Facebook has booted AggregateIQ,the Canadian election consulting firm that built data tools for sketchy election firm Cambridge Analytica, this week on the grounds that it may have received some of the extensive data on 87 million Facebook users the latter company received through a partnership with an app.
Facebook is also suspending a data analytics firm called CubeYou from the platform after CNBC notified the company that CubeYou was collecting information about users through quizzes. CubeYou misleadingly labeled its quizzes “for non-profit academic research,” then shared user information with marketers. [I would guess ‘sold’ rather than ‘shared’, myself. ] Almost 10% of Americans have already deleted their Facebook accounts.
Does that sound bad? How about this, then – the data could be in Russia: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie says the data the firm gathered from Facebook could have come from more than 87 million users and could be stored in Russia. The professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the UK and Russia, you see. Hooray!
So Facebook has a dubious plan to ‘improve’ the situation.
Bigger Brothers: a man in China got caught by his face — The man was reportedly caught by facial recognition software running on cameras at a concert identified him. That’s despite there being over 50,000 people attending the concert, which took place in Nanchang. Law enforcement in the country has increasingly been turning to facial recognition software to surveil the public for persons of interest.
The Indian government intends to build an identification system of unprecedented scope. The country is reportedly “scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones.” [All of these ventures are for the betterment of humanity. Well, 1% of humanity, anyway.]
Excerpt from my forthcoming book:Authorities often scramble security and defence forces to combat ‘panic’ and looting after disasters. In fact, though, if you think back to news reports you have seen, this is rarely the case. For example, flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.
These scenes are often captured by the very same news crews that would have you believe the people on the ground are panicking, paralysed or looting, ‘so thank God (or whatever) the authorities have arrived’.
Of course, some people do those unhelpful things too, but the point is, most people do not.
Hubble Space Telescope discovered a light-bending Einstein Ring in space —The perfect circle surrounding a galaxy cluster in a new Hubble Space Telescope image is a visual indicator of the huge masses bending time and space in that region. The galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0146-0929, features hundreds of individual galaxies all bound together by gravity.
There’s so much mass in this region that the cluster is distorting light from objects behind it. This phenomenon is called an Einstein Ring because Albert Einstein suggested that a massive object would warp space and time back in the early 1900s. ~ This process is known today as a gravitational lens. Wow, what a clever bloke Einstein was!
Tiny neutron star spews out X-rays — The Hubble keeps on discovering. 1E 0102.2-7219 has the remnants of a supernova in one our Milky Way’s closest neighbours, the Small Magellanic Cloud dwarf galaxy. This supernova remnant is especially well-studied, but that hasn’t stopped astronomers from continuing to find new surprises, such as the neutron star at its centre. ~ A neutron star can pack the mass of our Sun and more into a ball less than 32km across. Heavy, right?
Europe’s gas-sniffing spacecraft to detect Martian gases — In about two weeks, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos orbiter will begin to scan the Martian atmosphere in search of trace gases, including those potentially linked to life. ~ Mars’ atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. So it’s got to be one amazing sniffer.
One-degree rise in temperature causes ripple effect in world’s largest High Arctic lake — A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world’s largest High Arctic lake. The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased. The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions. The findings document an unprecedented shift from the previous three centuries. ~ A gimp I know once told me that ‘global warming was a left wing conspiracy’. I asked him what the left wing could possibly gain from such a conspiracy. He cut me off.
Then there are these just-discovered ‘super-salty’ arctic lakes — Anja Rutishauser, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, accidentally discovered two sub-glacial super-salty lakes while conducting a geological survey of the area. She was able to confirm the presence of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex.
The lakes measure about five and eight square kilometres (between two and three square miles) in size, but aren’t connected to any known sources of meltwater. Excitingly, these super-salty lakes, with their cold, liquid water, are potential hosts for microbial life – and reasonably good approximations of what the conditions might be like on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. ~ But are they full of pre-salted fish?
World’s first electrified road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden — A 2 kilometre (1.2-mile) stretch of road with electric rails has been installed in Stockholm, Sweden. This allows electric vehicles to charge up their batteries as they drive across it. The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable. ~ At a cost of €1m per kilometre, the cost of electrification is said to be 50 times lower than that required to construct an urban tram line!
3D-Printed public housing unveiled in France — Researchers have unveiled what they billed as the world’s first 3D-printed house to serve as a home in the French city of Nantes, with the first tenants due to move in by June. From a report:
Academics at the University of Nantes who led the project said it was the first house built in situ for human habitation using a robot 3D-printer. The BatiPrint3D robot uses a special polymer material that should keep the building insulated effectively for a century. It took BatiPrint3D around 18 days to complete its part of the work on the house, creating hollow walls that were subsequently filled with concrete. ~ The 95-square-metre (1000 square feet), five-room house will be allocated to a local family qualified for social housing.
Sweden had a Pompeii and an onion — On the Swedish island of Öland, at a ring fort called Sandby Borg, archaeologists have uncovered a peculiar onion, project leader Helena Victor found a preserved bulb and sent it to archaeobotanist Jens Heimdahl at The Swedish History Museum, who discovered the ‘big nut’ was in fact a 1500-year-old onion. It’s the oldest one ever found in Scandinavia.
