The Apocalypticon ~ The rich will eat us, facial recognition, surveillance, Google, Facebook, jobs, data breaches, all-time heat records


Yes, hello, I’m back from a  three-week holiday, sorry about that folks, but sometimes I just have to have a break. Still, the world keeps churning …
The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind, writes Douglas Rushkoff, describing what he learned from a high-paying speaking gig about the future of technology for “five super-wealthy guys…from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world.”The Event was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus or Mr Robot that takes everything down. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader…? This is the possible Survival of the Richest.
A new paper from the Center for Global Development says we are spending too much time discussing whether robots can take your job and not enough time discussing what happens next
Facial recognition ad surveillance — After all the concern, British Police have admitted no one was arrested during a trial of controversial facial recognition technology, which sparked privacy and human rights concerns.
But you can beat it. Die-hard fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse have become accidental heroes for people concerned about facial recognition tech: according to Twitter user @tahkion, a computer science blogger for WonderHowTo, Juggalo makeup outmatches the machine learning algorithms that govern facial recognition technology.
One of many futuristic ideas Walmart has sought to patent is worker surveillance tech that ‘listens’ to them. There’s no guarantee that Walmart will ever build this technology, but the patent shows the company is thinking about using tech not just to facilitate deliveries or make its warehouses more efficient, but also to manage its workforce, which is the largest in the United States. [I prefer to call it ‘Apallmart, myself.]
Two privacy-focused organizations have accused German police of carrying out raids at their offices and members’ private homes on some pretty shoddy reasoning that makes no sense and hints at the police’s abuse of power. [Police abusing over? N-e-v-e-r…]

Jobs — Microsoft may move jobs abroad since Trump’s policies stop it finding the right workers: The Trump Administration’s tough stance on immigration has attracted a lot of criticism from big technology firms, which rely heavily on skilled foreign workers from around the world. Smith previously spoke out against efforts to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – an Obama-era policy that provides legal protection for young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. Microsoft has advocated the protection of DACA and more broadly supported immigration as a way to make sure US companies are hiring talented people. [The problem with DACA is simply Obama’s touch as far as the sensitive bully that Trump is concerned – but worthiness has never been a sop to him cutting off his orange nose to spite his orange face.]

Once more into the (data) breach – and hacks: The information operatives who worked out of the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg, Russia did not stop at posing as American social media users or spreading false information from purported news sources, according to new details. They also created a number of Twitter accounts that posed as sources for Americans’ hometown headlines.
And another for the curse that is Google: According to The Wall Street Journal, hundreds of app developers have access to millions of inboxes belonging to Gmail users. The developers reportedly receive access to messages from Gmail users who signed up for things like price-comparison services or automated travel-itinerary planners. Some of these companies train software to scan the email, while others enable their workers to pore over private messages. [Honestly, Gmail users, do you need any more reasons not to use Google services? OK, here’s another …]
A user on Medium named Punch a Server says you should not use Google Cloud due to the no-warnings-given, abrupt way the plug is pulled on your entire system if they (or the machines) believe something is wrong. The user has a project running in production on Google Cloud (GCP) that is used to monitor hundreds of wind turbines and scores of solar plants scattered across 8 countries.
Apple is more secure, you know? And the free iCloud email that every Apple user can have FOR FREE is end-to-end encrypted by default. Apple just released iOS 11.4.1, and while most of us are already looking ahead to all the new stuff coming in iOS 12, this small update contains an important new security feature: USB Restricted Mode. Apple has added protections against the USB devices being used by law enforcement and private companies that connect over Lightning to crack an iPhone’s passcode and evade Apple’s usual encryption safeguards.

IBM and the cost of data breaches — IBM Security has released a report examining the costs and impact associated with data breaches. The findings paint a grim portrait of what the clean up is like for companies whose data becomes exposed – particularly for larger corporations that suffer so-called mega breaches, a costly exposure involving potentially tens of millions of private records.
Fracking companies use Facebook to ban protests — Facebook is being used by oil and gas companies to clamp-down on protest. Three companies are currently seeking injunctions against protesters: British chemical giant INEOS, which has the largest number of shale gas drilling licenses in the UK; and small UK outfits UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), and Europa Oil and Gas. Among the thousands of pages of documents submitted to British courts by these companies are hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from anti-fracking protesters and campaign groups, uncovered by Motherboard in partnership with investigative journalists at DeSmog UK. They show how fracking companies are using social media surveillance carried out by a private firm to strengthen their cases in court by discrediting activists using personal information to justify banning their protests.

All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week — So reports the Washington Post in the article Red-Hot Planet which was updated throughout the week with new all-time heat records.
From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East to Southern California, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week… [I know, as I was just in Canada – over 30°C for seven days in a row, who would have thought?]

And the good news? I had a break! A real break! But I’m back! (But goodness, isn’t it cold in New Zealand?!)

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Futurology ~ Mars dunes, Welsh sites, underwater jetpack, caffeine genes, electric spider flight, NZ colour x-ray, rats kill coral, multiple human origins


Ghost dunes at Noctis Labyrinthus. Boxes B and C show close-ups. (MacKenzie Day & David Catling/AGU)

Mars’ ghost dunes — In a recent study in the Journal of Geophysical Research, planetary geomorphologist Mackenzie Day and astrobiologist David Catling announced their discovery of about 800 “ghost dunes” – the imprints of ancient sand piles – clustered in two different locations on Mars. Examining these former dunes can tell us more about the red planet’s historic climate, and might contain more surprises as well.
~ I always wanted to be a planetary geomorphologist … OK, not really. So, what can we possible ‘Tel’ from these dunes? 

