetre size.
~ Yes, but will they spread pestilence? No! No real cockroaches will keep their jobs. 

WWII-era Time Capsule requires internet sleuths’ help — Do you know WWII veteran Richard Silagy or his family? Silagy lived in Cleveland, Ohio, sometime after World War II and hid a time capsule filled with personal items in his home. The time capsule was discovered underneath stairs in the basement of the house, and includes photos, yearbooks, his hat from World War II, and even a munitions shell dated 1944 that looks as though it was fired.
The time capsule was recently discovered by a housing contractor doing improvements on the house, but a search online for Silagy or any living relatives has been a failure so the contractor is turning to the public for help.
~ I don’t know him. 

Traces of lost society found in ‘pristine’ cloud forest — Deep in Ecuador’s lush Quijos Valley, a society thrived, then disappeared. But a lake preserved its story. In the 1850s, a team of botanists venturing into the cloud forest in the Quijos Valley of eastern Ecuador hacked their way through vegetation so thick they could barely make their way forward. This, they thought, was the heart of the pristine forest, a place where people had never gone. But they were very wrong. Indigenous Quijo groups had developed sophisticated agricultural settlements across the region, settlements that had been decimated with the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 1500s. In their absence, the forest sprung back. This process of societal collapse and forest reclamation is described in a new study published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
~ This shows the capacity of these forests to recover after they’ve been influenced by humans, which is a relief if you ask me. 

The Apocalypticon ~ The rich will eat us, facial recognition, surveillance, Google, Facebook, jobs, data breaches, all-time heat records


Yes, hello, I’m back from a  three-week holiday, sorry about that folks, but sometimes I just have to have a break. Still, the world keeps churning …
The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind, writes Douglas Rushkoff, describing what he learned from a high-paying speaking gig about the future of technology for “five super-wealthy guys…from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world.”The Event was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus or Mr Robot that takes everything down. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader…? This is the possible Survival of the Richest.
A new paper from the Center for Global Development says we are spending too much time discussing whether robots can take your job and not enough time discussing what happens next
Facial recognition ad surveillance — After all the concern, British Police have admitted no one was arrested during a trial of controversial facial recognition technology, which sparked privacy and human rights concerns.
But you can beat it. Die-hard fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse have become accidental heroes for people concerned about facial recognition tech: according to Twitter user @tahkion, a computer science blogger for WonderHowTo, Juggalo makeup outmatches the machine learning algorithms that govern facial recognition technology.
One of many futuristic ideas Walmart has sought to patent is worker surveillance tech that ‘listens’ to them. There’s no guarantee that Walmart will ever build this technology, but the patent shows the company is thinking about using tech not just to facilitate deliveries or make its warehouses more efficient, but also to manage its workforce, which is the largest in the United States. [I prefer to call it ‘Apallmart, myself.]
Two privacy-focused organizations have accused German police of carrying out raids at their offices and members’ private homes on some pretty shoddy reasoning that makes no sense and hints at the police’s abuse of power. [Police abusing over? N-e-v-e-r…]

Jobs — Microsoft may move jobs abroad since Trump’s policies stop it finding the right workers: The Trump Administration’s tough stance on immigration has attracted a lot of criticism from big technology firms, which rely heavily on skilled foreign workers from around the world. Smith previously spoke out against efforts to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – an Obama-era policy that provides legal protection for young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. Microsoft has advocated the protection of DACA and more broadly supported immigration as a way to make sure US companies are hiring talented people. [The problem with DACA is simply Obama’s touch as far as the sensitive bully that Trump is concerned – but worthiness has never been a sop to him cutting off his orange nose to spite his orange face.]

