The Apocalypticon ~ Climate terror, data, lies, rats, Cohen


The most terrifying climate disasters Of 2018 — 2018 has been the year when climate change’s influence on our weather crystallised further. The flames showed up in our proverbial (and in some cases, literal) backyard. And the planet, our home, will go up in smoke if we don’t act soon.
Second hottest Arctic — According to a new report released by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic had its second-hottest year on record in 2018. Arctic air temperatures over the past five years exceeded all previous records since 1900.
Life is changing in the Arctic — Utqiaġvik is warming, along with the rest of the Arctic, about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, sits right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very top of Alaska. It’s the northernmost town in the United States, and home to about 4400. The coastline here used to be edged with sea ice for nearly the whole year. But that period is getting shorter and shorter, and as a result Utqiaġvik locals are dealing with coastal erosion and are changing how they hunt in the fall.
Rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history — It wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found. The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago.

Quakes and tsunamis — US quake: A magnitude 4.4 earthquake struck at around 4:14am near Decatur, Tennessee on December 12th. That’s about 150 miles southeast of Nashville. But Tennessee residents weren’t the only ones to feel the temblor: over 7700 people reported experiencing it from Kentucky and northern Alabama to the western Carolinas, and even in Atlanta.
Japan’s plans for a 30-metre (100-foot) tsunami — It will shake houses and tall buildings, and unleash a 30-metre tsunami on one of the most densely populated and industrialised coastlines in the world. It could kill and injure a million people. And it will almost certainly come in the next few decades. Now, the Japanese government is making plans to evacuate millions of people in anticipation of what could be one of the worst natural disasters in history: the Nankai Trough megaquake. [Good name for a band, though!] Clearly, we need to step up our geoengineering
But we may run out of the materials we need — Plenty of high-tech electronic components, like solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and complex circuits require specific rare metals. These can include magnetic neodymium, electronic indium, and silver, along with lesser-known metals like praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. These metals are mined in large quantities in countries around the world, and they make their way into the supply chains of all sorts of electronics and renewables companies. But there may not be enough to combat climate change.

Data wars — Facebook admits bug may have briefly exposed photos of 6.8 million app users: Between September 13th and 25th, a bug temporarily exposed more photos than intended to third-party apps that use Facebook logins, the social network acknowledged in December.
So are you ready to ditch ’em? Here’s a reflection on a month without Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, plus a how-to guide if you want to quit the biggest companies in tech.
Chinese hackers are breaching Navy contractors to steal targets include everything from ship-maintenance data to missile plans, triggering a top-to-bottom review of cyber vulnerabilities, WSJ reported, citing officials and experts.
Floating IT hacks — IT systems on boats aren’t as air-gapped as people think. They are falling victims to all sorts of cyber-security incidents, such as ransomware, worms, viruses, and other malware usually carried on board via USB sticks. These cyber-security incidents have only been recently revealed as past examples of what could go wrong, in a new cyber-security guideline released by 21 international shipping associations and industry groups. In one of the many incidents, a new-build dry bulk ship was delayed from sailing for several days because its ECDIS was infected by a virus.
Android facial recognition fooled by fake heads — Forbes magazine tested four of the most popular handsets running Google’s operating systems and Apple’s iPhone to see how easy it’d be to break into them with a 3D-printed head. All the Android handsets opened with the fake (but Apple’s phone was impenetrable).
Talking about fake heads … Michael Cohen on Trump — Michael Cohen, President Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer, says his former boss knew it was wrong to order hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who say they had affairs with Trump – but he directed Cohen to do it anyway to help his election chances. Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow

Talking about rats — Washington, DC, has a serious rat problem on its hands. But this has little to do with the shady goings-on at some of the highest levels of government. The Associated Press has reported that the DC region is facing a serious problem with Rattus Norvegicus, or the brown rat, an infestation that’s being exacerbated by a population spike thanks to milder winters.

Any good news? A little: a coalition of environmental groups who monitor divestment released a report at the Poland climate talks showing that the number of groups pulling their money out of fossil fuels had reached 1000. Together, these groups manage nearly $11 trillion worth of funds.

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Futurology ~ Mission to Bennu, tiny Big Bangs, 100 years-ago visions, Incan recreation, stalagmite dating key


What kids a 100 years ago hoped we’d be like now

Mission to Bennu may help defend Earth, and there may be water there — Bennu is a 487.68m-wide asteroid that orbits the Sun relatively close to the Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission won’t just take pretty pictures of the asteroid Bennu, it will also help scientists learn whether the rock will one day threaten Earth. OSIRIS-REx spacecraft also detected evidence of water on its target just a week after arriving.
~ To wetly threaten Planet Earth … 

Quark soup droplets expand like Big Bangs — Stars and galaxies didn’t form right away. Scientists think that matter was initially a near-perfect fluid of quarks, the smallest known component of atoms. They have found evidence of these fluids in high-energy particle collider experiments. Now, evidence continues to mount that these liquids can form in unexpected ways, yielding tiny droplets that flow outwards explosively, like liquid Big Bangs in miniature.
~ Sounds like messy dining, though. 

Experimental gene therapy stops mice getting fat — Researchers at Flinders University knocked out a gene known as RCAN1 in mice, hypothesising this would increase “non-shivering thermogenesis,” which “expends calories as heat rather than storing them as fat” – the mice were fed a high-calorie diet and did not gain weight. In particular, the modified mice did not store fat around their middles (a phenomenon associated with many health risks, including cardiac problems) and their resting muscles burned more calories.
~ Despite that, I don’t think I can bring myself to eat those skinny, gene-altered mice. 

What did Minnesota kids from the year 1904 think would happen by the year 1919, or even 2019? They imagined fancy airships in the sky, “automobiles for everything,” and wondrous house-cleaning robots. They even imagined trips to Mars by the year 1919. Seriously.
~ I already have a wondrous house-cleaning robot. Me. 

Incan temple virtually recreated — The 1500-year-old Pumapunku temple in western Bolivia is considered a crowning achievement of Mesoamerican architecture, yet no one really knew what the original structure actually looked like. Until now.
The stonework of the temple is considered so precise that ancient alien enthusiasts claim it was made by lasers and other extraterrestrial technologies.
~ The technique can now be used on other sites. 

Two Chinese stalagmites enrich radiocarbon dating — Owing to the discovery of two stalagmites in a Chinese cave containing a seamless chronological atmospheric record dating back to the last Ice Age, radiocarbon dating will now be better.
An unbroken, high-resolution record of atmospheric carbon-12 and carbon-14 was found in a pair of stalagmites located within Hulu Cave near Nanjing, China, according to new research published in Science.
~ Now we can calibrate back a lot further. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump, Faceplant, Climactic, Hope


Trump’s golf club employed illegals — The Trump Organization employed undocumented immigrants at one of its New Jersey golf clubs, according to a lawyer representing one former and one current employee. [Honestly, is anyone surprised at new hypocrisies to do with the Donald?] Two women, for example, worked in close proximity to Trump both before and after he was elected president.
Flynn trumpets on Trump — Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has provided “substantial” aid in the Russia investigation and beyond [my italics]. And that merits a judge’s consideration at Flynn’s sentencing this month, prosecutors said in court papers.
Only in America? Hundreds of military service members reportedly got caught up in a sextortion scam run by prison inmates using mobile phones, according to a release issued on Wednesday by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Faceplant — While we’re in the US, Facebook employees have been using burner phones to talk about Facebook: Facebook’s reputation has only continued to get more sullied in recent weeks, and it’s taking a toll on employees. Things over at the old FB are getting grim, with people now using untraceable ‘burner phones’ to talk about the company. And not even to reporters, just to other employees, according to one former employee. Another described the current scene as a ‘bunker mentality’ after nearly two years of continuous bad press. [You know, like this.]
Sandberg sure as hell knew exactly what Facebook was doing in regards to Soros —
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was directly involved in the company’s decision to seek information on billionaire philanthropist and vocal Facebook critic George Soros, the New York Times has reported. Citing people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation [you see why Facebook employees might want burner phones?], the Times reported that Sandberg specifically requested information [my italics] on Soros’ financial interests. [It’s always a bad sign when news outlets start selecting the Grinch photos.]
Facial recognition has to be regulated to protect the public, says AI report — The research institute AI Now has identified facial recognition as a key challenge for society and policymakers – but is it too late? It might mean you can unlock your phone with a smile, but it also means that governments and big corporations have been given a powerful new surveillance tool.

