The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook, Trump and our world of pain


Facebook is now rating its users on the ‘trustworthiness’. [You now, coz we all trust everything Facebook does.] Facebook hasn’t been shy about rating the trustworthiness of news outlets, but it’s now applying that thinking to users as well.
Meanwhile, the world’s dominant social network has now been strongly linked with more attacks on refugees in Germany. [Now that’s something I do trust about Facebook.]
Apple has removed Facebook’s Onavo security app from the App Store because it violated the company’s privacy rules. Apple officials told Facebook that Onavo violated the company’s rules on data collection by developers.

Trump — Finger-on-the-pulse US ‘President’ Donald Trump then accused social media companies of silencing “millions of people in an act of censorship – of course, without offering evidence to support the claim. [So, don’t silence racists?]
What does it take to impeach a US President? Good question. Ron Elving of NPR has looked at former President John Tyler in the 1840s leading up to the House impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Encrypted apps didn’t work for Cohen — Former, and now convicted, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was apparently a fan of encrypted communications apps like WhatsApp and Signal, but those tools failed to keep his messages and calls out of sight from investigators. Prosecutors said in a court filing the FBI had obtained 731 pages of messages and call logs from those apps from Cohen’s phones.
Trump also set out to defend Cohen’s payments to women Trump had slept with out of wedlock. [Here are three words that describe how this went: Bull. China shop.]
Trump wants racists uncensored, but he also wants more Americans dying — The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just proposed a rule that would, by its own admission, result in more Americans getting sick and dying. And the whole reason we know that is because of landmark public health studies the Trump administration is trying to limit access to.
The Trump administration just released a new rule proposal at the centre of its environmental deregulatory frenzy. The long-anticipated rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama era initiative to rein in pollution from coal-fired power plants that was considered the former president’s signature policy for combatting climate change.
Orange is the new black — Inmates at prisons across the US are expected to stage a weeks-long strike to demand better living conditions and prison reform. [Oh no, what will this do to the slave economy?!]

World of pain — A folder containing an estimated 14.8 million Texas voter records was left on an unsecured server without a password. Considering Texas has 19.3 million registered voters, this leak is very substantial. The file was discovered by a New Zealand-based data breach hunter who goes by the pseudonym Flash Gordon; the data appears to have been compiled by a company working for the Republicans.
But personal data has become widely available in China and can be scooped up for pennies by insurance companies, banks, loan sharks, and scammers alike, according to sellers and financiers interviewed by Reuters.
Hackers linked to Russia’s government tried to target the websites of two right-wing US think-tanks. This suggests they were broadening their attacks in the build-up to November elections, Microsoft said. The software giant said it thwarted the attempts last week by taking control of sites that hackers had designed to mimic the pages of The International Republican Institute and The Hudson Institute. [Russia doesn’t need to put a distinct government in place it the US, it just seeks to destabilise the US as much as possible … imagine Putin’s glee when Trump got in!]
In troubled, desperately poor and already-overcrowded Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees would rather cope there than go back to Burma. [Buddhism is such a peace loving religion, right?]Robots to take English jobs — The chief economist of the Bank of England has warned that the UK will need a skills revolution to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming “technologically unemployed” as artificial intelligence makes many jobs obsolete. [Presumably the new jobs will involve robot dismantling?]
China wants to clean the ’net — The internet must be “clean and righteous[you know, just like Xi Jinping’s government] and vulgar content must be resisted in the field of culture, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of senior propaganda officials.
Australia will take your phone and imprison you if you don’t unlock it — The Australian government wants to force companies to help it get at suspected criminals’ data. If they can’t, it would jail people for up to a decade if they refuse to unlock their phones.
US woman sues US for taking her phone — An American woman who had her phone seized by border agents as she returned home to the United States is suing the country’s border protection agency.
Australia bans Huawei, ZTE from supplying 5G technology — Australia has blocked Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment for its 5G network, which is set to launch commercially next year. [Oh, what, don’t you want a ‘clean and righteous’ network, Australia?]
Even the old, ‘solid’ ice is now breaking up — A huge pack of floating ice along the northern Greenland coastline is breaking up and drifting apart into the Arctic Ocean – another consequence, scientists say, of global warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Talking about the world, tiny plastic is everywhere — Ecologist Chelsea Rochman at the University of Ontario has found it in fish tissue from all over the world … and even in drinking water and beer!
European ‘hunger stones’ — A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders known as hunger stones that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts – and warn of their consequences.
UTI superbugs are spreading outside hospitals — The bacteria that cause urinary tract infections are not only becoming more resistant to antibiotics, suggests a recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, but they’re starting to spread outside of hospitals. It’s another sign of increasing antibiotic resistance.
Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol — The study suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely. The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world. [Gah!]