Hidden cropmarks revealed by the drought in Wales — Elusive ‘cropmarks’ now reveal the sites of long hidden ruins. From above, these cropmarks stand out starkly from the landscape—unmistakable squares and circles that outline settlements from as far back as the Bronze Age. In the past weeks, Driver has captured cropmarks across the Welsh countryside, including those made by a previously undiscovered medieval cemetery, a rare type of monument in this area, but they stand out much ore than usual thanks to the current unprecedented heat in the northern hemisphere.
~ Let’s hope Driver captures a load of these images so age old mysteries can be solved. 

Student 3D-prints a marine jetpack — A product design student in the UK created a safer way to travel under water with a jetpack that can propel a swimmer at speeds of up to 13kph.
Archie O’Brien says it took him a year to design and build a functional prototype of his CUDA jetpack, after learning that similar underwater propulsion devices can cost as much as new cars. Forty-five 3D-printed components could be quickly modified and reprinted as the engineering of the CUDA was continually refined.
~ You may be able to buy one as early as 2019, but I want to know ‘is it quiet?’ As man, do I ever hate on f___king jet skis! Way touring everyone’s summers, you jet-skiing a-holes!

Caffeine gene-control — A team led by Martin Fussenegger of ETH Zurich in Basel has shown that caffeine can be used as a trigger for synthetic genetic circuitry, which can then in turn do useful things for us – even correct or treat medical conditions. For a buzz-worthy proof of concept, the team engineered a system to treat type 2 diabetes in mice with sips of coffee, specifically Nespresso Volluto coffee. Essentially, when the animals drink the coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage), a synthetic genetic system in cells implanted in their abdomens switches on. This leads to the production of a hormone that increases insulin production and lowers blood sugar levels – thus successfully treating their diabetes after a simple morning brew.
~ Wait till they try decent coffee, then, I guess. 

Darwin’s theory of electric spider flight is finally proven — On Halloween in 1832, the naturalist Charles Darwin was onboard the HMS Beagle. He marveled at spiders that had landed on the ship after floating across huge ocean distances. “I caught some of the Aeronaut spiders which must have come at least 60 miles,” he noted in his diary. “How inexplicable is the cause which induces these small insects, as it now appears in both hemispheres, to undertake their aerial excursions.” Small spiders achieve flight by aiming their butts at the sky and releasing tendrils of silk to generate lift.
Darwin thought electricity might be involved when he noticed that spider silk stands seemed to repel each other with electrostatic force, but many scientists assumed that the arachnids, known as ‘ballooning’ spiders, were simply sailing on the wind like a paraglider. The wind power explanation has thus far been unable to account for observations of spiders rapidly launching into the air, even when winds are low, however. Now, these aerial excursions have been empirically determined to be largely powered by electricity, according to new research published Thursday in Current Biology. The study settles a longstanding debate about whether wind energy or electrostatic forces are responsible for spider ballooning locomotion.
~ It’s both, of course. 

New Zealand colour X-Ray breakthrough — A New-Zealand company has scanned, for the first time, a human body using a breakthrough colour medical scanner based on the Medipix3 technology developed at CERN. Father and son scientists Professors Phil and Anthony Butler from Canterbury and Otago Universities spent a decade building and refining their product, which enables high-resolution, high-contrast, very reliable images, making it unique for imaging applications in particular in the medical field.
~ Awesome!

Viruses may call Alzheimers — For decades, the idea that a bacteria or virus could help cause Alzheimer’s disease was dismissed as fringe theory. Not so much any more: a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School reported in the journal Neuron the latest evidence suggesting herpes viruses can spark the cascade of events that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal form of dementia that afflicts up to 80% of Australia’s 425,000 dementia patients.
~ Let’s hope a solution is possible. 

Rats also affect coral reefs — The much maligned rat is not a creature many would associate with coral reefs. But scientists studying reefs on tropical islands say the animals directly threaten the survival of these ecosystems. From a report:
A team working on the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean found that invasive rats on the islands are a big problem for coral reefs. Rats decimate seabird populations, in turn decimating the volume of bird droppings which acts as natural coral fertiliser. Scientists now advocate eradicating rats from all of the islands to protect these delicate marine habitats.
~ Of course, we’re not off the hook, as the rats were introduced by humans.

Humans did not originate from a single species — In the 1980s, scientists decided that all humans living today are descended from one woman dubbed Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa between 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. This discovery, along with other evidence, suggested humans evolved from a single ancestral population, but this interpretation is not standing the test of time. The story of human evolution, as the latest research suggests, is more complicated than that.
By looking at some of the latest archaeological, fossil, genetic and environmental evidence, a team of international experts led by Eleanor Scerri from Oxford’s School of Archaeology have presented an alternative story of human evolution, one showing that our species emerged from isolated populations scattered across Africa, who occasionally came together to interbreed.
~ Humans emerged within a complex set of populations scattered across Africa. Take that, stupid white supremacists.