The Apocalypticon ~ NSA and Dotcom, nuclear, beer, robots, EVs, cats and dogs, too-hot Asia, web habits, clever escape, AI beer names


According to new documents from New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), the NSA illegally used technology to spy on Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom. The New Zealand Herald first reported that the GCSB told the nation’s high court that it ceased all surveillance of Dotcom in early 2012, but that ‘limited’ amounts of communications from Dotcom were later intercepted by its technology without the bureau’s knowledge,” reports The Hill. [And this went on under Obama. Nothing like this would ever happen under a reasonable, rational man like Trump …]

In a major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States, two South Carolina utilities said they would abandon two unfinished nuclear reactors in the state, putting an end to a project that was once expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology but has since been plagued by delays and cost overruns..
[A reactionary lash-back.]

Two Chinese chatbots have proved they can develop real intelligence. The chatbots, BabyQ and XiaoBing were designed to use machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out conversations with humans online. But they have been pulled. Why? BabyQ, a chatbot developed by Chinese firm Turing Robot, had responded to questions on QQ with a simply “no” when asked whether it loved the Communist Party.
In other images of a text conversation online, which Reuters was unable to verify, one user declares: “Long live the Communist Party!” The bot responded: “Do you think such a corrupt and useless political system can live long?” Meanwhile, China is pioneering new ways of combatting dissent on the internet.

Electric vehicles not the answer to pollution — Professor Frank Kelly said that while electric vehicles emit no exhaust fumes, they still produce large amounts of tiny pollution particles from brake and tyre dust, for which the government already accepts there is no safe limit. Toxic air causes 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, recently announced that the sale of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned from 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.
But faced with rising anger from some motorists, the plan made the use of charges to deter dirty diesel cars from polluted areas a measure of last resort only. Kelly’s intervention heightens the government’s dilemma between protecting public health and avoiding politically difficult charges or bans on urban motorists. [But hey, how to measure that pious feeling?] And self-driving cars are confusing humans – and insurance companies.

Cats and dogs contribute to climate change — Pet ownership in the United States creates about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, UCLA researchers found. That’s the equivalent of driving 13.6 million cars for a year. The problem lies with the meat-filled diets of kitties and pooches, according to the study by UCLA geography professor Gregory Okin. [Hey, finally someone else to blame.]
We’re all going to die from climate change anyway – it’s just matter of when.

No outside life in South Asia — Venturing outdoors may become deadly across wide swaths of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by the end of the century as climate change drives heat and humidity to new extremes, according to a new study. These conditions could affect up to a third of the people living throughout the Indo-Gangetic Plain unless the global community ramps up efforts to rein in climate-warming carbon emissions. [Start tunnelling?]

Six figure salary to protect Earth from aliens — Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a hero? How about the protector of mankind? Well now NASA is looking for just that, and it’ll pay a six-figure salary for the honour. Other duties include advising Safety Mission Assurance officials on planetary protection matters and ensuring compliance by robotic and human spaceflight missions. [Too late. Just look at the White House.]

Users secret web habits ‘easy to expose’ — Two German researchers say they have exposed the porn-browsing habits of a judge, a cyber-crime investigation and the drug preferences of a politician. The pair obtained huge amounts of information about the browsing habits of three million German citizens from companies that gather ‘clickstreams’: detailed records of everywhere that people go online.

Attacks on the US press tracked — The US Press Freedom Tracker is a newly launched website that intends to document press freedom violations in a place that hasn’t historically required it: the United States. [Another Trump innovation.] Argentinians, meanwhile, are so sick of the media, they are inventing their own.

Student escapes kidnappers with nerves of steel and manual transmission — A college student in Columbia, South Carolina was kidnapped by three men at gunpoint. Fearing the worst, she used some Jason Bourne level-problem solving and her manual transmission car to get away safely. 20-year-old Jordan Dinsmore found herself in one of the worst situations possible when three men approached her, pushed her to the ground and put a gun to her head. The publication reports that they forced her to drive her car and withdraw money from an ATM and then told her that she was going to be taken to a location to be raped.
But Dinsmore had one advantage: when the men first put her into the car they couldn’t drive it because it had a manual transmission, so they made her take the driver’s seat. That is when she concocted a plan to escape[So impressed!]

At least we can have a new beer, thanks to AI — Brewers are running out of beer names, so scientist Janelle Shane (who uses artificial intelligence for this purpose frequently) decided to set AI onto the problem. The results: an IPA called Yamquak, a Cherry Trout Stout and Fire Pipe Amber Ale. [Yikes!]