And finally, some good news … OK, not really, but at least you might be able to have fun with it. We’ve seen a lot of machine learning systems create strange new phrases and dreamlike images after being trained on large amounts of data. But a new website lets you do the generating, and the results are just as bizarre as you’d expect. [Crikey.]

OK, well, this sounds more positive (excerpt from my forthcoming book): “The fact that we have come so far, despite very real and growing threats to our existence and even to the planet we live on, is testimony not to the worst side of humanity, but to the best, despite the creative and oftentimes effective destructive efforts of the more regrettable among us.”

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Futurology ~ Antimatter, better battery, submarine email, giant speaker, shipwrecks, ancient forest our future


A group of artists has decided to reactivate Taiwan’s giant Beishan Broadcast Station for a sound art performance. It’s a concrete tower that can send sounds over 24kms (it holds 48 speakers)

Scientist are about to drop antimatter to see how it behaves in gravity — Antimatter continues to behave just like regular matter, no matter what tests scientists throw at it. And in the face of yet another new challenge, antimatter has again refused to crack.
In a new study, physicists attempted to find differences between matter and antimatter – confusingly, also a kind of matter, but with the opposite charge and other differences. It’s like an evil twin. Also confusingly, the universe has way more matter than antimatter, for no clear reason.
~ Sounds ominous if you ask me. 

Scientists deliver a longer-lasting Lithium-Oxygen battery — Packing more energy into batteries is the key to delivering electric cars with longer range, smartphones that can last days – and cheaper electronic products all around. Lithium-oxygen batteries represent one of the more promising paths toward that end.
In a paper published this week in Science journal, researchers at the University of Waterloo identified ways of addressing some of the major hurdles to converting that potential into commercial reality, for example switching from a carbon cathode to one made of nickel oxide and supported by a stainless steel mesh.
~ Smaller will be the biggest advance really – an iPhone can be up to 60% battery. 

Submarines emailing planes — It is difficult for planes to pick up underwater sonar signals because they reflect back from the water’s surface and rarely break through. The researchers found an extremely high-frequency radar could detect tiny ripples in water, created by an ordinary underwater speaker. This could let lost flight recorders and submarines communicate with planes. Submarines communicate using sonar waves, which travel well underwater but struggle to break through the surface.
MIT uses an underwater speaker to aim sonar signals directly at the water’s surface, creating tiny ripples only a few micrometres in height. These ripples can be detected by high-frequency radar above the water and decoded back into messages.
~ Sounds wildly impractical if you ask me, considering the constantly-changing state of the surface of the ocean.

Giant speaker tower to sound again — This was once the loudest thing around. Built in the late 1960s as a military weapon, the 30-foot-tall concrete block is honeycombed with 48 large holes, each home to a separate speaker. When it’s turned up full blast, the sounds the station makes can be heard up to 24 kms (15 miles) away. Indeed, that was the point: Until it was taken off duty in the 1970s, the mega-megaphone was used to holler anticommunist messages across the Taiwan Strait, from Kinmen into China.
Now it will serve a different purpose. A group of artists has decided to reactivate Beishan Broadcast Station for a sound art performance. Led by the Taiwanese artist and curator Ada Kai-Ting Yang and the French artist Augustin Maurs, the performance, called Sonic Territories, will “investigate aspects of sonic propaganda” while “exploring imagined territories and soundscapes.”
~ I am sure we can all think of other uses.

New way of preserving shipwrecks — Scientists from the University of Glasgow, the University of Warwick, and the Mary Rose Trust have devised a method for removing agents of rot from the celebrated warship the Mary Rose’s body, offering shipwrecks everywhere a brighter future.
~ It’s all about removing the iron ions. 

