The Apocalypticon ~ Quakes, food, water, temperatures, shocks and planet Earth, energy conundrum, better food, people, politics, power, TB, Amazon, Google, Facebook, unions, vanilla Apple


The planet — Powerful earthquakes struck along the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday 27th September, triggering a tsunami that reportedly caused damage in two cities. The US Geological Survey said it was a 7.5 magnitude quake just six miles deep. It hit a sparsely populated area in the early evening. The epicenter was about 50 miles north of Palu.
Trump’s administration admits to temperature rise — Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: on its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 4°C (7° degrees Fahrenhei) by the end of this century. But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: the analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.
Roundup’s killing the bees — A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin posit that glyphosate – the active ingredient in the herbicide – destroys specialised gut bacteria in bees, leaving them more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria. [And it’s linked to cancer in humans.]
Human activity wobbles the Earth — When looking at the Earth from afar it appears to be a perfect sphere, but that actually isn’t the case. Because Earth isn’t uniform on all sides due to land masses that shift and change over time, the planet actually wobbles a bit when it spins. Now, a new study by researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several universities and science centres has pinpointed the causes of Earth’s imperfect spin, called ‘polar motion’ and they found that humans are contributing to it.
Human activity shocked space — Humans barely touch on space, you know, apart from staring at it a lot, ringing the planet in space trash and sending objects crashing into other planets and asteroids … or do they? As if the devastating effects of bombs dropped on European cities during the Second World War weren’t terrible enough, a surprising new study shows that the shockwaves produced by these bombing raids reached the edge of space, temporarily weakening the Earth’s ionosphere.
Healthy food, healthy planet? As sales of plant-based proteins rise, there’s growing awareness of the ecological footprint of beef production. Who knew it could take about 190 litres (50 gallons) of water to produce a 100 gram hamburger? More sustainable eating choices are better for the planet.
Clean energy means more intensive, planet-imaging mining — The irony of transitioning to clean energy is we’re going to have to mine the crap out of the Earth to do it. Much like our computers and smartphones, wind turbines and solar panels are high-tech devices whose production demands a smattering of metals and minerals from across the periodic table and the planet.

Politics, unions, people and ‘governance’ — There is a pattern not only in North America and not only in Europe but also in Asia of assaults on democracy, of a new way of using social media to undermine democracy, of new ways of conceiving of political parties as authoritarian political parties. And it’s repeating itself all over the world.
And Trump tries to obscure the Russian mirror with Chinese smoke — President Trump accused China of trying to interfere in upcoming US midterm elections because of the hard line he has taken on trade, airing the claim as he opened Wednesday’s meeting of the UN Security Council in New York. [This is a purely political move that’s technically referred to as ‘an outright lie’ by any reasonable human.]
Amazon Inc guns for unions — Amazon, the US’ second-largest employer, has so far remained immune to any attempts by US workers to form a union. With rumblings of employee organisation at Whole Foods – which Amazon bought for $13.7 billion last year – a 45-minute union-busting training video produced by the company was sent to Team Leaders of the grocery chain last week.
In ‘good’ company … Google parent Alphabet and the other four dominant US technology companies – Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook – are fast becoming industrial giants. They spent a combined $80 billion in the last year on big-ticket physical assets, including manufacturing equipment and specialised tools for assembling smart phones and powerful computers and even undersea internet cables. Why? So nobody else can compete.

TB or not TB — A cure for TB has been widely available since the 1950s, yet TB is still the deadliest infectious disease on earth. It kills about 1.5 million people each year, or 4000 people each day, including 600 children. It kills more people than HIV or car accidents. So why don’t we end TB?
Young blood for New Yorkers — Ambrosia [why not ‘Vampyria’, you may wonder?], the startup that injects the plasma of young people into those 35 and older, is looking to open up shop in New York City.

Vanilla-beige Apple RFB media — Apple’s new streaming service reportedly has a $US1 ($1.37) billion budget, but apparently it can’t buy some nerve. The company has long censored its walled-garden offerings on platforms like the App Store, and per a report in the Wall Street Journal, Apple is still aiming to keep its content offerings squeaky clean, with little “gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.” [Also known as ‘RFB’, or ‘really f___king boring’, programming that’s about as edgy as a blancmange.]

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Futurology ~ Black Hole, asteroid-hoppers, solar gatherer, lean-green-crete, spray-on antenna, mosquito trap, gender maths, appendix, mummie-peaking, Mayan reveal


Revved up CT scanners reveal more details of preserved mummies

Seyfert sucks up Earth-sized object — A team of physicists has reported an Earth-sized clump of matter flying into a black hole at nearly a third the speed of light. It’s a lucky observation: some scientists visualise smaller black holes as being like the black hole from the movie Interstellar – a massive, spinning, compact object surrounded by a disk of shredded gas and dust, looking much like an evil planet Saturn. Objects don’t fall directly into the black hole, but travel inward along these spinning clouds. But theoretical physicists predict that larger black holes might instead have “chaotic accretion”, meaning things can fall into them at any angle.
~ But where did the Earth-sized clump go after it went into the hole? 

Japanese robots hop onto asteroid — Two tiny hopping robots successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu, then sent back some wild postcards from their new home. The tiny rovers are part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission. Engineers with the agency deployed the robots early Friday September 21st, but JAXA waited until September 22nd to confirm the operation was successful and both rovers made the landing safely.
~ ‘We come in pieces …’

Solar-gathering battery — The problem of energy storage has led to many creative solutions, like giant batteries. For a paper published in the journal Chem, scientists trying to improve the solar cells themselves developed an integrated battery that works in three different ways: it can work like a normal solar cell by converting sunlight to electricity immediately; it can store the solar energy; and it can simply be charged like a normal battery. It’s a combination of two existing technologies: solar cells that harvest light, and a so-called flow battery.
~ I’m ever ready for this. 

Spheres make concrete leaner and greener — Rice University scientists have developed micron-sized calcium silicate spheres that could lead to stronger and greener concrete, the world’s most-used synthetic material. The researchers formed the spheres in a solution around nanoscale seeds of a common detergent-like surfactant. The spheres can be prompted to self-assemble into solids that are stronger, harder, more elastic and more durable than ubiquitous Portland-style cement. The spheres are also suitable for bone-tissue engineering, insulation, ceramic and composite applications.
~ From that churning cement mixer to ‘please self assemble now …’

Spray-on antennas — In a study published in Science Advances, researchers in Drexel’s College of Engineering describe a method for spraying invisibly thin antennas, made from a type of two-dimensional, metallic material called MXene, that perform as well as those being used in mobile devices, wireless routers and portable transducers.
~ MXene it up, indeed. 

A better mosquito trap — A scientist in Australia has come up with an insecticide-free way to control a particularly pesky species of mosquito. The approach involves two things: deploying a decidedly low-tech mosquito trap called a GAT … and getting to know your neighbours.
~ Nice to know you, neighbour! Now, stop yapping and start trappin’. [But people are still working on the modified extinction possibilities too.)