Futurology ~ Titan/fluke life, space mining, neutrino smack, 330TB tape, 3D metal printing, waste-gobbling maggots, robo-time, Tardigrades continue to mystify, toothy-mass extinction


Potential building block of lie life discovered in Titan’s atmosphere — Saturn’s moon Titan is a world of contrast; both eerily familiar and strikingly alien. Its calm seas and enormous sand dunes might remind you of Earth, until you learn that what’s flowing across Titan’s surface is not water, but liquid hydrocarbons. Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere seems to have some of the ingredients for biology, but any life forms evolved to thrive at temperatures of -178°C would be practically unrecognisable.
~ What if they introduce themselves in a civil manner? 

New theory suggest life wasn’t a fluke — Biophysicist Jeremy England made waves in 2013 with a new theory that cast the origin of life as an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. His equations suggested that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of entropy or disorder in the universe. Now he’s testing his theory in computer simulations.
~ The rise of exceptional structures sure seems understandable.

Luxembourg passed space mining law — Last week Luxembourg’s parliament unanimously passed an asteroid mining law (which goes into effect Tuesday) that gives companies ownership of what they extract from the celestial bodies…
~ Well, if you can’t be a world power …

Gnarlier space junk — There’s plenty out there already, but thousands and thousands of satellites are set to launch to low-Earth orbit before 2025, adding greatly to the problem.
~ Smallsat revolution indeed …

Neutrino smacks into atom — In a study published last week in Science, Juan Collar’s group observed a new type of neutrino interaction: a neutrino bumping into an atomic nucleus, a process known as coherent elastic scattering.
~ An important matter. 

330TB on a tiny tape cartridge — Sony developed a new type of tape that has a higher density of magnetic recording sites, and IBM Research worked on new heads and signal processing tech to actually read and extract data from those nanometre-long patches of magnetism. Sony’s new tape is underpinned by two novel technologies: an improved built-in lubricant layer, which keeps it running smoothly through the machine, and a new type of magnetic layer.
The new cartridges, when they’re eventually commercialised, will be significantly more expensive because of the tape’s complex manufacturing process.
~ ‘Data is king’, Sony sputters. 

New microbe thanks to beer — In May 2014, a group of scientists took a field trip to a small brewery in an old warehouse in Seattle, Washington – and came away with a microbe scientists have never seen before. In so-called wild beer, the team identified a yeast belonging to the genus Pichia, which turned out to be a hybrid of a known species called P. membranifaciens and another Pichia species completely new to science. Other Pichia species are known to spoil a beer, but the new hybrid seems to smell better.
~ Well if I patented it, it would be microbe, but if you did: yorcrobe.

Australian electric highway — Australia is taking the electric car revolution one step further by announcing an A$4 million super-long electric highway, or a series of fast-charging electric vehicle stations. Queensland’s Electric Super Highway will be almost 2000 kilometres long, stretching from the Gold Coast on the state’s southern border to Cairns in the far north. 18 charging stations will span the highway, and all will allow vehicles charge in 30 minutes.
~ And there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity right there, as what will you do in the 30 minutes?

3D metal printing is about to go mainstream — Massachussetts company Desktop Metal is preparing to turn manufacturing on its head, with a 3D metal printing system that’s so much faster, safer and cheaper than existing systems that it’s going to compete with traditional mass manufacturing processes… Plenty of design studios and even home users run desktop printers, but the only affordable printing materials are cheap ABS plastics. And at the other end of the market, while organizations like NASA and Boeing are getting valuable use out of laser-melted metal printing, it’s a very slow and expensive process that doesn’t seem to scale well.
Desktop Metal is an engineering-driven startup whose founders include several MIT professors, and Emanuel Sachs, who has patents in 3D printing dating back to the dawn of the field in 1989.
~ Exciting!

Waste-gobling maggots — Aiming to reinvent the toilet, sanitation company The BioCycle is using black soldier maggots to convert waste into products like biodiesel. Meanwhile, ­EnviroFlightfeeds leftovers from brewing and ethanol production to larvae, whose poop makes a lovely food for prawns.
~ ‘Black soldier maggots’? Good lord!

Men to lose the most jobs to robots — They’re coming, in ever increasing numbers, for a certain kind of work. For farm and factory labor. For construction. For haulage. In other words, blue-collar jobs traditionally done by men.
~ Hobby time!

Companion robots — Kuri’s creators call it a “companion robot,” but this is no Furby. Kuri belongs to a new class of machines that actually are intelligent, and actually make useful assistants at home. They help disabled people with routine daily tasks, and soon they’ll remind the elderly to take their medication. Kuri’s more of an all-purpose companion, a member of your family that also happens to play music and take video.

