The Apocalypticon ~ Football narks, Hacking-tosh, Google, Japan, China, US flaming poo, Chile plastic ban


Spanish football app turns users into narks — With the World Cup just a few days away, everyone is trying to figure out the best ways to watch and keep track of their favourite teams. But before you download any apps, here’s something to think about: the La Liga app, the official streaming app for Spain’s most popular football league, has reportedly been using the microphones on fans’ phones to root out unauthorised broadcasts of matches in public venues such as bars and restaurants. [For God’s sake, is nothing sacred!?]

Apple hacks — For years, hackers could hide malware alongside legitimate Apple code and sneak it past several popular third-party security products for Mac computers, according to new research. This is not a flaw in MacOS but an issue in how third-party security tools implemented Apple’s APIs. A researcher from security firm Okta found that several security products for Mac – including Little Snitch, xFence, and Facebook’s OSquery — could be tricked into believing malware was Apple code, and let it past their defences. [But did hackers actually do this? Doesn’t appear so, so far.]

In the ‘yet  more to love about Google’ pantheon … Jarek Duda, the inventor of a compression technique called asymmetric numeral systems (ANS), dedicated the invention to the public domain. Since 2014, Facebook, Apple, and Google have all created software based on his breakthrough. But Google is trying to patent a video encoding scheme using Duda’s Public Domain compression technique! The inventor is fighting Google in the European courts and has won a preliminary ruling, but Google’s still trying for a US patent for it.

Japan, for once … A bullet train en route to Tokyo reportedly struck and killed a 52-year-old man on Thursday afternoon, but the man’s death wasn’t uncovered until some 32km later, where authorities made a grisly discovery. [Yuk!]

China to track cars, too — Under the plan being rolled out July 1, a radio-frequency identification chip for vehicle tracking will now be installed on cars when they are registered. Compliance will be voluntary this year but will be made mandatory for new vehicles at the start of 2019. [China says this is to improve public surveillance …oh, sorry, they said ‘security’.]
A Chinese-linked cyber-espionage unit has hacked a data centre belonging to a Central Asian country and has embedded malicious code on government sites. The hack of the data center happened sometime in mid-November 2017, according to a report published by Kaspersky Lab.

American trampers set forest on fire with their poo — No, really. Two campers were burning poop in a hole, you know, as you do … 500 acres went up in flames. [Well, this is a country that actually voted Trump into power, so I guess I should not be all that surprised.]
Revenge porn king sues Twitter for breaching his First Amendment rights — Craig Brittain, the creator of defunct revenge porn site IsAnybodyDown who is now running for Jeff Flake’s vacated Arizona Senate seat, is suing Twitter for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights by suspending his Twitter accounts. [Again, anyone surprised?]
Illustrated conflict calendar — Here’s what a mid-level government employee working in Leavenworth, Kansas, for the US Army’s Combined Arms Combat Development Activities division, noticed about the world in the first week of March 1981: the US embassy in El Salvador was attacked (again). Lent began. It was Sonny Park’s last day in the US Army, and Walter Cronkite’s last day at CBS. Kansas won the Big 8 Tournament. He had a “nice day with Liz.” All of these details, along with many more, were recorded in brightly coloured notes and illustrations in a government-issued calendar. [Aw – stick that on the fridge.] This dude had wide-ranging interests – he chronicled truckers, terrorism, snow at home and in Lebanon, the death of a Nazi collaborator, Reagan’s 72nd birthday, Israeli politics, football results, the first female Supreme Court justice swearing in the first female Secretary of Transportation, overlong budget meetings, full moons, vernal equinoxes, Beltane, International Women’s Day, a killer tornado, Tunisian riots, trade deficits and much more.Long-term planetary offending — New research shows that even our ancestors in the Bronze Age changed the chemistry of the soils they farmed over 2000 years ago. It’s some of the earliest evidence of humans having lasting a environmental impact on planet Earth. [Um, ‘go us’?]

