The Apocalypticon ~ Ideal population size, radiation, hacking, slacking, cryptojacking, Polygamy, Apple and fighting climate change


Earth might be looking a little worse for wear, after the last four-hundred years of reckless wide-scale resource extraction, but to its credit it hasn’t collapsed entirely. Despite our best efforts, it continues to gamely welcome our rapidly expanding population, barring the occasional earthquake. Whether the planet might be a little better off with fewer of us is a different question, a freighted one: what would the planet’s population size would be in an ideal world?
If the French lifestyle as the benchmark, we would need to reduce the world population to about 3 billion people (4.6 billion less than today’s population). If the USA, the world population would need to be reduced to 1.9 billion. Oh, darn. 

Flying irradiates you — Many flyers don’t know that soaring miles above Earth also takes us out of a vital protective cocoon and a little closer to a place where our cells can be pummeled by radiation from colliding stars, black holes and more. You can’t see these high-energy charged particles, but at any given moment, tens of thousands of them are soaring through space and slamming into Earth’s atmosphere from all directions. These rays don’t pose much of a risk to humans on Earth’s surface, since the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from most of the threat. But if you fly a lot

Bot finds Nazi accounts: Twitter banned the bot and kept the Nazi accounts — After a week of testing, Impostor Buster was born. Using a crowdsourced database of impersonator accounts, carefully curated to avoid any false positives, the bot patrolled Twitter and interjected whenever impostors tried to insinuate themselves into a discussion. Within days, this golem for the digital age had become a runaway success, garnering thousands of followers and numerous press write-ups. The developers received countless thank-yous from alerted would-be victims.
So Twitter sided with the Nazis: in April, the service suspended Impostor Buster without explanation and reinstated it only after being contacted by the ADL’s cyber-hate team. This month, Twitter suspended the bot again [link is paywalled NY Times], and this time refused to revive it.

Cryptojacking, which exploded in popularity this fall, has an ostensibly worthy goal: use an untapped resource to create an alternative revenue stream for games or media sites, and reduce reliance on ads. It works by embedding a JavaScript component in a website that can leverage a visiting device’s processing power to mine a cryptocurrency (usually Monero). Each visitor might only do a tiny bit of mining while they’re there, but every user lending some hash power over time can generate real money. And users might not even notice what’s happening. In theory, it can be a win-win.
Talking about Cryptocurrency, where did Wikileak’s Bitcoin go? The transparency organization may be sitting on a stockpile of bitcoin valued at around US$25 million, and has likely exchanged several other large cryptocurrency caches for fiat cash, according to two sources who independently analysed WikiLeaks’s bitcoin transactions. So where is the ‘transparency organization’ spending the fortune that the public blockchain indicates it has?

Fighting ‘wrongful views’ in Vietnam — Vietnam is deploying a 10,000-member military cyber warfare unit to combat what the government sees as a growing threat of “wrongful views” proliferating on the internet,. Force 47 has worked pro-actively against distorted information, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the general politics department under the Vietnam People’s Military. The disclosure of the unit comes as the Communist government pressures YouTube and Facebook to remove videos and accounts seen damaging the reputations of leaders or promoting anti-party views like this one: Hey Vietnam, totalitarianism sucks! All it does is conceal the corruption of the ruling class. 

Russia taking US biometric data — Biometric data belonging to millions of Americans may or may not be at risk – but it is frankly unclear – based on a BuzzFeed report. At least two experts are concerned, though, the report says.

But now Russia is accusing the US of (LOL!) meddling in its elections! Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has accused the US of a “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs” following the State Department’s criticism of Russia’s decision to bar opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running in the upcoming presidential election against Vladimir Putin.
In a statement shared with Business Insider last Tuesday, a State Department spokesperson expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.” “These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”
Zakharova pushed back. “And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” she said.

Is there a link between polygamy and war? Men in South Sudan typically marry as often as their wealth – often measured in cattle – will allow. Perhaps 40% of marriages are polygamous. If you ask them the reason for the violence, locals will blame tribalism, greedy politicians, weak institutions and perhaps the oil wealth which gives warlords something to fight over. All true, but not the whole story. Wherever it is widely practised, polygamy (specifically polygyny, the taking of multiple wives) destabilises society, largely because it is a form of inequality which creates an urgent distress in the hearts, and loins, of young men.
‘Gosh, I like your big new cow.’

Apple caved, finally recognising it will have to do more to calm customers’ ire after admitting to, and then apologizing for slowing down their old iPhones. Apple wrote: “We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologise.” To that end, the company has slashed the price of battery replacements for iPhone 6, 6s, and 7 devices from $US80 to $US30.
Cook showed his heartfelt contrition by accepting a huge pay rise. Yes, that is what ‘cynical’ means. 

Oh, so where does all this malaise leaves us? Planning to survive a future we have profoundly tainted by what we do, how we buy and who we vote, or don’t vote, for.

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Futurology ~ NASA’s new missions, Germans paid to use power, Crispr future, raunchy Neanderthals


Titan (lower left) in a size comparison with Earth and our Moon. In reality, it’s a bit further away ..

