The Apocalypticon ~ This is America, Around the World in awful ways, bullying, Trump, France, Saudi, Germany, Poland, China, World Bank, Russian Orthodox, robots, data, Facebook, digital hoarding


Bullying and the Trump Effect — Francis Huang of the University of Missouri and Dewey Cornell of the University of Virginia used data from a school climate survey taken by over 150,000 students across Virginia. They looked at student responses to questions about bullying and teasing from 2015 and 2017. The researcher found higher rates of bullying and certain types of teasing in areas where voters favoured Trump.
As federal workers miss their first pay-checks since the partial government shutdown began three weeks ago thanks to Trump’s attempt to ‘govern by tantrum’, frustration, anxiety and anger are rising. As the shutdown continues, it is going to have impacts in the billions of dollars.
Older Americans are disproportionately more likely to share fake news on Facebook, according to a new analysis by researchers at New York and Princeton Universities.
Cancer in America has been beaten back over the 25 years ending 2016, with death rates plummeting, particularly when it comes to the four most common types of the dreaded affliction. If you’re rich.
Too much cheese — The US has a 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus. The glut is the largest in US history: there is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the US Capitol building. [Which currently sounds like a more productive move than what’s going on within the capitol.]

Around the world in awful ways — Last week, public figures in Germany experienced the “biggest data dump” in the country’s history. Following a remarkably swift investigation, authorities say they have obtained a confession from the person responsible. Quieting fears that the doxxing attack against hundreds of politicians was state-sponsored: it appears the culprit is a 20-year-old high school student.
French Yellow Vests take out speed cameras — Members of the “yellow vests” protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France’s entire speed camera network. The wilful damage is a threat to road safety, of course. The protest movement began over fuel tax increases, and saw motorists block roads and motorway toll booths, but some elements may be linked to right-wing groups.
A Huawei executive has been arrested in Poland on charges of spying for China, Poland’s counterintelligence service has reported.[To misquote Roger Daltry, ‘Huawei, who who, who who?’ The Poles really wanna know.] Meanwhile, the Chinese tech giant has been linked to Syria and Iran.
Saudi Arabia will now notify women by text if they have been divorced. Women in Saudi Arabia, who have long been subjected to a litany of misogynistic restrictions on their behaviour including totalitarian male guardianship laws, will soon receive text messages to inform them of changes to their marital status as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘reforms’ of the country’s monarchic government.
World Bank says robots aren’t taking your jobs. Yet. The World Bank has released its annual World Development Report, and the headline news this go round, as relayed by Bloomberg and others, is basically that Robots Aren’t Killing Jobs. Of course, the World Bank isn’t terribly concerned with the quality of jobs, just that they are there.
Cuban ‘sonic weapon’ turned out to be pretty innocent — Since 2017, the baffling case of US diplomatic staff in Cuba and elsewhere who developed symptoms resembling brain trauma after allegedly hearing strange noises (sometimes called Havana syndrome) have spawned plenty of theories of varying plausibility. But it was most likely to be, by jumpy, just crickets! [But hey, at least they got to exercise their paranoia.]
China is letting more than 2000 ethnic Kazakhs drop their Chinese citizenship and leave the country, according to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry. [I guess the alternative is to be persecuted like the Uigurs. Hm, Kazakhstan looks great!]
Russian Orthodox patriarch declares data is the Antichrist —The devil is in the downloads, says Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill warned that smart devices like cell phones and social networks could enable the rise of Satan’s chosen and the rule of darkness until the end times. [I thought the Antichrist was just logic, myself.]

Hey, we’ve reached data — Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections, has been fined £15,000 (roughly US$$19,000) in a UK court after pleading guilty to failing to comply with an enforcement notice issued by the national data protection watchdog.
NSA to release reverse engineering tool for free — The US National Security Agency will release a free reverse engineering tool at the upcoming RSA security conference. GHIDRA is a disassembler, a piece of software that breaks down executable files into assembly code that can then be analysed by humans. [Let the wild ruckus begin.]
Samsung users perturbed they can’t delete Facebook — Nick Winke, a photographer in the Pacific northwest, was perusing internet forums when he came across a complaint that alarmed him: On certain Samsung Electronics Co. smartphones, users aren’t allowed to delete the Facebook app. Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed when it was introduced in 2017. He found only an option to ‘disable’ rather than delete.
Digital hoarding is as bad for you as physical hoarding — Emerging research on digital hoarding (a reluctance to get rid of the digital clutter we accumulate through our work and personal lives) suggests it can make us feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as physical clutter. [I’m ruthless with my data, and happy for it … of course, it’s all backed up. But I also keep my computer desktop clear and only two screens of apps on iPad and iPhone.]