Maths and science boys and girls — A study of school grades of more than 1.6 million students shows that girls and boys perform similarly in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.
~ Why is anyone actually surprised at this? 

Don’t cut out that appendix! After more than a century of slicing tiny, inflamed organs from people’s guts, doctors have found that surgery may not be necessary after all – a simple course of antibiotics can be just as effective at treating appendicitis as going under the knife.
~ Phew!

Peaking into mummies — A revved-up version of traditional CT scanning shows it’s possible to acquire microscopic-scale images of ancient Egyptian mummies, revealing previously unseen features such as blood vessels and nerves.
~ Seriously? I could have told them they’d have blood vessels and nerves!

Airborne lasers reveal many more Mayan structures — Using an airborne laser mapping technique called ‘lidar’, an international team of archaeologists has uncovered an astounding number of previously undetected structures belonging to the ancient Maya civilisation — a discovery that’s changing what we know of this remarkable society.
~ The ancient Maya’s range extended from what is today southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

The Apocalypticon ~ Face-Google, Apple, VW, Daimler, BMW, Fortnite divorces, AI devastation, US Nazi, obesity,


Facebook’s ad discrimination — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook (and 10 other companies) over alleged age and gender discrimination in targeted employment ads.
But Google has been colluding with China’s right-wing surveillance state — Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China. ‘Dragonfly’ not only blacklists search terms to comply with the wishes of government censors but ties all searches to devices’ phone numbers.
And just in case you were relieved to be an Apple user — Apple just updated its iTunes privacy policy  making mention of a “trust score” it gives iPhone users on how they make calls or send emails.
“To help identify and prevent fraud, information about how you use your device, including the approximate number of phone calls or emails you send and receive, will be used to compute a device trust score when you attempt a purchase,” Apple explained. “The submissions are designed so Apple cannot learn the real values on your device. The scores are stored for a fixed time on our servers.”
In practical terms, the Cupertino crew will only look at Apple account usage patterns and hoover up metadata rather than more personal, and potentially damning information. The data collection and trust score assigning should help Apple better spot and dodgy activity going on in Apple accounts that aren’t in keeping with those of the legitimate users. It’s not entirely clear how Apple will use the metadata to actually spot fraud, as it hasn’t explained its workings.
And while we’re bagging big corporations … The European Commission has launched an antitrust investigation into the Volkswagen Group, BMW and Daimler, over allegations they colluded to keep certain emissions control devices from reaching the market in Europe.

Fortnite divorces — In the last 35 weeks, one online divorce site received over 200 petitions citing addiction to Fortnite and other online games as one of the reasons someone wanted a divorce. These numbers equate to roughly 5% of 4665 petitions have handled since the beginning of the year.
Developing world to suffer from AI — Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order, reports the devastating impacts artificial intelligence could have on the developing world.
China and India have presented the world with two different models for how such countries can climb the development ladder. Both models are based on a country’s cost advantages in the performance of repetitive, non-social and largely uncreative work – whether manual labour in factories or cognitive labor in call centres.
Unfortunately for emerging economies, AI thrives at performing precisely this kind of work.

US Nazi sued Warner Brothers You know, coz the film (based on true events) cast the Nazis as ‘cartoonishly evil’. [You know, as compared just balls-out evil.] Kuhn lost his lawsuit, by the way, and was eventually stripped of his American citizenship (he had been born in Munich and served in the German army in WWI). He was deported to Germany after WWII ended in 1945, where he died poor and disgraced in 1951.
American obesity — No single state had its overall obesity rate decline in 2017, but six states saw an increase.
American fault lines — The detection of strange, unpredicted behaviour deep below the surface near the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults suggests scientists have an incomplete understanding of the processes responsible for earthquakes in the region.
Geoscientists have recorded thousands of small earthquakes in California’s San Bernardino basin near the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults ver the last 40 years. New research suggests many of these quakes, some of which occur at depths between 10 and 20km, are exhibiting surprising deformation patterns: instead of slipping in a horizontal manner, many of these earthquakes show vertical movement far below the surface. [Deep Creep beneath and Shallow Creep in the White House.]
Turtle though the hurricane — Members of the non-profit, Florida Leatherbacks, Inc, watched via satellite tag as Isla the sea turtle beached to lay new clutches of fragile eggs in the sand, before starting her late summer migration north along the East Coast. She wound up north of the worst of it, but still experienced rough seas over the weekend. Even before the hurricane hit, she surfaced in an area where waves reached over 4 metres (14 feet) high.

Insect plastics, Pyongyang reportage and laziness — Microplastic can escape from polluted waters via flying insects, new research has revealed, contaminating new environments and threatening birds and other creatures that eat the insects.
NPR has reported how North Korean officials worked tirelessly to stymie Western journalists — They had Mr Kim attend them closely. He proved a “stunningly efficient one-man journalism prevention service.” [Trump should take lessons.]
If you’re too lazy to read this, all is well — A new study shows we may just have to chalk it up to our brains simply being hardwired to prefer hanging on the couch instead of the chin-up bar. Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators. [Yawn.]

Futurology ~ Ordinary matter, Spock’s planet, unnatural glow, Universal Placement, Hydro-trains, robotic skin, Zika cancer-fighter


Astronomers have identified the final chunks of all the ordinary matter in the universe — Despite the fact that it took so long to identify it all, researchers spotted it right where they had expected it to be all along: in extensive tendrils of hot gas that span the otherwise empty chasms between galaxies, more properly known as the warm-hot intergalactic medium, or WHIM. Early indications that there might be extensive spans of effectively invisible gas between galaxies came from computer simulations done in 1998.
~ Ah, those tendrils of hot gas!

Spock’s home — In a wonderful example of truth validating fiction, the star system imagined as the location of Vulcan, Spock’s home world in Star Trek, has a planet orbiting it in real life. A team of scientists spotted the exoplanet, which is about twice the size of Earth, as part of the Dharma Planet Survey (DPS), led by University of Florida astronomer Jian Ge. It orbits HD 26965, more popularly known as 40 Eridani, a triple star system 16 light years away from the Sun. Made up of a Sun-scale orange dwarf (Eridani A), a white dwarf (Eridani B), and a red dwarf (Eridani C), this system was selected to be “Vulcan’s Sun” after Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry consulted with astronomers Sallie Baliunas, Robert Donahue, and George Nassiopoulos about the best location for the fictional planet.
~ ‘Gleaming brilliantly in the Vulcan sky’.

Unprecedented glow around neutron star — Neutron stars, which contain more mass than the Sun but have a radius of only a few miles, continue to be the subject of intense observation. Now, scientists have spotted one of these ultra-dense objects emitting infrared radiation far brighter than they’d expect, over a seemingly wide swath of space – larger than our Solar System. They have several ideas as to what they’re looking at, and any of these ideas, if verified, would be important discoveries.
~ My idea is that gleaming Joanna Paul stuff women used to put on their faces. 

