The Apocalypticon ~ Diseases, fragility of China, spawned in the USA, around the world, and some good news


One of the strangest things that can sicken us is a rogue misfolded protein that destroys the brain — But Prion is even scarier than we knew. Researchers were able to find the prions responsible for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), the most common prion disease in people, seeded everywhere in the eyes of 11 patients affected by it.
Rat hepatitis in humans — A 70-year-old Hong Kong woman has contracted the rat-specific version of Hepatitis E, signifying only the second time the disease has been documented in humans. Health officials in China are now scrambling to understand the implications of this disturbing new development.
Don’t eat the Romaine! The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out an unusually strong statement telling Americans to toss any romaine lettuce in any form: whole, chopped, pre-bagged into Caesar salads, combined into spring mix, and so on. The warning covered not just homes but retailers and restaurants, and came with a recommendation to empty any fridge where romaine has been stored, and wash it out with soap and warm water.

Marxists now being persecuted in China — Young people who belong to Marxist groups have recently become the unlikely targets of a state crackdown due to their zeal to help educate and mobilise China’s working class to fight for their rights. [OMG that’s so crazy!]
“As Communists, we should incorporate Marxist classics and principles into our lifestyle and treat Marxism as a spiritual pursuit,” President Xi Jinping said at an event celebrating the bicentennial of Marx’s birth in May … But in August, police arrested more than 50 student activists, many of them members of college Marxist groups.
China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality —  Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalised ratings for each resident.
Former FBI guy advocates retaliatory cyber attacks against China — Louis Freeh, who ran the FBI for almost eight years until 2001, said the threat of criminal charges or jail time would do little to prevent state-sponsored hackers from continuing to steal valuable intellectual property. He reckons targeted cyber attacks and a strong deterrence capability are the most effective way of preventing China and other countries continuing to steal Australian commercial secrets.
The US government is reportedly trying to persuade its foreign allies’ wireless and internet providers to avoid Huawei equipment — Officials have spoken to their counterparts and telecom bosses in Germany, Italy, Japan and other friendly countries where the Chinese company’s equipment is already in use.

Spawned in the USA — James Comey, the former head of the FBI who was fired by President Trump, says he will push back on a subpoena to appear in a closed-door session before the House Judiciary Committee unless he is allowed to testify publicly. “I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions,” Comey tweeted. “But I will resist a ‘closed door’ thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion.”
Americans blame social networks — A new survey from Axios finds that a majority of Americans don’t think social networks are good for the world. [But hey, Facebook delivered the really really best president ever!]
Creepy Facebook patent — A recently published Facebook patent application imagines an unnerving way to use your data. The company filed for a patent that explores piecing together information about a user’s entire household based on the pictures they upload, presumably for targeted advertising. And yes, Instagram photos were also cited in the filing. [I stopped using Instagram  a few weeks back, no regrets.]
US Ground Zero for climate change — The northernmost city in the US continues to be ground zero for the impacts of climate change. As sunlight fades from the Arctic, sea ice began to form this week around Utqiaġvik, an Iñupiat whaling community located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. And that’s not right, as the sea should have been covered in ice weeks ago.
Climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the US, according to a Federal report — and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date. [Oh, wait, Trump can’t here is he still has his head in the sand.]
An emerging, deeply weird conspiracy theory for the Californian fires — This holds that those fires aren’t caused by wind patterns, brutally dry conditions, the worsening effects of climate change, or possible downed power lines, but by a sinister scheme directed by nefarious elements within the government. [Of course! Except the ‘nefarious element’ is the government, starting at the top.]
Rains coming to damp the fires … and may cause another disaster — In what may be the first bit of good news in a while for Northern California, rain could be on the way by the end of this week. It could put the kibosh on the Camp Fire, ending one chapter of the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history.
Unfortunately it won’t be all good news as the rain could trigger mudslides, hamper search and rescue operations, and make the lives of thousands who are homeless miserable.

Around the world — Of course, Trump famously said the Calfornian fires were caused by not raking between trees. So Finns have been making fun of him ever since.
Russian hackers exploit deadly plane crash to go phishing — Security firm Palo Alto Networks has issued a new warning about phishing attacks linked to APT 28, the elite Russian hacking group tied to the 2016 election interference in the United States. The document, sent to myriad targets in North America, Europe, as well as a former Soviet state, was designed to capture the attention of those interested in the Lion Air 737 MAX airline crash in late October, which killed all 189 aboard.
North Korean state media announced the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently oversaw tests of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon.” The new report is extremely light on details, but it’s a reminder that very little has actually changed in the US-North Korea relationship since US president Donald Trump took power. Both countries have nuclear weapons and both are on a hair trigger as they develop new capabilities. [Or have they just figured out how to make rifles out of plastic?]
Sperm whale dies full of plastic cups — A dead whale floated ashore in eastern Indonesia with its stomach full of plastic junk, including 115 plastic cups and two pairs of flip-flops. World Wildlife Fund researchers found roughly 6kg of plastic in the 9.45m long sperm whale, reports the Associated Press. [Presumably the two people wearing the flip-flops didn’t make it.]
Dutch government finds Microsoft collected telemetry data — Microsoft has been accused of breaking EU’s GDPR law by harvesting information through Office 365 and sending it to US servers. The discovery was made by the Dutch government.