NASA has announced two new potential robotic missions — One is to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, since scientists think comets contain materials from our early solar system, such as ancient ice, rock, and even complex carbon-based molecules. The other heads to Saturn’s moon Titan. Titan is the second-largest moon in the solar system, larger even than planet Mercury, and has a dense atmosphere. These missions are the finalists from 12 proposals submitted to the New Frontiers program back in April. Only one of them will move forward and launch in the mid-2020s. 
~ I’m for Titan, which may even host life and structures formed from vinyl cyanide.

Consumers in Germany were paid to use electricity this holiday season — The cost of electricity in Germany has decreased so dramatically in the past few days that major consumers have actually been paid to use power from the grid. While “negative pricing” is not an everyday occurrence in the country, it does occur from time to time, and did this past holiday weekend.
~ Merry Christmas! Let’s put another roast on. 

Crispr humans may be on the way — This was the year that prediction felt like it was starting to come true. US scientists used the CRISPR gene editing technique to treat a common genetic heart disease in a human embryo. Many more diseases were successfully treated in mice using CRISPR. Hell, a particularly enthusiastic biohacker even spontaneously injected himself with muscle-growth genes while giving a talk at a conference.
But if 2017 was the year that the potential of CRISPR began to come into focus, 2018 may be the year that potential begins to be realised.
Next year, the first human trials of CRISPR-based treatments in the US and Europe are slated to begin.
~ Crispr humans won’t need ironing. 

But Crispr’s days are numbered — In less than five years, the gene-editing technology known as Crispr revolutionized the face and pace of modern biology. Since its ability to find, remove, and replace genetic material was first reported in 2012, scientists have published more than 5000 papers mentioning Crispr. Biomedical researchers are embracing it to create better models of disease. And countless companies have spun up to commercialise new drugs, therapies, foods, chemicals, and materials based on the technology. But Crispr Classic is somewhat clunky, unreliable, and a bit dangerous: it can’t bind to just any place in the genome. It sometimes cuts in the wrong places and it has no off-switch. So scientists are working to tweak the technology.
~ Bring on the crisper Crispr!

Naughty Neanderthals — Qiaomei Fu is a leader among a cadre of scientists applying modern, next-generation gene-sequencing techniques to the study of ancient humans. The geneticist at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, she has so far unearthed a prehistory shaped by dramatic displacement, migration — and interspecies action.
Qiaomei Fu is regarded as one of the young stars of genetic anthropology, and has published a string of studies shedding light on our ancestors’ raunchy pasts. It seems that sex between modern humans and Neanderthals went on for longer than we’d previously thought. Fu has now founded her own lab in China.
~ Some people find them attractive to this day. 

Review ~ Logitech MX Sound system


Logitech’s MX Sound speakers bring Bluetooth audio to the desktop. MX Sound can deliver stereo audio from computer, smartphone or tablet.
These new speakers appear like greater and lesser pods fused together; the greater houses a forward-facing 70mm speaker and the lesser houses the rear-firing bass ports. The two pods make for a surprisingly stable platform thanks to weight distribution and two rubberised strips on their undersides. The right-hand speaker has the ports, power supply and controls on the back, and the left speaker has an attached cable that goes into one of the ports (only fits one) on the back of the right one. The other ports are headphones, power, PC (any stereo minipin connection, actually) and Aux, which will also take a signal from pretty much any source, again via stereo minipin, effectively giving you two swappable wired connections as well as two swappable wireless (thanks to Bluetooth switching).
With tailored drivers and rear-facing port tubes for bass (better bass tends to come off the backs of normal speakers, so if you port it out properly from the rear of a cabinet, bass response is improved).
A 10° backward tilt when their sitting on a flat surface is designed to point the speakers from a desktop position upwards towards your ears.

Control — Logitech has gone all minimal with these speakers, using a motion-activated and backlit touch-control interface to keep surfaces unblemished. Wave your hand about 5cm or less in front of the right speaker and three backlit controls appear: Bluetooth (press it to make it discoverable for pairing), and a plus and minus sign for volume volume up and down. This means the speakers stay discrete until you need to change the volume. The units self power-down after 20 minutes of non-use, by the way, to conserve power use.