Sandby Borg was the site of a mysterious fifth-century massacre. In 2013, Sweden’s Kalmar County Museum and Lund University researchers found the slaughtered remains of its inhabitants. ~ Maybe they had terrible breath …
88,000-year-old middle finger found in Saudi Arabia could rewrite human history — A lone, bony middle finger is probably the oldest directly dated fossil of our species to ever be found outside of Africa and the region that comprises Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. But the new discovery is not without its critics, who say older evidence of human habitation outside of this region exists elsewhere, and that the finger might not even be human. ~ I’m not convinced either. After all, it’s hard to write anything with just one finger.
Facebook exec who wrote terrorism and death are ‘justified‘ by Facebook’s ‘growth’ says he was just trying to be ‘provocative‘. Andrew Bosworth wrote in an internal company memo that said Facebook may be used to coordinate terrorist attacks and that it might cause deaths from bullying, but that those effects were justified in the name of corporate growth. [Not the best deployment of social capital, then.] But Facebook’s fake news problems extend far beyond Russian trolls interfering in US elections. Overseas, false stories have turned into tools of political warfare – most notably in Myanmar, where government forces have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. Even Zuckerberg admits that’s a ‘real’ issue. [Big of him, or what?] But wait there’s more: a week after Apple CEO Cook said “some well-crafted regulation is necessary ” in light of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and that Apple was better off than Facebook because it doesn’t sell user data to advertisers, Facebook’s CEO decried Tim Cook as being ‘glib‘.
Is there any good news?I take heart that Adnan Syed, the man whose murder conviction became the subject of the wildly popular Serial podcast, was granted a new trial by Maryland’s second-highest court of appeals last week, although whether that actually happens is still in limbo.
Oh, and the jury’s still out on whether the Estonian governments program that aims to collect the DNA of 100,000 of its 1.3 million residents to then offer them lifestyle and health advice based on their genetics is a good thing or not.
Excerpt from my forthcoming book: On calling in the army after a disaster to ‘control looting and maintain order’: “It’s interesting that the panic myth is so persistent. Think about news reports you have seen: flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.”
Using Relativity to magnify stargazing — Two teams of scientists report seeing single, twinkling stars in galaxies billions of light years away with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. All they needed was Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. ~ And I thought that theory was about my Uncle Eddie.
Milky Way centre has loads of black holes — The supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy appears to have a lot of company, according to a new study that suggests the monster is surrounded by about 10,000 other black holes. ~ Holey heck.
The first 3d-printed steel bridge looks like it broke off an alien mothership — MX3D in Amsterdam just revealed the world’s first 3D-printed bridge. It’s made of a completely new type of steel, spans 12.19m (main picture, above), and will be installed early next year in De Wallen, the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam. It also looks utterly otherworldly. ~ The pimps and pushers will be pleased.
Antarctic vegetables — As temperatures outside dipped to well below freezing, and as blizzards pounded the Antarctic research station, German scientists were carefully tending to a remarkable veggie garden – one requiring no soil or natural sunlight. The success of their first harvest, which produced vibrant-looking lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and other treats, represents a promising test run for similar greenhouses that could one day be built on Mars – or beyond. ~ Iceberg lettuce, anyone?
Archaeologists have now found ‘new’ Nazca lines with the help of drones — Peruvian archaeologists armed with drones have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in adjacent Palpa province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. In addition, archaeologists surveyed locally known geoglyphs with drones for the first time – mapping them in never-before-seen detail. ~ It’s a sign.
Roman refrigerators — Archaeologists in Switzerland are conducting an experiment to figure out how ancient Romans used a series of deep shafts to keep food cool well into the summer months. The shafts were discovered in 2013 at Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site located near the Swiss city of Basel. The Roman colony was founded in 15 BC, and it soon blossomed into a vibrant metropolis and trade hub that was home to around 15,000 to 20,000 people. Today, Augusta Raurica remains one of the best-preserved Roman cities north of the Swiss Alps. ~ Really? To get cold in Switzerland, just walk up hill!
Four-eyed lizard — An ancient species of monitor lizard that went extinct some 34 million years ago had four eyes, according to new research. It’s the first time that scientists have ever seen such a thing in a jawed terrestrial animal – an observation that’s filling a gap in our understanding of how these features evolved. ~ Ah, but was four-eyed forewarned?
Nuclear Explosion Simulator shows just how screwed we’d be if Russia dropped another Tsar Bomba — For years, one of the more perversely interesting things on the internet has been Alex Wellerstein’s NUKEMAP, which — true to its name — shows you the estimated damage if you dropped a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. Now the Outrider Foundation has released its own, rather more elegant version, and we’re back to blowing up our backyards. Outrider’s simulator lets you enter any location and select from a number of bomb strengths, from the 15KT Little Boy (the first nuke used in war) to the 50,000KT Tsar Bomba, which Russia tested in 1961. [Finally, a more compelling reason to move to the outer burbs! Except for the Tsar Bomba – that just wipes out the entire Greater Auckland from Pukekohe in the south to north of Orewa.]In the US, President Trump has slammed Amazon for ‘causing tremendous loss To the United States’ — President Trump recently escalated his attack on Amazon, saying the e-commerce giant does not pay enough taxes, and strongly suggested he may try to rein in the e-commerce business. A sexual harassment lawsuit against Google might proceed as a Class Action; a department of the US State Department dedicated to diplomatic security has reportedly procured a $US15,000, Apple TV-sized device its manufacturers advertise as being able to break iPhone encryption in anywhere from two hours to three days (the FBI did not have the technical capability to access an iPhone used by one of those behind the San Bernardino shooting, it turns out).
Facebook may be able to listen to you through its app … During an appearance before a committee of UK lawmakers, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie breathed new life into longstanding rumours that the Facebook app listens to its users in order to target advertisements.