Climactic — massive decline of monarchs: Far fewer of the butterflies were heading south this year, and those that have arrived did so a month late, according to Xerces, a non-profit conservation group for invertebrates. One researcher said it was the fewest monarch butterflies in central California in 46 years. Surveyors at 97 sites found only 20,456 monarchs compared to 148,000 at the same sites last year, an 86% decline.
Shocking human-wrought changes to Earth — It’s one thing to know this in the abstract, and another to see global changes laid out in detail, as they are in comprehensive new maps published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Developed by geoscientist Tomasz Stepinski and his team at the University of Cincinnati’s Space Informatics Lab (SPI), the intricate visualisations reveal that 22% of Earth’s total landmass was altered between 1992 and 2015, mostly by humans.
Decline in maple syrup — Sugar maple trees need snow to stay warm and grow. Each winter, a deep blanket of snow covers about 65% of northeastern sugar maples. Without this insulating snow, the soil freezes deeper and longer, damaging the trees’ shallow roots. So as climate change reduces the amount of deep snow. a new study says this spells trouble for the trees.
Greenland may one day be a green land — Rising sea levels could become overwhelming sooner than previously believed, according to the authors of the most comprehensive study yet of the accelerating ice melt in Greenland.
Vanishing coaster settlements — Del Mar is a picturesque Southern Californian place; its name means “of the sea,” in Spanish. That’s becoming increasingly true: Del Mar is one of countless coastal communities in California and across the US that is seeing the impacts of climate change and preparing for worse to come.
But we still need to burn coal … right? More than 40% of the world’s coal plants are operating at a loss due to high fuel costs and that proportion could to rise to nearly 75% by 2040, a report by environmental think-tank Carbon Tracker showed on Friday.
Last week, at least 8000 barrels of crude oil gushed into the northern Amazon rainforest in Peru — This created one of the worst spills the region has seen in years. State oil company Petroperú is blaming a local indigenous community for sabotaging a pipeline and triggering the spill, but the leader of Peru’s Wampis Nation, whose members make up that community, denies the accusations.

Hope? Aston Martin announced it’s starting a Heritage EV program where owners of classic Aston Martins can have their cars converted to an all-electric powertrain: The British automaker said it is starting this program so that classic cars don’t get banned from cities that are moving to shun internal combustion engines in favour of boosting air quality for residents. [Yeah, you really want to look after those rich people … the innocent victims in all this … but is there another alternative?]
Free public transport — Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay €2 (£1.78) for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 2590sq km covers almost all journeys.
But from the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. [While getting loads of cars off the roads.]

Futurology ~ Bennu’s NASA visitor, shiny on Mars, cancer test, bee vaccine, coal mine farms, Californian solar, transplanted uterus, ancient Black Death


The Curiosity Rover found something super-smooth and shiny on the surface of Mars

NASA’s asteroid-sampling spacecraft has arrived at its target — NASA’s OSIRIS-REx has arrived at its target asteroid, Bennu, an important step on its mission to collect a sample from an asteroid and return it to Earth. OSIRIS-REx launched on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral. It carries five data-taking instruments, and scientists hope to learn more about the Solar System’s origins and even what resources an asteroid might hold. The arrival marks the end of a two-year journey to Bennu, and the start of a 1.5-year study period.
~ We have only scratched the surface of the asteroid surface scratching. 

Curiosity Rover finds something really shiny — An unusually smooth and reflective Martian rock has caught the attention of NASA scientists, prompting an investigation by the Curiosity Rover. With the spectacularly successful landing of the InSight probe on Mars earlier this week, our attention has understandably been diverted away from Curiosity, which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012.
~ Attack! Attack! No, wait … Profit! Profit!

Cancer test takes ten minutes — Scientists have developed a universal cancer test that can detect traces of the disease in a patient’s bloodstream. The cheap and simple test uses a colour-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes. The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer.
~ And it came from the fact that DNA sticks to metal in different ways. 

Vaccine for bees — Bees may soon get an ally in their fight against bacterial disease — one of the most serious threats the pollinators face — in the form of an edible vaccine. That’s the promise held out by researchers in Finland, who say they’ve made the first-ever vaccine for insects, aimed at helping struggling honeybee populations.
~ Go bees! Go bees!

Plant motors to the light —  when a Pink Flamingo Peace Lily routed to a robotic planter on wheels detects light nearby, it signals the robot to move closer. Set between two desk lamps (which have a kinetic life of their own, thanks to the Pixar Animation Studios opening sequence starring Luxo), the researchers show how quickly the plant responds by switching them on and off again. As Sareen puts it, “The agency of such movements rests with the plant.”
~ No longer a secret agency. 

Repurposed coal mines could be the future of farming — Academics at the University of Nottingham see in them the potential future of food. They’ve patented a new system revolving around what they call “deep farming”: turning old coal mines into fully functioning farms.
Deep farms would have advantages that current land-based farms lack, including a controlled climate uninfluenced by weather and no need for expensive farming equipment. They wouldn’t need to be built in coal mines, but the scientists see them as a perfect starting point.
~ I think real progress will be made when we turn non-abandoned coal mines into underground farms. 

All new Californian homes to have solar panels — Solar panels will be a required feature on new houses in California, after the state’s Building Standards Commission gave final approval to a housing rule that’s the first of its kind in the United States. Set to take effect in 2020, the new standard includes an exemption for houses that are often shaded from the sun. It also includes incentives for people to add a high-capacity battery to their home’s electrical system, to store the sun’s energy.
~ Coz the sun always shines in California. 

Scientists gets more outrage for gene-edited twins — Ever since a Chinese scientist rocked the world by claiming he had created gene-edited twin girls, international outrage has only intensified. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health called it a deeply unfortunate, misguided misadventure of the most dramatic sort. “It was shocking at the time. A week later, it’s still shocking.”
~ Well, that was frank, Francis. He will be chastised, no doubt.

Woman gives birth with transplanted uterus — A team of doctors in Brazil have announced a medical first that could someday help countless women unable to have children because of a damaged or absent uterus. In a case report published Tuesday in the Lancet, they claim to have successfully helped a woman give birth using a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor.
~ Thank goodness the donor was deceased. 

More ancient Black Death — Long before the two deadliest pandemics in history (the Plague of Justinian and the Black Plague) an ancient strain of the bacterium responsible for these scourges, Yersinia pestis, may have already wreaked havoc among Neolithic European communities over 5000 years ago, according to a controversial new study.
New research published in Cell describes a newly identified strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague. The DNA of the new strain was extracted from a woman who lived in a Neolithic farming community about 4900 years ago in what is now Sweden.