Where are we, again? The third edition of the International Celestial Reference Frame, or ICRF-3, is the most up-to-date version of the International Astronomy Union’s standardised reference frame. Imagine the universe as a graph from geometry – scientists need a place to put the origin and axes.
~ Very Long Baseline Interferometry puts us in our place.

First Hydrogen-powered train hits the tracks In Germany — French train-building company Alstom has built two hydrogen-powered trains and delivered them to Germany, where they’ll zoom along a 62-mile stretch of track that runs from the northern cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervorde, and Buxtehude,” Alstom is contracted to deliver 14 more hydrogen-powered trains, called Coradia iLint trains, before 2021.
The trains are an initial step toward lowering Germany’s transportation-related emissions, a sector that has been intractable for policy makers in the country.
~ Smart motion.

Robots to take and give jobs — The advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence will make 75 million jobs obsolete by the year 2022, according to a new report. Sounds dreadful, but the same report goes on to predict the creation of 133 million new jobs over the same period.
~ Yeah, but maybe I don’t want to be a robot-polisher!

Robot skin transforms inanimate objects — Typically, robots are built to perform a single task. To make them more adaptable, researchers from Yale University have developed a kind of ‘robotic skin’ that transforms ordinary objects into multifunctional robots.
OmniSkins is made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators. The flexible sheets can be wrapped or affixed to a soft, malleable surface, such as a stuffed animal or a foam tube. The skins then “animate” these objects by applying force to their surface, leading to distinct movements.
~ So chuck it on corpses and make zombies? Yuk!

The Apocalypticon ~ A-holes, drugs, Google, Russia, Swiss dry, Australia, wannabe warlords


Veteran journalist Bob Woodward has written about every US president since Richard Nixon — That makes nine in total. But in all his years covering politics, he has never encountered a president like President Trump.
Woodward’s latest work, Fear: Trump in the White House, paints a portrait of Trump as uninformed and mercurial [but hasn’t any news coverage about Trump in the last decade done the same thing?].

Hey look, an A-hole who isn’t Trump for a change!

So-called human hikes drugs prices, citing the ‘moral imperative’ do make big profits! The chief executive of a small pharmaceutical company defended hiking the price of an essential antibiotic by more than 400% and told the Financial Times that he thinks “it is a moral requirement to make money when you can.”
His father’s head — A man is suing a cryonics firm for allegedly not respecting his late father’s wishes – or contract – to have his entire body cryogenically preserved. Instead, the firm severed and stored the man’s head, sending his cremated remains to his son. [There’s just no come-back from that.]
Amazon’s skrillionaire founder Jeff Bezos ‘helps’ homeless — Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie have announced a US$2 billion philanthropic effort aimed at helping homeless families and starting preschools in low-income communities. [OK, I might be cynical – OK, I am cynical – but part of me thinks he’s realised his slave about force might die out otherwise. Once those robots fully come on stream  though, it will be a different story.]
Teens would rather text people than talk to them —A new poll of 1141 teenagers showed they prefer to text their friends than talk in person. The findings come from Common Sense Media’s 2018 Social Media, Social Life survey.
Only 15% of teens said Facebook was their main social media site, down from 68% in 2012 [ha ha, Zuckerberg!]. Snapchat is now the main site for 41% of teenagers, followed by Instagram at 22%. In addition, this year’s survey saw texting (35%) surpass in-person (32%) as teens’ favourite way to communicate with friends. In 2012, 49% preferred to communicate in person, versus 33% who preferred texting.

Google has complied with Russian order to take down opposition leader’s YouTube ads — Google took down a series of YouTube ads for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny before a vote for regional governors on Sunday and amid protests over President Vladimir Putin’s plans to raise the retirement age for state pensions. [Coz, you know, freedom and all that …]
I feel so calm … but I am dying from bacterial infections: A common antidepressant, sold under the brand name Prozac, could be helping some bacteria build resistance to antibiotics, suggests a new study from Australia. The study found that fluoxetine was capable of inducing antibiotic resistance in laboratory strains of Escherichia coli.
Swiss cows high and dry — For centuries, between late May and early October, dairy farmers have been bringing their cows up to graze in the high mountain pastures. But this summer, because of a severe drought in July and August, cows grazing in mountain pastures haven’t had enough to drink. So water has been delivered to them.

Oh, good lord, is there any good news? Maybe: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef appears to be showing signs of recovery after a massive coral bleaching event in 2016 and 2017.
The nonprofit Reef & Rainforest Research Centre has reported signs of recovery due to a milder 2017-18 summer, as well as cooperation among science, industry, and government in supporting the reef’s recovery, according to the report issued by the Queensland State Government.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Warlord wannabes may have taken over the supermarkets to control food supply, but this won’t help anybody. Why anyone’s first thought might be ‘what advantage can I take from this disaster?’ is anyone’s guess, but it certainly happens. Anyone smart or able enough won’t go anywhere near wannabe warlords anyway, unless they’re desperate. Besides, with money worthless, what will you have to trade with these types that’s worth anything? If something is worth trading, most likely you’ll need it yourself. “

Futurology ~ SETI outbursts, Saturn’s vortex, balloon beams, new Ark, sharp Antarctica, plastic capture, Volvo blanket, retorted-futurist vision, monkey children


Toddlers between 12 to 24 months use nearly 90% of the same gestures employed by juvenile and adult chimps, including hugging, jumping, stomping and throwing objects.

SETI detects many more radio bursts — Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley’s SETI Research Center Breakthrough Listen team have deployed new neural net technology to help analyse the reams of data they’ve collected – and quickly discovered a set of mysterious, as-of-yet unexplained fast radio bursts from a distant galaxy.
Fast radio bursts are fast, enormously energetic pulses originating from galaxies far away that are currently poorly understood by scientists. Theories explaining their origin include that they are caused by polarised waves travelling through strong magnetic fields in dense plasma (such as from a neutron star in the cosmic neighbourhood of a galactic core’s supermassive black hole or within dense, magnetised nebulas). Other, wilder explanations have included dark matter or powerful alien transmitters.
~ Bzzt, crackle, Humans, keep away! Keep away!

Saturn’s hexagonal vortex just gets weirder — A new study shows there’s another hexagon directly on top of the first one – and that’s weird.
Saturn’s hexagon has remained visible to any probe that’s visited the planet, including Voyager, Hubble and Cassini, though its structure is something of a mystery. In 2016, astronomers noticed that the hexagon had changed in hue, from blue to gold. New observations continue to show that there’s a lot that scientists don’t know about Saturn and its hexagon.
~ Maybe it’s a Space Elevator?

Alphabet’s Loon Balloons beamed the internet almost 1000kms — Loon, the former Google X project and now independent Alphabet company, has developed an antenna system that could create a far greater ground coverage than previously possible. Each of its balloons, from 20km (12.4 miles) above earth, can cover an area of about 80km (49.7 miles) in diameter and serve about 1000 users on the ground using an LTE connection. However, Loon balloons need a backhaul connection from an access point on the ground and without that connection the balloons can’t provide connectivity to users on the ground. But the company has revealed it had sent data across a network of seven balloons from a single ground connection spanning a distance of 1000 kilometres, or about 621 miles.
~ But are the balloons made of plastic? 