In good news, Chile is the first country to ban plastic bags — Chile’s Senate has passed a bill that will prohibit the use of plastic bags in stores, with a vote in their House of Representatives overwhelmingly for the measure. The new law would give large retailers one year to phase out the use of plastic bags, and smaller businesses two years. This makes Chile the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags, and officially recognise how important such a ban would be in the effort to reduce unnecessary single-use plastic waste. [But Chile has not banned plastic clothes, car parts, computers, containers, implements, devices, pegs, pens, cables, book covers, packing, binders, cable ties …]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Supply networks [in an apocalypse] will immediately be effected by … losses to staff, clogged roads, damage to infrastructure, survivor trauma … usually, as soon as there’s a hint of disaster, people stock up. If citizens were already filling their cupboards before the disaster struck, with news reports that doctors feared a disease outbreak, or dramatic weather change, flooding, volcanic or earthquake activity, military action etcetera, supply may already have come under constraint before the full disaster becomes apparent.”

Advertisements

Futurology ~ New planets, stellar diamonds, Earth pictures, agile robot-swimmer, see-through WiFi, old languages, cars made from plants, Army ‘third arms’, ancient tiny bug


NASA has made 20 years of satellite imagery available

New technique reveals hidden infant planets orbiting a newborn star — Since the 1990s, scientists have detected thousands of exoplanets orbiting distant stars, but the discovery of baby protoplanets embedded within stellar expanses of gas and dust has proven to be a challenge. An international team of astronomers has used a new technique to finally discover not one, but three infant planets around a newborn star – an incredible finding that’s affirming long-held assumptions about planet formation.
~ My long-held assumption about planet formation was that it was all a mystery. 

Stellar diamond dust — New research published in Nature Astronomy suggests the interpretation that ‘anomalous microwave emissions’ detected in space were caused by a ‘new type of particle’ was wrong: it seems they’re caused by clouds of nanodiamonds located within embryonic star systems.
~ Jewellers salivate and start training for space travel…

NASA makes two decades of satellite images of Earth available to the public — The longest continuous daily satellite observation record of Earth ever compiled is now available for all of us to peruse.
Multiple instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have kept close watch on the virtually the entire planet for nearly 20 years. Now, for the first time, the entire treasure trove of imagery and scientific information is available for exploration in Worldview, (main picture, above) an engaging, interactive web-based application.
~ And NASA didn’t forget New Zealand.

But wait, there’s more! You can now search your address across 750 million years of Earth’s history — Ever looked at a picture of the supercontinent Pangea and wondered where your current address would have been 250 million years ago? A new interactive map provides this very service, allowing you to see modern locations across 750 million years of our planet’s history.
This awesome 3D map is the brainchild of Ian Webster, curator of the supremely impressive Dinosaur Database.
~ No relation to me, as far as I know.
This is me 240 million years ago… looks nice, right?

Flexible fins makes for a very agile swimming robot — Festo’s new BionicFinWave robot isn’t the first underwater automaton that replicates the movements of creatures like cuttlefish or marine planarians. Robotics engineers have been working to replicate Mother Nature’s designs for decades, and when it comes to swimming, the undulating fin approach is one of the easiest.

Seeing you through walls with WiFi — Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new piece of software that uses wifi signals to monitor the movements, breathing, and heartbeats of humans on the other side of walls. While the researchers say this new tech could be used in areas like remote healthcare, it could in theory be used in more dystopian applications.
~ Spies rejoice. China’s ‘government’ rejoices too. 

Disappearing Californian languages being saved thanks to optical scanning — Project IRENE is using cutting-edge optical scan technology to transfer and digitally restore recordings of indigenous languages, many of which no longer have living speakers. The recordings were gathered between 1900 and 1938 when UC anthropologists asked native speakers of 78 indigenous languages of California to record their songs, histories, prayers, and vocabulary on wax cylinders. The Documenting Endangered Languages initiative, which has support from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is hoping to save this important history.
~ And then to decipher them … nearly 80 just from California shows you how diverse the American First Nations languages were. 