Dark Australian — In 2015, during the transition from paper to contactless public transit cards, Australia passed sweeping new data retention laws. These laws required all Australian internet service providers and telecommunications carriers to retain customers’ phone and internet metadata for two years: details like the phone number a person calls, the timestamps on text messages or the cell tower a phone pings when it makes a call. So Claire Reilly ‘went dark‘…
Apple adds more privacy and security —Apple’s updates (macOS 10.13.4, iOS11.3 and tvOS 11.3) were prompted by the enormous new European data protection regulation GDPR, and have been in the works since at least January. But they come at a good time for the company, whose head Tim Cook has been merrily capitalising on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, publicly rebuking Mark Zuckerberg over the social network’s business model.
Your passwords —Do you know whether the ones you’re using are strong enough to stand up to repeated hacking attempts? If you want to know how to do a self-audit on password security, and the best combinations to use to keep your data safe, Gizmodo has asked the experts to explain.
China sin-drome — China is testing cutting-edge defence technology to develop a powerful yet relatively low-cost weather modification system to bring substantially more rain to the Tibetan plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve. The network will be three times bigger than Spain … [And it uses burners! Yeah, global warming, China, for goodness sake!] But hey, at least the jaywalkerswill be sent ‘punishing text messages‘. [Angry face sad face …]
Shaping forests — Scientists have made a fundamental discovery about how fires on the edges of tropical forests control their shape and stability. The study implies that when patches of tropical forest lose their natural shape it could contribute to the catastrophic transformation of that land from trees to grass.
Some good news — A class of antibiotics heralded as an essential future weapon against drug-resistant superbugs passed an important test. There’s now evidence they can be used to treat serious infections in live animals (in vivo) without being toxic. Staunch ancients — Soon after the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age, our planet was vulnerable to abrupt and dramatic shifts in climate, including prolonged cold snaps that lasted for decades. New research suggests early hunter-gatherers living in the British Isles didn’t just manage to survive these harsh conditions – they actually thrived.
Rare supernova extinguishes star at record speed — Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, an international team of astronomers led by Brad Tucker from Australian National University has documented the death throes of a star located 1.3 billion light-years away. Known as KSN 2015K, this unprecedented FELT reached its maximum brightness in just 2.2 days, which is 10 times faster than standard supernovae. ~ Or it’s a pretty full-on war in a distant galaxy …
Brown planet reopens debate — Scientists have discovered a planet a lot like Jupiter orbiting a dim star, if you can even call it a star – it’s nothing like our Sun. The finding once again makes us wonder: what is a planet, anyway? ~ I’m going with ‘big round thing in space that orbits and is not on fire’.
Alien DNA — If an alien life form is alien, how will we know what it is? DNA and RNA are the building blocks of life on Earth, but the molecules of life might differ substantially on another planet. So if scientists combing, say, the potentially habitable waters of Jupiter’s moon Europa were to stumble across a new life form, how could they know what they had discovered? Aha – scientists at Georgetown University suggest a method for identifying alien life using modern genome sequencing technology. ~ Please open your carapace, sir and/or madam, we would like to take a swab.
Cat-like ‘hearing’ with device tens of trillions times smaller than human eardrum — Researchers are developing atomically thin ‘drumheads’ tens of trillions of times thinner than the human eardrum able to receive and transmit signals across a radio frequency range far greater than what we can hear with the human ear. Their work will likely contribute to making the next generation of ultralow-power communications and sensory devices smaller and with greater detection and tuning ranges. ~ Have to go – I just heard my cat.
NVIDIA’s 2 Petaflop DGX-2 AI Supercomputer with 32GB Tesla V100 and NVSwitch Tech — NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang recently announced a number of GPU-powered innovations for machine learning, including a new AI supercomputer and an updated version of the company’s powerful Tesla V100 GPU that now sports a hefty 32GB of on-board HBM2 memory. NVIDIA claims NVSwitch is five times faster than the fastest PCI Express switch and offers an aggregate 2.4TB per second of bandwidth. ~ All the better to monitor us with.
Bionic wheelbot — Using eight reconfigurable legs, the BionicWheelBot can creepily crawl along the ground, but then transform into a wheel and roll at an alarming speed. ~ It can tiptoe through tricky terrain then quickly roll through the flat bits.
A paperlike LCD is thin, flexible, tough and cheap — Optoelectronic engineers have manufactured a special type of LCD that is paper-thin, flexible, light and tough. With this, a newspaper could be uploaded onto a flexible paperlike display that could be updated as fast as the news cycles. It sounds futuristic, but scientists reckon it will be cheap to produce, perhaps only costing US$5 for a 5-inch screen. ~ I can almost guarantee the last word in its description will be gone by the time this becomes available.
Sewage sludge leads to biofuels breakthrough — Researchers have discovered a new enzyme that will enable microbial production of a renewable alternative to petroleum-based toluene, a widely used octane booster in gasoline that has a global market of 29 million tons per year. ~ Isn’t toluene also carcinogenic?
13,000-year-old human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast — Human footprints found off Canada’s Pacific coast may be 13,000 years old, according to a new study. The finding adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the hypothesis that humans used a coastal route to move from Asia to North America during the last ice age. ~ So that rules out flying.
Secrets of famous Neanderthal skeleton La Ferrassie 1 revealed — Anthropologists have provided new insights on one of the most famous Neanderthal skeletons, discovered over 100 years ago: La Ferrassie 1. Nearly all of the fractures were made post-mortem. La Ferrassie 1 was an old man (likely over 50 years old) who suffered various broken bones during his lifetime and had ongoing respiratory issues when he died. The skeleton was found in a burial pit and dated to between 40,000 and 54,000 years old. ~ The weight of sediments snapped the bones.