Once more into the (data) breach – and hacks: The information operatives who worked out of the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg, Russia did not stop at posing as American social media users or spreading false information from purported news sources, according to new details. They also created a number of Twitter accounts that posed as sources for Americans’ hometown headlines.
And another for the curse that is Google: According to The Wall Street Journal, hundreds of app developers have access to millions of inboxes belonging to Gmail users. The developers reportedly receive access to messages from Gmail users who signed up for things like price-comparison services or automated travel-itinerary planners. Some of these companies train software to scan the email, while others enable their workers to pore over private messages. [Honestly, Gmail users, do you need any more reasons not to use Google services? OK, here’s another …]
A user on Medium named Punch a Server says you should not use Google Cloud due to the no-warnings-given, abrupt way the plug is pulled on your entire system if they (or the machines) believe something is wrong. The user has a project running in production on Google Cloud (GCP) that is used to monitor hundreds of wind turbines and scores of solar plants scattered across 8 countries.
Apple is more secure, you know? And the free iCloud email that every Apple user can have FOR FREE is end-to-end encrypted by default. Apple just released iOS 11.4.1, and while most of us are already looking ahead to all the new stuff coming in iOS 12, this small update contains an important new security feature: USB Restricted Mode. Apple has added protections against the USB devices being used by law enforcement and private companies that connect over Lightning to crack an iPhone’s passcode and evade Apple’s usual encryption safeguards.

IBM and the cost of data breaches — IBM Security has released a report examining the costs and impact associated with data breaches. The findings paint a grim portrait of what the clean up is like for companies whose data becomes exposed – particularly for larger corporations that suffer so-called mega breaches, a costly exposure involving potentially tens of millions of private records.
Fracking companies use Facebook to ban protests — Facebook is being used by oil and gas companies to clamp-down on protest. Three companies are currently seeking injunctions against protesters: British chemical giant INEOS, which has the largest number of shale gas drilling licenses in the UK; and small UK outfits UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), and Europa Oil and Gas. Among the thousands of pages of documents submitted to British courts by these companies are hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from anti-fracking protesters and campaign groups, uncovered by Motherboard in partnership with investigative journalists at DeSmog UK. They show how fracking companies are using social media surveillance carried out by a private firm to strengthen their cases in court by discrediting activists using personal information to justify banning their protests.

All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week — So reports the Washington Post in the article Red-Hot Planet which was updated throughout the week with new all-time heat records.
From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East to Southern California, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week… [I know, as I was just in Canada – over 30°C for seven days in a row, who would have thought?]

And the good news? I had a break! A real break! But I’m back! (But goodness, isn’t it cold in New Zealand?!)

Futurology ~ Mars dunes, Welsh sites, underwater jetpack, caffeine genes, electric spider flight, NZ colour x-ray, rats kill coral, multiple human origins


Ghost dunes at Noctis Labyrinthus. Boxes B and C show close-ups. (MacKenzie Day & David Catling/AGU)

Mars’ ghost dunes — In a recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research, planetary geomorphologist Mackenzie Day and astrobiologist David Catling announced their discovery of about 800 “ghost dunes” – the imprints of ancient sand piles – clustered in two different locations on Mars. Examining these former dunes can tell us more about the red planet’s historic climate, and might contain more surprises as well.
~ I always wanted to be a planetary geomorphologist … OK, not really. So, what can we possible ‘Tel’ from these dunes? 

Hidden cropmarks revealed by the drought in Wales — Elusive ‘cropmarks’ now reveal the sites of long hidden ruins. From above, these cropmarks stand out starkly from the landscape—unmistakable squares and circles that outline settlements from as far back as the Bronze Age. In the past weeks, Driver has captured cropmarks across the Welsh countryside, including those made by a previously undiscovered medieval cemetery, a rare type of monument in this area, but they stand out much ore than usual thanks to the current unprecedented heat in the northern hemisphere.
~ Let’s hope Driver captures a load of these images so age old mysteries can be solved. 

Student 3D-prints a marine jetpack — A product design student in the UK created a safer way to travel under water with a jetpack that can propel a swimmer at speeds of up to 13kph.
Archie O’Brien says it took him a year to design and build a functional prototype of his CUDA jetpack, after learning that similar underwater propulsion devices can cost as much as new cars. Forty-five 3D-printed components could be quickly modified and reprinted as the engineering of the CUDA was continually refined.
~ You may be able to buy one as early as 2019, but I want to know ‘is it quiet?’ As man, do I ever hate on f___king jet skis! Way touring everyone’s summers, you jet-skiing a-holes!