Sound — Audio is well defined, rounded and surprisingly full, especially if you position the two speakers so the bass emanating from the speaker backs is unimpeded and, perhaps, can reflect back to you off a wall or something.
But very bass- and sub-bass-heavy tracks distort at higher volumes. For example with Rihanna’s Shut Up and Drive, bass surges can stop the trebles coming through. Normally, you won’t notice this, but since the highs roll off at a comparatively low 20MHz, what passed for definition at medium volumes suffers accordingly at higher. A song like Public Image by Public Image, with that wonderfully expansive Jah Wobble bass technique, sounds fine at medium volumes and not so god at loud. If you’re a painful twit, like me, with audio stuff, you will also notice the limitations of having one speaker in an enclosure at full extension: for example, in the sublime System Virtue by Emma Paki, at full volume, when the speakers have to produce a swell of that lovely bubbling bassline, the mids and highs will momentarily drop out. If you’ve ever wondered why bigger speaker enclosures have different drivers for different jobs, it’s partly to avoid this, and to produce a wider spectrum from low sounds to high.
Honestly, though, if you want music at high volumes, you should not be looking at a 12W system. For serious music listening and Logic work, I switch my sound through to a Rotel stereo amp and two-driver ELAC speakers, since Macs and iDevices certainly can and do deliver high quality sound.
I also tested it out delivering video soundtracks. The Western series Godless on Netflix certainly gave them a good workout with an extended gun battle that sounded extra convincing with better speakers. The expanded sound stage was very welcome on a holiday trip, although this pair of speakers is nowhere near as portable as some other solutions, including some excellent products from Logitech.
The other way to use speakers is, of course, for games. My current obsession, the World War Two shooter called Day of Infamy, is a good test. You need to be able to hear things to the left and right: you should be able to tell if an enemy is stalking you on the other side of a wall. You learn to identify Allied versus Axis weapon sounds so you can ‘stage’ where things are happening, which can be crucial to playing well. The speakers kept up well, and definitely made the game sound a lot better, and the staging was good, although you can’t beat headphones for truly dedicated play.
Here’s a tip, though: if game sound is too good and too loud, you might find you’ll be less distracted and rattled if you it down a bit, as games like this spend a lot of development on authentic and immersive sound stages.

The ports on the back of the right speaker (click the picture for a large view)

Switcheroo — Listen via Bluetooth and/or a wired connection, and seamlessly switch between to previously-connected devices thanks to the Logitech Easy-Switch feature, which stores details for two devices. It’s easy to use – pause music on one, press play on the other … however, it’s possible to have a wired connection playing at the same time as a Bluetooth one over the speakers at the same time since there’s no input switch to select one over the other, and one input doesn’t automatically cut out the other.
Apart from playing a playlist, say, from an iPad and then an iPhone, it also means you can have them connected to your Mac (or PC) yet have them play a selection direct from your smartphone.

Conclusion — A good offering at a reasonable price that will give you expanded stereo separation, more detail and much warmer midtones than built-in speakers for music, soundtracks and games at low-to-mid volumes.

What’s Great — Easy Bluetooth connection and a wired option; understated interface that only appears the you need it; subtle design which means they don’t draw too much visual attention.

What’s Not — If you’re playing Bluetooth audio and also send sound via wired, they’ll just both play at the same time. Strains at high volumes (as you’d expect from a 12 Watt system and single speakers).

Needs — Anyone who has room on a desk for speakers this big (about a hand’s length across for an average male hand) for a much better quality audio experience. They also sound good with TVs and their understated form is a bonus for this use, if you have the rom for them and just want better TV audio than stock, yet don’t want to go up to a full audio-visual sound system, for example in a small room or apartment.

Logitech MX Sound speakers, RRP NZ$169
System — Total Watt (in RMS) 12W with a Total Peak of 24W, connects via Bluetooth 4.1 up to 25 metres in line-of-sight range plus two 3.5mm inputs (a 3.5mm audio cable is supplied) plus a headphone jack.
Frequency response is 75Hz-20kHz (good headphones will go down to 12Hz, and subwoofers lower still, plus up to 25KHz).
160mm high (6.30 inches) by the same width and 83.4mm deep (3.28in). Weight: 1.72kgs (3.90lbs). Works with Bluetooth enabled devices and any device with a 3.5mm input including televisions, computers, smartphone, tablets and music players

Availability — The Logitech MX Sound system is available via Logitech.com and from selected retail stores for a suggested retail price of NZ$169 (I’ve seen them on Mighty Ape for NZ$139).

The Apocalypticon ~ US angst, Japanese negativity, Snowden app, Facebook and Twitter propaganda, Apple slowing devices, Christmas spirit


Better off — Are you doing better than the previous generation? The Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC, asked nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries around the globe that question this past spring. Residents in 20 countries said people like them were better off than they were 50 years ago. In Vietnam, 88% felt better off, followed by India (69%), South Korea (68%), Japan (65%), Germany (65%), Turkey (65%), the Netherlands (64%), Sweden (64%), Poland (62%) and Spain (60%)… but the US was among the other 18 countries in which people said they were actually worse off than half a century ago. In Senegal, 45% felt this way, followed by Nigeria (54%), Kenya (53%), the US (41%), Ghana (47%), Brazil (49%), France (46%), Hungary (39%), Lebanon (54%) and Peru (46%).
Perhaps Americans have a point – one in five American households have ‘zero or negative’ wealth.
~ It’s mostly down to inequality and distribution, but they keep voting for more of it. President Trump’s tax proposals won’t give America’s middle class the reprieve they need to grow their wealth and recover from the financial crash. 

Japan’s negative births — The number of births in Japan this year has fallen to is lowest since records began more than a century ago with about 941,000 new babies, the health ministry said on Friday, proof if any were needed that it faces an ageing and shrinking population. The number of births will be about 4% lower than last year and the lowest since the government started compiling data in 1899, the ministry said. “What’s behind this is a continuous decline in the number of women in the typical childbearing age bracket of 25 to 39.”

