The Apocalypticon ~ Your data, killer DNA, killer animals, North Korean collapse, Polish Christ sprouts antennae, Zuckerberg for laughs


Who has more of your personal data than Facebook? Try Google — Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, “Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps.” [OMG I have been telling people for YEARS about how bad Google is! And no, I do not recommend Gmail! Gah!]
But that does not get Facebook off the hook, oh no. A patent filed by the social network describes how personality characteristics, including emotional stability, could be determined from people’s messages and status updates. Facebook says it has never, so far, used the personality test in its products. But the patent was first filed in 2012. [Yeah, we really trust you, Facebook.]

Golden Gate killer tracked down by genealogy DNA — The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, has finally been arrested by police. Investigators used DNA from crime scenes that had been stored all these years and plugged the genetic profile of the suspected assailant into an online genealogy database. They found distant relatives of DeAngelo’s and, despite his years of eluding the authorities, traced their DNA to to his front door.

Chinese institutionalised misogyny — A Human Rights Watch report reveals gender discrimination amongst major tech companies, as in the rest of Chinese society, is common and widespread. Search engine Baidu listed a job for content reviewers in March 2017 stating that applicants had to be men with the “strong ability to work under pressure, able to work on weekends, holidays and night shifts.” The conglomerate Tencent, which owns WeChat, the massive game Honor of Kings and a majority stake in League of Legends was found to have posted an ad for a sports content editor in March 2017, stating it was looking for “strong men who are able to work nightshifts.”

Animals who kill us — Mosquitos take the crown, but even cows are pretty bad. Oh, you’re not worried? The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world.

The world is agog at the Koreas talking, but — A new reports suggests the collapse of North Korea’s test facility may have been a contributing factor. Ouch.

Massive Polish Christ suddenly sprouts antenna — Rising 36m in the air, Christ the King is said to be the tallest statue of Jesus in the world. Since 2010, it’s loomed over the residents of Świebodzin, Poland, and it’s apparently already getting some upgrades. Signal broadcasting equipment was recently spotted embedded in the statue’s crown, but no one’s quite sure what’s going on with Jesus 2.0. [Monetising belief – now there’s an idea!]

And OK, let’s have a laugh at Mark Zuckerberg. Why not? He became a gazzlionaire off our data. 

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Futurology ~ Galactic map, home-bound aliens, Spooky Action, DNA structure, arm-projector, Euro-AI


(A rendering of the “twisted knot” DNA structure. Illustration: Zeraati et al., Nat Chem, 2018)

Biggest galactic map yet — Astronomers from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission will release the biggest map of our galaxy ever, using data collected by the Gaia space telescope. That includes 1.7 billion stars, as well as new information that could potentially solve some cosmic mysteries.
~ Well, sniff, I will of course be hanging out for version 3 with the Spectral Data …

Aliens stuck at home … maybe literally — Rocky worlds larger than Earth are commonplace in the galaxy, and a few of them may even be habitable. Which poses an interesting question: how difficult would it be for aliens living on these super-Earths to launch rockets into space, given the tremendous gravity? According to new research, it would be difficult to the point of impossibility – meaning that some aliens may be perpetually trapped on their home worlds.
~ Which also makes them rather hard to visit. 

Uranus really does smell — According to a study published in Nature Astronomy, scientists have determined the atmosphere of Uranus smells like rotten eggs. The smell of Uranus was determined by the use of an Near-Infrared Integral Field Spectrometer (NIFS), an instrument that allows scientists to determine what an atmosphere is composed of based upon the reflections of sunlight that bounce off of it.
~ Now surely they could have made the spectrometer’s acronym ‘SNIF’? Come on, people! Bit of effort here. 

Einstein shows his Spooky Action — For the first time, scientists have managed to show quantum entanglement – which Einstein famously described as “spooky action at a distance” – happening between macroscopic objects, a major step forward in our understanding of quantum physics. Quantum entanglement links particles in a way that they instantly affect each other, even over vast distances. On the surface, this powerful bond defies classical physics and, generally, our understanding of reality, which is why Einstein found it so spooky.
~ And it smells like roses. 

Australian scientists discover another human DNA structure — Scientists have identified the existence of a new DNA structure that looks more like a twisted, four-stranded knot than the double helix we all know from high school biology. The newly identified structure, detailed in the journal Nature Chemistry, could play a crucial role in how DNA is expressed.
Some research had previously suggested the existence of DNA in this tangled form, dubbed an i-motif (main picture above), but it had never before been detected in living cells outside of the test tube. Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia, though, found that not only does the structure exist in living human cells, but it is even quite common.
~ Good effort there. 