Noah’s new Ark — An international consortium involving over 50 institutions has announced an ambitious project to assemble high-quality genome sequences of all 66,000 vertebrate species on Earth, including all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. With an estimated total cost of US$600 million dollars, it’s a project of biblical proportions. It’s called the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), and it’s being organized by a consortium called Genome 10K, or G10K. As its name implies, this group had initially planned to sequence the genomes of at least 10,000 vertebrate species, but now, owing to tremendous advances and cost reductions in gene sequencing technologies, G10K has decided to up the ante, aiming to sequence both a male and female individual from each of the approximately 66,000 vertebrate species on Earth.
~ That’s quite a covenant.

US Defence funds tooth phone — A new communication device that is supposed to go inside military service members’ heads gives us a hint at the sort of technology a new US Defence Department accelerator program is funding.
Former US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter created the Defence Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in 2015 with the mission of helping the military industrial complex catch up to the speed of Silicon Valley, especially with the development of drones, communication systems and cybersecurity.
~ Getting Smart.

Very sharp Antarctica map — A map just released by a consortium of ice researchers — is the very first version of the Reference Elevation Model of Antarctica (REMA), a National Science Foundation-funded initiative to produce the highest quality digital surface models of Earth’s largest slab of ice.
~ And the details will just melt away …

Boom goes to work collecting ocean plastic — A nonprofit has deployed a multimillion-dollar floating boom designed to corral plastic debris littering the Pacific Ocean. The 2000-foot-long structure left San Francisco Bay on Saturday. According to The New York Times, Ocean Cleanup “aims to trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic during the boom’s first year at sea.”
~ And I bet the bloody thing is made of plastic!

Volvo’s safety blanket — Last week Volvo introduced an autonomous, electric concept car called the 360c that included “a special safety blanket” for when you were horizontal and sleeping. Really!
The blanket is an attempt to solve one of the more vexing issues that engineers of autonomous cars will face in the upcoming years: how to secure passengers in Level 5 vehicles who are sleeping.
~ Or, you know, people could just take a blanket. 

Retro-futurist vision of now — The 14 February 1975 edition of the Courier-Express newspaper from Dubois, Pennsylvania included a story by two Year 6 students, Rob Guthrie and Bob Mulhollan. The two men, Rob and Bob, would be 56 years old if they’re still alive. And their predictions are pretty damn cute. Their vision included paper clothes, glass boots and four jet packs. Their diet consisted of spaghetti, venison, vanilla and chocolate milkshakes and 100 Hunkies, all compacted into 3 capsules, to be taken daily.
~ Yeah, everyone enjoys munching capsules … oh, is that what the opioid epidemic is all about? 

Chimp and human children share an unspoken language — A  new study shows there’s a significant amount of overlap between the gestures employed by human children and those made by other ape species, a finding that’s casting new light on the origin of primate communication.
~ Toddlers between 12 to 24 months use nearly 90% of the same gestures employed by juvenile and adult chimps, including hugging, jumping, stomping and throwing objects.

iPhone Xr … ‘affordable’ takes on an expensive new meaning!


Apple’s iPhone Xr is the ‘cheaper’ of the three new iPhones announced today — It has an all-new Liquid Retina display: “the most advanced LCD in the industry. Even faster Face ID. The smartest, most powerful chip in a smartphone. And a breakthrough camera system. iPhone XR. It’s beautiful any way you look at it.”
It comes in six colours: white, black, blue yellow, ‘coral’ and (Product)RED.

You can pre-order this model from 19th October and it’s available from the 26th. It will cost NZ$1399 for the 64GB model, and then it climbs from there … $1499 for the 256GB, and $1699 for the 256GB.

Apple Watch Series 4: Beautifully redesigned with breakthrough communication, fitness and health capabilities


Apple’s New Zealand press release for the Apple Watch 4 — Featuring a Stunning New Display, Electrocardiogram and Fall Detection:
Apple today introduced Apple Watch Series 4, redesigned and re-engineered to help users stay connected, be more active and manage their health in powerful new ways. While retaining the original iconic design, the fourth-generation Apple Watch has been refined, combining new hardware and software enhancements into a genuinely singular, unified form. The stunning display is over 30 percent larger and seamlessly integrates into the thinner, smaller case, while the new interface provides more information with richer detail. Apple Watch Series 4 with watchOS 5 brings advanced activity and communications features, along with revolutionary health capabilities, including an improved accelerometer and gyroscope, which are able to detect hard falls, and an electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using the new ECG app,(1) which has been granted a De Novo classification by the FDA.
“We’re thrilled Apple Watch has become an essential part of peoples’ lives,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “The completely redesigned Apple Watch Series 4 continues to be an indispensable communication and fitness companion, and now with the addition of groundbreaking features, like fall detection and the first-ever ECG app offered directly to consumers, it also becomes an intelligent guardian for your health.”
Beginning Friday 14, September, Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) will be available to order in 26 countries and territories, and Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular) will be available to order in 16 countries and territories. Apple Watch Series 4 will be available in stores beginning Friday 21, September.

Design — Apple Watch Series 4 is more than an evolution — it represents a fundamental redesign and re-engineering of Apple Watch. It’s offered in two sizes, 40mm and 44mm. The speaker is 50 percent louder, optimised for phone calls, Siri and Walkie-Talkie, and the microphone has been relocated, to reduce echo for better sound quality. The device includes the next-generation S4 chip with a custom 64-bit dual-core processor, delivering twice the speed while maintaining the same all-day battery life.(2)
The Digital Crown now includes haptic feedback, offering a more mechanical and responsive feel through the sensation of incremental clicks.
The user interface is optimised for the larger display, allowing for app icons and fonts that are bigger and easier to read, while complications have been beautifully enhanced to be more precise and informative. New watch faces take full advantage of the Series 4 display, from the endlessly customisable Infograph face, to the Breathe face, where the animation is timed around a deep breath. Additionally, a suite of motion faces, including Vapour, Liquid Metal, Fire and Water react uniquely with the curved edges of the case.

Health — Apple Watch Series 4 enables customers to take an ECG reading right from the wrist using the new ECG app, which takes advantage of the electrodes built into the Digital Crown and new electrical heart rate sensor in the back crystal. With the app, users touch the Digital Crown and after 30 seconds, receive a heart rhythm classification. It can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), a heart condition that could lead to major health complications. All recordings, their associated classifications and any noted symptoms are stored in the Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians.
With watchOS 5, Apple Watch intermittently analyses heart rhythms in the background and sends a notification if an irregular heart rhythm suggestive of AFib is detected.(3) It can also alert the user if the heart rate exceeds or falls below a specified threshold.
Fall detection utilises a next-generation accelerometer and gyroscope, which measures up to 32 g-forces, along with custom algorithms to identify when hard falls occur. By analysing wrist trajectory and impact acceleration, Apple Watch sends the user an alert after a fall, which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services. If Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds after the notification, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message along with location to emergency contacts.