Caffeine gene-control — A team led by Martin Fussenegger of ETH Zurich in Basel has shown that caffeine can be used as a trigger for synthetic genetic circuitry, which can then in turn do useful things for us – even correct or treat medical conditions. For a buzz-worthy proof of concept, the team engineered a system to treat type 2 diabetes in mice with sips of coffee, specifically Nespresso Volluto coffee. Essentially, when the animals drink the coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage), a synthetic genetic system in cells implanted in their abdomens switches on. This leads to the production of a hormone that increases insulin production and lowers blood sugar levels – thus successfully treating their diabetes after a simple morning brew.
~ Wait till they try decent coffee, then, I guess. 

Darwin’s theory of electric spider flight is finally proven — On Halloween in 1832, the naturalist Charles Darwin was onboard the HMS Beagle. He marveled at spiders that had landed on the ship after floating across huge ocean distances. “I caught some of the Aeronaut spiders which must have come at least 60 miles,” he noted in his diary. “How inexplicable is the cause which induces these small insects, as it now appears in both hemispheres, to undertake their aerial excursions.” Small spiders achieve flight by aiming their butts at the sky and releasing tendrils of silk to generate lift.
Darwin thought electricity might be involved when he noticed that spider silk stands seemed to repel each other with electrostatic force, but many scientists assumed that the arachnids, known as ‘ballooning’ spiders, were simply sailing on the wind like a paraglider. The wind power explanation has thus far been unable to account for observations of spiders rapidly launching into the air, even when winds are low, however. Now, these aerial excursions have been empirically determined to be largely powered by electricity, according to new research published Thursday in Current Biology. The study settles a longstanding debate about whether wind energy or electrostatic forces are responsible for spider ballooning locomotion.
~ It’s both, of course. 

New Zealand colour X-Ray breakthrough — A New-Zealand company has scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities spent a decade building and refining their product, which enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.
~ Awesome!

Viruses may call Alzheimers — For decades, the idea that a bacteria or virus could help cause Alzheimer’s disease was dismissed as fringe theory. Not so much any more: a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School reported in the journal Neuron the latest evidence suggesting herpes viruses can spark the cascade of events that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal form of dementia that afflicts up to 80% of Australia’s 425,000 dementia patients.
~ Let’s hope a solution is possible. 

Rats also affect coral reefs — The much maligned rat is not a creature many would associate with coral reefs. But scientists studying reefs on tropical islands say the animals directly threaten the survival of these ecosystems. From a report:
A team working on the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean found that invasive rats on the islands are a big problem for coral reefs. Rats decimate seabird populations, in turn decimating the volume of bird droppings which acts as natural coral fertiliser. Scientists now advocate eradicating rats from all of the islands to protect these delicate marine habitats.
~ Of course, we’re not off the hook, as the rats were introduced by humans.

Humans did not originate from a single species — In the 1980s, scientists decided that all humans living today are descended from one woman dubbed Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. This discovery, along with other evidence, suggested humans evolved from a single ancestral population, but this interpretation is not standing the test of time. The story of human evolution, as the latest research suggests, is more complicated than that.
By looking at some of the latest archaeological, fossil, genetic and environmental evidence, a team of international experts led by Eleanor Scerri from Oxford’s School of Archaeology have presented an alternative story of human evolution, one showing that our species emerged from isolated populations scattered across Africa, who occasionally came together to interbreed.
~ Humans emerged within a complex set of populations scattered across Africa. Take that, stupid white supremacists.

The Apocalypticon ~ Football narks, Hacking-tosh, Google, Japan, China, US flaming poo, Chile plastic ban


Spanish football app turns users into narks — With the World Cup just a few days away, everyone is trying to figure out the best ways to watch and keep track of their favourite teams. But before you download any apps, here’s something to think about: the La Liga app, the official streaming app for Spain’s most popular football league, has reportedly been using the microphones on fans’ phones to root out unauthorised broadcasts of matches in public venues such as bars and restaurants. [For God’s sake, is nothing sacred!?]

Apple hacks — For years, hackers could hide malware alongside legitimate Apple code and sneak it past several popular third-party security products for Mac computers, according to new research. This is not a flaw in MacOS but an issue in how third-party security tools implemented Apple’s APIs. A researcher from security firm Okta found that several security products for Mac – including Little Snitch, xFence, and Facebook’s OSquery — could be tricked into believing malware was Apple code, and let it past their defences. [But did hackers actually do this? Doesn’t appear so, so far.]