Arm projector — Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, however, have now created a smartwatch prototype with a built-in projector that turns the wearer’s arm into a smartphone-sized touchscreen.
Despite what you may have seen on crowdfunding sites, the LumiWatch is the first smartwatch to integrate a fully-functional laser projector and sensor array, allowing a screen projected on a user’s skin to be poked, tapped and swiped just like a traditional touchscreen.
~ Yeah, how long is your arm going to last in an intense game? And so I will invent the Mouse Pad Sleeve, mwa-ah-ahh!

European AI — Leading scientists have drawn up plans for a vast multinational European institute devoted to world-class artificial intelligence (AI) research in a desperate bid to nurture and retain top talent in Europe.
The new institute would be set up for similar reasons as Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, which was created after the Second World War to rebuild European physics and reverse the brain drain of the brightest and best scientists to the US. Named the European Lab for Learning and Intelligent Systems, or Ellis, the proposed AI institute would have major centres in a handful of countries, the *UK included, with each employing hundreds of computer engineers, mathematicians and other scientists with the express aim of keeping Europe at the forefront of AI research.
~ Oh wait: sorry, UK, you had all those insular twits voting for Brexit, so maybe not. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebotch, Big Brothers and another excerpt


Facebook has booted AggregateIQ, the Canadian election consulting firm that built data tools for sketchy election firm Cambridge Analytica, this week on the grounds that it may have received some of the extensive data on 87 million Facebook users the latter company received through a partnership with an app.
Facebook is also suspending a data analytics firm called CubeYou from the platform after CNBC notified the company that CubeYou was collecting information about users through quizzes. CubeYou misleadingly labeled its quizzes “for non-profit academic research,” then shared user information with marketers. [I would guess ‘sold’ rather than ‘shared’, myself. ] Almost 10% of Americans have already deleted their Facebook accounts.

(Image from Atlas Obscura’s article on Soviet industrial design)

Does that sound bad? How about this, then – the data could be in Russia: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie says the data the firm gathered from Facebook could have come from more than 87 million users and could be stored in Russia. The professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the UK and Russia, you see. Hooray!
So Facebook has a dubious plan to ‘improve’ the situation.

Better passwords — Anyway, here’s some advice on better passwords. Read it!

Bigger Brothers: a man in China got caught by his face — The man was reportedly caught by facial recognition software running on cameras at a concert identified him. That’s despite there being over 50,000 people attending the concert, which took place in Nanchang. Law enforcement in the country has increasingly been turning to facial recognition software to surveil the public for persons of interest.
The Indian government intends to build an identification system of unprecedented scope. The country is reportedly “scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones.” [All of these ventures are for the betterment of humanity. Well, 1% of humanity, anyway.]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Authorities often scramble security and defence forces to combat ‘panic’ and looting after disasters. In fact, though, if you think back to news reports you have seen, this is rarely the case. For example, flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.
These scenes are often captured by the very same news crews that would have you believe the people on the ground are panicking, paralysed or looting, ‘so thank God (or whatever) the authorities have arrived’.
Of course, some people do those unhelpful things too, but the point is, most people do not.

Futurology ~ Einstein Ring and more, Arctic lakes, electric avenue, 3D-printed houses, old onion, ancient bird-flip


Sweden has installed the first electric road – it charges vehicles as they drive across it.

Hubble Space Telescope discovered a light-bending Einstein Ring in space —The perfect circle surrounding a galaxy cluster in a new Hubble Space Telescope image is a visual indicator of the huge masses bending time and space in that region. The galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0146-0929, features hundreds of individual galaxies all bound together by gravity.
There’s so much mass in this region that the cluster is distorting light from objects behind it. This phenomenon is called an Einstein Ring because Albert Einstein suggested that a massive object would warp space and time back in the early 1900s.
~ This process is known today as a gravitational lens. Wow, what a clever bloke Einstein was!

Tiny neutron star spews out X-rays — The Hubble keeps on discovering. 1E 0102.2-7219 has the remnants of a supernova in one our Milky Way’s closest neighbours, the Small Magellanic Cloud dwarf galaxy. This supernova remnant is especially well-studied, but that hasn’t stopped astronomers from continuing to find new surprises, such as the neutron star at its centre.
~ A neutron star can pack the mass of our Sun and more into a ball less than 32km across. Heavy, right? 