Ancient Mayan forest predicts our future — More than 3000 years ago, the ancient Maya people spread across the Yucatán Peninsula and neighbouring areas, clearing rainforest for agriculture and cities as they went. Though their civilisation mysteriously collapsed around the ninth century, it left an indelible mark on the region’s tropical rainforests, one that presents a warning to people clear-cutting the tropics today.
Research published in Nature Geoscience suggests that centuries of deforestation during the heyday of Mayan civilisation had a profound and lasting impact on rainforests’ ability to keep carbon locked in the ground. But while the Maya didn’t need to worry about a little extra carbon escaping to the atmosphere, modern society – which is doing far more extensive damage to Earth’s rainforests than the Maya did 3000 years ago – does.
~ Even back then, the carbon sink never recovered to where it was before human settlement.

The Apocalypticon ~ Ripped off, data and destruction, loneliness infections, the weather


They’re ripping us off — The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year, according to a new report published by the Economic Policy Institute. The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of US$18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year.
Is it any wonder young Americans are souring on capitalism? Less than half, 45%, view capitalism positively, representing a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively.
While we’re talking about inequality, over 300 newspapers have denounced Trump’s attacks on the media in coordinated editorials.

Can of worms — Yes, we opened it. The White House was forced to backtrack after wildly misstating the level of job gains by African-Americans under Trump’s predecessor, the presidential [see what I did there?] Barack Obama. Trump’s regime was only wrong by 2.9 million jobs, though
Can Trump legally keep former staff quiet? No, probably not. Manigault Newman’s nondisclosure agreement, like others, contained a no-disparagement clause: a pledge to never, ever disparage the campaign, Trump, Vice President Pence, their families, their families’ companies, and so forth. [And she may have done some really dumb things in her life, like , you know, working for Trump, but at least she refused to sign it.]
Torturing CIA chief — Gina Haspel was confirmed by the US Senate to be director of the CIA on May 17th. But the public never got to see the memos that she wrote and authorised about the brutal torture of Al Qaeda suspects at a CIA black site that she oversaw in Thailand in 2002. Until now. [Yes, it’s weird and horrific. Yes, we should be deeply worried.]
Trade war — when Donald Trump had a brain-fart [does anyone have a better explanation?] and decided to embark on trade wars with America’s biggest trade partners, not many Americans realised what impact this would have in the shops. NPR has investigated what this may mean.

Devices, data and destruction — Artificial intelligence will reshape the world of finance over the next decade. It will do so by automating investing and other services – but it could also introduce troubling systematic weaknesses and risks, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Firefox snoops — Mozilla has removed 23 Firefox add-ons from its add-on store that snooped on users and sent data to remote servers, a Mozilla engineer told Bleeping Computer. [The real question being why were these ever allowed in the first place?]
Facebook and the murder gf Rohingya — More than 1000 anti-Rohingya posts featuring calls for their murder among other hate speech were live on Facebook last week. But it seems the network is still being used to encourage violence against the Muslim minority in Myanmar despite the tech firm promising to tackle the issue.
Speaking of which, the CW’s new Batwoman, Ruby Rose, is the latest high-profile actor to quit social media after facing harassment from so-called fans over her role. It’s becoming more common for actors and creators to leave social media platforms because of online abuse, enough that it’s starting to feel like an everyday annoyance we can ignore. It’s not. And we shouldn’t.
German kids drowning because of parents’ phone use — The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) has made a direct connection between children getting into difficulty in the water and parents being too busy on their mobile phones to notice. More than 300 people have drowned in Germany so far this year.
People maim their pets to get opioids — A recent survey suggests that some people struggling with opioid addiction might be turning to a tragically desperate method to get more prescription painkillers: hurting their own pets. And veterinarians themselves may be abusing opioids or helping to illegally sell them.
And forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests — The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

Sleepless people may infect you with loneliness — A new study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that poor sleep can be a nightmare for our social lives too. It just might turn us into lonely outcasts, capable of spreading our misery to others. [Damn it, I like being a lonely outcast!]

The weather — yeah, it’s really out there. Tiny though they are, microscopic phytoplankton, when infected with a particular virus, may influence atmospheric processes such as cloud formation, according to new research.
But there’s hope — a tiny sliver anyway. The US Department of Defence is one of the few federal agencies that still treats climate change as a threat under President Donald Trump. [The others have either been decapitated or have assumed the Ostrich Position.]
And … people are finally realising climate change is real — The scorching temperatures and forest fires of this summer’s heatwave have finally stirred the world to face the onrushing threat of global warming, claims the climate scientist behind the recent Hothouse Earth report. Following an unprecedented 270,000 downloads of his study, Johan Rockstrom, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said he had not seen such a surge of interest since 2007, the year the Nobel prize was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even in the US, whose president [that’s Donald Trump, although I still feel incredulous about this] has vowed to pull out of the Paris accord, public opinion surveys have shown a growing acceptance of climate science. [See? I always try and end on a good note after this avalanche of human stupidity.]