But wait! There is more from the a-holes at Cambridge Analytica — Cambridge Analytica got its hands on millions of people’s Facebook likes in 2014 by getting an academic, Aleksander Kogan, to design an app with a personality test that hoovered up data from the 250,000 or so Facebook users that took it, as well as from their millions of friends. Cambridge Analytica then used all those likes combined with the magic of big data to help put Donald Trump in the White House. But that’s only the half of it …. It may be a while since you’ve heard the handle Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who took responsibility for the infamous DNC hack of 2016. Reports from the intelligence community at the time, as well as common sense, pegged Guccifer 2.0 not as the Romanian activist he claimed to be, but a Russian operative. He messed up once, and now Guccifer 2.0 has been fingered as a particular GRU officer working out of the Russian agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow. AI outsmarting its creators — A paper recently published to ArXiv highlights just a handful of incredible and slightly terrifying ways that algorithms think.
China’s terrifying “social credit” system isn’t planned to be fully implemented until 2020, but we’re already seeing facets of it being put in place. In May, people who have committed acts of “serious dishonor” will reportedly be unable to travel on trains or flights for up to a year. And China has approved the creation of one of the world’s largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image. [Greetings from George Orwell, and good luck with that.]
Cell tower cancer link — Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer. A massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five US deaths. Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths had harbored levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe.
People asked to name women tech leaders said ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ — The tech industry has a persistent problem with gender inequality, particularly in its leadership ranks, and a new study from LivePerson underscores just how depressingly persistent it truly is. When the company asked a representative sample of 1000 American consumers whether they could name a famous woman leader in tech, 91.7% of respondents drew a complete blank, while only 8.3% said they could. But wait, it gets worse: Of those 8.3% who said they could name a famous woman tech leader, only 4% actually could — and a quarter of those respondents named Siri or Alexa. [OMFG.]
The duelling visions for how humanity will survive — By 2050, the world’s population will top ten billion. As industrial capitalism evolves across the globe like no time in human history, will our planet’s ecosystem be able to sustain itself during this rapid transformation? Charles C. Mann’s grapples with these problems in The Wizard and the Prophet.
We’re sleepwalking into a mass extinction, say scientists. The most biodiverse aquatic communities may be the most vulnerable to extinction. Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record. [But some of us are looking at the stars. We could become a galactic wrecking crew rather than just an Earthbound one.]
But yes, there’s a little good news:A few decades ago, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What’s left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west. But Kazakhstan’s North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. [Great, huh? Hah!]
Scientists building a mini-Earth with 8 tonnes of spinning liquid sodium —Many scientists still don’t know much about our planet’s magnetosphere, and about planetary magnetic fields in general. There are several effects hypothesised to add to this “dynamo” that drives the magnetic field. Some think it’s related to the buoyancy of the metals inside the Earth, for example. But these scientists want to know how precession, like the motion of a wobbling top, adds into the mix.
To try to figure it out, German scientists are recreating the Earth in a lab. Sort of. ~Data by 2020. Now there’s a vision.
Of which, UK doctors used stem cells to restore eyesight in two people —Two elderly patients with macular degeneration at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London were given a cutting-edge stem cell therapy as part of a small trial to improve vision for people with sudden and severe loss of vision caused by what’s known as ‘wet’ macular degeneration, in which abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and macula in the eye. ‘Wet’ macular degeneration is less common than ‘dry’ macular degeneration, but it is a more severe form of the disease. The two patients in the study went from not being able to read even with glasses, to reading 60 to 80 words per minute with normal reading glasses. ~ Further trials needed …
Wearable MRI scanner — British scientists have invented a new type of brain scanner that patients can wear on their head allowing them to move while being tested.
Neuroscientists will be able to envisage a whole new world of experiments with such a device, which looks like a prop (left) from a budget sci-fi movie or phantom of the opera. ~ And it’s called ‘Meg’. I prefer ‘Nut Meg’.
Editing RNA, not DNA, could cure disease one day — DNA is the code of life, and so advances that allow us to edit that code have unlocked vast potential, from simply editing away the buggy code of disease, to engineering animals that don’t spread illness, to, maybe one day in a distant future, creating so-called designer babies. But editing another essential molecular component of our biology – RNA, the messenger used by cells to turns DNA instructions into proteins – also holds great promise. ~ RNA turns genetic instructions from DNA into proteins.
Machine learning spots treasure trove of elusive viruses — Researchers have used artificial intelligence (AI) to discover nearly 6000 previously unknown species of virus. The work illustrates an emerging tool for exploring the enormous, largely unknown diversity of viruses on Earth. Although viruses influence everything from human health to the degradation of trash, they are hard to study. Scientists cannot grow most viruses in the lab, and attempts to identify their genetic sequences are often thwarted because their genomes are tiny and evolve fast. ~ One man’s treasure is …
First proof a synthesised antibiotic is capable of treating superbugs — A ‘game changing’ new antibiotic which is capable of killing superbugs has been successfully synthesized and used to treat an infection for the first time – and could lead to the first new class of antibiotic drug in 30 years. ~ It’s a simplified, synthesised form of teixobactin.