Lake robot fights toxic algae bloom —  The Environmental Sample Processor ESPniagara sits on the floor of Lake Erie’s western basin, where it collects algae from the surrounding water, analyzes microcystin (a small, circular liver-toxic protein), and uploads results for researchers at the end of every test.

Tardigrade still fascinates — You’re probably aware that nature’s most badass animal is undoubtedly the tiny tardigrade, or water bear. They might be small, but unlike your weak butt, they can live a life without water, withstand temperatures from -328 to 304 degrees Fahrenheit, and even survive the depths of space. How did evolution make such a strange creature, and who are its relatives?
~ But the name that sounds like something issued to me at high school. 

Terrifying ocean predator changes the history of mass extinction — Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, the Earth was in a really bad place. At the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods, our biosphere experienced its most dramatic mass extinction event (so far), one so utterly complete that it has been solemnly termed the Great Dying. Precious little was spared, and it’s generally been thought that it took many millions of years for life to stand back up again. But a recently-discovered fossil dating to just after the Great Dying is helping to erode our vision of a slow post-extinction recovery, showing that ecosystems recovered very quickly, were thriving – and were full of teeth.
Rows upon rows of razor-edged teeth.
~ And you were wondering why our human antecedents left the oceans …

 

Five Tip Friday ~ Finding things on Macs, secure Keychain notes, disabling Safari autoplay


1/ Use Boolean Oprators in Spotlight — All you need to do is insert the words AND, OR, or NOT (or a minus sign) into searches, depending on what you’re trying to find. For example, if you want to see files on your system with either ‘project’ or ‘writing’ in the title, invoke Spotlight by clicking on the magnifying glass in the upper-right corner of my screen or by using its keyboard shortcut (Command-Spacebar), and type: title:project OR title:writing
Note there’s no space after the colon.
Alternatively, you can find items from two separate dates: date:6/6/66 OR date:17/6/17
Use NOT (or the minus sign -) to exclude file types, for example, from your results:
date:6/6/66 NOT kind:pdf
If you have any more questions or would just like to see more ways to use this, check out the examples Apple posted on this support page.

2/ Find tagged items in macOS — If you’ve set up your Safari-like tabs to work in folders in macOS Sierra, it’s easy to find the items you’ve tagged. Click the Finder icon in the Dock to open a Finder window and do any of the following:
Search for a tag: Enter the tag color or name in the search field, then select the tag from the suggestions.
Ask Siri. Say something like: Find files with a red tag.
Select a tag in the sidebar: To see everything with a certain tag, click the tagin the Finder sidebar.
To change the items you see in the sidebar, choose Finder > Preferences, click Tags, then select the tags you want to see.
Arrange items by a tag: Click the Item Arrangement button , then choose Tags.
Sort items by a tag: In any view, choose View > Show View Options, then select the Tags checkbox. In List view and Cover Flow, move the pointer over the Tags column, then click it. Click the column name again to reverse the sort order.

3/ Go directly to a specific folder in macOS Sierra — You can jump directly to a specific folder in macOS Sierra: In the Finder, click the Go menu in the menu bar, then choose one of the following:
Enclosing Folder: Choose this option to open the parent folder for the current window. For example, if you’re in your Downloads folder, this option opens your All My Files, Documents, or other listed folders: Choose a folder from the list.
Recent Folders: Choose a folder from the submenu. (The submenu shows up to 10 recently opened folders.)
Go to Folder: Type the folder’s pathname (for example, /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Pictures/), then click Go.
A slash at the beginning of a pathname indicates that the starting point is the top level of your computer’s folder structure. A slash at the end indicates that this is a path to a folder, rather than a file.
A tilde (~) indicates your home folder. Most of your personal folders, such as Documents, Music, and Pictures, are in your home folder.
If you’re having trouble finding a folder, make sure you’re spelling its name correctly and typing the full path, including slashes.
You can also ask Siri to, for instance, ‘Open the home folder.’
(To reveal the hidden macOS Library folder, press and hold the Option key on your keyboard, then choose Library as it will be revealed in the Go list.)