Futurology ~ Star accelerator, superheat exoplanet, Human Cell Atlas, ghost village, Easter Island, Egyptians, Cretaceous pollinator


This chunk of 99-million-year-old Cretaceous amber contains a beetle with bits of pollen around it.

Surprising accelerator finding could change the way we think about neutron stars — Scientists using data from an American particle accelerator compared how protons and neutrons behaved in collisions between electrons and atomic nuclei. It’s an important nuclear physics result that has interstellar implications when it comes to understanding neutron stars, which are objects in space around 1.5 times to twice the mass of the Sun, but packed into a space less than 16km across.
 ~ This may surprise you, but it didn’t change my thinking coz I didn’t have any thinking (about neutron stars). 

An exoplanet has a surface so hot, it rips apart water molecules — It’s almost a star, but not quite; it’s an ultra-hot, Jupiter-like world located around 880 light years from Earth. It’s so hot, it rips water molecules into its components (oxygen and hydrogen), which makes it far different from any of the worlds in our own Solar System.
~ It looks more like a star than a planet. 

Ambitious Human Cell Atlas aims to catalogue every type of cell in the human body —For the last two years Aviv Regev, a professor of biology at MIT, has been co-leading a massive international effort to account for and better understand every cell type and sub-type in the human body, and how they interact.
The Human Cell Atlas has received less attention than the US$3 billion Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003 after 15 years of work, but it’s equally ambitious.
~ It’s all about those dang faulty proteins!

Scientists have found a rapid way of producing magnesite which could one day help remove CO2 from the atmosphere — If this can be developed to an industrial scale, it opens the door to removing CO2 from the atmosphere for long-term storage, thus countering the global warming effect of atmospheric CO2.
~ Ah, storing it where, guys? 

Heat wave reveals the outlines of hidden garden and ghost village — British Isles heatwaves and wildfires have been revealing hidden signs of the past, from crop marks dating back thousands of years to giant signs meant to signal World War II pilots. At Chatsworth House, a Derbyshire estate perhaps most famous for its connection to Pride and Prejudice, the heat wave exposed the outlines of a long-gone world: the gardens and village that existed here back in the 17th and 18th centuries.
~ So, a visual guide to the pride and, presumably, to the prejudice. 

Easter Island collapse theory questioned — The indigenous people of Easter Island, the Rapa Nui, experienced a societal collapse after the 17th century because they stripped the island clean of its natural resources. Or at least, that’s the leading theory. An analysis of the tools used by the Rapa Nui to build their iconic stone statues suggests a very different conclusion, pointing to the presence of a highly organised and cohesive society.
New research published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology is now offering a different perspective, showing that the Rapa Nui people maintained a thriving tool-building industry during the time of their alleged descent into ‘barbarity’.
~ Time to carve out a new theory. 

Egyptians preserving corpses long before the Pharaohs — Researchers had long assumed mummies that predate Dynastic Egypt (which begins around 3100 BCE), were preserved somewhat spontaneously by the natural scorching and parched sand of a shallow desert grave. Scientists have often considered this hands-off approach to be a major precursor to the painstaking process of deliberate mummification that was refined over the next 2000 years and reached its apex during the New Kingdom era (c. 1550–1070 BCE), when embalmers excised organs and drained fluids before swaddling a corpse in strips of linen.
But a new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests it was the result of a carefully concocted recipe, implying the body preservation culture predated the pyramids.
~ The Grand Mummies …

99-million-year-old beetle preserved in amber was a pollinator — Amber fossils containing bugs are nothing new, but the discovery of a beautifully preserved Cretaceous Period beetle with bits of pollen still around it is changing what we know about the planet’s earliest pollinating insects.
This beetle belonged to the boganiid family, which are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, but are known pollinators of cycads.
~ A bogan insect indeed.