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate change, China, Russia, US, around the world


Climate — Trump’s attempt to bury major climate change report on Thanksgiving backfired. By releasing the report on a very slow news day, the White House might have inadvertently made it easier for publications to feature its dire conclusions – including hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of additional deaths by century’s end – prominently. Of course, President Donald Trump rejected a central conclusion of a dire report on the economic costs of climate change released by his own administration. [If only he could figure out how to make money out of climate change – then he’d back it 110%.]
Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has hit its highest rate in a decade — About 7900 sq km (3050 sq miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was destroyed between August 2017 and July 2018 – an area roughly five times the size of London. [But hey, at least Brazil has a racist homophobic climate-change denier as president now.]
Insects dying at an alarming rate — Bees are actually dying at an alarming rate, but not only that, all insects are dying, plus the birds, plants and just about everything that relies on insects has seen their populations decrease by as much as 75% over the past 30 years.
Sea turtles washing up — The shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts have seen a spike in the number of debilitated and dead sea turtles, with nearly 600 animals washing up so far this year, according to wildlife officials; 340 turtles were found alive and 244 dead.
145 pilot whales stranded in New Zealand — Over the weekend a hiker was tramping across Stewart Island, a remote locale in New Zealand’s far southern regions, when the crest of a hill brought an unsettling vista into view: scores of dead pilot whales washed ashore on the beach. [I still think we should change their name – piloting seems to be the least successful thing they do – although they’re probably full of plastic or something.]

China — China’s cars talk to Chinese government. When Shan Junhua bought his white Tesla Model X, he knew it was a fast, beautiful car. What he didn’t know is that Tesla constantly sends information about the precise location of his car to the Chinese government. China has called upon all electric vehicle manufacturers in China to make the same kind of reports. [Want to sell to China? Suck up to Big Brother Xi Jinping, then.]
Another day, another high-profile incarceration — Lu Guang, an award-winning Chinese photographer and New York resident, has gone missing while visiting China, his wife says. Lu went missing after he was invited to a photography event in the heavily controlled region of Xinjiang.
Apple has removed 718 apps from the Chinese App Store in the last few days — The iPhone maker swept the apps out because their developers pushed updates without its permission.  Apple warned developers against updating iOS apps without its permission in early 2017. The banned apps included Sogou’s search engine and maps, online retailer Pinduodo and car sharing service Togo Car.

Russia —Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels near Crimea is an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory,” says US Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, calling it “another reckless Russian escalation” in a deadly and years-long conflict. [Where angels fear to tread, fools Russian.]
Ukraine bans Russian men — Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko then barred Russian men of military age from entering the country, saying the order was needed to prevent an infiltration in what appeared to be an allusion to Moscow’s 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
Russia send missiles — Russia is sending new S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to its installations in Crimea. The move came days after Russian warships seized several Ukrainian naval vessels, adding to tensions with neighbouring Ukraine over the land Russia seized in 2014.

US — Trump planned lavish gift for Putin: President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.
General Motors, Sears and Toys R Us Layoffs across America highlight a shredding financial safety net — Real retirement security has not been a big enough part of the conversation on either side of the political spectrum.
Marriott’s Starwood Hotels has confirmed its hotel guest database of about 500 million customers was stolen in a data breach — The hotel and resorts giant said in a statement filed with US regulators that the “unauthorized access” to its guest database was detected on or before September 10 — but may date back as far as 2014.
US life expectancy has dropped — Life expectancy for Americans fell again last year, despite growing recognition of the problems driving the decline and federal and local funds invested in stemming them.
US millennials are poorer — Since millennials first started entering the workforce, their spending habits have been blamed for killing off industries ranging from casual restaurant dining to starter houses. However, a new study by the Federal Reserve suggests it might be less about how they are spending their money and more about not having any to spend. [The gig economy is the beginning of the end for human workers.]
Democrats want more info on Amazon facial recognition — A group of Democratic lawmakers are demanding more answers from Amazon about its contracts to provide law enforcement agencies with facial recognition technology.
Microsoft to power US army — Microsoft has secured a US$662 million-plus contract with the US Army for Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) prototypes, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, expanding its relationship with the military and beating out a slew of other companies competing for the contract. [We are about to enter live battle zone. Please do not restart your computer: critical Security Update will now install …]

A world of pain — UK deals ‘extraordinary rebuke’ to Facebook: The British Parliament has seized internal Facebook documents in “an extraordinary attempt to hold the US social media giant to account” after being repeatedly spurned in their attempts to have the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify about its data privacy practices. The internal Facebook documents in question could shed light on management’s approach to data privacy issues around the same time it was dealing with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Intimate killings of women — Last year, 50,000 women worldwide were killed by intimate partners or family members. That translates to 1.3 deaths per 100,000 women, according to a global study on gender-related killing of women and girls released this month by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Australian firms can sack employees refusing scans — Businesses using fingerprint scanners to monitor their workforce can legally sack employees who refuse to hand over biometric information on privacy grounds, the Australian Fair Work Commission has ruled. [Advance Australia F____]
Online help can read what you type — Next time you’re chatting with a customer service agent online, be warned that the person on the other side of your conversation might see what you’re typing in real time.
Japan has restarted 5 nuclear power reactors in 2018 — As part of Japan’s long-term energy policy, issued in April 2014, the central government called for the nuclear share of total electricity generation to reach 20%–22% by 2030, which would require 25 to 30 reactors to be in operation by then. In 2017, four operating nuclear reactors provided 3% of Japan’s total electricity generation. [They’re on shaky ground.]
Giant viruses —In an oversized US outdoor research laboratory, scientists have made an unexpected discovery, finding 16 rare ‘giant’ viruses that are completely new to science.
Super smart computer viruses — The cybersecurity threats of deep learning and neural networks are emerging. We’re just beginning to catch glimpses of a future in which cybercriminals trick neural networks into making fatal mistakes and use deep learning to hide their malware and find their target among millions of users.
Time capsules that may survive apocalypse — Most of ’em get soggy and ruined, but there are ways

Excerpt from my forthcoming book — It’s kinda on hold as I work on another book, sorry! But I will get back to it after Christmas.

Futurology ~ Universe expansion, 3D prints and Mars, genetically-altered twins, music innovations, chromatic aberration, plastic in oceans


3D-printing with fake Moon dust may solve the lack of raw materials for a potential Mars colony

Expanding universe mystery — An important discrepancy in measurements of the universe’s acceleration has theorists wondering whether we’ve gotten something fundamentally wrong in our understanding of the history of the universe.
One currently unexplained cosmological mystery is the ‘Hubble tension,’ where various measurements of the universe’s expansion seem to disagree. As the story surrounding this tension gets murkier, others have begun to come up with new ideas, but these attempts to explain away the difference without new physics don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny.
~ Yes, none of it holds up to mine. 

3D-printed moon dust for Mars — Mars is lacking in the vast supply of natural resources we rely on here on Earth, and astronauts attempting to colonise, or even just visit, the red planet can only bring a limited supply of materials with them. The results of the European Space Agency’s latest 3D-printing experiments (main picture, above) prove it isn’t impossible, though. If there’s one thing Mars isn’t lacking, it’s dust. As a stand in for genuine Mars ingredients, researchers have turned to a simulated version of lunar soil, also known as lunar regolith. The ESA 3D-printed a sample of various parts using a light-sensitive binding agent mixed with the regolith (silicon, aluminium, calcium, and iron oxides that have been ground to a very fine dust).
~ Print me an Earth-bound ship!