Snowden’s guardian app — The NSA whistleblower and a team of collaborators have been working on a new open-source Android app called Haven that you install on a spare smartphone, turning the device into a sort of sentry to watch over your laptop. Haven uses the smartphone’s many sensors – microphone, motion detector, light detector, and cameras – to monitor the room for changes, and it logs everything it notices. The first public beta version of Haven has officially been released; it’s available in the Play Store and on F-Droid, an open source app store for Android.

No cure for Alzheimers — Few afflictions carry the existential dread that dementia does. While it’s bad enough that there isn’t a treatment that can stop the progression of Alzheimer’s once it’s apparent, a new series of papers published this week suggests something even more disheartening: There might be nothing you can do to prevent it, either.
~ But hey, there’s never any harm in eating right, being active, and being cognitively and socially engaged.

Elderly excluded from jobs in Facebook ads — Verizon is among dozens of leading employers in the US, including Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target and Facebook itself, that placed recruitment ads limited to particular age groups, an investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times has found. The ability of advertisers to deliver their message to the precise audience most likely to respond is the cornerstone of Facebook’s business model. But using the system to expose job opportunities only to certain age groups has raised concerns about fairness to older workers. Several experts questioned whether the practice is in keeping with the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits bias against people 40 or older in hiring or employment.

Russian Facebook trolls tool — Facebook has made available a tool to allow users to see whether they had liked or followed a page linked to Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 US election. Facebook had promised to make such a tool available in November, after the company revealed in a congressional hearing that more than 140 million people may have been exposed to Russia-linked propaganda during the 2016 election cycle.

But wait, there’s also Russian Twitter in the UK — Fake social media accounts linked to Russia were used to influence and interfere with public debate in the aftermath of four terrorist attacks in the UK this year, researchers have found. At least 47 Russian Twitter accounts posted material after attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, according to researchers at the Cardiff University Crime and Security Research Institute.

Apple slowing your iDevices — Apple last week confirmed what many customers have long suspected: it has been slowing the performance of older iPhones. Apple says it started the practice a year ago, to compensate for battery degradation, rather than push people to upgrade their smartphones faster. But even giving that benefit of the doubt, there are plenty of better ways Apple could have accomplished the same goal without betraying customer trust.
~ For myself, I’ve noticed a significant and annoying lag whenever I launch the Camera app until it becomes available to shoot on my iPhone 6.

And the good news? Er, is it that Christmas makes people ‘horny‘. Crikey. Anyway, all the best from me for the festive season and the New Year (he writes as he’s about to head off to work on Boxing Day!). 

Futurology ~ Weird from space, ISS, WWII ships research, oil and gas, brains and light, Mixed Reality, robot sweat, de-extinction


Magic Leap finally revealed a prototype of its Mixed Reality glasses

Weird space visitor has organic insulation — Oumuamua is the cigar-shaped object – about 400 meters long and only 40 meters in the other dimensions – that originated from somewhere else in the Galaxy and visited our Solar system while moving at nearly 20,9214 kilometres per hour (about 130,000mph). Scientists do not know where Oumuamua came from or what it is made of. It is not shaped like commonly seen asteroids, and unlike comets it does not leave a trail behind it, not even when it flies past the Sun. In fact, Oumuamua seems to be wrapped in a strange organic coat made of carbon-rich gunk that it likely picked up on its long travels through space…
~ Right, it wrapped itself. It’s Christmas after all. 

The space station is the best thing we ever did — The International Space Station is one of the few nonstellar things up there that we can see from down here without instruments. It’s a prefab home the size of a football field, 462 tons and more than $100 billion worth of pressurised roomlike modules and gleaming solar arrays, orbiting 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. Its flight path is available online, and you can find out when it will make a nighttime pass over your backyard. Right on schedule, you’ll spot an unblinking white light that’s moving at 28,163kph (17,500 mph).
~ Agreed, it’s pretty awesome. 

Physicists recycled WWII ships and artillery to unlock the mysteries of the universe — A million Russian artillery shells helped scientists discover the Higgs boson. All over the world, remnants of World War II weapons are built into the most mysterious experiments in physics.
~ Ploughshares, anyone? 

Oil, gas production gone by 2040 — In France, anyway. France’s parliament has approved a law banning all exploration and production of oil and natural gas by 2040 within the country and its overseas territories. Under that law that passed a final vote, existing drilling permits will not be renewed and no new exploration licenses will be granted. The French government claims the ban is a world first. However, it is largely symbolic since oil and gas produced in France accounts for just 1% of domestic consumption.
~ Still, could be worse. You know, planet-wide apocalypse or something. No pressure. 

Light, genes and brains — Along with his MIT neuroscientist colleague Dheeraj Roy and others, Susumu Tonegawa is upending basic assumptions in brain science. Early this year, he reported that memory storage and retrieval happen on two different brain circuits, not on the same one as was long thought. His team also showed that memories of an event form at the same time in the brain’s short-term and long-term storage areas, rather than moving to long-term storage later on. Most recently (and tantalisingly), his lab demonstrated what could someday be a way to bring currently irretrievable memories back into conscious awareness.
~ Hopefully, they also wrote it down somewhere. 