Researchers create new low-cost, sustainable material for reducing air and water pollution — A new ‘green’ material made from solid wastes and natural polymers promises better results than activated carbon in adsorbing pollutants in wastewater and air. The material is synthesized inexpensively from solid wastes and a naturally abundant polymer, and can cut down pollutants in air and wastewater with more success than activated carbon, the current gold standard adsorbent. ~ Is that hoisting waste by its own petard?
Bacteria eat greenhouse gas with a side of protein — With the ability to leech heavy metals from the environment and digest a potent greenhouse gas, methanotrophic bacteria pull double duty when it comes to cleaning up the environment. But before researchers can explore potential conservation applications, they first must better understand the bacteria’s basic physiological processes. New research has identified two never-before-studied proteins, called MbnB and MbnC, as partially responsible for the bacteria’s inner workings. ~ If it eats, what does it excrete?
New valve technology promises cheaper, greener engines — New technology reliably and affordably increases the efficiency of internal combustion engines by more than 10 per cent. The patented system for opening and closing valves could significantly reduce fuel consumption in everything from ocean-going ships to compact cars. ~ Aha, but what about compact ocean-going cars?
IBM unveils the ‘World’s Smallest Computer’ — On the first day of IBM Think 2018, the company’s flagship conference, IBM has unveiled what it claims is the world’s smallest computer. It’s smaller than a grain of salt and features the computer power of the x86 chip from 1990.
The computer will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and will also pack “several hundred thousand transistors,” according to the company. These will allow it to “monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data.” ~ It’s a bit hard to see the screen, though, and typing, what a nightmare!
Graphene makes better hair dye — Researchers at Northwestern University think they have stumbled upon an unexpected new use for the so-called supermaterial graphene: an easy-to-apply, safer and sturdier black hair dye that could give other permanent dyes a run for their money. The new dye even made hair immune to frizz and static electricity. ~ Finally, a real use for Graphene!
Genomes of five late Neandertals provide insights into Neandertal population history — Researchers have sequenced the genomes of five Neandertals who lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago. These late Neandertals are all more closely related to the Neandertals that contributed DNA to modern human ancestors than an older Neandertal from the Altai Mountains that was previously sequenced. Their genomes also provide evidence for a turnover in the Neandertal population towards the end of Neandertal history. ~ And there was hoping one sample at least was from Zurich, so I could write ‘Genomes of Zurich’… but no, they were from Croatia, Siberia and the Russian Caucasus.
Fake news: it’s us! Over the last year, ‘fake news’ has gone from being a niche concern that charlatans exploited for profit, to a code red existential threat to the fabric of society … But our scientific understanding of how and why false stories spread is still limited. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab are diving in to correct that blind spot and for anyone looking to point a finger, Gizmodo has some bad news. It’s not all bots: ‘major Twitter influencers’ [perhaps they really should be called Twats] were more likely to share true stories. Twitter has also suspended several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality. Meanwhile, Facebook subsidiary Instagram and its competitor Snapchat have both disabled GIF-embedding service Giphy after an extremely racist image began spreading via the platform. Hacking Team’s developers are actively continuing the development of spyware, and Reddit says it has identified and removed hundreds of Russian propaganda accounts. [Or is that Reddit propaganda?]
Shadowy phones for drug cartel —For years, a slew of shadowy companies have sold so-called encrypted phones, custom BlackBerry or Android devices that sometimes have the camera and microphone removed and only send secure messages through private networks.
Now, the FBI has arrested the CEO of one of the most established companies, Phantom Secure, as part of a complex law enforcement operation, according to court records and sources familiar with the matter.
Radioactivity — Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation has released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation’s highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn’t fully work. So what about bricks? A team of researchers at North Carolina State University thinks they have a simple way to detect the leftover radiation simply by taking a core of material out of a brick. Something like this could be important for things such as nuclear weapons inspections. [I can do that just from a place name: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl …] So, how about ‘better’ nuclear plants? Scientists want to create miniature suns in power plants here on Earth. [Yeah, this idea doesn’t worry me at all.] MIT has announced it is working with a new private company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) to make nuclear fusion finally happen. CFS recently attracted a $US50 million ($64 million) investment from the Italian energy company Eni, which it will use to fund the development.
Plastic water bottles full of plastic-filled water — The bottled water industry is estimated to be worth nearly US$200 billion a year, surpassing sugary sodas as the most popular beverage in many countries. But its perceived image of cleanliness and purity is being challenged by a global investigation that found the water tested is often contaminated with tiny particles of plastic. [I’ve always found this so absurd for so many reasons: this just adds another. Water should always be heated and filtered through ground coffee for maximum safety.]
China wants to bar people with ‘bad social credit’ from trains and planes —People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. [This from a country dumb enough to willingly give its authoritarian leader even more power.] The suspected Chinese cyber-espionage group dubbed TEMP.Periscopeappeared to be seeking information that would benefit the Chinese government, said FireEye, a US-based provider network protection systems. The hackers have focused on US.maritime entities that were either linked to, or have clients operating in, the South China Sea. But hey, at least the pollution has diminished. Over the past four years, pollution in China’s major cities has decreased by an average of 32%. But be careful, the Chinese space stationmay still wipe out your city. [From Heavenly Palace to Earth-smashing malice.] Is this why Frazzled Chump wants a Space Force?