And in good news … A US federal judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit against neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer alleging it led a “terror campaign” against a Jewish real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, and the Southern Poverty Law Center tells the New York Times it expects the civil case to now proceed to a trial.
The lawsuit accuses the Daily Stormer and its founder, racist troll Andrew Anglin, of mounting a coordinated harassment campaign against Gersh that eventually resulted in her family receiving over 700 messages including death threats and references to the Holocaust.
And my favourite: Siri pulls up image of an actual dick when asked about Trump — The apparent glitch was reported on Thursday by the Verge, which noted that the error may be the result of some turkey day trickster either editing Trump’s Wikipedia page or attempting to game an algorithm associated with the image Siri pulls up automatically.

Futurology ~ Sibling sun, Earth sucking water, quiet supersonic, no-moving-parts plane, total-body image, Keto diet, new/old microbes, Byzantine art sleuth


Lockheed Martin has officially begun production of its experimental jet capable of flying at supersonic speeds without creating loud supersonic booms

Sun’s long-lost sibling — A nearby star, HD 186302, was almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas the Sun was 4.6 billion years ago. Astronomers have found it has an almost identical chemical composition as the Sun, is on a similar orbit around the Milky Way, and has the same age (within uncertainties). Interestingly, it’s only 184 light years away, implying statistically many more such stars are waiting to be discovered.
~ Hear that, Elon Musk? Maybe it’s time for you to leave us. 

The Earth is sucking up water — The Earth around the Mariana Trench, which contains the deepest point on the planet, could be slurping up at least four times more water than previously estimated, according to new research.
~ This fact does my head in. 

‘Experimental’ Lockheed jet enters production — Lockheed Martin’s X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology aircraft (main picture, above) is officially in “the manufacturing phase,” bringing the company “one step closer to enabling supersonic travel for passengers around the world.” The experimental jet was awarded a contract from NASA earlier this year as it is capable of flying at supersonic speeds without creating loud supersonic booms. Currently, commercial supersonic aircraft are banned from flying over land because of the noise and potential damage the booms may cause.
~ So, it creates quiet supersonic booms? Looks like there’s room for two passengers – and they’ll have to lie down. 

Solid plane flies without moving parts — The first ever ‘solid state’ plane, with no moving parts in its propulsion system, has successfully flown for a distance of 60 metres, proving that heavier-than-air flight is possible without jets or propellers. The flight represents a breakthrough in ‘ionic wind’ technology, which uses a powerful electric field to generate charged nitrogen ions, which are then expelled from the back of the aircraft, generating thrust. Steven Barrett, an aeronautics professor at MIT and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said the inspiration for the project came straight from the science fiction of his childhood.
~ Shh! Don’t tell them about paper darts, kites, gliders and balloons! (And they say Americans don’t understand iony!)

First full-body human scans — EXPLORER, the world’s first medical imaging scanner that can capture a 3-D picture of the whole human body at once, has produced its first scans. The brainchild of UC Davis scientists Simon Cherry and Ramsey Badawi, EXPLORER is a combined positron emission tomography (PET) and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanner that can image the entire body at the same time.
Because the machine captures radiation far more efficiently than other scanners, EXPLORER can produce an image in as little as one second and, over time, produce movies that can track specially tagged drugs as they move around the entire body.
~ I hate it when my drugs get tagged. When is the Council going to do something!?

High-fat, low-carb Keto diet gets critiqued by scientists — Diet fads often make the lofty claim that adjusting food habits one way or another will produce the dieter’s desired results. More specifically: eat this, not that, and watch the kilos fall off. But diets are hard to sustain, and diet debunking is constantly calling into question what and how much we should be eating.
In a review published this week in Science, scientists from diverse backgrounds and research focuses came together to address whether a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet or vice versa was the better option for maintaining good health, as well as whether the specific kinds of fat and carbs mattered.
~ All I know is that too much of any one thing will never be good for you, and the darker the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you. 

Entirely new and bizarre microbes — Canadian scientists have identified microscopic creatures that are so unlike anything seen before, they had to create an entirely new branch on the evolutionary tree of life to slot them in. A new paper published in Nature offers the first genetic analysis of hemimastigotes: a rare and poorly understood group of single-celled microorganisms. Biologists have known about these wee beasties for well over a century, but only now can hemimastigotes be officially slotted into the evolutionary tree of life, a process more formally known as phylogeny. And by doing so, scientists have stumbled upon a completely new branch on the tree of life – one dating back billions of years.
~ They were collected from soil found along the Bluff Wilderness Trail in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Dutch art sleuth finds missing Byzantine mosaic — Art sleuth Arthur Brand, famous in the art world for tracking down works of art thought to be lost or destroyed has delivered one of his greatest finds yet: a 1600-year-old Byzantine-era mosaic of Saint Marks stolen from a Cyprus church after the Turkish invasion in 1974. It was in the possession of a British family, who bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago. They were horrified when they found out that it was, in fact, a priceless art treasure, looted from the Kanakaria Church after the Turkish invasion, and they agreed to its return.
~ Nice job, Art!