Europe’s gas-sniffing spacecraft to detect Martian gases — In about two weeks, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos orbiter will begin to scan the Martian atmosphere in search of trace gases, including those potentially linked to life.
~ Mars’ atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. So it’s got to be one amazing sniffer. 

One-degree rise in temperature causes ripple effect in world’s largest High Arctic lake — A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world’s largest High Arctic lake. The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased. The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions. The findings document an unprecedented shift from the previous three centuries.
~ A gimp I know once told me that ‘global warming was a left wing conspiracy’. I asked him what the left wing could possibly gain from such a conspiracy. He cut me off. 

Then there are these just-discovered  ‘super-salty’ arctic lakes — Anja Rutishauser, a PhD student at the University of Alberta, accidentally discovered two sub-glacial super-salty lakes while conducting a geological survey of the area. She was able to confirm the presence of a hypersaline subglacial lake complex.
The lakes measure about five and eight square kilometres (between two and three square miles) in size, but aren’t connected to any known sources of meltwater. Excitingly, these super-salty lakes, with their cold, liquid water, are potential hosts for microbial life – and reasonably good approximations of what the conditions might be like on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
~ But are they full of pre-salted fish? 

World’s first electrified road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden — A 2 kilometre (1.2-mile) stretch of road with electric rails has been installed in Stockholm, Sweden. This allows electric vehicles to charge up their batteries as they drive across it. The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable.
~ At a cost of €1m per kilometre, the cost of electrification is said to be 50 times lower than that required to construct an urban tram line!

3D-Printed public housing unveiled in France  — Researchers have unveiled what they billed as the world’s first 3D-printed house to serve as a home in the French city of Nantes, with the first tenants due to move in by June. From a report:
Academics at the University of Nantes who led the project said it was the first house built in situ for human habitation using a robot 3D-printer. The BatiPrint3D robot uses a special polymer material that should keep the building insulated effectively for a century. It took BatiPrint3D around 18 days to complete its part of the work on the house, creating hollow walls that were subsequently filled with concrete.
~ The 95-square-metre (1000 square feet), five-room house will be allocated to a local family qualified for social housing.

Sweden had a Pompeii and an onion — On the Swedish island of Öland, at a ring fort called Sandby Borg, archaeologists have uncovered a peculiar onion, project leader Helena Victor found a preserved bulb and sent it to archaeobotanist Jens Heimdahl at The Swedish History Museum, who discovered the ‘big nut’ was in fact a 1500-year-old onion. It’s the oldest one ever found in Scandinavia.
Sandby Borg was the site of a mysterious fifth-century massacre. In 2013, Sweden’s Kalmar County Museum and Lund University researchers found the slaughtered remains of its inhabitants.
~ Maybe they had terrible breath …

88,000-year-old middle finger found in Saudi Arabia could rewrite human history — A lone, bony middle finger is probably the oldest directly dated fossil of our species to ever be found outside of Africa and the region that comprises Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. But the new discovery is not without its critics, who say older evidence of human habitation outside of this region exists elsewhere, and that the finger might not even be human.
~ I’m not convinced either. After all, it’s hard to write anything with just one finger. 

The Apocalypticon ~ US oh God, new bacteria, Serial’s Syed, Estonian DNA


Facebook exec who wrote terrorism and death are ‘justified‘ by Facebook’s ‘growth’ says he was just trying to be ‘provocative‘. Andrew Bosworth wrote in an internal company memo that said Facebook may be used to coordinate terrorist attacks and that it might cause deaths from bullying, but that those effects were justified in the name of corporate growth.  [Not the best deployment of social capital, then.] But Facebook’s fake news problems extend far beyond Russian trolls interfering in US elections. Overseas, false stories have turned into tools of political warfare – most notably in Myanmar, where government forces have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. Even Zuckerberg admits that’s a ‘real’ issue. [Big of him, or what?]
But wait there’s more: a week after Apple CEO Cook said “some well-crafted regulation is necessary ” in light of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and that Apple was better off than Facebook because it doesn’t sell user data to advertisers, Facebook’s CEO decried Tim Cook as being ‘glib‘.