Half a degree more global warming could flood out 5 million more people — A new study finds that by 2150, the seemingly small difference between a global temperature increase of 1.5 and 2° Celsius would mean the permanent inundation of lands currently home to about 5 million people, including 60,000 who live on small island nations. Extreme winter weather in the US has been linked to the warmer Arctic.Extreme winter weather is two-to-four times more likely in the eastern US when the Arctic is unusually warm. In Florida, wildlife officials are smashing the skulls of iguanas. Over the past decade, the population of this invasive lizard has absolutely exploded. Native to Mexico and Central America, these herbivorous lizards were introduced to the state as pets, but they have since taken Florida by storm, munching on plants and flowers in gardens, and damaging footpaths and seawalls with their burrows. [So officials smash ’em.] The head-bashing technique falls within the bounds of Florida’s animal cruelty laws … But, in ‘good’ news … Around 74,000 years ago, a massive caldera erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, triggering a prolonged and devastating volcanic winter. Scientists have speculated that the Toba eruption pruned back human populations to a considerable degree, but new research published today suggests at least one group of humans living in southern Africa not only managed to survive the event, they actually prospered.
For a bit of fun, what do you reckon is the filthiest animal?Gizmodo asked the experts. [Don’t worry, humans get a mention.]
Excerpt from my forthcoming book:“Say you wake up one morning, and 40% of people no longer exist. That’s the honeymoon vision of apocalypse, as ridiculous as that sounds … because it is ridiculous. If people didn’t just evaporate, which you have to admit is extremely unlikely under any imaginable apocalyptical scenario, the immediate problem is getting rid of the dead. There are 56 houses in my street. If there are three people in each, averaged out, that’s 168 people. At 40% mortality, that’s 67 bodies to cope with straight away …”
All Disk Galaxies rotate once every billion years — According to a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers discovered that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass. ~ Is it just me who finds it weird that distant galaxies follow a time frame dictated by the sun we happen to be circling?
Kepler space telescope is running out of gas — NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has been peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy for nearly a decade. It has spotted over 2500 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars, with another 2500-plus possible worlds are waiting to be confirmed. But Kepler will be out of fuel in just a few months and left to its long, lonely orbit. The spacecraft will soon be replaced by another exoplanet-hunting space telescope, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS is set to launch into space on April 16th. ~ Er, they didn’t fit solar panels??
Gravitational Wave Detector progress — One of the most expensive, complex and problematic components in gravitational wave detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — which made the first, historic detection of these ripples in space-time in September 2015 — is the 4-kilometer-long vacuum chambers that house all the interferometer optics. But what if this requirement for ground-based gravitational wave detectors isn’t needed? This suggestion has been made by a pair of physicists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). They are developing a method that could allow extremely sensitive interferometers to operate in the “open air.” ~ After all, the open air is good for nearly everyone.
Devices get smaller, so which watch? Can you imagine that one day all your devices might be in that thing around your wrist? Already, some people use smartphones alone for all their computing … inconceivable 10 years ago. Reviews.com has decided on what’s best so far.
Ghostly beetle for new white — Scientists have engineered perhaps the whitest natural substance, using the same physics behind one ghostly white Southeast Asian beetle. White and black feel like opposites for a reason. Black-coloured things absorb nearly all of the light that strikes their surface, while white things send the light back, scattered equally at all wavelengths. A team of European scientists have essentially created the whitest paper using this physical property. ~ It can be 20 to 30 times whiter than white filter paper. Ouch!
Amputees to get new limb ‘feeling’ — Prosthetic hands have gotten increasingly sophisticated. Many can recreate the complex shape and detail of joints and fingers, while powered prostheses allow for independent, willful movement. But a new study published in Science Translational Medicine offers a potential glimpse into the future of the technology: Artificial hands that actually feel like living limbs as they move.
New methods find undiagnosed genetic diseases in electronic health records — Researchers have found a way to search genetic data in electronic health records to identify undiagnosed genetic diseases in large populations so treatments can be tailored to the actual cause of the illness. ~ Yay, a use for Big Data that’s other than pecuniary.
New brain preservation technique could lead to mind uploading — Using a technique developed three years ago, researchers from MIT and 21st Century Medicine have shown that it’s possible to preserve the microscopic structures contained within a large mammalian brain. The breakthrough means scientists now have the means to store and study samples of the human brain over longer timescales – but the method could eventually, maybe, be used to resurrect the dead. ~ It’s the downloading part some people clearly need.
Nanoparticle eyedrops may one day replace glasses —A new paper from Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advances Materials in Tel Aviv, Israel and published by the European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons, outlines the research, which involves a combination of “nanodrops” and a quick medical procedure. ~ But how will you wipe those smears off them?
Systemic weirdness — The universe is loaded with a lot of strange symmetries between seemingly dissimilar systems, thanks to similar underlying physics. Take an electrical circuit, a spring and a swinging pendulum. These simple oscillators might look completely different, but they are governed by the same mathematical equations. Other similarities aren’t so simple – which makes them especially mind-boggling.
Separate teams of researchers have announced another discovery: specially-engineered materials, called topological insulators, displaying similar behaviours in very different systems. ~ I don’t think that’s weird. It’s like two vastly different political systems ending up with the same result: one was called Hitler and the other, Stalin.
Particle accelerator reveals hidden text —History and particle physics seem like pretty disparate fields but they have more in common than you’d think. X-rays from a high-energy lab have revealed ancient Greek medical texts that had been stripped and covered with religious writing.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have long been using high-powered X-rays at their Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) to analyse ancient texts. This week, they will be revealing the text beneath 10th-century psalms from the St Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. The hidden words were a translation of writings by the ancient Greek doctor Galen. ~ Wasn’t he in Planet of the Apes? And yes, there is a connection there, too.