Cars made from plants — Materials-science researchers are finding that plant fibres can add durability and strength to substances already used in the construction of buildings and in goods that range from toys and furniture to cars and aircraft.
A big bonus is that, because plants lock up carbon in their structure, using their fibres to make things should mean less carbon dioxide is emitted.
~ Not surprising, really, considering how long plant fibres have been adding durability and strength to, you know, trees and that. 

DeepMind has developed a self-training vision computer that generates a full 3D model of a scene from just a handful of 2D snapshots — The system, called the Generative Query Network, can then imagine and render the scene from any angle. GQN is a general-purpose system with a vast range of potential applications, from robotic vision to virtual reality simulation.
~ It has so far only been tested on simple scenes containing a small number of objects, but still. 

The US military is prototyping new wearable ‘third arms’ to enhance soldiers’ combat abilities — These include an exoskeleton similar to those being trialled for factory workers, and a prosthetic arm device officially named the Third Arm, meant to make heavy machinery feel weightless.
~ Innuendo alert! 

99-million-year-old bug in amber — Featherwing beetles are some of the smallest insects out there but a researcher managed to spot an ancient specimen in a 99-million-year-old chunk of amber. Just half a millimetre long, this Cretaceous period beetle had its signature fringed wings unfurled when it met its sticky demise.
No, not that big, unidentified insect at right; Jason is the teeny beetle at the very bottom.
~ Jason, found in Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar, is now the oldest known member of the featherwing beetle lineage. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Tech support, people, nature, Cheese Zombies, water


‘Tech support’ — A team of scammers recently sneakily filmed dozens of Australians by remotely accessing their webcams, then uploaded those videos onto YouTube, according to Australian news outlet ABC.
Unfortunately for customers of MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA testing service, a researcher uncovered 92 million account details related to the company sitting on a server, according to an announcement from MyHeritage. The data relates to users who signed up to MyHeritage up to and including October 26, 2017 – the date of the breach.
Journalist’s data seized — According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump, according to The Hill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the number under the Obama administration, which had already prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.
Zuckerberg grilled at angry shareholders meeting — One investor compared the social network’s poor stewardship of user data to a human rights violation. Another warned that scandal is not good for Facebook’s bottom line, and one advised Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to emulate George Washington, not Vladimir Putin, and avoid turning Facebook into a “corporate dictatorship.”
Apple set on ‘jamming’ Facebook — The next version of iOS and macOS will frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users. At the company’s developer conference, Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi said, “We’re shutting that down,.” He added that Safari – you know, the FREE SECURE BROWSER ON EVERY APPLE DEVICE (see below), would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity.
Apple also declared war on ‘browser fingerprinting‘.
Why you should ditch Chrome —
 Unlike Chrome, Firefox is run by Mozilla, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for a ‘healthy'” internet. Its mission is to help build an internet in an open-source manner that’s accessible to everyone – and where privacy and security are built in. Contrast that to Chrome’s privacy policy, which states that it stores your browsing data locally unless you are signed in to your Google account, which enables the browser to send that information back to Google … [Honestly, the amount of Apple users I have met who insist on using Chrome as a browser and worse, Gmail accounts when there’s privacy-protecting Safari on every Mac and Apple device already, and secure, encrypted free iCloud email! Grrr! Bloody madness!]
Psychopathic AI — A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a psychopathic algorithm named Norman, as part of an experiment to see what training artificial intelligence on data from “the dark corners of the net” would do to its world view. Unlike most “normal” algorithms by AI, Norman does not have an optimistic view of the world. [I almost wish that was running the US instead of Trump – at least there’d be some logic to it.]
Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a US Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare – including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on US submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
At least five cryptocurrencies have recently been hit with an attack in the last month– one that used to be more theoretical than actual.
Carbon bubble burst will hurt — The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst, and posits that such a slump is likely before 2035 based on current patterns of energy use.