4/  Using Keychain’s Secure Notes feature — If you need to store private information on your Mac like an Inland Revenue number, there is a feature of a built-in program called Keychain Access that’ll let you store notes in a very secure way. If you’d like to take a look, open the app first—you can get to it within the Applications > Utilities folder by using Finder’s Go menu.
Once the app is open, click on “Secure Notes” from the sidebar and then click on the keychain where you’d like to store yours.
Use either the login or iCloud keychain for this – the only difference is that the iCloud one will sync these notes to any other Macs that are set up with your iCloud Keychain. (The notes won’t sync to your iOS devices, though.)
Once you’ve selected both options, click the plus button at the bottom-left corner of the window. Then you can give your new note a name and type the stuff you want to keep private under the Note field.
Once finished typing, click Add and your note will appear in the list. If you want to look at it at any point afterward, just go back to Keychain Access, click Secure Notes in the sidebar, and choose the keychain you added it to.
Double-click on the note to view it, and when you do, you won’t see the secret info you typed yet—yay! It’s still all hidden and private and stuff.
You’ll need to click the “Show Note” box I’ve called out above, and then your Mac will make you type in your login password to prove that you have the right to view its contents.
Melissa Holt likes this method better than using iCloud’s password-protected notes because it’s sort of “security by obscurity” – no one will likely think to look in Keychain Access for your notes. Which is good if you’re the type who doesn’t want anyone to even know that you have secrets to keep! Plus, you only have to remember one password – your Mac’s login one – which makes losing access less likely, and it’s darned secure as long as no one knows that password. For those same reasons, I like using Keychain Access better than password-protected documents, too. But this is certainly better than what a lot of people do, which is using Contacts’ Notes field to store very secret data. [From Mac Observer.]

5/ Disable autoplay in Safari — If you hate it when certain sites auto-play videos when you arrive at their site [it’s why I stopped using the otherwise excellent Macworld site], you can disable video autoplay using Terminal: quit Safari completely. That means clicking Safari from the top left of the menu bar, and then Quit. Once that’s done, launch Terminal from Applications -> Utilities. In Terminal, type the following commands:

defaults write com.apple.Safari WebKitMediaPlaybackAllowsInline -bool false
defaults write com.apple.Safari com.apple.Safari.ContentPageGroupIdentifier.WebKit2AllowsInlineMediaPlayback -bool false

— If you’re running the WebKit Technology Preview, you’ll also need to run these commands in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.SafariTechnologyPreview WebKitMediaPlaybackAllowsInline -bool false
defaults write com.apple.SafariTechnologyPreview com.apple.Safari.ContentPageGroupIdentifier.WebKit2AllowsInlineMediaPlayback -bool false

That’s it. Start up Safari once again, and enjoy a life free of video autoplay.

The Rock ads, Apple & Education, iPhone/iPad sales, iVac, Cochlear streaming, Echo vulnerability


Apple shares three new iPhone 7 ads featuring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson — Apple has posted a trio of ads starring Dwayne The Rock Johnson to YouTube, with the short spots featuring extended scenes taken from the Rock X Siri: Dominate the Day mini movie.

Apple in education: what’s the truth? During Apple’s Q3 Earnings Report, Tim Cook was able to crow a little about iPads in education. He could do that because, for the first time in four years the general decline in iPad sales has been halted. But if he’d made those same very positive claims a year ago, or a quarter ago, it all would have fallen on deaf ears. Failure is a shaky platform to boast from.
First, when Apple has a big iPad sales win with a school district or two, it can sound impressive. See: “Apple iPads in Education are Stronger This Quarter.” But 19,000 or even 40,000 iPads doesn’t tell the whole story. The duration of the commitment isn’t provided. And then 40,000 iPads is a drop in the bucket compared to 11.4 million total sales. Mac Observer investigates.

Apple beat Street estimates with strong Q3 on iDevice sales — Apple reported better than expected earnings for its third fiscal quarter of 2017, raking in $45.4 billion in revenue led by strong iPhone sales of 41 million units and a return to growth for iPad. AppleInsider breaks down the performance in this video.

Tidying up with the iPhone-controlled Ecovacs Deebot N79 vacuum cleaning robot — Apple World Today has checked out a floor cleaning robot from Ecovacs. The Deebot N79 (US$199.98) is designed for deep-cleaning of carpets and other surfaces, and the feature that makes it of interest to Apple World Today is that an iPhone app can be used to control and schedule cleaning.

Apple has developed new BLE Audio streaming tech for users with cochlear implants — Apple is work on Bluetooth Low Energy Audio, a new technology that streams digital sound directly to hearing air implants, enables people with hearing impairments to communicate and use their iPhone as mic via iOS 10’s Live Listen feature.

Amazon Echo vulnerability allows hackers to eavesdrop with always-on microphone — A security researcher has shown off the potential danger of internet connected speakers being used to listen in on private conversations by publishing details of how to hack earlier models of the Amazon Echo via a hardware-based vulnerability that cannot be fixed with a software patch.

