The Apocalypticon ~ Stupidity unbound, climate costs, corruption and data wars


Stupidity unbound — Hundreds of students and faculty at two universities in Los Angeles have been asked to stay home unless they can prove they’ve been vaccinated against measles.
Car drivers think bike riders ‘subhuman’ — Researchers have an explanation for why many drivers act aggressively toward cyclists: they are actually dehumanising people who ride bikes, according to an April study by Australian researchers in the journal Transportation Research. And this dehumanisation – the belief that a group of people are less than human – correlates to drivers’ self-reported aggressive behaviour. [I ride a bike. Newsflash: like most bike riders, I also drive a car. The only cyclists I find annoying are those flocking cyclists in lycra.]
Apple CEO Tim Cook has called for more government regulation on the technology industry in order to protect privacy in an interview at the TIME 100 Summit in New York. [Yeah, right, how about regulating your profits then?]
Sitting bull — Time spent watching TV and videos has remained consistently high in the United States over the past 15 years, but time sitting at a computer has increased dramatically, new research finds.
Twitter can’t ban White Supemacists because this would also rule out Republicans — A Twitter employee who works on machine learning believes that a proactive, algorithmic solution to white supremacy would also catch Republican politicians. [Is anyone surprised?]
But apparently the Sri Lankan bombers were ‘smart‘ — They included a pair of brothers from a wealthy, upper-class family; a man with a law degree; and another who studied in the United Kingdom and did postgraduate work in Australia before coming home to settle down in his native Sri Lanka.

People are strange — The Japanese not having sex: Japan is home to one of the fastest aging populations in the world, exacerbated by a persistently low birth rate. As it turns out, these social changes can be explained by the lack of heterosexual intercourse among Japanese adults, say scientists led by Dr Peter Ueda at the University of Tokyo, Japan.
US retirees are blowing their savings on their kids — Financial independence, once a hallmark of adulthood, has gone by the wayside as adult children increasingly depend on their parents to help them cover the cost of rent, student loans, health insurance and more. But parents’ desire to give their children a financial assist could be misguided, and will backfire in the long run. [This is what you get when you collapse the middle class so the super rich can get super richer.]

Melting permafrost in Arctic will have $70 trillion climate impact — The release of methane and carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost will accelerate global warming and add up to US$70tn (£54tn) to the world’s climate bill, according to the most advanced study yet of the economic consequences of a melting Arctic.
Virgin Islands hurricane mental health impacts — More than a year and a half after two major hurricanes struck the US Virgin Islands, the effects of the storms are still obvious.  But the storms had another, less visible impact: on the mental health of island residents.

Data wars and corruption — The New York State attorney general’s office plans to open an investigation into Facebook’s unauthorised collection of more than 1.5 million users’ email address books.
A total of 50 malicious apps have managed to bypass Google’s security checks and land on the Google Play store, leading to millions of installs on Android devices.
It was only last week that researchers from Check Point uncovered a total of six apps laden with the PreAMo ad fraud malware on Google Play which had been installed 90 million times.
Companies that make tax preparation software, like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, would rather you didn’t know you can file for free. Intuit and other tax software companies have spent millions lobbying to make sure that the IRS doesn’t offer its own tax preparation and filing service. In exchange, the companies have entered into an agreement with the IRS to offer a Free File product to most Americans — but good luck finding it.
Facial scans replacing boarding passes — Homeland Security in the US said it plans to scan the faces of over 97%” of departing international passengers by 2023. According to Buzzfeed, 17 US airports are currently part of the program.

Good news? A little. A major pharmaceutical distribution company and two of its former executives are facing criminal charges for their roles in advancing the nation’s opioid crisis and profiting from it.

Futurology ~ Universe expansion, cool star flares, hypersonic rocket, balloon plane, coffee solar cells, anti-malaria, AI invisibility, wrap for aged structures


A plane partly developed in the Scottish Highlands has traits of a balloon and flies thanks to variable buoyancy

Universe is expanding faster than expected — New measurements from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirm the Universe is expanding about 9% faster than expected based on its trajectory seen shortly after the big bang, astronomers say.
The new measurements reduce the chances that the disparity is an accident from 1 in 3,000 to only 1 in 100,000 and suggest that new physics may be needed to better understand the cosmos.
~ So those distant planets are steadily escaping us. 