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Futurology ~ Space radio, black hole eats, deep Pacific still cooling, CES exoskeletons, blue-teeth manuscripts


Samsung has been showing off a line of exoskeleton concepts at CES

Radio busts from space — Canadian scientists detected 13 new fast radio bursts from outer space. The mysterious, split-second, high-energy pulses reach us from unknown origins billions of light-years away. Intriguingly, one of these newly documented bursts is a repeater, becoming just the second-known repeating fast radio burst among the 60 documented so far.
~ Seven were lowest radio frequencies measured so far.

Black Hole spotted ‘eating stuff’ — A telescope on the International Space Station made an incredible high-resolution measurement of the x-rays resulting from a black hole sucking up matter that could have important implications for astronomers’ understanding of these mysterious objects.
Black holes are regions of space so massive and compact that beyond a certain point, called the event horizon, no matter or energy (including visible light) can escape their gravitational pull.
~ Scientists measured these light echoes to and incredible half-millisecond.

Deep Pacific cooling down — Most of the world’s waters may be warming as a result of climate change, but a new study shows that the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean still appear to be cooling down hundreds of years after the period in history known as the Little Ice Age.
~ There has been a lag of a few centuries in terms of temperature change in the deep Pacific, as surface waters warm up as a result of climate change.

Samsung showing off exoskeleton concepts at CES — The GEMS-H (Gait Enhancing and Motivating System) is designed to hug your hips and upper thighs like a comfortable pair of slacks (main picture, above), and then a module strapped to each leg helps you walk. Once you strap the thing on, it’s easy to forget that the exoskeleton is even there since it’s so light, and the robotic elements of it are understated.
~ I’m picturing the overweight jogging past me the way they zoom past on electric bikes while I’m puffing on my single-speed! I must admit I prefer the vision of Ripley slugging it out while wearing a ‘waldo’ in Alien

Blue pigment in 1000-year-old teeth links women to the production of medieval manuscripts — Traces of a rare and expensive blue pigment, called ultramarine, have been detected in the teeth of a woman who died in Germany nearly 1000 years ago. The discovery suggests women played a more prominent role in the production of manuscripts during the medieval period, and that ultramarine was more available in Europe than previously assumed.
~ It’s another history made secret, like all those Viking woman warriors identified a few years ago. Women didn’t get to write their own historical narratives.  

The Apocalypticon ~ Swinging right, fake internet, greedy YouTube stars, Maryland plumbing bug, sea ice, broke plastic, broke US


The world keeps swinging right — And the last time this happened, Labour came into power in New Zealand. Then World War Two broke out, thanks to all the right wingers out there just dying to have a go at each other. Brazil just got its wannabe dictator, Bolzano, who even had the machismo to do a nazi salute from his motorcade. His inauguration was attended by the right wing leaders of Hungary and Israel. [Oh, how the world has changed?]
Speaking of right-wing regimes, China is losing track of its CRISPR -edited patients — Gene therapies are very much at their preliminary stages of development, so it would make sense to keep tabs on patients whose DNA has been modified via the innovative CRISPR technique. For some scientists in China, however, this is apparently not a priority.
Odd, coz the Chinese seem hell-bent on tracking everyone else.

Fake internet — In late November 2018, the US Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered… Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites…. [B]ots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.”
In Germany, identity theft — An enormous leak of personal information belonging to artists, media figures, and politicians in Germany included Chancellor Angela Merkel. The hack is being called the “biggest data dump” in German history and appears to contain a treasure trove of information that could be used for identity theft.
Dead to us — The Ars Technica 2019 Deathwatch includes the very troubled Essential phone, but even Soundcloud, Faraday Futures and Facebook makes the list.
Really? A series of auctions revealed that Facebook users value the company’s service so highly that it would take on average more than US$1000 to convince them to deactivate their accounts for a year, according to a recent paper published in PLOS One. [Hah, I just deleted my account and feel a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, all for free.]
Girls may be freed more — According to a new study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, the link between social media use and depressive symptoms in 14-year-olds may be much stronger for girls than boys. The study showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys.
Wealthy YouTube stars hawking shady Polish gambling — Untold riches are promised on Mystery Brand, a website that sells prize-filled “mystery boxes.” If you buy one of the digital boxes, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, you might only get a fidget spinner – or you might get a luxury sports car.  Or at least that’s what some top YouTubers have been telling their young fans about the gambling site. [Coz hey, you can never be too greedy.]