Fitness — With watchOS 5, Apple Watch becomes an even better fitness and workout companion. Activity competitions allow users to challenge other Apple Watch wearers, automatic workout detection provides an alert to start a workout while giving retroactive credit, and Yoga and Hiking are new dedicated workout types that accurately track active calories burned and exercise minutes earned. Running enthusiasts can take advantage of extended battery life — which is increased to six hours — for outdoor workouts and enjoy high-performance features, including cadence for indoor and outdoor runs, pace alerts for outdoor runs and rolling kilometre pace, which shows pace for the immediately preceding kilometre.(2)

Staying Connected — Customers can reach their friends with just a tap of the wrist with Walkie-Talkie, a watch-to-watch connection that is an entirely new way to communicate around the world over Wi-Fi or cellular.(4) The Siri watch face is more predictive and proactive, offering shortcuts and actionable content from favourite third-party apps. watchOS 5 also lets users listen to their favourite podcasts on the go with Apple Podcasts on Apple Watch, and stream any podcast in the catalog by using Siri. With Apple Watch Series 4, enriched complications offer a more detailed view of helpful third-party apps like Dexcom, which allows for continuous glucose monitoring, or Streaks, which shows daily progress on tasks.

Apple Watch Line-Up — Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) starts at RRP NZ$699 inc. GST and features the updated design and new health capabilities. Series 3 will be available at the new starting price of RRP NZ$479 inc. GST, making it even more accessible to customers. Apple Watch Series 4 comes in three aluminium finishes anodised in silver, gold and space grey. A new collection of bands debut for autumn and all bands continue to work with any generation of Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Nike+ remains a customer favourite and the new collection features redesigned Nike watch faces that match the new band colours, including a Pure Platinum/Black Sport Band and a Summit White Sport Loop with reflective yarn.

Pricing and Availability — Customers will be able to order Apple Watch Series 4 (GPS) beginning Friday 14, September, with availability beginning Friday 21, September, in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UAE, UK, US and US Virgin Islands.
• Apple Watch Nike+ will be available to order on apple.com/nz and in the Apple Store app, beginning Friday 14, September, in select countries, with limited availability beginning on Friday 5, October in Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Macau, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UAE, UK and US. For more information, visit apple.com/nz/apple-watch-nike or nike.com/applewatch.
• New Apple Watch bands will be available to order on apple.com/nz and in the Apple Store app, beginning Friday 14, September, with availability beginning Friday 21, September at Apple Authorised Resellers and carriers in the US and over 35 countries and regions.
• Customers who buy Apple Watch from Apple will be offered free Personal Setup online,(5) to help set up and personalise their new Apple Watch with calendars, notifications, apps and more.

(1) ECG app coming later this year (US only).
(2) Battery life depends on use and configuration.
(3) Irregular rhythm notification coming later this year (US only).
(4) Walkie-Talkie is not available in China, Pakistan or the UAE.
(5) In most countries.

iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max bring the best and biggest displays to iPhone


Apple’s press release for the new iPhone XS and XS Max — Most Advanced iPhone Ever Features a 5.8-Inch and 6.5-Inch All-Screen Design, with Powerful A12 Bionic Chip and a Breakthrough Dual Camera System:
Apple today announced iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max, the most advanced iPhones ever, taking the vision for the future of the smartphone to a new level. The 5.8-inch iPhone Xs and 6.5-inch iPhone Xs Max feature stunning Super Retina displays, a faster and improved dual camera system that offers breakthrough photo and video features, the first 7-nanometer chip in a smartphone — the A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine — faster Face ID, wider stereo sound, a beautiful new gold finish and introduce Dual SIM to iPhone. iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max will be available for pre-order beginning Friday, 14 September and in stores beginning Friday, 21 September.
“iPhone Xs is packed with next-generation technologies and is a huge step forward for the future of the smartphone. Everything is state of the art including the industry-first 7-nanometer A12 Bionic chip with 8-core Neural Engine, faster Face ID and an advanced dual camera system that shoots Portrait mode photos with Smart HDR and dynamic depth of field,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “iPhone Xs is not one, but two new iPhone models, and iPhone Xs Max offers the biggest display ever in an iPhone with the biggest battery ever in an iPhone, delivering up to an hour and a half more battery life in your day.”

Two All-Screen Designs — iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max build on the all-screen design of iPhone X and feature the sharpest displays with the highest pixel density of any Apple device. Now offered in 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch sizes,1 these Super Retina displays with a custom OLED design support Dolby Vision and HDR10 and have iOS system-wide colour management for the best colour accuracy in the industry. iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max offer a million-to-one contrast ratio with remarkable brightness and true blacks while showing 60 percent greater dynamic range in HDR photos. iPhone Xs Max delivers a more immersive experience with over 3 million pixels for videos, movies and games, offering the largest display ever in an iPhone in a footprint similar to iPhone 8 Plus.
A surgical grade stainless steel band now in gold joins finishes in silver and space grey. Wider stereo playback creates a more immersive soundstage. The front and back glass design features the most durable glass ever in a smartphone with improved scratch resistance, while the glass back enables faster wireless charging. iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max reach a new level of splash and water resistance of IP68 for up to 2 metres for 30 minutes and protect against everyday spills including coffee, tea and soft drinks.2

A12 Bionic and Next-Generation Neural Engine — The Apple-designed A12 Bionic, the smartest and most powerful chip in a smartphone, features the first 7-nanometer chip ever in a smartphone that delivers industry-leading performance in a more power-efficient design. A12 Bionic features a six-core fusion architecture with two performance cores that are up to 15 percent faster, four efficiency cores that are up to 50 percent more efficient, a four-core GPU that is up to 50 percent faster, powerful Apple-designed Image Signal Processor (ISP), video encoder and more. A fast storage controller can deliver iPhone storage up to 512GB. All of this unlocks new experiences for games, photography, video editing and graphics-intensive apps. Even with all this power, iPhone Xs offers 30 minutes longer than iPhone X, and iPhone Xs Max offers an hour and a half longer than iPhone X, between charges.
The next-generation Neural Engine is built for advanced machine learning in everything from photography to augmented reality. A new eight-core design allows it to complete up to 5 trillion operations per second compared to 600 billion in A11 Bionic. This enables new capabilities like faster plane detection for ARKit and new features that use real-time machine learning. For the first time the Neural Engine is open to Core ML, empowering developers to build apps that utilise this highly efficient machine learning engine. Core ML running on the A12 Bionic Neural Engine is up to nine times faster than on A11 Bionic, with as little as one-tenth the energy usage.