Little star sparkles brightly — Scientists spotted a superflare larger than some of the hugest solar storms on record — from what seems to be a tiny, almost Jupiter-sized star. The Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), a sky-surveying telescope in Chile, first detected the flare in August 2017. Not only is it the second-largest observed flare to come from a star of the L-dwarf type, but this is the coolest star to show this kind of powerful flare to date.
~ It was so cool, scientists weren’t aware of it till it flared. 

Hypersonic rocket — A Chinese university claimed to have launched and landed a hypersonic prototype rocket that could travel faster than five times the speed of sound.
The success of the experiment means that Chinese engineers are one step closer to building a full-fledged rocket capable of flying faster than 6174kmh (3836mph) and it can be recycled.
~ Recycled because it landed itself after the test. 

Plane lifts like  balloon — Researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) have helped create a revolutionary new type of aircraft.
Phoenix is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to stay in the air indefinitely using a new type of propulsion: variable-buoyancy.
~ It propels via compressed air, and it’s way cheaper to launch than a satellite.

Coffee-improved solar cells — UCLA professor Yang Yang’s lab, chock-full of coffee drinkers, spent several years searching for a stability-enhancing additive to turn famously unstable perovskite PV cells into a useful product. One day, on a lark, Yang’s graduate student Rui Wang suggested they try adding caffeine to the mix. To the team’s surprise, caffeine produced longer lasting and more powerful solar cells.
~ But do they stay up longer? 

First anti-malarial vaccine — Health officials are making history, rolling out the first approved vaccine aimed at stopping a human parasite for malaria. The vaccine could save the lives of tens of thousands of children each year.
This vaccine RTS,S is one of the few immunisations designed and launched specifically to help young children in Africa, says Deborah Atherly at PATH, a nonprofit that helped develop the immunisation.
~ The vaccine has taken 30 years to develop. 

Printed pattern fools AI recognition — A group of engineers from the university of KU Leuven in Belgium shared a paper shared on how simple printed patterns can fool an AI system designed to recognise people in images.
If you print off one of the students’ specially designed patches and hang it around your neck, from an AI’s point of view, you may as well have slipped under an invisibility cloak.
~ So print some t-shirts with it immediately!

Sticky wrap for old buildings — Fast Wrapping Fibre-Reinforced Polymer (FasRaP),  created using commercially available glass fibres, includes a proprietary glue-like resin developed by NTU materials scientists. The resin will harden only when exposed to light, making it possible for it to be pre-applied in the factory and packaged into a roll of sticky wrap, similar to double-sided tape.
FasRaP can be applied directly to an ageing wall or pillar by only three workers.
~ But do flies then stick to it? People? 

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate, Plasticapocalypse, dirt on Trump, Facebook, racist China, UK surveillance, Bots and hackers, Ebola,


Climate — Anticipating accelerating climate change-fuelled disasters in the coming decades, telecommunications giant AT&T recently partnered with Argonne National Labs to build a three-decade model called a Climate Change Analysis Tool to help forecast the devastating impact of climate change on the company’s infrastructure and business on a level that details down to the individual neighbourhood.
Hurricane Maria was the rainiest storm known to have hit Puerto Rico, and climate change is partly to blame, according to a new study.
Snow power — Winters are only going to get more severe, but there’s at least one silver lining as researchers from UCLA have come up with a way to harness electricity from all that snow.

Plasticapocalypse — Amid the rugged peaks of the Vicdessos region of the French Pyrenees, the only visible signs of a human presence are a smattering of villages and the odd hiker or skier; it is considered a pristine environment. But even here, scientists have detected tiny pieces of plastic falling out of the air:  artificial dust.
Planet’s ocean-plastics problem detailed in 60-year data set —Scientists have uncovered the first strong evidence that the amount of plastic polluting the oceans has risen vastly in recent decades — by analysing 60 years of log books for plankton-tracking vessels.
Nestlé has come under fire what advocates say is an outsized contribution to the plastic crisis — So Greenpeace activists hauled a 4.57m-tall heap of garbage, artfully crafted to resemble one of those deep sea fish that’s about 90% jowl, in front of the Nestlé’s US headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Dirt on Trump — Mueller Report: The Justice Department has released a redacted copy (c400-page PDF) of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Militia messing with US town — Arivaca, Arizona is a tiny village, population about 700, with an outsize problem. Just 18kms (11 miles) from the US-Mexico border, it has become a magnet for self-styled militia groups from out of state that say they want to patrol the border and stop migrants. Their presence has strained the town that has long prided itself on its live-and-let-live, cooperative spirit.