The Apocalypticon ~ The end of the world, impacts, WannaCry still there, army robots, Chinese state terror, US stupidity, the Camp Fire, Holocaust fears


Visions of the end of the world tend to extremes: the planet fatally fracked, flooded, hurricaned, nuke-cratered. No survivors, or maybe one or two survivors, dazed and dust-grimed, roaming a wasted landscape, eating canned beans, rotted squirrels, each other. But the truth is we might be in for a slow burn, apocalypse-wise.
The “end of the world” entails not just the actual end, that last gasp of human breath, but all the agony leading up to it, too. How, though, without the fire-and-brimstone theatrics, will we know that the planet is truly terminal?
An unusually large asteroid crater measuring 19 miles wide has been discovered under a continental ice sheet in Greenland. Roughly the size of Paris, it’s now among the 25 biggest asteroid craters on Earth. The iron-rich asteroid measuring nearly a kilometre wide (0.6 miles) struck Greenland’s ice-covered surface at some point between 3 million and 12,000 years ago, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. [Well, that explains why I can’t remember it, anyway.]
Solar storm triggered Vietnam War mines — An analysis of recently declassified US military documents confirms suspicions that, during the late stages of the Vietnam War, a powerful solar storm caused dozens of sea mines to explode. It’s a stark reminder of the Sun’s potential to disrupt our technological activities in unexpected ways. [I thought a Stark reminder was “winter is coming”.]
Sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff, but shortages are killing people — The sand in a desert, though, is useless as a construction material because the grains are out in the open and blow around for thousands of years. This rounds them off until they become useless as building blocks. The preferred type is the kind found in a river bed, sea, or beach. The fact that desert sand is useless makes for some unexpected situations. Despite being surrounded by endless miles of sand, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was built with sand imported from Australia. Dubai also imports sand for its beaches from Australia. Desert sand doesn’t do well in a beach atmosphere … [Personally, I think someone just needs to invent a sand rougher-upper.]

British army drilling drones and robots — The British Army is testing out over 70 new technologies, including unmanned vehicles and surveillance drones, in a four-week experiment on one of its biggest training grounds. The focus will be on “surveillance, long-range, and precision targeting, enhanced mobility and the re-supply of forces, urban warfare and enhanced situational awareness.” The aim is about reducing the danger to troops during combat, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. [It never ceases to amaze me that we want soldiers to be trained to kill soldiers who are trained to kill them, and then we stress out about their safety!]

WannaCry? Yeah you do. WannaCry was once the greatest cybersecurity calamity in history, but now doesn’t work. A website critical to its function is now controlled by civic-minded security researchers, and the fixed deadline to pay the ransom has long passed. Yet WannaCry still accounts for 28% of ransomware attacks: the most of any ransomware family. According to a new study by Kaspersky Lab, the defanged North Korea linked ransomware is still spreading uncontrollably.

Chinese state terror — By the time Chinese guards began torturing Kayrat Samarkand inside a re-education camp last spring, he says his life had prepared him for this. His crime was being brought up Muslim and having spend time overseas. [Inmates had to sing songs praising Chinese leader Xi Jinping before being allowed to eat. Yeah, real sophisticated, China. You know what? Just replace your citizens with robots.]
Last year, the Chinese wife of a Pakistani man traveled back home to China with their two children. She wanted to introduce her younger boy, 18 months old, to her mom.
But after she landed in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, she was detained, says her husband, a doctor named Rehman. His wife is a Uighur Muslim, a member of a minority group that has been targeted in a Chinese crackdown.

American state, ah, idiocy — President Trump has completed written answers to questions about the Russia investigation from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. The president told reporters on Friday that he wrote the answers, not his lawyers, and that he did so “very easily.” [God help us all. Still, it’s good to know he can actually still write ‘without help’. What state of dementia has he reached now? Can he even walk and chew at the same time?]
But he’s not the only American idiot — Tyler Barriss, 26, has pleaded guilty to making a false report resulting in a death, after he placed a hoax call late last year that resulted in police fatally shooting an unarmed man in Wichita, Kan. Barriss pleaded guilty to a total of 51 charges as part of a plea deal. He will be sentenced in January.
Coburn made highly-volatile, Isis-style explosives — Acting on a tip about explosives at a house in Lake Helen, Florida, police discovered jars of highly volatile triacetone triperoxide, or TATP — the same material used in terrorist bombing attacks mounted by ISIS and al-Qaida. Jared E Coburn, 37, was arrested after officers were told he had a bomb under his bed. [And yet he was supposedly ‘highly intelligent’].
Police arrive to find security guard detaining a shooting suspect, but the guard is black so they shoot him instead — When police arrived after reports of a shooting over the weekend at a bar outside Chicago, witnesses say Jemel Roberson, a 26-year-old security guard who worked there, had already subdued the alleged assailant in the parking lot, pinning him to the ground. Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney said that’s when one of his officers “encountered a subject with a gun” and shot him, according to a statement given to the media. Roberson was declared dead shortly after arriving at a hospital.
Woman tells how to work without hurting men’s feelings — Former Google employee turned comic Sarah Cooper has help for women in tech with a new book called How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. The book is, of course, a satirical look a corporate life for women. And it’s hilarious.
A mocking tweet from the National Rifle Association stirred many physicians to post on social media about their tragically frequent experiences treating patients in the aftermath of gun violence. [And how to kill a mockingtweet?] At least the Democratic House may be able to introduce some forms of gun control now