Breakthrough 12MP Dual Camera System — iPhone Xs continues to bring innovations to photography, things not possible before iPhone. Capabilities like advanced depth segmentation using the Neural Engine, Smart HDR creating photos with high dynamic range and great image detail, advanced bokeh quality in Portrait mode photos and dynamic depth of field that is user adjustable in the Photos app, are all huge improvements in state-of-the-art photographic techniques that everyone can use.
The 12-megapixel dual camera system features dual optical image stabilisation with 2x optical zoom, while a new sensor is twice as fast. Smart HDR creates photos with more highlights and shadow detail. Larger and deeper pixels improve image fidelity and low-light performance.
Advanced depth segmentation in Portrait mode enables more sophisticated portraits with professional-level bokeh. New Depth Control allows users to dynamically adjust the depth of field in the Photos app both in real-time preview3 and post-capture to create portraits with a beautiful background blur. Portrait mode with Depth Control is also available on the TrueDepth camera for selfies, which includes Memoji and faster face tracking support for third-party ARKit apps.
iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max deliver the highest quality video capture in a smartphone. The larger pixels and larger, faster sensor enable improved low-light performance and video stabilisation, as well as extended dynamic range for more highlight and shadow detail in video modes up to 30 frames per second. Using the four built-in mics, users can also record stereo sound to get the most out of video recordings.

Advanced Technologies — Face ID, the most secure facial authentication system ever in a smartphone, is now even faster. The TrueDepth camera system uses precision depth-sensing technology that goes far beyond the capabilities and security of two-dimensional facial scanners and enables users to unlock iPhone, use Apple Pay, gain access to secure apps and many more features with a simple glance.
iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max introduce Gigabit-class LTE for even faster download speeds4 and Dual SIM5 through the use of a nano-SIM and digital eSIM.

Featuring iOS 12 — iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max come with iOS 12, the world’s most advanced mobile operating system. iOS 12 introduces new AR experiences, helps people rediscover and share photos, and makes communications more expressive and fun with new Animoji and Memoji. Screen Time helps customers understand and take control of the time they spend interacting with their iOS devices, Siri Shortcuts give any app the ability to work with Siri and new privacy features help protect users from being tracked on the web.

Pricing and Availability — iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max will be available in 64GB, 256GB and 512GB capacity models in space grey, silver and a new gold finish starting at RRP NZ$1899 inc.GST (64GB) and NZ$2099 inc. GST (64gGB), respectively, from apple.com/nz, in the Apple Store app and is also available through Apple Authorised Resellers and select carriers (prices may vary).
Customers will be able to pre-order iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max beginning Friday, 14 September, with availability beginning Friday, 21 September, in more than 30 countries and territories including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UAE, UK, US and US Virgin Islands.
iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max will be available in more than 25 countries and territories including Andorra, Armenia, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, India, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and South Africa beginning Friday, 28 September.
Apple-designed accessories including leather and silicone cases in a range of colours will be available starting at RRP NZ$75 inc. GST (silicon), while the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max Leather Folio will be available starting at NZ$199 inc. GST.
Every customer who buys iPhone Xs or iPhone Xs Max from Apple will be offered free Personal Setup online to help them customise their iPhone by setting up email, showing them new apps from the App Store and more.

1 The display has rounded corners that follow a beautiful curved design, and these corners are within a standard rectangle. When measured as a standard rectangular shape, the screen is 5.85 inches (iPhone Xs) and 6.46 inches (iPhone Xs Max) diagonally. Actual viewable area is less.
2 iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max are splash-, water- and dust-resistant, and were tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP68 under IEC standard 60529 (maximum depth of 2 metres up to 30 minutes). Splash, water and dust resistance are not permanent conditions, and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. Do not attempt to charge a wet iPhone; refer to the user guide for cleaning and drying instructions. Liquid damage not covered under warranty.
3 Real-time preview in Depth Control will be available via a free software update later this spring.
4 Speeds vary based on site conditions and carrier. For details on LTE support, contact your carrier and see apple.com/nz/iphone/LTE.
5 Dual SIM support will be available via a free software update later this spring. Use of Dual SIM requires two wireless service plans (which may include restrictions on roaming). Certain restrictions apply to use.

The Apocalypticon ~ Flights of disfancy, loneliness bots, bad oil, machines, algorithms, IBM surveillance, cats and more


Scary flights — A flight that had left Dubai in the United Arab Emirates landed at JFK International Airport in New York on September 5th with 549 passengers and crew on board. It was promptly quarantined due to a mysterious ailment spreading throughout the cabin. In the neighbourhood of 100 people on board showed symptoms including coughing, fever and vomiting, though only 11 ended up being taken to hospitals for evaluation. And one of those passengers was Vanilla Ice! [Actually, his real name is ‘Robert Matthew Van Winkle’ – why did he even want a stage name?] But we still don’t really know what that illness was …
Talking about ice — Since it snapped off the Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017, the trillion-tonne iceberg known as A68 has spent most of its time stuck in the mud. Now, new satellite data reveals that the ‘berg made its biggest move yet over the austral winter — a dramatic counterclockwise rotation that shows no signs of stopping.
Flights of fancy — President Trump, who was bombarded with negative news cycles last month, naturally turned to Twitter, venting frustrations and dismissing an increasingly wide variety of things he doesn’t like as “fake” or “phony.” [I hereby coin Megamaniacal’. Thank you.]
And, this time from Huawei — UL, the company behind the tablet and phone performance benchmark app 3DMark, has delisted new Huawei phones from its Best Smartphone leaderboard after AnandTech discovered the phone maker was boosting its performance to ace the app’s test

Australia does not actually have Free Speech — That’s right. Many Australians don’t appear to realise free speech is not a legal right they hold. [Although the right, apparently, to be terrified of a few desperate refugees remains unassailable.]
Oh, you think I hold a grudge? We humans are masters of resentment. This characteristic can be traced back the beginnings of recorded history. Feuds seem to be an indelible aspect of the human condition, but why should this be? Gizmodo spoke to the experts to find out why we love to hold a grudge, and the importance of letting go.
But there are loneliness bots — Internet-connected robots that can stream audio and video are increasingly helping housebound sick children and elderly people keep in touch with teachers, family and friends, combating the scourge of isolation and loneliness. [Soon we’ll be saying ‘there’s a bot for that’ …]

Speaking of machines … At its 60th anniversary conference on Friday, DARPA announced a $2 billion investment to push the frontier of AI forward. DARPA’s investment will focus on creating systems with common sense, contextual awareness and better energy efficiency. Advances could help the government automate security clearances, accredit software systems and make AI systems that explain themselves. [All the better to kill us with.]
And most of us don’t understand algorithms — just to make it worse, algorithms beget ever more algorithms, just to make it that much harder.
Trust them? Sure … Nearly three-quarters of American Facebook users have changed how they use the social media app in the past year, following a barrage of scandals involving the abuse of personal data, foreign interference in US elections and the spread of hateful or harassing content on the platform. One in four Americans have deleted it altogether.
IBM surveillance targets skin colour — Just when you were thinking things couldn’t get worse [I know, no one ever thinks that], three months after the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Amazon provided facial recognition technology to local law enforcement, a new report by The Intercept says IBM has collaborated with the New York City Police Department to develop a system that allowed officials to search for people by skin colour, hair colour, gender, age, and various facial features. [In other words, a system to do cop discrimination for the cops.]