Modern humans interbred with Denisovans twice in history — Modern humans co-existed and interbred with Neanderthals, sure, but also with another species of archaic humans, the mysterious Denisovans. Research now describes how, while developing a new genome-analysis method for comparing whole genomes between modern human and Denisovan populations, researchers unexpectedly discovered two distinct episodes of Denisovan genetic intermixing, or admixing, between the two. ~ Let’s all hope it was consensual.
Entomologist confirms first Saharan farming 10,000 years ago — By analysing a prehistoric site in the Libyan desert, a team of researchers has been able to establish that people in Saharan Africa were cultivating and storing wild cereals 10,000 years ago. In addition to revelations about early agricultural practices, there could be a lesson for the future, if global warming leads to a necessity for alternative crops. ~ But first they had to rule out ants.
Big Data gets you … really — Facebook’s VPN Service Onavo Protect collects personal data, and does so even when it’s switched off! Security researcher Will Strafach took a look at Onavo Protect, the newly released VPN service from Facebook:
He found that Onavo Protect uses a Packet Tunnel Provider app extension to do this. [First, why would anyone trust a VPN service by Facebook, and secondly, is anyone surprised?] But YouTube is full of nazi propaganda, and arch data-miner Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analysing drone footage. [Yeah, now we all feel safer.]
Two million Americans lost power after ‘bomb cyclone’ — Tens of thousands of utility workers in the Northeast raced to restore power to more than 1.5 million homes and businesses just days after a powerful nor’easter caused flooding and wind damage from Virginia to Maine… Flood waters had receded in most areas, but the storm took out huge chunks out the coastline in Massachusetts and other states. [Trump will no doubt blame Mexicans, or Hilary.]
IT staff undercover: FBI recruiting at Best Buy — Questions were raised last year about whether FBI agents were actively recruiting technicians at Best Buy’s Geek Squad to search for illegal content on customer devices. According to newly released documents, however, prior reports only scratched the surface: Best Buy’s ties with the FBI appear more complex than once surmised.
On February 28, the Australian Federal Police paid the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Melbourne headquarters a visit after it was alleged the weather organisation’s “powerful computers” were being used for crypto-mining purposes. And want to know why everything gets hacked all the time? Staff shortages, apparently. Sobbing Shkreli — Back in September, “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli said he wouldn’t spend a single day in prison. He was wrong. Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison on March 10th by US District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto at a hearing in Brooklyn. Shkreli was sobbing when he told the judge that he’s “not the same person [he] once was”. Right: it wasn’t a great sign for Shkreli when his own lawyer said in court that there were times he wanted to punch Shkreli in the face. [Like only at least two million other people.]
Ocean shite — It’s polluted, germ-filled sludge, not sharks, that will make going to the beach more dangerous than just staying home – at least according to a cleverly titled review published this week in the International Journal of Epidemiology. There is a significant increase in the risk of ear and gut ailments in those who are exposed to bathing waters. [Yes, avoid New Zealand’s ‘pristine’ beaches, that’s for sure. Hottest summer ever and no swimming!] But hey, there can be a good side to poo — at least when it’s from penguins.After noticing telltale guano streaks on satellite imagery, an international team of researchers set out to count the number of penguins on Antarctica’s aptly named Danger Islands. They found a previously undetected supercolony of over 1.5 million Adélie penguins – a surprising result, given how poorly these aquatic birds are doing just 161km away. And speaking of bacteria, our Superior Being Elon Musk might just mess up another panel thanks to bacteria he launched into space on his stupid vanity project. If his Tesla Roadster wasn’t sterilised before SpaceX launched it, scientists at Purdue said Musk’s car could turn harmful if it crashes into a planet like Mars.
Bullets are bad — really really bad. Trauma surgeons who have worked on injuries inflicted by military-style weapons want to call attention not to the exact model of the rifle, but the size and speed of the bullets they fire. To put it short: the resulting injuries are grotesque. But the White House is more concerned about video games. [Mind you, some of this is utterly revolting. on the good side, this is not reality, it just looks like it.]
Orion Nebula’s tangled web — Perhaps the most recognisable constellation in the night sky is Orion the hunter. Of the three bright orbs lined up below his belt – his sword – the middle one isn’t a star, but an entire nebula, and parts of it have been invisible to researchers until recently.
Scientists using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array in Chile and the IRAM 30m telescope in Spain have revealed a new view of the famous Orion Nebula. The observations let researchers identify a network of gas organised in relatively thin, tangled filaments. The result was new science and an incredible mosaic of images. ~ The formation of stars …
Old Red Dwarf wakes up neutron star — An international team of researchers first spotted what looked like the symbiotic relationship of an old red dwarf star waking up neutron star on 13 August 2017, using an Earth-orbiting telescope called INTEGRAL. While binary stars are common, a lot of things about this finding, from capturing the initial blast that signalled the start of the stellar relationship, were a surprise. ~ Time for work!
NASA spacecraft reveals Jupiter’s interior in unprecedented detail — NASA’s Juno spacecraft has revealed that Jupiter’s iconic striped bands, caused by immensely powerful winds, extend to a depth of about 3000km below the surface. The findings also provide a partial answer to the question of whether the planet has a core, “showing that the inner 96% of the planet rotates ‘as a solid body,’ even though technically it is composed of an extraordinarily dense mixture of hydrogen and helium gas,” reports The Guardian. ~ It has a way more atmosphere than Earth.