Genetically-altered twins spark outrage — Twin girls born earlier in November had their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV, according to an Associated Press report. If confirmed, the births would signify the first gene-edited babies in human history — a stunning development that’s sparking an outcry from scientists and ethicists.
~ He doesn’t appear to have been kidding. ‘Don’t worry, kids! We’re just going to infect you with HIV and see what happens …’

5 tech innovations that have changed music — Music is one of the fundamental appreciations that sets humans apart from every other living thing we’re currently aware of.
Beyond the artistry we connect with on an emotional level, there is a whole industry filled with gadgets, instruments and software that transforms the production and consumption of music. Read about five innovations that have revolutionised music in the last couple of decades.
~ Who needs musical ability when you have all this?

Harvard scientists solve age-old lens problem — Chromatic aberration is just a fact of life when it comes to photography. A combination of high-quality gear – lenses in particular – and user skill can minimise the tell-tale purple fringe. But what if a simple layer on your lens could all but eliminate CA? Enter a team of researchers from Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who have accomplished exactly this.
~ But it will take ages to reach consumers. 

It’s all going to Apocalypticon in a handcart, but here are 5 innovations that can help save the oceans from plastic — The science and tech communities have also been collaborating with governments and big business on innovative solutions to stop the eight million tonnes of plastic that is dumped into oceans every year.
~ Humans work hard to solve ridiculous but terrible problems created by … yeah, humans. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Diseases, fragility of China, spawned in the USA, around the world, and some good news


One of the strangest things that can sicken us is a rogue misfolded protein that destroys the brain — But Prion is even scarier than we knew. Researchers were able to find the prions responsible for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), the most common prion disease in people, seeded everywhere in the eyes of 11 patients affected by it.
Rat hepatitis in humans — A 70-year-old Hong Kong woman has contracted the rat-specific version of Hepatitis E, signifying only the second time the disease has been documented in humans. Health officials in China are now scrambling to understand the implications of this disturbing new development.
Don’t eat the Romaine! The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out an unusually strong statement telling Americans to toss any romaine lettuce in any form: whole, chopped, pre-bagged into Caesar salads, combined into spring mix, and so on. The warning covered not just homes but retailers and restaurants, and came with a recommendation to empty any fridge where romaine has been stored, and wash it out with soap and warm water.

Marxists now being persecuted in China — Young people who belong to Marxist groups have recently become the unlikely targets of a state crackdown due to their zeal to help educate and mobilise China’s working class to fight for their rights. [OMG that’s so crazy!]
“As Communists, we should incorporate Marxist classics and principles into our lifestyle and treat Marxism as a spiritual pursuit,” President Xi Jinping said at an event celebrating the bicentennial of Marx’s birth in May … But in August, police arrested more than 50 student activists, many of them members of college Marxist groups.
China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality —  Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalised ratings for each resident.
Former FBI guy advocates retaliatory cyber attacks against China — Louis Freeh, who ran the FBI for almost eight years until 2001, said the threat of criminal charges or jail time would do little to prevent state-sponsored hackers from continuing to steal valuable intellectual property. He reckons targeted cyber attacks and a strong deterrence capability are the most effective way of preventing China and other countries continuing to steal Australian commercial secrets.
The US government is reportedly trying to persuade its foreign allies’ wireless and internet providers to avoid Huawei equipment — Officials have spoken to their counterparts and telecom bosses in Germany, Italy, Japan and other friendly countries where the Chinese company’s equipment is already in use.

Spawned in the USA — James Comey, the former head of the FBI who was fired by President Trump, says he will push back on a subpoena to appear in a closed-door session before the House Judiciary Committee unless he is allowed to testify publicly. “I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions,” Comey tweeted. “But I will resist a ‘closed door’ thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion.”
Americans blame social networks — A new survey from Axios finds that a majority of Americans don’t think social networks are good for the world. [But hey, Facebook delivered the really really best president ever!]
Creepy Facebook patent — A recently published Facebook patent application imagines an unnerving way to use your data. The company filed for a patent that explores piecing together information about a user’s entire household based on the pictures they upload, presumably for targeted advertising. And yes, Instagram photos were also cited in the filing. [I stopped using Instagram  a few weeks back, no regrets.]
US Ground Zero for climate change — The northernmost city in the US continues to be ground zero for the impacts of climate change. As sunlight fades from the Arctic, sea ice began to form this week around Utqiaġvik, an Iñupiat whaling community located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. And that’s not right, as the sea should have been covered in ice weeks ago.
Climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the US, according to a Federal report — and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date. [Oh, wait, Trump can’t here is he still has his head in the sand.]
An emerging, deeply weird conspiracy theory for the Californian fires — This holds that those fires aren’t caused by wind patterns, brutally dry conditions, the worsening effects of climate change, or possible downed power lines, but by a sinister scheme directed by nefarious elements within the government. [Of course! Except the ‘nefarious element’ is the government, starting at the top.]
Rains coming to damp the fires … and may cause another disaster — In what may be the first bit of good news in a while for Northern California, rain could be on the way by the end of this week. It could put the kibosh on the Camp Fire, ending one chapter of the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history.
Unfortunately it won’t be all good news as the rain could trigger mudslides, hamper search and rescue operations, and make the lives of thousands who are homeless miserable.

Around the world — Of course, Trump famously said the Calfornian fires were caused by not raking between trees. So Finns have been making fun of him ever since.
Russian hackers exploit deadly plane crash to go phishing — Security firm Palo Alto Networks has issued a new warning about phishing attacks linked to APT 28, the elite Russian hacking group tied to the 2016 election interference in the United States. The document, sent to myriad targets in North America, Europe, as well as a former Soviet state, was designed to capture the attention of those interested in the Lion Air 737 MAX airline crash in late October, which killed all 189 aboard.
North Korean state media announced the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently oversaw tests of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon.” The new report is extremely light on details, but it’s a reminder that very little has actually changed in the US-North Korea relationship since US president Donald Trump took power. Both countries have nuclear weapons and both are on a hair trigger as they develop new capabilities. [Or have they just figured out how to make rifles out of plastic?]
Sperm whale dies full of plastic cups — A dead whale floated ashore in eastern Indonesia with its stomach full of plastic junk, including 115 plastic cups and two pairs of flip-flops. World Wildlife Fund researchers found roughly 6kg of plastic in the 9.45m long sperm whale, reports the Associated Press. [Presumably the two people wearing the flip-flops didn’t make it.]
Dutch government finds Microsoft collected telemetry data — Microsoft has been accused of breaking EU’s GDPR law by harvesting information through Office 365 and sending it to US servers. The discovery was made by the Dutch government.

And in good news … A US federal judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit against neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer alleging it led a “terror campaign” against a Jewish real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, and the Southern Poverty Law Center tells the New York Times it expects the civil case to now proceed to a trial.
The lawsuit accuses the Daily Stormer and its founder, racist troll Andrew Anglin, of mounting a coordinated harassment campaign against Gersh that eventually resulted in her family receiving over 700 messages including death threats and references to the Holocaust.
And my favourite: Siri pulls up image of an actual dick when asked about Trump — The apparent glitch was reported on Thursday by the Verge, which noted that the error may be the result of some turkey day trickster either editing Trump’s Wikipedia page or attempting to game an algorithm associated with the image Siri pulls up automatically.