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate on Earth, Trump in space, suspicious activity, nuking carrier, Chinese Muslims, Facebook bum shot, German sex alert, Monsanto to pay, iPhone ears


Welcome to the future, where the air is made of fire and your beach house is underwater — Our incredible planet is at risk of entering a ‘hothouse climate‘: Earth with a global average temperature of up to 5° Celcius higher than pre-industrial temperatures, and long-term rises in the sea level of between 10 and 60 metres.
Human-caused global warming of two degrees Celsius may trigger other Earth System processes, often called feedbacks, that can trigger further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases. [I guess this explains why Trump isn’t afraid of global warming – he isn’t human so he thinks he’s not responsible.]
Geoengineering won’t save us, either. A new study in Nature uses two historic eruptions to gauge how a global program of reflecting sunlight away from the Earth’s surface – an idea known as solar geoengineering – could impact agriculture. It finds that while cooling the planet could offset some of the negative impacts climate change will have on staple crops, it’s hardly a panacea.
First Nations’ wild rice under threat in the US — Northern wild rice, also known as manoomin, is a staple food in Ojibwe communities across the Upper Midwest, where it’s also used in traditional ceremonies. And, like any wild crop, some years yield more than others, depending on the weather. And now it’s under threat by climate change.
Aerial views show extent of Carr fire devastation — The pictures from the ground of the Carr Fire showed devastation on a human scale. But new aerial imagery released by the city of Redding puts the massive bushfire in a landscape context, revealing both the power and capriciousness of one the most destructive fires in California history.
Black Widows heading north — An updated species distribution map published in a new PLOS One study shows that the northernmost range of black widow spiders (Latrodectus variolus) has increased by about 50km over the past 60 years. Because climate is a major factor in terms of where black widows can live, the researchers suspect climate change has something to do with its expanding habitat.

Now for some craziness — yes I mean Trump. In space. No one but US defence contractors and their accountants knows why America needs a Space Force. [Enlisting now for the Space Cadets!] But moments after announcing the new US military branch, the Trump campaign gave us a hint at this arguably idiotic idea’s true purpose: lining the campaign’s pockets. As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear…” [Seriously. No, I am not kidding.]
Fear versus immigrants — US immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small group of militant, anti-immigration hawks who cultivate fear to accomplish their goal of driving out undocumented immigrants. [OK, I could say Gestapo, KGB … oh wait, I did.]
More power forever — At least Trump is working to increase his power over government appointments.  [Didn’t see that coming. Oh wait, I did. Because, you know, Hitler and Stalin, and Mao for that matter.]
Republican decides insider trading is a good reason to quit — Chris Collins, the New York Republican who was indicted Wednesday on insider trading charges, announced Saturday he’s suspending his re-election campaign. [You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t often persuade it to drown itself.]

While we’re taking about falls — Broadcom co-founder Henry Nicholas was arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of trafficking narcotics, according to police. Authorities say the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist was found with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy in his hotel suite. [What, was he a Democrat? Coz why on earth would this guy need to traffic drugs? He’s stinkin’ rich!]
Facebook dispute results in shot bottom — A recent Facebook dispute between two strangers in Florida led to a bullet in the butt. Brian Sebring, 44, faces felony charges after he decided to take an argument offline.
“I went off the deep end,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.” [Really, Brian, you think?]

Costly decommission — Six years after decommissioning USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the US Navy is still figuring out how to safely dismantle the ship.
The General Accounting Office estimates the cost of taking apart the vessel and sending the reactors to a nuclear waste storage facility at up to US$1.5 billion, or about one-eighth the cost of a brand-new aircraft carrier.

China cracks down on Muslims — Thousands of members of China’s Hui Muslim minority have gathered at the site of a mosque in Weizhou, in northwestern China, in an attempt to block the government from demolishing the year-old building. This region has been known as a more ‘accepted’ Chinese Muslim minority so locals are mystified why authorities want to do this.  [Why? Because they can.]

Berlin Airport bomb scare was sex toys — Police investigated the matter for about an hour before calling in a bomb squad, then determined the “technical stuff” that the scanner showed was just a bunch of sex toys, with at least one vibrator. The terminal reopened around an hour later.

Robot takes kids’ jobs — That’s right. A creative agency called RedPepper built a robot that levels the Where’s Wally playing field using a camera and machine learning AI to spot the striped traveller in as little as four-and-a-half seconds. [Ooh, I know, how about a robot that plays in the playground so your kids don’t have to?]

Monsanto to pay US$289 million in Roundup cancer trial — Chemical giant Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages to a man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer. In a landmark case, a Californian jury found that Monsanto knew its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers were dangerous and failed to warn consumers. It’s the first lawsuit to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer. Monsanto denies that glyphosate causes cancer and says it intends to appeal against the ruling. [Let’s hope the floodgates open and put this bestial company out of business!]