Metal-organic compounds produces new class of glass — Lightning and volcanos both produce glass, and humans have been making glass from silicon dioxide since prehistory. Industrialization brought us boron-based glasses, polymer glasses and metallic glasses, but now an international team of researchers has developed a new family of glass based on metals and organic compounds that stacks up to the original silica in glass-forming ability. ~ The new glass is so new, they have still to fully characterised all its properties.
New tyre tech from recycled rubber and moss — Oxygene, a concept tyre from Goodyear, shows what might be, rather than what is. The tyre is 3D-printed from rubber powder made from recycled tyres. Then Goodyear fills the center mass of the tire with moss. The tyre captures road moisture, improving grip as it does so, and feeds it to the moss. The moss also captures CO2 and turns it into oxygen via photosynthesis. Tyres like this would turn cars, especially electric cars, into part of the solution to anthropomorphic climate change. ~ Anthropo-what now?
New Segway is a transporter-companion — The Segway Loomo is a personal mobile robot that is controlled by a smartphone. You can ride the Loomo, whether it’s a joy ride, a jaunt to the park or a quick spin around the neighbourhood. Disembark, and it becomes your robot. You can program it to track and follow you around and it can also capture video. ~ Right – I can’t think of a single reason I’d like to do either, but sure.
Dutch police DNA-profile 21,500 men to try and solve 20-year-old murder —A Dutch investigation into the 1998 murder of 11-year-old Nicky Verstappen has taken forensic DNA testing to an extreme. In order to solve cold case, police have asked 21,500 men in the German-Dutch border area to participate in a massive DNA hunt. The hope is that the mass screening might identify a relative of the killer, whose DNA would be a close match. ~ Smart: perpetrators would probably try and evade testing, but their relatives?
Strange polio-like illness might finally have been identified — Since 2014, doctors have been stymied by a medical mystery: People, mostly children, were coming down with a previously unknown, polio-like illness that causes paralysis. Now, an international team of doctors published in The Lancet believe they have managed to confirm the main culprit. ~ Meticulous work rewarded.
Genetic timeline of early Pacific settlers — Researchers have helped put together the most comprehensive study ever conducted into the origins of people in Vanuatu, regarded as a geographic gateway from Asia to the Remote Pacific.
The new research, published across two separate research papers, uses a combination of DNA analyses of ancient skeletons and modern samples, as well as archaeological evidence, to put together a complete timeline of migration to the island nation. ~ The people of Vanuatu today, like many peoples of the Pacific, can claim a dual heritage.
Stellar flare dulls hopes for life on planets around Proxima Centauri — Scientists have discovered a flare from the sun’s closest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri. Many are reporting it could spell trouble for any hope for life on its exoplanet, Proxima b, and might also kill off a presumed set of other planets around the star. Last year, there were many reports that evidence of dust rings around Proxima Centuari would imply the star could have an elaborate planetary system alongside its confirmed exoplanet, Proxima b. But a new analysis of the same dataset calls those past results into question. ~ All that speculation at such distance could only ever be aProximate.
Jupiter’s Red Spot may disappear — The Great Red Spot has been a fixture of Jupiter ‘s cloudy visage for centuries and is among the most recognizable features in the solar system. But the Great Red Spot is shrinking, and recently, news stories reported it could vanish within the next 10 or 20 years. The storm’s shape is changing, most significantly in width, and as time marches on it’s becoming less oval and more circular. ~ The Great Red Spot is in fact a gigantic storm. It’s red because of the, uh, colour.
Cassini crashed into Saturn — On 15 September 2017, the Cassini spacecraft ended its valiant 13-year mission by performing a kamikaze dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere. A new image released by NASA shows the exact spot (main picture, above) where the Cassini craft was lost to us forever. ~ Got that Saturnians? It wasn’t an attack, just callous disregard.
Saturn’s moon Enceladus has become an alien-hunting hot spot — Thought to be a barren cue-ball until NASA’s Cassini mission found both active geysers and a liquid ocean beneath its frozen surface, the icy little moon is now one of the likeliest places to encounter extraterrestrial life in our solar system. Last year, when scientists analyzed Enceladus’ ocean (actually a small drop of it blasted skyward in a geyser) they found evidence of hydrothermal reactions, which produce H2: just the kind of molecular food some little Enceladian organism might like to munch on. On Earth, similar microbes live in a deep sea hydrothermal vent off the coast of Japan. ~ Sounds yummy … maybe with a little mustard, anyhoo.
Artificially Intelligent jobs — AI will create more jobs than it destroys was the not-so-subtle rebuttal from tech giants to growing concern over the impact of automation technologies on employment. Execs from Google, IBM and Salesforce were questioned about the wider societal implications of their technologies during a panel session at Mobile World Congress. ~ I don’t yet opt in to their conclusions, myself.
Japanese engineering researchers have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly — They can ride waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2mg, has a diameter of 3.5mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. ~ It’s going to annoy beings with better hearing, though – dogs, maybe?
DNA organises itself in a video — DNA, when unravelled, can span more that two meters in length, but your body’s cells whip it into tidy bundles.
We’ve long known that the body can do this. But how it accomplishes this biological feat is another thing. Now, researchers from Delft University in the Netherlands and EMBL Heidelberg in Germany have succeeded in actually catching the process on video, observing how DNA gets structured in real time. ~ Thus also solving a debate.
More early tattoos revealed —A new analysis of two ancient Egyptian mummies has uncovered the earliest known examples of ‘figural’ tattoos on human beings – that is, tattoos meant to represent real things rather than abstract symbols. What’s more, at around 5000 years old, it’s the earliest evidence of tattoos on a woman. ~ The mummies were on display for decades without anyone noticing.