Ah, companies that make money from your personal information … Last year, Google announced some upgrades to Chrome, by far the world’s most used browser – and the one security pros often recommend. The company promised to make internet surfing on Windows computers even “cleaner” and “safer” adding what The Verge called “basic antivirus features.” What Google did was give its browser the ability was scanning files in the Documents folder of Windows computers. [I’ve said it before, and it seems like I’ll be saying it again and again: Google makes money from your personal data. Why would you trust it? Or its Gmail, for that matter.]
So, Google should be trusted to build AI for killer drones, right? The US Army describes how it’s working to make a battlefield network of machines and humans a reality. [And there Commander in Chief is …]
Richard Stallman, the president of the Free Software Foundation, says that the surveillance imposed on us today is ‘worse than in the Soviet Union’. He argues that we need laws to stop this data being collected in the first place. Security guru Bruce Schneier warns that “thousands of companies” are spying on us and manipulating us for profit. [Did you ever think what ‘the Information Age’ was really going to lead to?]
So, are you being hacked? Here’s how to tell. In other US news, Illinois is dealing with an outbreak of synthetic weed that makes its users bleed from their eyes and ears. Deaths in the us from synthetic opioids doubled from 2015 to 2016. And eating out a lot might disrupt your hormones. [And I thought phthalates was exercise for people who lisp.] ‘Nightmare bacteria’ with unusual resistance to antibiotics of last resort were found more than 200 times in the United States last year in a first-of-a-kind hunt to see how much of a threat these rare cases are becoming, health officials said this week. Hey, at least it’s also the new era of Super Gonorrhoea!Cellphones might kill too
A pair of studies by the US National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence” that exposure to radiation caused heart tumors in male rats, and found “some evidence” that it caused tumors in the brains of male rats. [And that’s why I won’t let my rats have smartphones.]

Is there any good news? I take heart that Adnan Syed, the man whose murder conviction became the subject of the wildly popular Serial podcast, was granted a new trial by Maryland’s second-highest court of appeals last week, although whether that actually happens is still in limbo.
Oh, and the jury’s still out on whether the Estonian governments program that aims to collect the DNA of 100,000 of its 1.3 million residents to then offer them lifestyle and health advice based on their genetics is a good thing or not.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: On calling in the army after a disaster to ‘control looting and maintain order’: “It’s interesting that the panic myth is so persistent. Think about news reports you have seen: flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.”

Futurology ~ Stargazing, 3D bridge, antarctic veggies, new Nazca lines, Roman refrigerators, four-eyed lizard


MX3D in Amsterdam has almost completed the world’s first 3D=-printed bridge

Using Relativity to magnify stargazing — Two teams of scientists report seeing single, twinkling stars in galaxies billions of light years away with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. All they needed was Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
~ And I thought that theory was about my Uncle Eddie. 

Milky Way centre has loads of black holes — The supermassive black hole lurking at the center of our galaxy appears to have a lot of company, according to a new study that suggests the monster is surrounded by about 10,000 other black holes.
~ Holey heck.

The first 3d-printed steel bridge looks like it broke off an alien mothership — MX3D in Amsterdam just revealed the world’s first 3D-printed bridge. It’s made of a completely new type of steel, spans 12.19m (main picture, above), and will be installed early next year in De Wallen, the largest and best-known red-light district in Amsterdam. It also looks utterly otherworldly.
~ The pimps and pushers will be pleased. 

Antarctic vegetables — As temperatures outside dipped to well below freezing, and as blizzards pounded the Antarctic research station, German scientists were carefully tending to a remarkable veggie garden – one requiring no soil or natural sunlight. The success of their first harvest, which produced vibrant-looking lettuce, radishes, cucumbers and other treats, represents a promising test run for similar greenhouses that could one day be built on Mars – or beyond.
~ Iceberg lettuce, anyone? 

Archaeologists have now found ‘new’ Nazca lines with the help of drones — Peruvian archaeologists armed with drones have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in adjacent Palpa province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. In addition, archaeologists surveyed locally known geoglyphs with drones for the first time – mapping them in never-before-seen detail.
~ It’s a sign. 

Roman refrigerators — Archaeologists in Switzerland are conducting an experiment to figure out how ancient Romans used a series of deep shafts to keep food cool well into the summer months. The shafts were discovered in 2013 at Augusta Raurica, an archaeological site located near the Swiss city of Basel. The Roman colony was founded in 15 BC, and it soon blossomed into a vibrant metropolis and trade hub that was home to around 15,000 to 20,000 people. Today, Augusta Raurica remains one of the best-preserved Roman cities north of the Swiss Alps.
~ Really? To get cold in Switzerland, just walk up  hill!

Four-eyed lizard — An ancient species of monitor lizard that went extinct some 34 million years ago had four eyes, according to new research. It’s the first time that scientists have ever seen such a thing in a jawed terrestrial animal – an observation that’s filling a gap in our understanding of how these features evolved.
~ Ah, but was four-eyed forewarned?