The Camp Fire has become the most destructive in history — As California burns from both ends, the Camp Fire currently ravaging the northern part of the state has become the most destructive in its history.
The fire had stretched 40,468 hectares as of Saturday morning, according to officials. At least 6453 homes and 260 commercial structures have been destroyed in the fire, the cause of which is still under investigation. [Such an innocuous name, though! It throws me every time.]
Paramount Ranch burnt down — The ranch has been the location of countless movies and TV shows over the past 90 years, including the HBO sci-fi western Westworld. But that history has sadly turned to ash over the past 24 hours, engulfed by the flames of the Woolsey wildfire that has been devastating Southern California.

Picking on Jews — The Open Society Foundations (OSF), a international philanthropic and grant making organisation, has responded to a bombshell report that senior management at Facebook including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired a Republican opposition research firm named Definers Public Affairs to counter the company’s growing list of critics – including by peddling conspiracy theories about OSF’s founder, Hungarian-American investor and Holocaust survivor George Soros. Definers waged a campaign to “cast Mr Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.” This seems to be part of a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonise Soros and his foundations.
This is hardly new, of course, but it’s no less deadly for it — A decade before Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, famed physicist Albert Einstein was already sensing imminent peril for his country and his own welfare, as a newly discovered letter reveals.
The letter is interesting both for its timing and content. Einstein wrote the note after fleeing Berlin out of concerns for his safety. The Jewish-German Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, had just been assassinated by a trio of far right anti-Semitic Germans. After the killing, police warned Einstein his life could be in danger, and advised him to stop lecturing and even leave Berlin. The physicist [luckily for the entire world] heeded their warnings and moved out of the city. This little stuffed-toy monkey, owned by a Jewish boy, also escaped Berlin. And after a long time, it helped reunite survivors of the Holocaust.

And the good news is … cycles are actually faster than cars and motorbikes in some cities now.

Futurology ~ Mars spot, space balloons, 100 million degree reactor, winning wind-bag, brain microbiome, cop hover bikes, nicer Neanderthals, oldest dirt


The S3 2019 Hoverbike has vertical take-off and landing abilities and will be introduced by Dubai police in 2020

Holiday spot for ExoMars 2020 mission selected — When it comes to landing a robot on another planet, perhaps the most important question is where to put the dang thing. The researchers behind the upcoming ExoMars mission, consisting of a rover and lander, have now announced their preferred location on the Red Planet.
ExoMars 2020 is the next part of the ExoMars missions: a rover and landing platform to be sent to Mars as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos.
~ I dunno: no pool, and services are too far away.

Army space balloons — DARPA, the US military’s research arm, is currently testing a wind sensor that could allow devices in its Adaptable Lighter-Than-Air (ALTA) balloon program to spot wind speed and direction from a great distance and then make the necessary adjustments to stay in one spot.
DARPA has been working on ALTA for some time, but its existence was only revealed in September. “By flying higher we hope to take advantage of a larger range of winds,” says ALTA project manager Alex Walan. ALTA will operate even higher than Loon at 22,900 to 27,400 meters (75,000 to 90,000 feet or 14 to 17 miles) where the winds are less predictable. Statioanry, they could provide communication in remote or disaster-hit area, follow hurricanes, or monitor pollution at sea. One day, they could even take tourists on near-space trips to see the curvature of the planet.
~ Presumably, the balloons for Flat Earthers will be flat discs. 

Plasma in their Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reached a 100 million degrees Celsius — That’s six times hotter than the core of the Sun. This temperature is the minimum required to maintain a fusion reaction that produces more power than it takes to run. The Chinese research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature through the use of various new techniques in heating and controlling the plasma, but could only maintain the state for around 10 seconds. The latest breakthrough provided experimental evidence that reaching the 100 million degrees Celsius mark is possible, according to China’s Institute of Plasma Physics.
~ So this has great importance to humankind, because I reckon it would cook a pizza perfectly in a tenth of a second. Although I must admit the phrase ‘playing with fire’ also springs to mind. 

Omnidirectional turbine wins award — A spinning turbine that can capture wind traveling in any direction and could transform how consumers generate electricity in cities has won its inventors a prestigious international award and a US$38,000 prize. Nicolas Orellana, 36, and Yaseen Noorani, 24, MSc students at Lancaster University, scooped the James Dyson award for their O-Wind Turbine, which, in a technological first, takes advantage of both horizontal and vertical winds without requiring steering.
~ I think they should call it ‘the wind bag’. 

Tantalising but preliminary evidence of a ‘brain microbiome’ — We know the menagerie of microbes in the gut has powerful effects on our health. Could some of these same bacteria be making a home in our brains? The annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience drew attention with high-resolution microscope images of bacteria apparently penetrating and inhabiting the cells of healthy human brains. The work is preliminary, and its authors are careful to note that their tissue samples, collected from cadavers, could have been contaminated. But to many passersby in the exhibit hall, the possibility that bacteria could directly influence processes in the brain – including, perhaps, the course of neurological disease – was exhilarating.
~ Yes, whatever floats your boats, brain peeps!