Magic Leap into Mixed Reality — After raising US$1.9 billion dollars, Magic Leap finally showed off it’s “mixed-reality” goggles. Was the wait worth it? Rolling Stone got a look: “The revelation, the first real look at what the secretive, multi-billion dollar company has been working on all these years is the first step toward the 2018 release of the company’s first consumer product. It also adds some insight into why major companies like Google and Alibaba have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Magic Leap, and why some researchers believe the creation could be as significant as the birth of the Internet.”

Robot sweats while it does press-ups — In Science Robotics, researchers from the University of Tokyo showed off a humanoid that is strikingly lifelike not just in how it looks, but how it moves. The machine is a radical departure from the stiff, bumbling humanoids that have so far done a whole lot of falling on their faces.
~ It ‘sweats’ by circulating water through its frame to dissipate heat when it’s active. 

De-extinction — For the past few years science writer Britt Wray has been delving into the strange field of ‘de-extinction,’ travelling the world to meet with scientists working to bring back species ranging from the aurochs to the thylacine to the woolly mammoth. One of the most promising efforts is Revive & Restore, which hopes to create a living passenger pigeon by the year 2022.
~ Perhaps she could start planning ahead, for us?

Photo Lemur 2.1.1


Photo Lemur, the one-stop photo improvement app, has sped up a little in its latest version and improved the algorithms it uses to analyse, and then fix an image.
A slider along the bottom lets you decide how much ‘improvement’ Photo Lemur can deliver, from 0 to 100%. This is the least sophisticated tool as far as the user goes: no layers, selections, replacement or other area-by-area corrections are available; no brushes, correction tools, multiple undoes … almost no tools at all.
The interface is dauntingly simple (to those used to Photoshop). Open Photo Lemur and drop an image onto the Photo Lemur import window (left), and the app analyses the image (the wireframe animations as per the main image above, I suspect, are arbitrary rather than working, so you know things are happening).
The image opens, and you can drag a vertical Before and After slider to see what your image is like and what it could be like, which is invariably quite an improvement, lightening dark areas and showing otherwise hidden detail, and adding sparkle and contrast to better lit areas. Drag this slider left and right to to inspect your image.
Click the little paintbrush icon at bottom right, and the Boost level slider is revealed. What you saw in the After section is the 100% boost, so you can back off down to what you feel is a more acceptable level if that works better for you.

But does it work? Yes, and often the result is truly remarkable (click an image for a closer look). For a badly degraded, overexposed or faulty shot, there’s a limit to what it can do, but honestly, iPhones simply don’t deliver those kinds of results any more, since they also analyse the scene and balance the white point and exposure faster than the blink of an eye. That means 99% of the shots you send this app’s way will be improved with added sparkle, depth, detail and clarity to make them really ‘pop’.

This even applies to those images shot in low light, which feature noise in the darker areas as an unavoidable consequence of the way CCD sensors work when there simply isn’t enough light for a decent exposure.

Click Export to see several useful options: you can export back to Disk (your hard drive, or a connected hard drive) or choose to upload directly to Flickr, email it, add it directly to Facebook, tweet it or launch it into Snapheal, should you have it, so you can do those area-by-area corrections that Photo Lemur does not support.

Small frustrations — If you open several images at once, you can’t seem to resize the image you are working on to see it in more detail, as there’s no Zoom. Also, the window is not resizable. When you use the Boost slider, you’re actually subtracting, or at least selectively minimising the boost,. It means ‘Set Amount of Boost’ rather than Boost. And when you do this, the Before and After slider disappears – I’d prefer it if it stayed

Conclusion — This is like a more sophisticated, more analytical and more thorough version of the Enhance wand you can single-tap in the Photos app on iPhone and iPad, with the added feature that you can back off from the maximum level of change to the point where you think it’s best. It’s basic, interface-wise, sure, but with it’s smart background tech, works a treat to enhance your images in a much more sophisticated way considering most of its magic is hidden from view.

What’s Great — Improves most images you throw at it, without you having to do all of the legwork.

What’s Not — when you have several images open, you have a limited working space. Confusing payment options: for a while this was Subscriber, then it was a single price … often gets heavily discounted and specially offered, so look out for that (for example, Photo Lemur 2.2 ‘Spectre’ is currently 70% off until 4th January).

Needs — Those who feel their general shots are a little lacking. Photo Lemur is a very fast way to add considerable zing! to images. Its stock price is incredibly steep until you realise how much time and work it can save you.
Check out the developer’s How It Works page.

Photo Lemur 2.2 Spectre, usually US$151 (NZ$215) but US$45 (cNZ$64) until 4th January).
There’s also a Free Version,, for which you have to put in a name and email address. This is for those who want to try Photolemur before buying it. It’s limited and puts the product logo in the photo.

Online only— Visit the Photo Lemur site.