Futurology ~ Sibling sun, Earth sucking water, quiet supersonic, no-moving-parts plane, total-body image, Keto diet, new/old microbes, Byzantine art sleuth


Lockheed Martin has officially begun production of its experimental jet capable of flying at supersonic speeds without creating loud supersonic booms

Sun’s long-lost sibling — A nearby star, HD 186302, was almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas the Sun was 4.6 billion years ago. Astronomers have found it has an almost identical chemical composition as the Sun, is on a similar orbit around the Milky Way, and has the same age (within uncertainties). Interestingly, it’s only 184 light years away, implying statistically many more such stars are waiting to be discovered.
~ Hear that, Elon Musk? Maybe it’s time for you to leave us. 

The Earth is sucking up water — The Earth around the Mariana Trench, which contains the deepest point on the planet, could be slurping up at least four times more water than previously estimated, according to new research.
~ This fact does my head in. 

‘Experimental’ Lockheed jet enters production — Lockheed Martin’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology aircraft (main picture, above) is officially in “the manufacturing phase,” bringing the company “one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world.” The experimental jet was awarded a contract from NASA earlier this year as it is capable of flying at supersonic speeds without creating loud supersonic booms. Currently, commercial supersonic aircraft are banned from flying over land because of the noise and potential damage the booms may cause.
~ So, it creates quiet supersonic booms? Looks like there’s room for two passengers – and they’ll have to lie down. 

Solid plane flies without moving parts — The first ever ‘solid state’ plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers. The flight represents a breakthrough in ‘ionic wind’ technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust. Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the inspiration for the project came straight from the science fiction of his childhood.
~ Shh! Don’t tell them about paper darts, kites, gliders and balloons! (And they say Americans don’t understand iony!)

First full-body human scans — EXPLORER, the world’s first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3-D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans. The brainchild of UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, EXPLORER is a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner that can image the entire body at the same time.
Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as one second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body.
~ I hate it when my drugs get tagged. When is the Council going to do something!?

High-fat, low-carb Keto diet gets critiqued by scientists — Diet fads often make the lofty claim that adjusting food habits one way or another will produce the dieter’s desired results. More specifically: eat this, not that, and watch the kilos fall off. But diets are hard to sustain, and diet debunking is constantly calling into question what and how much we should be eating.
In a review published this week in Science, scientists from diverse backgrounds and research focuses came together to address whether a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet or vice versa was the better option for maintaining good health, as well as whether the specific kinds of fat and carbs mattered.
~ All I know is that too much of any one thing will never be good for you, and the darker the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you. 

Entirely new and bizarre microbes — Canadian scientists have identified microscopic creatures that are so unlike anything seen before, they had to create an entirely new branch on the evolutionary tree of life to slot them in. A new paper published in Nature offers the first genetic analysis of hemimastigotes: a rare and poorly understood group of single-celled microorganisms. Biologists have known about these wee beasties for well over a century, but only now can hemimastigotes be officially slotted into the evolutionary tree of life, a process more formally known as phylogeny. And by doing so, scientists have stumbled upon a completely new branch on the tree of life – one dating back billions of years.
~ They were collected from soil found along the Bluff Wilderness Trail in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Dutch art sleuth finds missing Byzantine mosaic — Art sleuth Arthur Brand, famous in the art world for tracking down works of art thought to be lost or destroyed has delivered one of his greatest finds yet: a 1600-year-old Byzantine-era mosaic of Saint Marks stolen from a Cyprus church after the Turkish invasion in 1974. It was in the possession of a British family, who bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago. They were horrified when they found out that it was, in fact, a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria Church after the Turkish invasion, and they agreed to its return.
~ Nice job, Art!

The Apocalypticon ~ The end of the world, impacts, WannaCry still there, army robots, Chinese state terror, US stupidity, the Camp Fire, Holocaust fears


Visions of the end of the world tend to extremes: the planet fatally fracked, flooded, hurricaned, nuke-cratered. No survivors, or maybe one or two survivors, dazed and dust-grimed, roaming a wasted landscape, eating canned beans, rotted squirrels, each other. But the truth is we might be in for a slow burn, apocalypse-wise.
The “end of the world” entails not just the actual end, that last gasp of human breath, but all the agony leading up to it, too. How, though, without the fire-and-brimstone theatrics, will we know that the planet is truly terminal?
An unusually large asteroid crater measuring 19 miles wide has been discovered under a continental ice sheet in Greenland. Roughly the size of Paris, it’s now among the 25 biggest asteroid craters on Earth. The iron-rich asteroid measuring nearly a kilometre wide (0.6 miles) struck Greenland’s ice-covered surface at some point between 3 million and 12,000 years ago, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. [Well, that explains why I can’t remember it, anyway.]
Solar storm triggered Vietnam War mines — An analysis of recently declassified US military documents confirms suspicions that, during the late stages of the Vietnam War, a powerful solar storm caused dozens of sea mines to explode. It’s a stark reminder of the Sun’s potential to disrupt our technological activities in unexpected ways. [I thought a Stark reminder was “winter is coming”.]
Sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff, but shortages are killing people — The sand in a desert, though, is useless as a construction material because the grains are out in the open and blow around for thousands of years. This rounds them off until they become useless as building blocks. The preferred type is the kind found in a river bed, sea, or beach. The fact that desert sand is useless makes for some unexpected situations. Despite being surrounded by endless miles of sand, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was built with sand imported from Australia. Dubai also imports sand for its beaches from Australia. Desert sand doesn’t do well in a beach atmosphere … [Personally, I think someone just needs to invent a sand rougher-upper.]

British army drilling drones and robots — The British Army is testing out over 70 new technologies, including unmanned vehicles and surveillance drones, in a four-week experiment on one of its biggest training grounds. The focus will be on “surveillance, long-range, and precision targeting, enhanced mobility and the re-supply of forces, urban warfare and enhanced situational awareness.” The aim is about reducing the danger to troops during combat, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. [It never ceases to amaze me that we want soldiers to be trained to kill soldiers who are trained to kill them, and then we stress out about their safety!]

WannaCry? Yeah you do. WannaCry was once the greatest cybersecurity calamity in history, but now doesn’t work. A website critical to its function is now controlled by civic-minded security researchers, and the fixed deadline to pay the ransom has long passed. Yet WannaCry still accounts for 28% of ransomware attacks: the most of any ransomware family. According to a new study by Kaspersky Lab, the defanged North Korea linked ransomware is still spreading uncontrollably.

Chinese state terror — By the time Chinese guards began torturing Kayrat Samarkand inside a re-education camp last spring, he says his life had prepared him for this. His crime was being brought up Muslim and having spend time overseas. [Inmates had to sing songs praising Chinese leader Xi Jinping before being allowed to eat. Yeah, real sophisticated, China. You know what? Just replace your citizens with robots.]
Last year, the Chinese wife of a Pakistani man traveled back home to China with their two children. She wanted to introduce her younger boy, 18 months old, to her mom.
But after she landed in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, she was detained, says her husband, a doctor named Rehman. His wife is a Uighur Muslim, a member of a minority group that has been targeted in a Chinese crackdown.