Dubai hover cops — Like a Sci-Fi thriller brought to life, Dubai has taken its police force to another level with fully functional Hoverbikes being added to the force by 2020.
It was only last year that the Dubai Police announced they were looking to upgrade their traffic patrol vehicles into Hoverbikes, but to have actually stuck to that promise and come out with some wicked cool tech in only a years time is pretty remarkable.
~ Crikey, you wouldn’t want to fall off into those props! (See main picture, above). And why? And won’t they whip up little sand storms?

Neanderthals were nicer than was thought — The stereotype of a typical Neanderthal life is that it was extraordinarily difficult, violent, and traumatic. But a comparative analysis of the remains left behind by Neanderthals and contemporaneous humans is finally overturning this unwarranted assumption.
Neanderthals have been depicted as club-carrying, dim-witted brutes who spent their days clobbering each other with reckless abandon.
New research published in Nature is finally setting the record straight, showing that Neanderthals and Upper Paleolithic modern humans experienced similar levels of head trauma. Yes, life was tough for Neanderthals — but the new research suggests life wasn’t any less tougher or violent for contemporaneous Homo sapiens.
~ So e tu, non Brutus!

Earth’s oldest soil — This could be tucked away in an ancient rock outcrop in Greenland, according to new research. Dating back some 3.7 billion years, the suspected soil – exposed underneath a retreating ice cap – could potentially contain fossilised traces of primordial life.
~ No! Don’t wash your boots!

The Apocalypticon ~ Tangled web, FaceBook failure, breaches, HackBots, AI news, fat pollution kids, apocalypse drive-thru, wilderness,


Berners Lee wants the web saved from abuse — Tim Berners-Lee [he who invented the www] has launched a global campaign to save the web from the destructive effects of abuse and discrimination, political manipulation, and other threats that plague the online world. A report adds:
In a talk at the opening of the Web Summit in Lisbon, the inventor of the web called on governments, companies and individuals to back a new Contract for the Web that aims to protect people’s rights and freedoms on the internet. The contract outlines central principles that will be built into a full contract and published in May 2019, when half of the world’s population will be able to get online. More than 50 organisations have already signed the contract, which is published by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation alongside a report that calls for urgent action.
And speaking of that abuse … Facebook, which the United Nations’ top human rights commissioner accused earlier this year of a “slow and ineffective” response to evidence it was fuelling state genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, admitted in a blog post on Monday that their own “independent human rights impact assessment” has more or less confirmed that it really screwed that one up. [We’re supposed to applaud now?]
Dutch bust open ‘secure’ chat service —Dutch police say they “decrypted more than 258,000 messages” sent using an expensive chat service. In an Ars Technica report citing a National Police Corps statement, authorities in the Netherlands claimed to have achieved a “breakthrough in the interception and decryption of encrypted communication between criminals.” [Last message was ‘oh crap!’]
In the US, HealthCare.gov suffered a data breach exposing 75,000 customers — Details were sparse at the time of the breach, but have now learned that hackers obtained “inappropriate access” to a number of broker and agent accounts, which “engaged in excessive searching” of the government’s healthcare marketplace systems.
Gamers getting recruited by Nazi hate groups —Almost every teen in the US plays video games: 97% of boys, according to the Pew Research Center, and 83% of girls. Increasingly, these games are played online, with strangers. And experts say that while it’s by no means common, online games – and the associated chat rooms, livestreams and other channels – have become one avenue for recruitment by right-wing extremist groups. Why? Microsoft, PlayStation and Steam host 48 million, 70 million and 130 million monthly active players respectively. [248 million prospects, the same amount as the populations of Spain, France and Russia added together …]
We also need to watch out for HackBots — Protecting your data today means dealing with hacking attempts powered by machine learning (ML), the science of computers learning and acting like humans. These ML computer algorithms are based on an analytical model designed to collect data and adapt its processes and activities according to use and experience, getting ‘smarter’ all the time. Hackers are also using these algorithms to automate time-consuming cyberattacks with hackbots, email phishing, and social media phishing.

The world — It seems humanity isn’t just content to screw up the surface of the planet; we’re dissolving the seafloor too. Findings published recently show that all the carbon dioxide piling up in the ocean’s dark depths is causing the seafloor as we know it to dissolve. The results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are yet another reminder this era of human history will leave a geological mark long after we’re gone.
Air pollution is making kids fat — High levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life led to significantly faster weight gain later, scientists have found. Other pollutants produced by road traffic have also been linked to obesity in children by recent studies.
Chinese news anchor is actually AI — “This is my very first day at Xinhua News Agency,” says a sharply dressed artificial intelligence news anchor. “I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences.” [Why not get your fake news from a fake newsreader?]
Japanese tsunami triggered an algae invasion of the US coast —In 2011, a colossal tsunami set off by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake slammed into the eastern shores of Japan. Not long afterwards, some of the 1.5 million tons of floating debris created by the waves, from buoys and boats to entire fishing docks, began washing up along America’s northwest Pacific coast. Dozens of species of algae snuck along on this debris and turned up in Oregon and Washington.
Apocalypse drive-through — The so-called Camp Fire consumed over 8090 hectares in Northern California, forcing about 50,000 people to evacuate. But the fire moved so quickly that some people barely escaped, like Brynn Parrott Chatfield from the town of Paradise. She posted a video to social media showing her family’s terrifying drive through the flames.