In the ‘yet  more to love about Google’ pantheon … Jarek Duda, the inventor of a compression technique called asymmetric numeral systems (ANS), dedicated the invention to the public domain. Since 2014, Facebook, Apple, and Google have all created software based on his breakthrough. But Google is trying to patent a video encoding scheme using Duda’s Public Domain compression technique! The inventor is fighting Google in the European courts and has won a preliminary ruling, but Google’s still trying for a US patent for it.

Japan, for once … A bullet train en route to Tokyo reportedly struck and killed a 52-year-old man on Thursday afternoon, but the man’s death wasn’t uncovered until some 32km later, where authorities made a grisly discovery. [Yuk!]

China to track cars, too — Under the plan being rolled out July 1, a radio-frequency identification chip for vehicle tracking will now be installed on cars when they are registered. Compliance will be voluntary this year but will be made mandatory for new vehicles at the start of 2019. [China says this is to improve public surveillance …oh, sorry, they said ‘security’.]
A Chinese-linked cyber-espionage unit has hacked a data centre belonging to a Central Asian country and has embedded malicious code on government sites. The hack of the data center happened sometime in mid-November 2017, according to a report published by Kaspersky Lab.

American trampers set forest on fire with their poo — No, really. Two campers were burning poop in a hole, you know, as you do … 500 acres went up in flames. [Well, this is a country that actually voted Trump into power, so I guess I should not be all that surprised.]
Revenge porn king sues Twitter for breaching his First Amendment rights — Craig Brittain, the creator of defunct revenge porn site IsAnybodyDown who is now running for Jeff Flake’s vacated Arizona Senate seat, is suing Twitter for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights by suspending his Twitter accounts. [Again, anyone surprised?]
Illustrated conflict calendar — Here’s what a mid-level government employee working in Leavenworth, Kansas, for the US Army’s Combined Arms Combat Development Activities division, noticed about the world in the first week of March 1981: the US embassy in El Salvador was attacked (again). Lent began. It was Sonny Park’s last day in the US Army, and Walter Cronkite’s last day at CBS. Kansas won the Big 8 Tournament. He had a “nice day with Liz.” All of these details, along with many more, were recorded in brightly coloured notes and illustrations in a government-issued calendar. [Aw – stick that on the fridge.] This dude had wide-ranging interests – he chronicled truckers, terrorism, snow at home and in Lebanon, the death of a Nazi collaborator, Reagan’s 72nd birthday, Israeli politics, football results, the first female Supreme Court justice swearing in the first female Secretary of Transportation, overlong budget meetings, full moons, vernal equinoxes, Beltane, International Women’s Day, a killer tornado, Tunisian riots, trade deficits and much more.Long-term planetary offending — New research shows that even our ancestors in the Bronze Age changed the chemistry of the soils they farmed over 2000 years ago. It’s some of the earliest evidence of humans having lasting a environmental impact on planet Earth. [Um, ‘go us’?]

In good news, Chile is the first country to ban plastic bags — Chile’s Senate has passed a bill that will prohibit the use of plastic bags in stores, with a vote in their House of Representatives overwhelmingly for the measure. The new law would give large retailers one year to phase out the use of plastic bags, and smaller businesses two years. This makes Chile the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags, and officially recognise how important such a ban would be in the effort to reduce unnecessary single-use plastic waste. [But Chile has not banned plastic clothes, car parts, computers, containers, implements, devices, pegs, pens, cables, book covers, packing, binders, cable ties …]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Supply networks [in an apocalypse] will immediately be effected by … losses to staff, clogged roads, damage to infrastructure, survivor trauma … usually, as soon as there’s a hint of disaster, people stock up. If citizens were already filling their cupboards before the disaster struck, with news reports that doctors feared a disease outbreak, or dramatic weather change, flooding, volcanic or earthquake activity, military action etcetera, supply may already have come under constraint before the full disaster becomes apparent.”

Apple Mac, iPhone & iPad news for New Zealanders

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