American state, ah, idiocy — President Trump has completed written answers to questions about the Russia investigation from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. The president told reporters on Friday that he wrote the answers, not his lawyers, and that he did so “very easily.” [God help us all. Still, it’s good to know he can actually still write ‘without help’. What state of dementia has he reached now? Can he even walk and chew at the same time?]
But he’s not the only American idiot — Tyler Barriss, 26, has pleaded guilty to making a false report resulting in a death, after he placed a hoax call late last year that resulted in police fatally shooting an unarmed man in Wichita, Kan. Barriss pleaded guilty to a total of 51 charges as part of a plea deal. He will be sentenced in January.
Coburn made highly-volatile, Isis-style explosives — Acting on a tip about explosives at a house in Lake Helen, Florida, police discovered jars of highly volatile triacetone triperoxide, or TATP — the same material used in terrorist bombing attacks mounted by ISIS and al-Qaida. Jared E Coburn, 37, was arrested after officers were told he had a bomb under his bed. [And yet he was supposedly ‘highly intelligent’].
Police arrive to find security guard detaining a shooting suspect, but the guard is black so they shoot him instead — When police arrived after reports of a shooting over the weekend at a bar outside Chicago, witnesses say Jemel Roberson, a 26-year-old security guard who worked there, had already subdued the alleged assailant in the parking lot, pinning him to the ground. Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney said that’s when one of his officers “encountered a subject with a gun” and shot him, according to a statement given to the media. Roberson was declared dead shortly after arriving at a hospital.
Woman tells how to work without hurting men’s feelings — Former Google employee turned comic Sarah Cooper has help for women in tech with a new book called How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. The book is, of course, a satirical look a corporate life for women. And it’s hilarious.
A mocking tweet from the National Rifle Association stirred many physicians to post on social media about their tragically frequent experiences treating patients in the aftermath of gun violence. [And how to kill a mockingtweet?] At least the Democratic House may be able to introduce some forms of gun control now

The Camp Fire has become the most destructive in history — As California burns from both ends, the Camp Fire currently ravaging the northern part of the state has become the most destructive in its history.
The fire had stretched 40,468 hectares as of Saturday morning, according to officials. At least 6453 homes and 260 commercial structures have been destroyed in the fire, the cause of which is still under investigation. [Such an innocuous name, though! It throws me every time.]
Paramount Ranch burnt down — The ranch has been the location of countless movies and TV shows over the past 90 years, including the HBO sci-fi western Westworld. But that history has sadly turned to ash over the past 24 hours, engulfed by the flames of the Woolsey wildfire that has been devastating Southern California.

Picking on Jews — The Open Society Foundations (OSF), a international philanthropic and grant making organisation, has responded to a bombshell report that senior management at Facebook including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired a Republican opposition research firm named Definers Public Affairs to counter the company’s growing list of critics – including by peddling conspiracy theories about OSF’s founder, Hungarian-American investor and Holocaust survivor George Soros. Definers waged a campaign to “cast Mr Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.” This seems to be part of a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonise Soros and his foundations.
This is hardly new, of course, but it’s no less deadly for it — A decade before Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, famed physicist Albert Einstein was already sensing imminent peril for his country and his own welfare, as a newly discovered letter reveals.
The letter is interesting both for its timing and content. Einstein wrote the note after fleeing Berlin out of concerns for his safety. The Jewish-German Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, had just been assassinated by a trio of far right anti-Semitic Germans. After the killing, police warned Einstein his life could be in danger, and advised him to stop lecturing and even leave Berlin. The physicist [luckily for the entire world] heeded their warnings and moved out of the city. This little stuffed-toy monkey, owned by a Jewish boy, also escaped Berlin. And after a long time, it helped reunite survivors of the Holocaust.

And the good news is … cycles are actually faster than cars and motorbikes in some cities now.

Futurology ~ Mars spot, space balloons, 100 million degree reactor, winning wind-bag, brain microbiome, cop hover bikes, nicer Neanderthals, oldest dirt


The S3 2019 Hoverbike has vertical take-off and landing abilities and will be introduced by Dubai police in 2020

Holiday spot for ExoMars 2020 mission selected — When it comes to landing a robot on another planet, perhaps the most important question is where to put the dang thing. The researchers behind the upcoming ExoMars mission, consisting of a rover and lander, have now announced their preferred location on the Red Planet.
ExoMars 2020 is the next part of the ExoMars missions: a rover and landing platform to be sent to Mars as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos.
~ I dunno: no pool, and services are too far away.

Army space balloons — DARPA, the US military’s research arm, is currently testing a wind sensor that could allow devices in its Adaptable Lighter-Than-Air (ALTA) balloon program to spot wind speed and direction from a great distance and then make the necessary adjustments to stay in one spot.
DARPA has been working on ALTA for some time, but its existence was only revealed in September. “By flying higher we hope to take advantage of a larger range of winds,” says ALTA project manager Alex Walan. ALTA will operate even higher than Loon at 22,900 to 27,400 meters (75,000 to 90,000 feet or 14 to 17 miles) where the winds are less predictable. Statioanry, they could provide communication in remote or disaster-hit area, follow hurricanes, or monitor pollution at sea. One day, they could even take tourists on near-space trips to see the curvature of the planet.
~ Presumably, the balloons for Flat Earthers will be flat discs. 

Plasma in their Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reached a 100 million degrees Celsius — That’s six times hotter than the core of the Sun. This temperature is the minimum required to maintain a fusion reaction that produces more power than it takes to run. The Chinese research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature through the use of various new techniques in heating and controlling the plasma, but could only maintain the state for around 10 seconds. The latest breakthrough provided experimental evidence that reaching the 100 million degrees Celsius mark is possible, according to China’s Institute of Plasma Physics.
~ So this has great importance to humankind, because I reckon it would cook a pizza perfectly in a tenth of a second. Although I must admit the phrase ‘playing with fire’ also springs to mind. 

Omnidirectional turbine wins award — A spinning turbine that can capture wind traveling in any direction and could transform how consumers generate electricity in cities has won its inventors a prestigious international award and a US$38,000 prize. Nicolas Orellana, 36, and Yaseen Noorani, 24, MSc students at Lancaster University, scooped the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which, in a technological first, takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering.
~ I think they should call it ‘the wind bag’. 

Tantalising but preliminary evidence of a ‘brain microbiome’ — We know the menagerie of microbes in the gut has powerful effects on our health. Could some of these same bacteria be making a home in our brains? The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience drew attention with high-resolution microscope images of bacteria apparently penetrating and inhabiting the cells of healthy human brains. The work is preliminary, and its authors are careful to note that their tissue samples, collected from cadavers, could have been contaminated. But to many passersby in the exhibit hall, the possibility that bacteria could directly influence processes in the brain – including, perhaps, the course of neurological disease – was exhilarating.
~ Yes, whatever floats your boats, brain peeps!

Dubai hover cops — Like a Sci-Fi thriller brought to life, Dubai has taken its police force to another level with fully functional Hoverbikes being added to the force by 2020.
It was only last year that the Dubai Police announced they were looking to upgrade their traffic patrol vehicles into Hoverbikes, but to have actually stuck to that promise and come out with some wicked cool tech in only a years time is pretty remarkable.
~ Crikey, you wouldn’t want to fall off into those props! (See main picture, above). And why? And won’t they whip up little sand storms?

Neanderthals were nicer than was thought — The stereotype of a typical Neanderthal life is that it was extraordinarily difficult, violent, and traumatic. But a comparative analysis of the remains left behind by Neanderthals and contemporaneous humans is finally overturning this unwarranted assumption.
Neanderthals have been depicted as club-carrying, dim-witted brutes who spent their days clobbering each other with reckless abandon.
New research published in Nature is finally setting the record straight, showing that Neanderthals and Upper Paleolithic modern humans experienced similar levels of head trauma. Yes, life was tough for Neanderthals — but the new research suggests life wasn’t any less tougher or violent for contemporaneous Homo sapiens.
~ So e tu, non Brutus!