Around the world — Plumbing bug in Maryland: In 2016, a mysterious illness spread inside the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center, the U.S. government’s most prominent research hospital, in Bethesda, Maryland. Patients were somehow being sickened by an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that practically never causes disease in humans. Two years later, a new study seems to finally have confirmed where this bug likely came from: the hospital’s own plumbing.
Antarctic sea ice slump has scientists confused — What’s happening to Arctic sea ice is pretty straightforward: Earth is getting warmer, and everything’s melting. But on the other side [my] of the planet, things are more complicated, as evidenced by the latest Antarctic sea ice slump that has scientists scratching their heads. [Gosh, and I thought ‘global warming meant, you know, global warming.]
Effort to snare gyre plastic broke — Invented by Boyan Slat at just 17, the barrier has so far done some of what it was designed to accomplish. It travels with wind and wave propulsion, like a U-shaped Pac-Man hungry for plastic. It orients itself in the wind then catches and concentrates plastic, sort of. But as Slat, now 24, recently discovered with the beta tester for his design, plastic occasionally drifts out of its U-shaped funnel. The other issue with the beta tester, called System 001, is that last week, an 18-metre (60-foot) end section broke off. [And what’s the bet it’s mostly made of plastic.]
Hey, how about not adding cancer causing chemicals to bacon? The reputation of the meat industry will sink to that of big tobacco unless it removes cancer-causing chemicals from processed products such as bacon and ham, a coalition of experts and politicians in UK warned. [Then do we get to call that industry ‘Big Pig’?]
Americans are cycling less — Nationally, the percentage of people who say they use a bike to get to work fell by 3.2% from 2016 to 2017, to an average of 836,569 commuters, according to the bureau’s latest American Community Survey, which regularly asks a group of Americans about their habits. That’s down from a high of 904,463 in 2014, when it peaked after four straight years of increases…

And hey, we forgot Trump. But how could we? Along with garbage piling up at National Parks and federal workers furloughed, the government shutdown is also slowing down businesses that rely on federal workers during the day, like the restaurants and cafes where they eat lunch. [Shouldn’t we let Americans eat again?]

Futurology ~ Asteroid water, Earth crust, quantum-brains, 3D-printed batteries, anti-malarial gold, truck-bot, Moore’s Lawless, predictions, 1200-year-old climate fix


Scientists in South Korea and the US have used 3D printing to manufacture batteries of various shapes and sizes

AKARI finds signs of water in asteroids — A Japanese research team has used the infrared camera aboard the AKARI satellite to detect the presence of hydrated materials inside C-type asteroids.  Using the infrared camera of the AKARI satellite, a Japanese research team has detected the existence of water in the form of hydrated minerals in a number of asteroids. They reported their findings in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.
~ Makes the concept of interstellar life a little more possible. 

A huge part of Earth’s crust is missing, and now scientists may know why — The Grand Canyon is a gigantic geological library, with rocky layers that tell much of the story of Earth’s history. Curiously though, a sizeable layer representing anywhere from 250 million years to 1.2 billion years is missing. Known as the Great Unconformity, this massive temporal gap can be found not just in this famous crevasse, but in places all over the world. Using multiple lines of evidence, an international team of geoscientists reckons the thief was Snowball Earth, a hypothesised time when much, if not all, of the planet was covered in ice.
~ Cold comfort.

Quantum-computing brains — The unprecedented power of brain suggests that it may process information quantum-mechanically. Pavlo Mikheenko, a superconductivity researcher at the University of Oslo, has published a paper (PDF at that link) in the Journal of Superconductivity and Novel Magnetism suggesting that microtubule structures in pig neurons exhibit evidence of superconductivity that could represent a mechanism for quantum computing performed by the brain to achieve the brain’s phenomenal information processing power.
~ This was predicted as a possibility in 1972; now there may be proof. 

Breaking the battery mould with 3D printing — Scientists in South Korea and the US have used 3D printing to manufacture batteries of various shapes and sizes. Flexible, wireless electronic devices are rapidly emerging, and many have gone on to become commercial products. However, the batteries contained in these devices are either spherical or rectangular structures, which results in inefficient use of space. Enter 3D printers … scientists use an electrospinning process to uniformly coat electrochemically-active polyaniline.
~ Batteries can thus be printed for small-scale wearable electronic devices.

Anti-malarial drug breakthrough — A team of researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, has developed a class of gold-containing molecules that impair the malaria parasite’s metabolic function, leading to parasite death. Their findings are published in the journal Dalton Transactions.
~ Malaria has been developing drug resistance at a frightening rate. 

Aussie train may be world’s biggest robot — Mining corporation Rio Tinto says that an autonomous rail system called AutoHaul that it’s been developing in the remote Pilbara region of Australia for several years is now entirely operational, an accomplishment the company says makes the system the “world’s largest robot.”
~ They have the power and money to delete jobs thanks to voracious mining. Er, yay? 

Chip makers are circumventing Moore’s Law — Silicon’s time may have come.
~ Death Valley …

Pundits predict — What’s coming In 2019? Global thinkers make big, bold predictions in NPR.
~ Some of them are just scary. 

Climate change is affecting Peru, but there’s a 1200-year-old fix — Instead of looking for modern solutions to improve access to water, the villagers turned to an old one: centuries-old hydraulic systems that dot the Nor Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve, a state-protected natural area seven hours east of Lima. These ancient systems have been used to help irrigate the reserve’s pastures and provide nutrient-rich soil for hundreds of years.
~ Ancient smarts.