People — More than 50,000 union workers in Las Vegas are set to go on strike if new contracts are not settled and at the top of the list of concerns for the Culinary and Bartenders Unions is protection against robot replacements.
Suicide rates are up by 30% across the US — Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. Suicide rates are up by 30% across the nation since 1999, federal health officials have reported.
Opioids caused 1 In 5 deaths of young people in the US in 2016 — A new study published by JAMA Network Open highlights just how devastating the crisis has been to certain age groups. In 2016, it found, opioid overdoses were responsible for a fifth of all deaths among people in their mid-20s to 30s — a fivefold increase from 15 years ago.

Nature — Biggest iceberg ever set to break up: the  iceberg is so large that even smaller chunks of it were behemoths in their own right. By 2014, the largest remnant was B-15T, which was so thick it kept running aground. One of those last-made icebergs, B-15Z, may now be nearing the end of its life. At the end of May 2018, the International Space Station crew captured an image of B-15Z that showed a crack running right down its middle. It’s ten miles by 5!
How microbes survive in ‘sterile’ spacecraft — Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason contamination persists. The research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities, finding that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly …
Asteroid strikes Africa soon after it was detected — A meteor lit up the sky over Botswana, Africa, early Saturday evening local time. Scientists discovered the 2m-wide asteroid just hours before it reached – and struck – Earth.
Hurricanes are slowing down and that’s a bad thing. The pace at which hurricanes move across the planet is slowing, according to new research. This suggests Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas last year, may not have been an anomaly, and that highly destructive, slow-moving tropical storms are becoming more common.

Finally, some good news: Cheese Zombies! In the late 1950s, a school district in Washington’s Yakima Valley received an excess of subsidized cheese. Faced with the abundance of dairy, the food services supervisor (or, by other accounts, a local cafeteria cook) invented a new sandwich that soon appeared on cafeteria menus: the Cheese Zombie.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “There’s more to water than meets the eyes, of course. Cities like London, New York and Moscow have entire teams and systems dedicated to pumping water away from underground systems built deep underground.”

Futurology ~ Sterile Neutrino, life on Mars, New Horizons, medical monitoring, breast cancer advance, printed homes, Pompeii reanimated


Holland hopes to soon have 3D-printed homes

The Sterile Neutrino — Fermilab boffins in America are carefully speculating they may have seen evidence of a new fundamental particle: the sterile neutrino. The suggestion follows tests conducted by the Mini Booster Neutrino Experimen instrument, located near Chicago. Its mission is to detect neutrino mass through their oscillations. In the Standard Model of physics, neutrinos, like all particles, are initially assumed to be massless, but some observations, like neutrino oscillation, suggest there’s mass there. The experiment that possibly detected sterile neutrinos collected 15 years of data from its commissioning in 2002, and the results have only now reached pre-press outlet arXiv.
~ It just won’t be having any baby neutrinos. 

New Horizons is awake and ready — Pluto’s most famous visitor, the New Horizons spacecraft, has woken up after 165 days of hibernation. The probe is travelling onward to its next target, another mysterious Kuiper Belt object hiding in the far depths of the Solar System. Its nickname is Ultima Thule. which  is either one or two hunks of ice and rock, perhaps 32km in diameter total, but it’s 1.6 billion km beyond Pluto.
~ This will be the furthest object ever explored by NASA.

Mars’ organic matter — NASA’s veteran Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago. The discovery is the most compelling evidence yet that long before the planet became the parched world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it.
~ Well, you know, not all life likes soup. I don’t. 

Your doctor monitoring you in real time — Scientists from The Australian National University have designed tiny optical sensors 50 times thinner than a human hair. These ultra-small sensors could be integrated into a watch to literally provide a window on our health. The sensors could measure very small concentrations of gases (‘metabolites’) coming through your skin and breath, allowing doctors to keep track of people’s health in real time.
~ Doctors will never escape their work!

Woman’s advanced breast cancer eradicated in world first — It is the first time that a patient with late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated by a form of immunotherapy that uses the patient’s own immune cells to find and destroy cancer cells that have formed in the body. Judy Perkins, an engineer from Florida, was 49 when she was selected for the radical new therapy after several rounds of routine chemotherapy failed to stop a tumour in her right breast from growing and spreading to her liver and other areas. At the time, she was given three years to live. Doctors who cared for the woman at the US National Cancer Institute in Maryland said Perkins’s response had been “remarkable”: the therapy wiped out cancer cells so effectively she has now been free of the disease for two years.
~ Scientists grew billions of her own immune cells in the lab, then reintroduced them. 