Just 20 nations control 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding Antarctica and the high seas — And within those 20, five nations – Australia, Russia, Canada, the US and Brazil – control a whopping 70%. [Well, Brazil probably not for much longer – when a nation democratically elects an obvious fascist, you know we should be working harder to raise general human intelligence along with equality.]

Is there any good news? With the Democrats having taken back the House of Representatives, the US military should get more oversight.
The ozone hole may heal one day — According to a UN report, a decades-old international treaty to ban ozone-depleting chemicals has led to their decline and “much more severe ozone depletion in the polar regions has been avoided.” There’s still work to be done, but this definitely falls into the Good News category.

 

Futurology ~ Kepler’s legacy, Earth weighed, chip chiefs and chipsets, placebo effect, cell-making, cardboard vs plastic


Microfluids have pushed cell-making attempts to new levels

Kepler’s legacy — Since March 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2600 planets, including potentially habitable ones, thanks to the Kepler Space Telescope. Last week, after nearly a decade of hunting for new planets, the Kepler finally ran out of fuel. NASA decided to officially retire Kepler within its current orbit, away from Earth, on Oct. 30, 2018.
NASA plans to continue the hunt for new planets. While Kepler’s mission was to search for planets about 3000 light-years away, NASA launched a new spacecraft called Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS for short, in April of this year to search every star within 100 light-years of Earth.
~ Kepler kept on keeping on – until last week, anyway.

Earth weighed with ghost particles — Scientists have to use some roundabout methods to weigh the Earth and measure what’s inside it – typically, they’ve used sound waves and the strength of gravity to make their calculations. But one team has weighed the Earth in a whole new way: by measuring mysterious cosmic particles that pass through it.
~ Yeah, well, how much does it weigh, then?!

Chiplets to keep up with Moore’s Law — As chipmakers struggle to keep up with Moore’s law, they are increasingly looking for alternatives to boost computers’ performance. Moore’s Law is slowing. More density costs more and takes longer.
Chip chiefs say chiplets will enable their silicon architects to ship more powerful processors more quickly. One reason is it’s quicker to mix and match modular pieces linked by short data connections than to painstakingly graft and redesign them into a single new chip.
~ They’re like high-tech lego blocks. 

Placebo Effect is surprisingly effective — For decades science has acknowledged the placebo effect insofar as it is constantly trying to fight against it – that humans have this pesky thing about healing themselves sometimes better than the actual drugs can. This has led to an entire interdisciplinary field trying to fold the placebo effect back into medicine, something that is worked into treatment, and not controlled out of drug trials.
~ I remember asking my daughter if she’d like a placebo for her hypochondria. Since she was only 4, this ploy worked very well for both of us. 

Making biological cells from scratch — Researchers have been trying to create artificial cells for more than 20 years, piecing together biomolecules in just the right context to approximate different aspects of life. They generally fall into three categories: compartmentalisation, or the separation of biomolecules in space; metabolism, the biochemistry that sustains life; and informational control, the storage and management of cellular instructions.
The pace of work has been accelerating, thanks in part to recent advances in microfluidic technologies, which allow scientists to coordinate the movements of minuscule cellular components (main picture, above).
~ Life beckons. Then what? 

Lasers reveal how plants produce oxygen — An experiment using intense laser pulses has allowed scientists to watch plants produce oxygen from water part of photosynthesis in real time, according to a groundbreaking new paper.
Photosynthesis fixes carbon dioxide into sugars and creates oxygen out of water in the presence of sunlight, turning  the sun into usable energy. Scientists hope to understand this reaction and incorporate it into solar energy technology. This new study using one of the world’s brightest lasers to present a view of the intermediate steps of the reaction – a movie of the reaction occurring.
~ I’m breathing easier already. 

Doing without plastic: what to use instead? Packaging designer Ryan Gaither believes in the power of cardboard. At the Swedish-owned BillerudKorsnäs design lab in Portland, Oregon, he’s laid down a massive sheet of it, as big as a king-size bed. He flips the switch on a machine that zips around the cardboard, stabbing and cutting it like a robotic exact-o knife.
BillerudKorsnäs is primarily a paper company that prides itself on its sustainably managed forests. It also has a process – the details of which it won’t divulge – that it says produces super strong paper. Every time you replace plastic with paper, it does more than reduce plastic pollution. It also helps climate change since plastic is made from fossil fuels.
~ Great stuff.