Earth’s oldest soil — This could be tucked away in an ancient rock outcrop in Greenland, according to new research. Dating back some 3.7 billion years, the suspected soil – exposed underneath a retreating ice cap – could potentially contain fossilised traces of primordial life.
~ No! Don’t wash your boots!

The Apocalypticon ~ Tangled web, FaceBook failure, breaches, HackBots, AI news, fat pollution kids, apocalypse drive-thru, wilderness,


Berners Lee wants the web saved from abuse — Tim Berners-Lee [he who invented the www] has launched a global campaign to save the web from the destructive effects of abuse and discrimination, political manipulation, and other threats that plague the online world. A report adds:
In a talk at the opening of the Web Summit in Lisbon, the inventor of the web called on governments, companies and individuals to back a new Contract for the Web that aims to protect people’s rights and freedoms on the internet. The contract outlines central principles that will be built into a full contract and published in May 2019, when half of the world’s population will be able to get online. More than 50 organisations have already signed the contract, which is published by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation alongside a report that calls for urgent action.
And speaking of that abuse … Facebook, which the United Nations’ top human rights commissioner accused earlier this year of a “slow and ineffective” response to evidence it was fuelling state genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, admitted in a blog post on Monday that their own “independent human rights impact assessment” has more or less confirmed that it really screwed that one up. [We’re supposed to applaud now?]
Dutch bust open ‘secure’ chat service —Dutch police say they “decrypted more than 258,000 messages” sent using an expensive chat service. In an Ars Technica report citing a National Police Corps statement, authorities in the Netherlands claimed to have achieved a “breakthrough in the interception and decryption of encrypted communication between criminals.” [Last message was ‘oh crap!’]
In the US, HealthCare.gov suffered a data breach exposing 75,000 customers — Details were sparse at the time of the breach, but have now learned that hackers obtained “inappropriate access” to a number of broker and agent accounts, which “engaged in excessive searching” of the government’s healthcare marketplace systems.
Gamers getting recruited by Nazi hate groups —Almost every teen in the US plays video games: 97% of boys, according to the Pew Research Center, and 83% of girls. Increasingly, these games are played online, with strangers. And experts say that while it’s by no means common, online games – and the associated chat rooms, livestreams and other channels – have become one avenue for recruitment by right-wing extremist groups. Why? Microsoft, PlayStation and Steam host 48 million, 70 million and 130 million monthly active players respectively. [248 million prospects, the same amount as the populations of Spain, France and Russia added together …]
We also need to watch out for HackBots — Protecting your data today means dealing with hacking attempts powered by machine learning (ML), the science of computers learning and acting like humans. These ML computer algorithms are based on an analytical model designed to collect data and adapt its processes and activities according to use and experience, getting ‘smarter’ all the time. Hackers are also using these algorithms to automate time-consuming cyberattacks with hackbots, email phishing, and social media phishing.

The world — It seems humanity isn’t just content to screw up the surface of the planet; we’re dissolving the seafloor too. Findings published recently show that all the carbon dioxide piling up in the ocean’s dark depths is causing the seafloor as we know it to dissolve. The results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are yet another reminder this era of human history will leave a geological mark long after we’re gone.
Air pollution is making kids fat — High levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life led to significantly faster weight gain later, scientists have found. Other pollutants produced by road traffic have also been linked to obesity in children by recent studies.
Chinese news anchor is actually AI — “This is my very first day at Xinhua News Agency,” says a sharply dressed artificial intelligence news anchor. “I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences.” [Why not get your fake news from a fake newsreader?]
Japanese tsunami triggered an algae invasion of the US coast —In 2011, a colossal tsunami set off by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake slammed into the eastern shores of Japan. Not long afterwards, some of the 1.5 million tons of floating debris created by the waves, from buoys and boats to entire fishing docks, began washing up along America’s northwest Pacific coast. Dozens of species of algae snuck along on this debris and turned up in Oregon and Washington.
Apocalypse drive-through — The so-called Camp Fire consumed over 8090 hectares in Northern California, forcing about 50,000 people to evacuate. But the fire moved so quickly that some people barely escaped, like Brynn Parrott Chatfield from the town of Paradise. She posted a video to social media showing her family’s terrifying drive through the flames.

Just 20 nations control 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding Antarctica and the high seas — And within those 20, five nations – Australia, Russia, Canada, the US and Brazil – control a whopping 70%. [Well, Brazil probably not for much longer – when a nation democratically elects an obvious fascist, you know we should be working harder to raise general human intelligence along with equality.]

Is there any good news? With the Democrats having taken back the House of Representatives, the US military should get more oversight.
The ozone hole may heal one day — According to a UN report, a decades-old international treaty to ban ozone-depleting chemicals has led to their decline and “much more severe ozone depletion in the polar regions has been avoided.” There’s still work to be done, but this definitely falls into the Good News category.

 

Futurology ~ Kepler’s legacy, Earth weighed, chip chiefs and chipsets, placebo effect, cell-making, cardboard vs plastic


Microfluids have pushed cell-making attempts to new levels

Kepler’s legacy — Since March 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2600 planets, including potentially habitable ones, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Last week, after nearly a decade of hunting for new planets, the Kepler finally ran out of fuel. NASA decided to officially retire Kepler within its current orbit, away from Earth, on Oct. 30, 2018.
NASA plans to continue the hunt for new planets. While Kepler’s mission was to search for planets about 3000 light-years away, NASA launched a new spacecraft called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, in April of this year to search every star within 100 light-years of Earth.
~ Kepler kept on keeping on – until last week, anyway.

Earth weighed with ghost particles — Scientists have to use some roundabout methods to weigh the Earth and measure what’s inside it – typically, they’ve used sound waves and the strength of gravity to make their calculations. But one team has weighed the Earth in a whole new way: by measuring mysterious cosmic particles that pass through it.
~ Yeah, well, how much does it weigh, then?!

Chiplets to keep up with Moore’s Law — As chipmakers struggle to keep up with Moore’s law, they are increasingly looking for alternatives to boost computers’ performance. Moore’s Law is slowing. More density costs more and takes longer.
Chip chiefs say chiplets will enable their silicon architects to ship more powerful processors more quickly. One reason is it’s quicker to mix and match modular pieces linked by short data connections than to painstakingly graft and redesign them into a single new chip.
~ They’re like high-tech lego blocks. 

Placebo Effect is surprisingly effective — For decades science has acknowledged the placebo effect insofar as it is constantly trying to fight against it – that humans have this pesky thing about healing themselves sometimes better than the actual drugs can. This has led to an entire interdisciplinary field trying to fold the placebo effect back into medicine, something that is worked into treatment, and not controlled out of drug trials.
~ I remember asking my daughter if she’d like a placebo for her hypochondria. Since she was only 4, this ploy worked very well for both of us. 

Making biological cells from scratch — Researchers have been trying to create artificial cells for more than 20 years, piecing together biomolecules in just the right context to approximate different aspects of life. They generally fall into three categories: compartmentalisation, or the separation of biomolecules in space; metabolism, the biochemistry that sustains life; and informational control, the storage and management of cellular instructions.
The pace of work has been accelerating, thanks in part to recent advances in microfluidic technologies, which allow scientists to coordinate the movements of minuscule cellular components (main picture, above).
~ Life beckons. Then what? 