The bad oil — Roughly 45% of an average American’s calories come from refined oils. Consuming too much plant-based oil can result in fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines. Here’s what’s best and worst.
And your cat may hate you — or at least be, pretty justifiably, just be really scared of you.
But can we solve the refugee crisis? Der Spiegel thinks so … maybe

Futurology ~ Faster than light, big weird hexagon, robot-crossing, wooden city, biggest wind, fighting’ bacteria, retro-futurist EV, massive cat prints


The weird hexagon swirling around Saturn’s north pole is much taller than scientists had thought.

Discovery of apparent faster-than-light emissions solves neutrino star mystery — Observations revealed GW170817 radio emissions appeared to move four times faster than the speed of light. But that’s not an error – it’s an illusion seen when jets of particles moving at nearly light speed are travelling indirectly towards Earth.
~ That’s a shame: 4x faster would suggest we could end up travelling the universe after all, seeding it with plastic waste and inequality. 

The search for extraterrestrial life may ramp up soon — A new consensus study report, authored by the National Academies of Sciences, highlights several strategic priorities that, if implemented, will go a long way in ensuring that scientists have the resources they need to study exoplanets (planets in orbit around other stars).
~ [See comment, above …]

The weird hexagon swirling around Saturn’s north pole is much taller than scientists had thought — Researchers have generally regarded the 32,000 kilometres (20,000 miles) wide hexagon, which is a jet stream composed of air moving at about 320 kph (200 mph), as a lower-atmosphere phenomenon, restricted to the clouds of Saturn’s troposphere. But the bizarre structure actually extends about 300 kms (180 miles) above those cloud tops, up into the stratosphere, at least during the northern spring and summer, a new study suggests.
~ It’s even super weirder, then. 

Japan to test mini Space Elevator — A Japanese team is testing a small prototype space elevator. It isn’t the fantastical, many-kilometre-long cable of science fiction, but it demonstrates that at least someone is serious about this tech.
Two ultra-small cubic satellites developed by Shizuoka University Faculty of Engineering will be used. Each satellite measures 10 centimeters each side, and a roughly 10-meter-long steel cable will be employed to connect the twin satellites. The pair of satellites will be released from the International Space Station (ISS), and a container acting like an elevator car will be moved on a cable connecting the satellites using a motor. A camera attached to the satellites will record the movements of the container in space.
~ If you ask me, it’s a Space Flying Fox. 

Robot boat crossed Atlantic — For the first time an autonomous sailing robot has completed the Microtransat Challenge by crossing the Atlantic from Newfoundland, Canada to Ireland, uh, Ireland. The Microtransat has been running since 2010 and has seen 23 previous entries all fail to make it across. The successful boat, SB Met was built by the Norwegian company Offshore Sensing AS and is only 2 metres (6.5 ft) long. It completed the crossing on August 26th, 79 days and 5000 km (3100 miles) of sailing after departing Newfoundland on June 7th.
~ Well, would a robot want to do this? What would Joanna Russ say?

Swedish wooden city of towers — Constructed from cross-laminated timber (CLT), 31 towers could rise above a Stockholm development, as proposed by Anders Berensson Architects. The self-contained city blocks would contain 3000 homes and 30 restaurants.
~ So, ‘wood blocks’ …

Biggest wind farm — The world’s largest offshore wind farm has opened off the northwest coast of England. The wind farm has a capacity of 659 megawatts (MW), enough to power almost 600,000 homes, and overtakes the London Array off England’s east cost which has a capacity of 630MW.
The Walney Extension (as it is called) is made up of 87 turbines built by Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas, and covers 145 square kilometres (55 square miles), or around 20,000 football pitches.
~ Will yachties worry it’s stealing their wind, though?

‘Predatory Bacteria’ might be enlisted in defence against antibiotic resistance — Lab studies show that predatory bacteria will attack all sorts of nasties, including bacterial lung infections, the plague and deadly germs that have developed resistance to antibiotics. The star of this show is an organism called Bdellovibrio, a bacterium that swims around with the aid of a corkscrew tail, and attacks common germs six times its size.
~ We all applaud Bdellovibrio! Hurrah!

Retro-futurist EV for now-ish — Normally, when you think of Kalashnikov, you likely think of guns, especially the famous AK-47 assault rifle. But the Russian arms company now has its sights squarely set at Tesla with its new electric car prototype, the CV-1.
Hilariously and delightfully, the car appears to have the body of a 1970s Moskovitch.
~ Big plus is that buying one of these doesn’t put any money into the pocket of that techno-twat Elon Musk. Downside is, of course, your money goes to a weapons company with several million deaths at its hands, in a country run by a reptilian dictator. Choices, hey? Still, it looks cooler, to me. 

First known footprints of elusive Sabre-Toothed Cat — At least 10,000 years ago, during the Late Pleistocene, a sabre-toothed cat prowled the Miramar area of Argentina, and was nice enough to leave behind some fossilised tracks.
The prints were discovered, not far from the city’s commercial center, in September 2015 by researchers from the local Punta Hermengo Municipal Museum. The scale of the prints – about 7.5 inches in diameter, significantly larger than even the biggest left by modern lions – suggested that they were left by Smilodon populator, a species of sabre-toothed cat known, from fossilised bones, to have lived in the region.
~ Probably shouldn’t be relieved that there are none around, but can’t help it. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Capitalism over, data, disease, climate, guns, funs and hell


How many days do Americans waste commuting? Too many! (Red is the worst, at 56-77 days!)

Another week, another slew of terrors — Capitalism as we know it is over, or so suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. [Bull, you say? Maybe we’re just over capitalism.] Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. [I’m starting to wish I lived in uninteresting times.]
Just to get you in the mood: 9 movies about AI becoming self aware and killing us.

Talking about data — The voting records of some 14.8 million Texas residents were left exposed online and eventually got discovered by a data breach hunter in New Zealand. [Gotta love the ’net.]
MacAfee’s ‘unhackable’ storage was … hacked. Yep, computer programmer John McAfee released “the world’s first un-hackable storage for cryptocurrency & digital assets”, a US$120 device called the Bitfi wallet, that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage. McAfee was so sure of its security that it launched with a bug bounty inviting researchers to try and hack the wallet in return for a $250,000 award. Lo and behold, a researcher by the name of Andrew Tierney managed to hack the wallet, but … Bitfi declined to pay out!
Facebook and the Myanmar genocide — Facebook announced it has banned several members of the Myanmar military and organisations that were named by the United Nations as complicit in the genocide. Way too slowly to do any good, of course.
LinkedIn spying — The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down. [How will this look on your resumé?]
India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — And US tech companies are helping.
What’s Crap? Is OK, I will tell you: WhatsApp users on Android will be able to back up their messages to Google Drive for free and it won’t count towards Google Drive storage quotas … yay! But, as WhatsApp warns, those messages will no longer be protected by end-to-end encryption. Boo.
Trump spits Google dummy — President Trump says Google search results for ‘Trump News’ show only negative coverage about him. [Jeeze, can’t work out why … must be a plot.] A few hours later, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government. [Lol. Yeah, that’s exactly what Goebbels would have wanted.]