 

The Apocalypticon ~ Space germs, fossil fuels, information wars, sensitive time capsule, Apple tax and censorship, bush fire thwarts prepper, toys


Germy space station — According to a new study in the journal PeerJ, the interior surfaces of the 17-year-old, 250-mile-high, airtight space station harbour at least 1000 and perhaps more than 4000 microbe species.

Shocking dependence on fossil fuels remains — Most of the world’s clean-energy sources are used to generate electricity, but electricity forms only 25% of the world’s energy consumption. As the rich world moved towards a cleaner energy mix, much of the poor world was just starting to gain access to modern forms of energy. Inevitably, they chose the cheapest option, which was and remains fossil fuels. But the world’s energy demand has grown so steeply that we’re also using a lot more fossil fuels than in the past.

Time capsule in, ahm, hate to say, Jesus’ butt — While preserving an 18th century wooden statue of Jesus, a team of Spanish restorers was surprised to discover a time capsule hidden within the hollowed-out buttocks-portion of the carving. Written by a Catholic chaplain, the detailed document contains economic, political and cultural information about the time period. The document was signed in 1777 by a Spanish Priest named Joaquín Mínguez, chaplain of the Cathedral of the Burgo de Osma.
~ Let us raise our eyes …

Man tries to hack mate out of prison — A Michigan man has pleaded guilty to hacking the computer network of the Washtenaw County Jail, where he modified inmate records in an attempt to have an inmate released early. To breach the jail’s network, the attacker used spear-phishing emails and telephone social engineering. He was arrested a month later and is now awaiting sentencing (maximum 10 years and a fine of up to US$250,000).
~ Once upon a time, this would have been a physical act. 

More on the information war — Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app was leaked online, after the app’s developer failed to secure the database’s server. The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customisable and personalisable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world. The database appears to only contain records on the app’s Android users.
Should we worry? We could fund a Universal Basic Income with the data we give away to Google and Facebook.
In 1929, the Nazi propaganda tabloid Der Stürmer published a caricature of an imaginary group of devious looking Jewish people peeling off in a car after apparently running over a German boy, left bleeding in the arms of his father.
In the year 2017, the president of the United States retweeted a video of a dark-haired teenager assaulting a blond, Dutch teenager on crutches, with the erroneous caption, “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” Unfortunately, there’s more. “This is scary shit,” echoes Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale and author of the book How Propaganda Works.
Now, and after the US, the UK appears to be warning its own workers to steer clear of Kaspersky‘s security products. [Kaspersky refutes he has anything to do with Russian espionage, but let me boil down how Russian espionage works: Russia is asked through official channels ‘Did you sanction, or carry out, this or that?’ Russia replies ‘No’. That’s it.]

Shout out against Apple and tax. Literally — A group of global activists stormed and occupied several Apple Stores in France last weekend in a move aimed at pressuring the company to pay up on a €13 billion (US$15.5 billion) tax bill to the European Union.
But wait, there’s more: Apple’s Tim Cook (along with Google’s Sundar Pichai) made appearances at China’s World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. [In other words, they were there to promote Chinese censorship. Go Tim ‘it’s not the morals, it’s the money’ Cook.] 

Microwaving North Korean missiles — According to an NBC News report, a weapon, still under development, could be put on a cruise missile and shot at an enemy country from a B-52 bomber. It’s designed to use microwaves to target enemy military facilities and destroy electronic systems, like computers, that control their missiles. [Fries with that?]

Bushfire prep — OK, not really. A Utah man reportedly spent 30 years building a series of underground bunkers that he hoped would outlive the apocalypse … but half of them couldn’t even survive a bushfire. [Back to the drawing board for Mr Doofus.]

Although that was funny, it’s also tragic and stupid. I like to end on a positive note. Here it is: get your kids less toys. Really.

Futurology ~ star collision, Europa plates, Voyager’s old thrusters, spacesuit, Type 2 diabetes, spider beanie, meteorite bronze age


Fancy hanging off the side of your building in this?

Two stars collided — On August 17th, astronomers bore witness to the titanic collision of two neutron stars, the densest things in the universe besides black holes. In the collision’s wake, astronomers answered multiple major questions that have dominated their field for a generation. And there was more, and there is much more yet to come from this discovery…  but now what?
~ Do scientists even have the right instrumentation to follow these discoveries up? 

Europa’s icy plate tectonics — According to new research published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Europa has what it takes to support plate tectonics. Using computer models, a team lead by Brown University planetary scientist Brandon Johnson was able to demonstrate the physical feasibility of icy plates driving deep into the icy interior in a processes similar to what’s seen on Earth. This same process could be delivering important minerals to the ocean below, heightening the moon’s status a potentially habitable world.
~ Jupiter’s moon Europa features a ‘warm’ subterranean ocean covered in ice, leading to decades of speculation it might harbour life. 

Voyager 1 just fired up its backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years — Voyager 1, the probe which became the first man-made object to leave the solar system in 2012, has been away from home for a long, long time – approximately 40 years. It’s still been beaming back reams of data. (It’s so lonely.) Now it’s nearly 21 billion kilometeres from Earth. Last week, NASA said it had successfully dusted off the spacecraft’s long-dormant backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years.
~ And, in its off time, 1 has been sending extremely ill-advised texts to possible distant alien civilisations. 