Lasers reveal how plants produce oxygen — An experiment using intense laser pulses has allowed scientists to watch plants produce oxygen from water part of photosynthesis in real time, according to a groundbreaking new paper.
Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide into sugars and creates oxygen out of water in the presence of sunlight, turning  the sun into usable energy. Scientists hope to understand this reaction and incorporate it into solar energy technology. This new study using one of the world’s brightest lasers to present a view of the intermediate steps of the reaction – a movie of the reaction occurring.
~ I’m breathing easier already. 

Doing without plastic: what to use instead? Packaging designer Ryan Gaither believes in the power of cardboard. At the Swedish-owned BillerudKorsnäs design lab in Portland, Oregon, he’s laid down a massive sheet of it, as big as a king-size bed. He flips the switch on a machine that zips around the cardboard, stabbing and cutting it like a robotic exact-o knife.
BillerudKorsnäs is primarily a paper company that prides itself on its sustainably managed forests. It also has a process – the details of which it won’t divulge – that it says produces super strong paper. Every time you replace plastic with paper, it does more than reduce plastic pollution. It also helps climate change since plastic is made from fossil fuels.
~ Great stuff.

The Apocalypticon ~ the info wars, helium leak iPhones, the world, new Titanic, the smog of complacency, animal massacres, changed planet, ice calving, transgender discrimination


It’s time, tech: thousands of Google employees around the world walked out of their offices. This was to protest Google’s mishandling of sexual harassment and assault cases, in what is likely the largest collective demonstration among technology workers.
Facebook and the Brazilian demagogue — The scandal-mired social media giant that has faced enormous criticism for its role in the spread of online propaganda and fake news across the globe, has a War Room it wants everyone to know is tackling that issue head-on. Facebook has touted the War Room’s efforts to clean up a torrent of hoaxes and misinformation spreading across Brazil on Facebook subsidiary and encrypted chat service WhatsApp before the country’s October 28 runoff election. But when the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonar, who has pledged support for Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, attacked minorities and LGBTQ people, backed torture and reportedly plans to decimate the Amazon rainforest, won those elections with 55.2% of the vote, it looked an awful lot like one key element of his victory was exactly the kind of stuff the War Room was supposedly intended to fight, especially on WhatsApp.
81,000 Facebook accounts hacked — Hackers appear to have compromised and published private messages from at least 81,000 Facebook users’ accounts – but that’s just according to that pillar of fake news, the BBC
Facebook’s new political ad transparency tools allowed Business Insider to run adverts as being “paid for” by Cambridge Analytica — Yes, CA was the political consultancy that dragged Facebook into a major data scandal. The investigation demonstrates that political advertising on Facebook is still open to manipulation by bad actors, despite Facebook’s ‘greater efforts’ at transparency. [Yep, someone saw right through that one. Or should that be ‘sawed’?]
But clearly, Facebook still has its uses — The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard.
More violent than Stuxnet — Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated,” and Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation.
But some problems are much more basic in origin — A US government network was infected with malware thanks to one employee’s “extensive history” of watching porn on his work computer, investigators found. The audit, carried out by the US Department of the Interior’s inspector general, found that a US Geological Survey (USGS) network at the EROS Center, a satellite imaging facility in South Dakota, was infected after an unnamed employee visited thousands of porn pages that contained malware. This downloaded to his laptop and “exploited the USGS’ network.”
How to coordinate a hate attack: use Gab — Gab and its founder Andrew Torba prefer to pitch the site as a free-speech hub for everyone, but in reality Gab is mostly well known as a haven for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremists who have used it as a far-right echo chamber (in many cases after being they themselves were removed from mainstream platforms). But after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, one of its primary fundraising methods has been cut off: PayPal confirmed it had terminated Gab’s account in the wake of the attack.

Helium leak disables multiple hospital iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads — Eric Woolridge, a system administrator at Morris Hospital in Illinois, said in a detailed post on the r/sysadmin subreddit that helium was to blame for many malfunctioning iDevices. Android phones were ‘just fine’…

Yes, it had to happen — Trump. He’s bellicose, angry, aggressive, a bully … and yet, he’s seemingly pissing his pants over some desperate refugees making their way slowly towards the US on foot. The US military has been ordered to send approximately 5000 troops to the US-Mexico border to counter the ‘threat’ of the caravan. [He’s depicting it as an ‘invasion! Pathetic!]
While we’re out in the world — Supporting Indonesia’s 1975 invasion, dodgy oil and gas deals, corporate espionage and trying a whistle blower in a secret court are just a few things that The Juice Media shines a big uncomfortable spotlight on in this video. Brutal!
Titanic II, a replica of the original Titanic, will make its first voyage in 2022 — It will have room for 2400 passengers and 900 crew members and have the same cabin layout and decor as the original legendary ocean liner. The $500 million ship, to be built in China, is set to make its maiden voyage from Dubai to Southhampton, UK in 2022. [And because it will be unsinkable II, they can save money on lifeboats.]
Russians mark Stalin’s purge victims outside Moscow security headquarters — Nelli Tachko, 93, was one of hundreds of Muscovites who waited for hours in frigid temperatures Monday to take part in an annual tradition in which anybody who wants to can read the name, age, profession and date of execution of a victim of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Terror eight decades ago. [This must warm Putin’s heart.]

Disease, plague and pestilence — Last year’s flu season in the US was one of the worst ones seen in decades. Nearly 80,000 flu-related deaths and the highest hospitalisation rate for the virus in modern history. But new estimations from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are presenting a clearer idea of just how bad last year’s flu season really was.
Yellow Fever in New Orleans — At least this one was historic. Some say New Orleans is haunted because of witches; others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.
Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10% of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname ‘Necropolis’: the city of the dead.
Moving to the US might make you fat — Moving to the US can seriously mess with immigrants’ microbiomes, according to a new study that tracked the digestive health of refugees coming to Minnesota from Southeast Asia. The study found new migrants almost immediately begin losing some of their native microbes, including strains that help them break down and glean nutrients. This has been tied to obesity.
Teeth in Georgia, USA walls — It’s not unusual for construction workers to find historical objects inside of walls. But the team renovating the TB Converse Building in Valdosta, Georgia, were caught off guard when they found an estimated 1000 teeth buried in a second-floor wall. The weirdest thing is that the same thing has happened in two other Georgia towns.

The environment — Today, more than 77% of land on earth, excluding Antarctica, has been modified by human industry. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature, up from just 15% a century ago. The study, led by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, paints the first global picture of the threat to the world’s remaining wildernesses – and the image is bleak.
And while we’re at it, animal populations have been massacred — The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.
Air pollution is the new tobacco — The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said air pollution is the “new tobacco”: the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more. “Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said.
Another massive berg tips into the sea — While the internet was obsessing over that rectangular iceberg, some more disconcerting icy behaviour went down on the other side of the Antarctic: the Pine Island Glacier has been breaking off monstrous icebergs over the past five years, presenting a worrying sign that the West Antarctic is destabilising. The latest occurred this weekend. Satellite imagery shows an iceberg roughly 300 square kilometres (115 square miles, or five times the size of Manhattan) breaking off the front of the glacier (below, under ‘2018’).Good lord, is there any good news? Facebook released its third-quarter earnings on Tuesday and the results are mixed. While revenue rose 33% and profit increased 9% for the third quarter from a year earlier, revenue growth was down from the 42% jump that Facebook had reported in the previous quarter. [But these a-holes are still making a mint from flogging your data.]
Here’s a glimmer, though: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, and dozens of other tech companies have come together to condemn discrimination against transgender people in the face of actions President Donald Trump is reportedly considering to reduce their legal protections.

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