Netherlandish 3D homes — The Netherlands’ first functional 3D-printed home will be ready to welcome occupants as early as next year. According to The Guardian’s Daniel Boffey, the one-story, two-bedroom house is the first and smallest of five 3D-printed concrete homes set for construction in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. The five-year initiative, known as Project Milestone (main picture, above), aims to combat the country’s shortage of skilled bricklayers and revitalize the architectural industry.
~ Maybe they should be printing our bricklayers instead. 

Pompeii re-experienced — With the recent discovery of the poor soul that copped a boulder to the face during the Mount Vesuvius eruption, the one that buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, it seemed a good time to dig up this amazing, Melbourne-made animation that retells Pompeii’s story, packing 24 hours into eight, tense minutes.
~ OK, for a little more punch, I say add in boulder guy!

The Apocalypticon ~ China, surveillance, inequality, Face-oogle, data, Math Men


According to World Health Organization data, China has overtaken the United States in healthy life expectancy at birth for the first time. The data from 2016 finds Chinese newborns can look forward to 68.7 years of healthy life ahead of them, compared with 68.5 years for American babies.
The United States was one of only five countries, along with Somalia, Afghanistan, Georgia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where healthy life expectancy at birth fell in 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of the WHO data, which was published without year-on-year comparisons in mid-May. [I’m trying to get my head around 68.7-year-old babies.]
Maybe Americans should ask for more surveillance? A high school in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province located on the eastern coast of China, has employed facial recognition technology to monitor students’ attentiveness in class, local media reports. Three cameras at the front of the classroom scan students’ faces every 30 seconds, analysing their facial expressions to detect their mood. The different moods – surprised, sad, antipathy, angry, happy, afraid, neutral – are recorded and averaged during each class. A display screen, only visible to the teacher, shows the data in real-time. A certain value is determined as a student not paying enough attention.
Still sucks to be a girl, though. China’s gender gap is not confined to tech. The country’s gender parity ranking fell in 2017 for the ninth straight year, leaving China placed 100 out of 144 countries surveyed in a report by the World Economic Forum.
The country ranked 60th in terms of female labour force participation and 70th in terms of wage equality for similar work. Men on average had an estimated income of around $19,000, over $7000 more than women.
Samantha Kwok, the Australian-Chinese founder of the Beijing-based recruitment firm JingJobs, said clients often gave her two job descriptions: one to be published publicly and a second internal one that detailed requirements based on age or gender…
A greenhouse gas is billowing into the atmosphere from a source somewhere in East Asia that no one can identify at a rate scientists have never before seen, and it’s ignited a scientific dash to get to the bottom of it. In 2014, mysterious toxic plumes of CFC-11 – a type of CFC – began to drift across the Pacific Ocean. [And who left the question mark off that headline, left?]