How many days do Americans waste commuting?  Educated Driver used Census Bureau data on average daily roundtrip commute times in hundreds of cities across the US to calculate how much time Americans spend traveling to and from work over the course of their lives, assuming a 45-year career working 250 days a year.
Speaking of Americans, who got Cohen’s $50-thou? Cohen seems to have been a very busy boy, with legal documents showing he made a $US50,000 ($68,560) payment to an unidentified “technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” The unknown payment suggests Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off people Trump had been bonking on the side.
Amid mounting acrimony with NATO, Russia’s military has announced plans to hold its “biggest exercises since 1981.” The country’s defence ministry says the massive exercise will involve some 300,000 Russian troops, more than 1000 aircraft plus the participation of some Chinese and Mongolian units.

On health — In a dangerous twist to Ebola, outbreaks are starting to crop up in distant areas. It could already be the worst outbreak to date.
Store-bought chicken could be causing UTIs — A new study published in mBio suggest urinary tract infections could be coming from Escherichia coli bacteria transmitted via poultry.
China withholds flu data — For over a year, the Chinese government has withheld lab samples of a rapidly evolving influenza virus from scientists in the United States. Specimens are needed to develop vaccines and treatments, according to federal health officials talking to The New York Times.
Pollution sapping our nutrients — According to new research, rising carbon dioxide levels will sap some of the nutrients from our crops and lead to dietary deficiencies in millions of humans. In 2014, field trials of common food crops including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans showed that as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, the levels of iron, zinc and protein decreased in the dietary staples by 3 to 17%. This could have a big impact in poorer nations.

Climate — We’re living in hell. The image above, created by NASA’s Earth Observatory, has red representing soot, purple showing dust, and blue for sea salt. Central Africa is awash in smoke from farmers clearing land for crops. And those little glowing specks across China, the eastern US, India and Europe are cities where air pollution from cars and buildings is strong enough to create a clear signal to satellites.
Air pollution is making us stupid — Air pollution causes a ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. [Ah, weren’t we stupid to create air pollution in the first place?] High pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
Japan to get a ‘most powerful’ storm — A dangerous super typhoon currently packing 274km/h winds could make landfall in Japan shortly. [Jebi nights.]
Sea level rise may seem like a far-off threat — But a growing number of new studies, including one out this week, shows that real estate markets have already started responding to increased flooding risks by reducing prices of vulnerable homes. [Aw, sucks to be you, right?]

On the lighter side — Police officers in Paraguay found that at least 42 of their battle rifles had been stolen from their armoury and replaced with toy replicas. It’s unclear if a flag with the word BANG! written on it popped out of the barrels.
Adopting Mediterranean diet in old age can prolong life, a new study suggests. The diet is typically said to be rich in fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil and fruit. [So that’s my secret?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Water absorption by the human body happens pretty fast – within five minutes of entering your mouth, it’s starting to filter into your bloodstream, with peak absorption hitting at around 20 minutes – but water at body temperature is absorbed more slowly than cold water, in case you were wondering why we instinctively prefer cooler water when we’re thirsty. “

Futurology ~ Ultima Thule, small reactors, field flip, tiny nukes, tiny accelerator, 2D ice, tiny skull tunnels, hidden reef, science of highs


Earth’s magnetic field flipped before, and it only took two centuries

Mysterious Ultima Thule snapped — Though it’s still 172 million kms from its target, the New Horizons spacecraft has caught a first glimpse of Ultima Thule, a mysterious Kuiper Belt object.
With Pluto now firmly in its rearview mirror, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is steadily chugging towards Ultima Thule. The Kuiper Belt object is located, on average, about 44 AU from the Sun (one AU is the average distance of the Earth to the Sun). By comparison, Pluto’s orbit is around 33.63 AU.
~ Wow, a photograph of a 30km-wide object located 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth.

Bill Gates and ‘small’ nuclear reactors — The Energy Department is participating in a major push with electric utility Southern and a company founded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates (called TerraPower) to develop small nuclear power reactors that are less expensive and more efficient than their much larger cousins.
~ What could possibly go wrong? ‘Installing Critical Security Patch’ … I prefer ‘TerrorPower’ to ‘TerraPower’, myself. 

Earth’s magnetic field flipped — A new study analysing rock formations from 107,000 to 91,000 years ago has revealed something troubling: a strangely quick reversal (over about 200 years) of the Earth’s magnetic field in fairly recent history. Such a rapid polarity change in future could severely affect satellites and human society.
~ But will New Zealand’s Winterless North get winter? Oh no! 

Little tiny electron acceleration — Particle physics experiments are huge—they have to be, in order to accelerate particles with enough energy to properly study them. The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is nearly 27km around, while others are closer to the 3km range. But scientists working on a new experiment reported Wednesday that they’ve accelerated electrons to high energies in just 10.06m.
~ Thanks to the rather beautifully-named Wakefield Accelerator. 

Nano-tube water shaping — First, according to Rice University engineers, get a nanotube hole. Then insert water. If the nanotube is just the right width, the water molecules will align into a square rod. Rice materials scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari and his team used molecular models to demonstrate their theory that weak van der Waals forces between the inner surface of the nanotube and the water molecules are strong enough to snap the oxygen and hydrogen atoms into place. Shahsavari referred to the contents as two-dimensional “ice,” because the molecules freeze regardless of the temperature.
~ Here comes a new generation of molecular machines. 

Tiny brain tunnels — In mice, the newly discovered tunnels, or ‘vascular channels’, allow for the quick transport of immune cells to brain injuries brought on by stroke or other brain disorders. The tunnels were discovered by Matthias Nahrendorf, a professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and his colleagues as they were studying the way bone marrow produces and distributes immune cells throughout the body.
Importantly, the same anatomical features were also found to exist in humans. It’s quite likely that these vascular channels facilitate the same healing function in humans as they do in mice, but future research will be needed to prove it.
~ Well, you have to seed those neutrophils somehow. 

Deep, hidden reef — Little is known about the natural resources of the deep ocean off the United States’ Southeast coast from Virginia to Georgia, so Deep Search 2018 was created to learn more by exploring the deep sea ecosystems. The project, consisting of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the US Geological Survey, is nearing the end of its 15-day voyage aboard the research vessel Atlantis. A pair of dives in a submersible called Alvin confirmed the existence of the deep coral reef; based on observations, researchers estimate the reef is at least 137kms (85 miles) long.
~ It’s 800 metres below the surface. Of course, Trump wants to drill it for oil.