Spacesuit’s Take Me Home button — Imagine, unlike in the film Gravity, a struggling astronaut presses an emergency button which automatically takes her back to the International Space Station or another space-based habitat. Such a system is currently under development at Draper Labs, and it could soon become a standard feature on spacesuits.
~ There goes my Space Life Preserver plan. 

Type 2 diabetes might be reversible — For those suffering from type 2 diabetes, there is good news. Nearly half of the participants in a watershed trial of a new diabetes treatment were able to reverse their affliction. The method is quite simple: an all liquid diet that causes participants to lose a lot of weight, followed by a carefully controlled diet of real solid foods. Four times a day, a sachet of powder is stirred in water to make a soup or shake. They contain about 200 calories, but also the right balance of nutrients. If the patient can keep away from other foods long enough, there is a chance of reversing type 2 diabetes completely.
~ Jenny Craig must be sharpening her pencil. 

Personal urban retreat — A transparent capsule on a roof high above the city may offer a temporary escape in urban environments, while also allowing us to reconnect with our environment. The capsule nestles in the density of the city, but escapes it due to its high position. The shape embraces the buildings since it lies partly on the roof and the facade. Like a mountain retreat, it offers a quiet space to breathe with a new viewpoint.
~ I reckon people would just fill them up with junk as extra storage. 

Artificial spider silk beanie — Best Made Company’s Cap of Courage is a US$198 striped beanie that’s made by combining Bolt’s Microsilk and Rambouillet wool. The run of 100 caps is a proof of concept to show that the elusive science behind crafting synthetic spider’s silk is no longer elusive. It’s partly a product of proteins that mimic spider silk grown in yeast.
~ At least it’s not brewed from dead flies, so the courage part comes from paying that much for a hat, presumably. 

Almost all Bronze Age iron artefacts were made from meteorite iron — According to a new study, it’s possible that all iron-based weapons and tools of the Bronze Age were forged using metal salvaged from meteorites. The finding has given experts a better insight into how these tools were created before humans worked out how to produce iron from its ore.
~ The surprise for me is that iron was smelted at all in the Bronze Age, before the beginning of the official Iron Age.

The Apocalypticon ~ Quantum spying, Android, see level, Russians, post apocalypse garden, dazzle ships


Quantum spying — In his latest novel, David Ignatius tackles the intersection of quantum computing and espionage. The Quantum Spy revolves around a central theme of spy literature: the race for a new technology, to discover something new that, even if only for a moment, will provide a geopolitical advantage.
But it didn’t take any kind of computer to hack the US military, because they didn’t even use passwords. [Makes you feel safe, doesn’t it? ]

Three quarters of Android apps track users with third party tools — A study by French research organization Exodus Privacy and Yale University’s Privacy Lab analysed the mobile apps for the signatures of 25 known trackers and found that more than three in four Android apps contain at least one third-party ‘tracker.’

US ‘orchestrated’ Russian spy scandal, claims Russian — Right, yeah, that makes sense.

Twitter-twatted Trump — In the last few days, President Donald Trump has used his infamous Twitter account to retweet British fascists’ anti-Islam videos and tag the wrong Theresa May in an angry rant. Trump’s very bad tweets translate into almost immediate real-life consequences for everyone but him. But undoubtedly one of the high points of Trump’s tenure on the site was when his account was mysteriously nuked after what Twitter described as a “human error by a Twitter employee”. Now, per TechCrunch, we know who that legendary employee was. He’s not concerned with legal consequences, telling TechCrunch, “I didn’t hack anyone. I didn’t do anything that I was not authorised to do. I didn’t go to any site I was not supposed to go to. I didn’t break any rules.” [Give that man a medal.]

The rise of sea level rise — The problem with coastal living is that while the food supply is relatively stable, sea levels are not. They’ve always risen and fallen as the climate changes over the millennia – and thanks to the hyper-productivity of the Industrial Age, they’re in the middle of a pretty significant uptick. In the coming decades, rising sea levels could jeopardize untold billions of dollars in real estate and infrastructure along the world’s coasts and displace millions of people.

Plants for after the apocalypse — In Geneva, New York, Cornell University scientists crossbreed domesticated crops with their wild ancestors to propagate superhardy strains that better withstand droughts, heat waves, and freezes. [But not seawater – see above.]

Dazzle ships for when the navy wasn’t just Battleship Grey — Dazzle patterns  made ships really had to identify and calculate torpedo attacks upon. The British got all artsy with it, but the he US also adopted Dazzle painting as camouflage, but in a very American way. “Where the British saw this as a kind of large art project and each ship had a unique design, the Americans created a catalog of plans, then sent the plans to Eastman Kodak for testing” according to Claudia Covert, a special collections librarian at the Rhode Island School of Design. [And she has the best name ever for this job.]