Your iPhone isn’t listening to you — Apple has told US lawmakers its iPhones do not listen to users without their consent and do not allow third-party apps to do so either, after lawmakers asked the company if its devices were invading users’ privacy. [I guess that’s good news?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book about the Apocalypse: “If we move into the hills, behind us the cities will be collapsing. When the Romans left Britain starting in the 400s CE, people moved into their abandoned villas. As they lived in them, adapting them to their needs, parts of them collapsed without the skills left among the local population to fix them. Gradually they fell completely into ruin and were abandoned …”

Futurology ~ Strange planet, asteroid close-up, denser SSD, shoe-lace-bot, cancer breakthrough, chilli mice, Tsunami graves


Is it a star or a planet? No, it’s a, um, Starnet … Various news outlets have been discussing a strange object in space, which may or may not be a planet. New measurements show that what was thought to be a brown dwarf – essentially a “failed star” that is too small to generate nuclear fusion, but too big to be a planet – might be a planet after all. But that’s far from the strangest part of this story.
Scientists recently took another look at four nearby brown dwarfs, as well as at this strange object, which is located only 20 light years from Earth. The new observation demonstrated that the weird object actually straddles the boundary between planet and brown dwarf. That’s cool, but even more perplexing is how all five of these objects ended up with their intense magnetic fields.
~ I think I will call it the Halo-Dwarf.

Space wall of hydrogen — The New Horizons spacecraft, now at a distance nearly 6.4 billion kms from Earth and already far beyond Pluto, has measured what appears to be a signature of the furthest reaches of the Sun’s energy — a wall of hydrogen. It nearly matches the same measurement made by the Voyager mission 30 years ago, and offers more information as to the furthest limits of our Sun’s reach.
~ The Mexicans are very clear they did not pay for it. 

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft came tantalisingly close to asteroid Ryugu — It has offered an unprecedented view of the asteroid’s boulder-strewn surface.
The third descent of the mission saw Hayabusa2 come to within 851m of the asteroid, making it the closest encounter to date.
~ Shame that surface is so boring, right? 

Densest SSD take on a new shape — The chip giant Intel first set out this form factor a year ago, based on the Enterprise & Datacenter Storage Form Factor (EDSFF) standard for server makers to cut cooling costs and offer a more efficient format than SSDs in the classic square 2.5 inch size. Intel describes the new ruler-shaped Intel SSD DC P4500, which is 12 inches by 1.5 inches, and a third of an inch thick, as the world’s densest SSD. Server makers can jam up to one petabyte (PB) – or a thousand terabytes (TB) – of data into 1U server racks by lining up 32 of these 32TB Intel rulers together.
~ I love SSDs, they’re so fast and robust compared to hard drives. 

With a budget of just $US600 — a mere pittance compared to what robots such as ATLAS cost to develop — students from the University of California’s Davis’ College of Engineering created a machine that’s capable of tying shoe laces all by itself.
~ This will be really useful for tying the laces of people who can no longer bend over, presumably. 

Cancer put to sleep in Australia — In a world first, Melbourne scientists have discovered a new type of anti-cancer drug that can put cancer cells into a permanent sleep, without the harmful side-effects caused by conventional cancer therapies.
The research reveals the first class of anti-cancer drugs that work by putting the cancer cell to ‘sleep’, arresting tumour growth and spread without damaging the cells’ DNA. The new class of drugs could provide an exciting alternative for people with cancer, and has already shown great promise in halting cancer progression in models of blood and liver cancers, as well as in delaying cancer relapse.
~ Basically, it stops the cancer cells dividing and replicating. 

Chili can keep rodents away from seeds they’d eat — New research suggests that capsaicin – the spicy element of chili peppers – can be a robust deterrent to seed-eating rodents. Ecologists interested in restoring ecosystems after disturbances such as wildfires conducted experiments with deer mice. They started with glass enclosures where on one side, the mice were offered regular old sunflower seeds, while on the other side were seeds that had been given a special, capsaicin-laced coating. The mice ate 86% fewer pepper-treated seeds than untreated ones. When they took the experiment outside to the Missoula Valley in Montana, the scientists saw the results play out. Seeds treated with capsaicin were far more likely to survive to become plants than ones left untreated.
~ But if they develop a taste for it the same way people can, all we do is vary their palettes. 