 

Map experts wanted, Drive Genius, Final Cut Pro X effects, wireless mesh


Apple looking to hire more than 70 map tech experts — Apple wants to hire a bunch of map tech experts. More than 70 job listings went live in the past month on the company’s site relating to its maps team.
Apple is looking for folks with skills involving “geospatial information services,” “navigational aids” and “fleet management.” The map tech experts will doubtless help bring new features to the Maps app on macOS and iOS devices. [But only if they speak English.]

Drive Genius 5 for US$39 — We have a deal for you today on the venerable Mac utility Drive Genius 5. This software helps monitor and manage your storage device and its files with 19 different built-in utilities. It’s US$39 (about NZ$53 instead of c$125) through the Mac Observer, some 60% off. [I bought this. TechTool Pro is marvellous, but Drive Genius has an uninstaller, large file finder and other handy features.]

Nattress Contrast is a cool effects pack for Final Cut Pro X, Motion (and Premiere, After Effects) — Nattress Contrast is a nifty effects pack compatible with Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects. It contains four filters: Bleach Bypass, Detail Preserve Contrast, Hyper Contrast and Luma & Saturation Contrast.
Because some lenses naturally produce a lower contrast image due to the way light diffuses through the lens elements, adding post-production contrast effects is a great way to increase visual impact. Nattress Contrasts costs US$49 (about NZ$66). The trial version of Nattress Contrast is available by installing FxFactory. You can learn more by clicking here.

Choosing a wireless mesh system — Installing a wifi mesh system into your home means wifi is available everywhere. The Mac Observer has trialled several systems (not all will be available in New Zealand) to tell you what’s good about different systems.

1.2 billion iPhones, Watch & AirPods, non-democracies ban VPN, iPad sales rise, HomePod sounds, 64-bit Earth, Red Raven exclusive


(Image from Financial Express)

Apple has sold over 1.2 billion iPhones — In a conference call regarding Apple’s financial results for its fiscal 2017 third quarter that ended July 1, CEO Tim Cook said that Apple has now sold over 1.2 billion smartphones. Many markets in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East grew iPhone sales by over 25%, according to Apple Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri.

Apple Watch sales up 50%; AirPods so popular Apple still can’t meet demand — In a conference call regarding Apple’s financial results for its fiscal 2017 third quarter that ended July 1, CEO Tim Cook said that sales of the Apple Watch were up over 50% in the June quarter, helping it maintain its position as the top selling smartwatch.
Cook also boasted that the AirPods have a 98% customer satisfaction. Alas, while Apple is “working hard to get them to customers as quickly as possible,” the company is still not able to meet demand, he added.

Tim Cook says Apple followed Chinese law in removing VPN apps from App Store — Responding to criticism surrounding Apple’s recent removal of VPN apps from the Chinese iOS App Store, CEO Tim Cook on Tuesday said the company was simply following new government regulations, as it would for any country in which it operates. Russia has followed suit – how can you tack dissent when people can mask themselves online?

iPad quarterly sales grow year-over-year for the first time since 2013, best non-holiday quarter in two years — Apple’s most recent quarter of iPad sales is not only the first time that iPad sales have grown year-over-year since 2013, but its best non-holiday quarter for sales of the tablet for two years.

The pleasantly alarming sounds of the Apple HomePod — We know what some of the alarm tones are going to sound like on the upcoming HomePod. [You can listen too, at that link.]

Google Earth iOS app updated to 64-bit, adds new features — iOS 11 will drop support for 32-bit apps, and one app that had a lot of users concerned was Google Earth for iOS. The free app was sadly showing up as 32-bit, as it hadn’t been updated in quite a while. Today, Google finally updated the app with 64-bit compatibility and added a bunch of new features at the same time.

Apple to be exclusive retailer of ‘Red Raven’ camera kit — Professional digital cinema camera company Red Digital Cinema on Tuesday announced Apple will be the exclusive retailer of its US$15,000 Red Raven kit, which includes the Raven camera body, Sigma lens, carrying case and more. Along with the camera brain itself, which features a 9.9 megapixel CMOS sensor capable of up to 120fps capture at 4.5K resolutions, the kit contains Red’s DSMC2 4.7-inch Touch LCD monitor, DSMC2 Outrigger Handle, V-Lock I/O Expander and 120GB Mini-Mag SSD. Also included are two IDX DUO-C98 batteries with VL-2X charger, G-Technology ev Series Mini-Mag Reader, Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM lens and custom Nanuk carrying case.
Apple’s contribution to the set is a redemption code for Final Cut Pro X.