The Apocalypticon ~ the info wars, helium leak iPhones, the world, new Titanic, the smog of complacency, animal massacres, changed planet, ice calving, transgender discrimination


It’s time, tech: thousands of Google employees around the world walked out of their offices. This was to protest Google’s mishandling of sexual harassment and assault cases, in what is likely the largest collective demonstration among technology workers.
Facebook and the Brazilian demagogue — The scandal-mired social media giant that has faced enormous criticism for its role in the spread of online propaganda and fake news across the globe, has a War Room it wants everyone to know is tackling that issue head-on. Facebook has touted the War Room’s efforts to clean up a torrent of hoaxes and misinformation spreading across Brazil on Facebook subsidiary and encrypted chat service WhatsApp before the country’s October 28 runoff election. But when the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonar, who has pledged support for Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, attacked minorities and LGBTQ people, backed torture and reportedly plans to decimate the Amazon rainforest, won those elections with 55.2% of the vote, it looked an awful lot like one key element of his victory was exactly the kind of stuff the War Room was supposedly intended to fight, especially on WhatsApp.
81,000 Facebook accounts hacked — Hackers appear to have compromised and published private messages from at least 81,000 Facebook users’ accounts – but that’s just according to that pillar of fake news, the BBC
Facebook’s new political ad transparency tools allowed Business Insider to run adverts as being “paid for” by Cambridge Analytica — Yes, CA was the political consultancy that dragged Facebook into a major data scandal. The investigation demonstrates that political advertising on Facebook is still open to manipulation by bad actors, despite Facebook’s ‘greater efforts’ at transparency. [Yep, someone saw right through that one. Or should that be ‘sawed’?]
But clearly, Facebook still has its uses — The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard.
More violent than Stuxnet — Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated,” and Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation.
But some problems are much more basic in origin — A US government network was infected with malware thanks to one employee’s “extensive history” of watching porn on his work computer, investigators found. The audit, carried out by the US Department of the Interior’s inspector general, found that a US Geological Survey (USGS) network at the EROS Center, a satellite imaging facility in South Dakota, was infected after an unnamed employee visited thousands of porn pages that contained malware. This downloaded to his laptop and “exploited the USGS’ network.”
How to coordinate a hate attack: use Gab — Gab and its founder Andrew Torba prefer to pitch the site as a free-speech hub for everyone, but in reality Gab is mostly well known as a haven for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremists who have used it as a far-right echo chamber (in many cases after being they themselves were removed from mainstream platforms). But after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, one of its primary fundraising methods has been cut off: PayPal confirmed it had terminated Gab’s account in the wake of the attack.

Helium leak disables multiple hospital iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads — Eric Woolridge, a system administrator at Morris Hospital in Illinois, said in a detailed post on the r/sysadmin subreddit that helium was to blame for many malfunctioning iDevices. Android phones were ‘just fine’…

Yes, it had to happen — Trump. He’s bellicose, angry, aggressive, a bully … and yet, he’s seemingly pissing his pants over some desperate refugees making their way slowly towards the US on foot. The US military has been ordered to send approximately 5000 troops to the US-Mexico border to counter the ‘threat’ of the caravan. [He’s depicting it as an ‘invasion! Pathetic!]
While we’re out in the world — Supporting Indonesia’s 1975 invasion, dodgy oil and gas deals, corporate espionage and trying a whistle blower in a secret court are just a few things that The Juice Media shines a big uncomfortable spotlight on in this video. Brutal!
Titanic II, a replica of the original Titanic, will make its first voyage in 2022 — It will have room for 2400 passengers and 900 crew members and have the same cabin layout and decor as the original legendary ocean liner. The $500 million ship, to be built in China, is set to make its maiden voyage from Dubai to Southhampton, UK in 2022. [And because it will be unsinkable II, they can save money on lifeboats.]
Russians mark Stalin’s purge victims outside Moscow security headquarters — Nelli Tachko, 93, was one of hundreds of Muscovites who waited for hours in frigid temperatures Monday to take part in an annual tradition in which anybody who wants to can read the name, age, profession and date of execution of a victim of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Terror eight decades ago. [This must warm Putin’s heart.]

Disease, plague and pestilence — Last year’s flu season in the US was one of the worst ones seen in decades. Nearly 80,000 flu-related deaths and the highest hospitalisation rate for the virus in modern history. But new estimations from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are presenting a clearer idea of just how bad last year’s flu season really was.
Yellow Fever in New Orleans — At least this one was historic. Some say New Orleans is haunted because of witches; others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.
Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10% of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname ‘Necropolis’: the city of the dead.
Moving to the US might make you fat — Moving to the US can seriously mess with immigrants’ microbiomes, according to a new study that tracked the digestive health of refugees coming to Minnesota from Southeast Asia. The study found new migrants almost immediately begin losing some of their native microbes, including strains that help them break down and glean nutrients. This has been tied to obesity.
Teeth in Georgia, USA walls — It’s not unusual for construction workers to find historical objects inside of walls. But the team renovating the TB Converse Building in Valdosta, Georgia, were caught off guard when they found an estimated 1000 teeth buried in a second-floor wall. The weirdest thing is that the same thing has happened in two other Georgia towns.

The environment — Today, more than 77% of land on earth, excluding Antarctica, has been modified by human industry. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature, up from just 15% a century ago. The study, led by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, paints the first global picture of the threat to the world’s remaining wildernesses – and the image is bleak.
And while we’re at it, animal populations have been massacred — The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.
Air pollution is the new tobacco — The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said air pollution is the “new tobacco”: the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more. “Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said.
Another massive berg tips into the sea — While the internet was obsessing over that rectangular iceberg, some more disconcerting icy behaviour went down on the other side of the Antarctic: the Pine Island Glacier has been breaking off monstrous icebergs over the past five years, presenting a worrying sign that the West Antarctic is destabilising. The latest occurred this weekend. Satellite imagery shows an iceberg roughly 300 square kilometres (115 square miles, or five times the size of Manhattan) breaking off the front of the glacier (below, under ‘2018’).Good lord, is there any good news? Facebook released its third-quarter earnings on Tuesday and the results are mixed. While revenue rose 33% and profit increased 9% for the third quarter from a year earlier, revenue growth was down from the 42% jump that Facebook had reported in the previous quarter. [But these a-holes are still making a mint from flogging your data.]
Here’s a glimmer, though: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, and dozens of other tech companies have come together to condemn discrimination against transgender people in the face of actions President Donald Trump is reportedly considering to reduce their legal protections.