Futurology ~ Space weirdness, Quantum Machines, bilingual AI, soft robots, NASA tyres, glacier danger, coal to clean


NASA’s new tyres are virtually indestructible

Asteroid in close pass — (3200) Phaethon is a rock 5km in diameter with an oblong orbit that intersects Earth. It’s scheduled to make a nearby approach on December 16th. You’ll probably hear more fear-mongering shouting about it until then, but it isn’t a rock to worry about in our lifetimes.
~  It will pass a fifth of the distance from Earth to Mars at its closest. Mars is not exactly close. 

Chinese Monkey King satellite has made some odd discoveries — China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite (DAMPE or Wukong in China) is reporting the results of a year-and-a-half of space-staring, measuring the mysterious, high-energy electrons blasting Earth from space. The experiment has directly detected something that some similar experiments have hinted at, but others haven’t: a sudden drop-off in the electrons hitting the satellite. Whatever is going on, it’s weird.
~ But the Earth is still round. 

Space bacteria — Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov took routine samples from the outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. These samples were analysed and found to contain bacteria that must have come from somewhere other than Earth or the ISS itself. “Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,” Shkaplerov told TASS Russian News Agency. “So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.”
The Independent wrote “Finding bacteria that came from somewhere other than Earth would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science – but much more must be done before such a claim is made.”

Two new Quantum Machines have made actual science discoveries — Two teams of scientists are announcing that their quantum simulators – advanced quantum computers with very specialised scientific purposes – have made some real scientific discoveries.
~ I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for all those trapped atoms, but I do.

Bilingual AI without a dictionary — Two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with no parallel texts – a surprising advance that could make documents in many languages more accessible.
The two new papers focus on unsupervised machine learning. To start, each constructs bilingual dictionaries without the aid of a human teacher telling them when their guesses are right. That’s possible because languages have strong similarities in the ways words cluster around one another. The words for table and chair, for example, are frequently used together in all languages, so if a computer maps out these co-occurrences like a giant road atlas with words for cities, the maps for different languages will resemble each other, just with different names.
~ A computer can figure out the best way to overlay one atlas on another and voila! You have a bilingual dictionary.

Soft robots acquire origami skeletons — Robots are going soft. Literally soft, controlled with liquid or air instead of traditional motors. Soft robotics is hot at the moment. But without the rigidity and powerful motors of your typical robot, soft robots have been weak  until researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It’s essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1000 times its own weight.
~ Could this also be used inside buildings to prevent collapse during earthquakes? 

NASA’s tough titanium tyres — Stretch a Slinky toy too far, and eventually the metal coil will be warped so much it won’t be able to return to its original spring shape. That’s a problem also faced by the metal spring tyres designed to roll across the Moon, and other planets our rovers are exploring. But NASA has created an alternative, made from titanium, that can tackle any terrain and always return to its original tyre shape.
~ A tyre that can last for years with minimal maintenance is important when sending rovers to the other planets in our Solar System.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay could drown us; they are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica — A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites ‘The Doomsday Glacier.’ Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour over three metres (11 feet) of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans, an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.
~ Marine ice-cliff instability is a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet in turn effecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. 

Dirty coal to clean energy in Germany — The path from dirty coal to clean energy isn’t easy. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is a symbol of the challenges and opportunities facing Germany – and coal-producing states everywhere.
Around the world, as governments shift away from the coal that fueled two ages of industrial revolution, more and more mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that could put them to work for the next revolution in energy, it will have to come soon. One use for retired coal mines is as giant batteries for clean energy. To turn a coal mine into a battery, all you need is gravity.
~ Plus a lot of money.

More comments on the changes at Mac NZ


Oh Mark: I will miss you!!! I read every post—not always with comprehension—but I read them. Of course I understand the overload—your productivity is prodigious. You could write a history of technology development from your posts.
I’m guessing the Museum of Transport and Technology is taking all your time. And I have learned so much from reading what you write! Thank you for it all. And for your individual help to me.
And good good wishes for what you are turning towards. Best, …

Congratulations! On your achievements over the years, on your even handed reviews and comments on Apple related happenings, on beautifully composed MagBytes.
Boy, I’m going to miss my daily fix! I reckon my wife will be happy I won’t spend quite so long at the computer.
Have also appreciated the times when your responses to my queries have been so promptly dealt with.
So from this almost 80 year old, a great big thank you!

Thanks Mark for all your effort. Really appreciate all the tips and tricks you have shared over the years. Made my working life way more efficient. Good luck with your next venture and work at MOTAT.

Hey Mark, I couldn’t let this sad day pass without sending a message of gratitude. Knowing how time and energy-consuming this must have been for you, I totally understand your decision.
We are all richer, wiser and certainly more Mac-knowledgeable due to your efforts and contributions.
All the very best and if I ever meet you, I owe you a drink!
Kindest regards, …

I too enjoyed reading your site and learned some Apple tips via your Five Tip Friday posts. So thanks for all that you work you put in.
Glad to know that you are now employed by MOTAT, which is one of my favourite places to visit in Auckland. I have been there a few times and would love to re-visit.
Shame on Apple for doing what it did for you. But I really appreciate the work you did and I am grateful for that.