Prehistoric mass graves located along coastlines around the world may be linked to ancient tsunamis — Mass graves are common in the archaeological record. There’s the Viking-age Ridgeway Hill Burial Pit in the UK which contains 54 skeletons and 51 dismembered heads, or the Early Neolithic mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten in Germany, a likely massacre that resulted in the deaths of at least 26.
In these and similar cases, archaeologists attribute the burials to warfare or pillaging, as evidenced by wounds such as blunt-force trauma, injuries caused by weapons, or decapitations. But in some cases, where the cause of death isn’t obvious, and where no written or oral history exists to explain the presence of a mass grave, archaeologists can only speculate as to the cause.
New research suggests scientists have overlooked a possible cause of some ambiguous mass graves located along oceanic coastlines: ancient tsunamis.
~ They’re going mohave to find diatoms to prove it (really). 

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate, weather, fire storms, penguins, trade war, hackers, ransoms, facial recognition, begging robots, money choked off, French harassment, meat


The weather — US car companies knew about climate change 30 years ago and did nothing. The New York Times Magazine has been teasing out its upcoming issue in recent days, as it’s dedicated to a single story that focuses on how we had an opportunity to address climate change in the 1980s, but failed to do anything. Coinciding with the current administration’s proposal to roll back fuel economy targets, expected to be unveiled this week, the timing couldn’t be any better. [Coz money literally trumps everything else.]
And just when you thought this situation couldn’t get any worse, the Trump administration announced it would be putting Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards on hold and moving to replace them with watered-down regulations.
Penguin colony in steep decline — The last time scientists visited Ile aux Cochons in 1982, an island that is part of an archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, the king penguin population was booming. Over 500,000 breeding pairs (around two million penguins total) huddled together there, making the island the largest king penguin colony in the world. New research shows their numbers have been on a stiff decline since then — by as much as 88%
Firenado — California’s Carr fire, one of the most destructive fires in the state’s history, was burning in Redding, when conditions aligned to create a massive whirl of smoke and fire. It lasted for an hour and a half, and the people who caught it on video called it the ‘Firenado.’

It’s war! Trade war … China has announced a plan to impose new tariffs on $60 billion of American goods, in retaliation for the latest tariff threats from the Trump administration.
The White House said it was considering boosting tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, raising those tariffs from 10% to 25%.

Hacking recognition and all that — A recent review by UK cybersecurity firm Sophos in partnership with cryptocurrency firm Neutrino has concluded that the crew — or possibly one extremely proficient black hat hacker — behind the SamSam ransomware attacks have rolled in at least $US5.9 million in ransom payments, according to BleepingComputer. [And they can work from home.]
Amazon proves why it shouldn’t give it’s face recognition tech to the police — Days after the ACLU released a damning report on Amazon’s face recognition product ‘Rekognition’, Amazon’s general manager of AI, Dr Matt Wood, countered its findings in a blog post. The ACLU used Rekognition to scan the faces of all 535 members of US Congress, finding the software mistook 28 of them for suspected criminals. Dr Wood notes first that the ACLU doesn’t reveal its methodology or dataset in the report, then punctuates Amazon’s original response – that it encourages higher confidence thresholds for law enforcement.
But conspicuously missing from the blog was a specific rebuttal to the enormous racial disparity uncovered by the ACLU. For Congress as a whole, the error rate was only 5%,, but for non-white members of Congress, the error rate was 39%.
It’s harder to turn robots off when they beg you not to — A recent experiment by German researchers demonstrates that people will refuse to turn a robot off if it begs for its life. In the study, published in the open access journal PLOS One, 89 volunteers were recruited to complete a pair of tasks with the help of Nao, a small humanoid robot. In roughly half of experiments, the robot protested, telling participants it was afraid of the dark and even begging: “No! Please do not switch me off!” When this happened, the human volunteers were likely to refuse to turn the bot off. Of the 43 volunteers who heard Nao’s pleas, 13 refused. And the remaining 30 took, on average, twice as long to comply compared to those who did not not hear the desperate cries at all.