Futurology ~ The A-Star, interstellar object, ghost moons, nano fibre, air batteries, Viking tar, lead in Neanderthal teeth


The enormous Black Hole we’re all orbiting — It’s not Trump, but he will appear in The Apocalypticon, no doubt. Astronomers have reported new telescope observations of the environment around the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, named Sagittarius A* (A* is pronounced “‘a-star’) and they transformed the data into a lively animation.
The video is positively ghostly. Clumps of gas swirl around the black hole, traveling at about 30% of the speed of light. Astronomers collected the data for the visualisation using an instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, located in the deserts of northern Chile. The instrument, appropriately named GRAVITY, detected flares of infrared radiation coming from the disk surrounding Sagittarius A*. The researchers believe the bursts originated very close to the black hole, in an incredibly tumultuous region known as the innermost stable orbit. Here, cosmic material is slung around violently, but it remains far away enough that it can circle the black hole safely without getting sucked into the darkness.
~ Unlike the Earth if Trump keeps on going the way he is. You know, “Climate change is a hoax!” etcetera. 

Life floats by. Maybe — Life may exist elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy, though try as they might, scientists have yet to detect any sign of it. Part of the problem has to do with the size of space; finding traces of organic substances or the waste signatures of alien megastructures isn’t easy at such cosmic distances. Fortunately, there’s the possibility that alien life will come to us in the form of interstellar objects.
Things changed on October 19, 2017 when astronomers at the Hawaiian Pan-STARRS1 telescope system detected the first known interstellar object to visit our Solar System.
~ Basically, when it swings by, they want to examine it for bio-markers. 

Ghostly dust moon — A ghostly dust satellite or two might be orbiting the Earth, according to new research building on a 60-year-old idea. Massive objects attract one another through the force of gravity. But when you have multiple huge objects with just the right masses, their mutual gravitational field can introduce some anomalies – like gravitational points that can hold things stable.
~ It took some work, but they found a cloud. 

Chinese nano-fibre can lift 160 elephants — A research team from Tsinghua University in Beijing has developed a fibre they say is so strong it could even be used to build an elevator to space. They say just 1 cubic centimetre of the fibre – made from carbon nanotube – would not break under the weight of 160 elephants – that’s more than 800 tonnes. And that tiny piece of cable would weigh just 1.6 grams. The Chinese team has developed a new ‘ultralong’ fibre from carbon nanotube that they say is stronger than anything seen before, patenting the technology and publishing part of their research in the journal Nature Nanotechnology earlier this year.
~ Imagine getting stuck in that elevator, though. It’s not the solitude or the claustrophobia that would do me in, but the interminable canned Crowded House!

Compressed Air makes the best ‘battery’ — The concept for storing energy with compressed air is simple: suck in some air from the atmosphere, compress it using electrically-driven compressors and store the energy in the form of pressurised air. When you need that energy you just let the air out and pass it through a machine that takes the energy from the air and turns an electrical generator. Compressed air energy storage (or CAES), to give it its full name, can involve storing air in steel tanks or in much less expensive containments deep underwater. In some cases, high pressure air can be stored in caverns deep underground, either excavated directly out of hard rock or formed in large salt deposits by so-called “solution mining”, where water is pumped in and salty water comes out. Such salt caverns are often used to store natural gas. Compressed air could easily deliver the required scale of storage, but it remains grossly undervalued by policymakers, funding bodies and the energy industry itself.
~ Whoosh!

When kids stop smoking dope, their cognition improves in just one week — A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that when adolescents stop using marijuana, even for just one week, both verbal learning and memory improve. The study contributes to growing evidence that marijuana use in adolescents is associated with reduced neurocognitive functioning.
~ So, you choose: legal high or legal low? 

The Vikings succeeded thanks to tar power — Vikings acquired the capacity to produce tar at an industrial scale as early as the 8th century AD, according to new research. The protective black goo was applied to the planks and even to the sails of the ships the Vikings used for trade and launching raids. Without the ability to produce copious amounts of tar, this new study suggests, the Viking Age may have never happened.
New research published in the journal Antiquity has shed new light on how the Vikings made tar, revealing a unique method of tar production previously unknown to scientists.
~ Snorri Tarson, then. 

Neanderthals had lead in their teeth — Around 250,000 years ago, two Neanderthal children were exposed to excessive levels of lead in what is now France, according to new research. It’s the oldest known case of lead exposure in hominin remains – a discovery that’s presenting an obvious question: how could this have possibly happened so long ago? This is considered the oldest documented exposure to lead in hominin remains. As the how these children were exposed to lead, the scientists can only speculate.
~ Early dental work?