In the data wars, Google is reminding organisations to review how much of their Google Groups mailing lists should be public and indexed by Google.com since sensitive data is being exposed. The notice was prompted in part by a review that KrebsOnSecurity undertook with several researchers who’ve been busy cataloging thousands of companies using public Google Groups lists to manage customer support and in some cases sensitive internal communications. Google Groups is a service that provides discussion groups for people sharing common interests. Because of the organic way Google Groups tend to grow as more people are added to projects – and perhaps given the ability to create public accounts on otherwise private groups – a number of organisations with household names are leaking sensitive data in their message lists.
Once, the Mad Men ruled advertising. They’ve now been eclipsed by Math Men: engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men’s adoration of data, coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their ‘science’ is nearly flawless [which has more to do with its money-making potential, I suspect], has aroused government anger much as Microsoft did two decades ago.
Unknown third parties appear to be exploiting the Chrome Store’s ‘theme’ section to offer visitors access to a wide range of pirate movies including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Rampage. When clicking through to the page offering Ready Player One, for example, users are presented with a theme that apparently allows them to watch the movie online in ‘Full HD Online 4k’. Of course, the whole scheme is a dubious scam which eventually leads users to Vioos dot co, a platform that tries very hard to give the impression of being a pirate streaming portal but actually provides nothing of use.
That’s why we all trust Google to build military drones, right? No? Coz that’s what’s happening. In March, Google signed a secretive agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was “only” for US$9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: the September emails show that Google’s business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial US$15 million to an eventual US$250 million per year.
Meanwhile, users in Europe have already filed complaints against Facebook and Google, saying the tech companies are in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Apple approves Telegram update even after Russian government demands Apple shut the app down — Amidst a contentious battle with the Russian government over demands to pull Telegram, the encrypted message app, from the App Store, Apple has approved an updated version of the messaging app having seemingly blocked such changes for two months.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Essentially, there are many threats that could wipe out huge numbers of humans. It’s worth recalling the dinosaurs were on the planet for around 60 million years before volcanoes and an asteroid wiped them out – Homo Sapiens has only been around for about 200,000 years. Yet, numbers of us may survive an apocalypse: we have done many times before.

Futurology ~ Eyes on the sky, new braille, biohybrid robotics, American ice age emigration


A single biohybrid robotic finger at work. The contracting and expanding muscles are those pink things at the top of the device

Incredible results from telescope aimed at black hole — Our own galaxy’s black hole is called Sagittarius A* and is four million times the mass of the Sun. The EHT scientists analysed 2013 data, which included the first southern hemisphere telescope added to the EHT’s network. Even using just this old data, scientists are getting really close to seeing the black hole. These are not the results of the impressive 2017 observations but even still, the scientists detected hints of structures near the black hole, at a distance three times the radius of the black hole’s event horizon.
~ I wonder what a black hole will look like … if only the name was more descriptive!

Hololens as a visual prosthesis — New research shows that Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality headset works well as a visual prosthesis for the vision impaired, not relaying actual visual data but guiding them in real time with audio cues and instructions. TechCrunch reports:
The researchers, from Caltech and University of Southern California, first argue that restoring vision is at present simply not a realistic goal, but that replacing the perception portion of vision isn’t necessary to replicate the practical portion. After all, if you can tell where a chair is, you don’t need to see it to avoid it.
~ But will it help you sit down in it? 

Microsoft and Apple collaborated to make a new braille standard — The non-profit USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has announced a new standard for braille displays. It was developed in cooperation with Microsoft, Apple and other tech industry leaders. The USB Human Interface Device (HID) standard will make it easier for blind or low vision users to use braille displays across operating systems and hardware. It will also remove the need for specialised or custom drivers and simplify development.
~ Good feelings. 

Robotics combined with living cells — By growing muscles on an artificial skeleton, researchers from Japan have constructed an agile and surprisingly durable ‘biohybrid’ robotic finger joint. The breakthrough could eventually lead to more life-like robots and advanced prostheses.
~ Weird feelings.

Ancient coastal route to to America — The first people to cross into North America from Eurasia did so by travelling through the Bering Strait, or so the theory goes. A new theory has emerged proposing a coastal route into the continent, but evidence has been lacking. A recent analysis of boulders, bedrock, and fossils in Alaska is now providing a clearer picture, pointing to the emergence of a coastal route some 17,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence places humans in Chile around 15,000 years ago, and in Florida some 14,500 years ago yet the retreating ice sheets didn’t yield an interior pathway until about 14,000 years ago.
~ In Home Sapiens history – around 200,000–300,000 years – that’s still relatively recent. 

Ice Age Americas meet-up — As the last Ice Age was coming to an end, and as the first settlers arrived in North America, two distinct populations emerged. One of these groups would eventually go on to settle South America, but as new genetic evidence shows, these two ancestral groups – after being separated for thousands of years – had an unexpected reunion. The finding is changing our conceptions of how the southern continent was colonised and by whom.
~ But nothing prepared them for the Spanish.