General malfeasance — Secretly tracking airline passengers: some Americans have been trailed and closely monitored by undercover air marshals as they travelled on US flights, as part of a previously undisclosed Transportation Security Administration program called Quiet Skies. The marshals take notes on the targeted traveler’s behaviour, sending detailed reports to the TSA.
Distraught parents going on hunger strike — Recent news stories have been filled with the joyous reunions of migrant parents who had been separated from their children at the Southwest border. Yet hundreds of families were reunited only to be detained again, this time together. Inside one of those detention centers in Texas, weary fathers are now staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.
Scientists stunned as non profit halts research money — On 24 July, 37 grant recipients received an email from the March of Dimes Foundation in New York City informing them their 3-year grants had been cut off, retroactively, starting 30th June. Many of the researchers were only a year into their projects, and had had just enough time to hire and train staff, purchase supplies and generate preliminary results. Now, several say that they might need to lay off employees, euthanise lab animals and shelve their research projects if they cannot find other funding – fast.
Apple’s dick move — Apple, which just became the world’s first trillion dollar company, has announced it will punish some of the people who helped build its success. Affiliates who’ve promoted apps and taken a small cut of the purchase price are being pushed out because they’re apparently no longer useful, since Apple had built better ‘discovery’ into its App Stores. [Apple, you really, really suck for this.]

Finally, some good news: French lawmakers have approved a measure outlawing sexual harassment in the street, rendering catcalling and lewd or degrading comments a crime punishable by on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros — or more than US$870. The country’s Senate passed the legislation late Wednesday as part of a broader package of measures targeting sexual violence, which the lower house of Parliament advanced earlier this year.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “As a further drain on the environment, each litre (about two pints) of milk produced requires up to 1000 litres of water. Large-scale meat production leads to high greenhouse gas emissions – another factor that might lead, or at least add to, an apocalypse.
However, I don’t believe meat is bad for humans per se – I have always believed that good meat is good for you. But overconsumption (not uncommon) of meat is definitely not great for people – eating too much processed meat, including bacon, salami and sausage, is linked to heart disease; too much red meat is linked to cancer.”

Futurology ~ Solar mission, space crew, future farms, Mayan drought, inner diamonds


Solar mission about to leave — NASA is scheduled to send human technology closer to a star than ever before from August 11th. What they learn could change our understanding of, well, the whole galaxy.
The Parker Solar Probe is a mission set to orbit the Sun at just 6.1 million kms. Earth’s average distance is 149.6 million kms; Mercury’s average distance is 57.9 million kms. The spacecraft will need to shield itself from temperatures as high as 1377C in order to find answers to the many questions scientists still have about our Sun and stars in general.
~ I guess it will have to leave during the day, or it won’t be able to find it … [lol]

Commercial space crew announced — NASA has announced the first astronauts who will head to the International Space Station on a commercially built spacecraft. These US astronauts previously flew aboard Russian spacecraft to get to the ISS. The coming launches will be the first from American soil since the Space Shuttle’s 2011 retirement, according to a NASA news release. The astronauts will travel in the new Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. The team consists of 9 men and women from across the US.
~ Commercial, hey? So it should be called the Starship Enterprise. 

Future faming — How do you feed an increasing number of people without harming the environment? As it turns out, growing as much food as possible in a small area may be our best bet for sustainably feeding the world’s population, according to new research. It all comes down to how we manage greenhouse gases and climate change …
~ Didn’t see that coming. Well, OK, but didn’t we all?

Mayan drought may have ended them — The ancient Maya were an innovative people who constructed intricate cities throughout the tropical lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula, communicated using one of the world’s first written languages, and created two calendar systems by studying the stars. But despite their achievements, the thriving Mayan civilisation mysteriously collapsed sometime between the eighth and ninth centuries. We still don’t know exactly why.
The general consensus is that the Mayan collapse was caused by a number of things, including disease, war, and other sociopolitical conflicts. One natural factor may have contributed to all of these issues: drought. A particularly bad drought would have made it difficult for the Maya to collect enough drinking water and to irrigate their crops. It also could have encouraged the spread of disease and increased the strain between Mayan leaders and their people.
~ And I reckon the Russians were involved. 

Rare blue diamonds deep in the Earth — Just 1 out of 200,000 diamonds are blue, and  eventually reach the surface through volcanic eruptions. Like all diamonds, they are made when carbon comes under intense pressure and extreme heat deep inside the Earth. As they form, they can trap tiny bits of rock inside – like fossils in amber. Steven Shirey, a geochemist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, and his colleagues used lasers to examine the diamonds’ imperfections – slivers of embedded rock – at the Gemological Institute of America. The researchers suggest that boron in the ocean floor was pushed down when plates that make up the Earth’s crust collided. The element allows the stone to absorb some red light, so the diamond looks blue.
~ So, once they can dig deep enough, they won’t be rare any more.