AI to racially profile in China — According to a report from the New York Times, the Chinese government is using facial recognition to track Uighurs, the country’s Muslim minority. The technology reportedly targets this population based on their physical appearance.
And England has surveillance kiosks — A telecommunications company, free Wi-Fi service, police departments and local councils in the UK have developed and deployed a new system that aims to identify suspicious behaviour on free Wi-Fi kiosks in the nation and then automatically block related calls.

Faecesbook — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg oversaw plans to consolidate the social network’s power and control competitors by treating its users’ data as a bargaining chip, while publicly proclaiming to be protecting that data, according to about 4000 pages of leaked company documents largely spanning 2011 to 2015 and obtained by NBC News. All the while, Facebook was formulating a strategy to publicly frame these moves as a way of protecting user privacy…

Bots and hackers — Bots, in general, are estimated to make up roughly 37.9% of all Internet traffic. In 2018, one in five website requests – 20.4% – of traffic was generated by bad bots alone.
Hackers have stolen data from “several FBI-affiliated websites.” Now details on “thousands of federal agents and law enforcement officers” are floating around on the web.

Latest Ebola not a global health crisis … yet — The outbreak started in August of 2018 and is so far the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. As of today, 1206 people have been infected and 764 people have been killed.
It’s the 10th Ebola outbreak in the DRC in the past 40 years and a startling 29% of cases have been in kids under the age of 18.

Good news: will exercise prolong your life? Well, what do you think? High levels of physical activity and longer telomeres do not guarantee a longer life, they definitely increase the likelihood, and runners live on average 3 years longer than non-runners.
And ‘new’ cereals like this might help save the planet.

Futurology ~ Wormhole travel, AI invents game, better water filter, human monkeys, reanimated pigs, U2 archaeology


AI has invented a sport for us, and it’s called Speedgate. Um, gee, thanks AI.

Travel through wormholes is possible, but slow — A Harvard physicist has shown that wormholes can exist: tunnels in curved space-time, connecting two distant places, through which travel is possible.
But it’s probably not useful for humans to travel through, said Daniel Jafferis, from Harvard University, the author of the study written in collaboration with Ping Gao, also from Harvard and Aron Wall from Stanford University: it takes longer to get through these wormholes than to go directly.
~ Well, you know, maybe it’s more scenic. 

AI invents a sport — The game, Speedgate, combines elements of several existing sports including Rugby, Soccer, and Handball, and can be customised to suit large or small fields. Players pass a ball (a size four Rugby training ball is currently used until the official Speedgate ball hits the market) to teammates by tossing, kicking, or punting it. The full rules and regulations for Speedgate are available on a website.
~ And it easily looks as crazy as all the human-invented ones. 

Nanowires improve water filtration — Combining nanowires with natural plant fibres, a team of scientists in China has found a way to purify water efficiently using water purification filter paper made from ultralong hydroxyapatite nanowires combined with natural plant fibres.
~ And when it breaks down, will add it to the plastic apocalypse?

Human genes ‘improve’ monkeys — A research group in China has introduced a human gene regulating brain development into monkeys, resulting in transgenic nonhuman primates that exhibited improved working memory and shorter reaction times.
~ Now how about we reintroduce them into humans? 

Pigs reanimated — In a study that raises profound questions about the line between life and death, researchers have restored some cellular activity to brains removed from slaughtered pigs.
~ It should help work out what kinds of brain functions could be restored after, say, a stroke. 

Declassified U2 spy pix show hidden archaeological sites — Inspired by a Chinese researcher who used the U2 images to view historical aerial imagery of his hometown, Emily Hammer and Jason Ur decided to see if the copious amounts of declassified data had any scientific worth. Much of the landscape in Europe, the Middle East, and central eastern Asia has changed since the Cold War, making these aerial records both historically and archaeologically important.
~ For example, they found the historical Aleppo from before the massive destruction wrought in the ongoing civil war; ancient stone animal-trapping ‘kites’; Marsh Arab settlements; ancient waterworks. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Face-plant, tech woes, online extremism, the world of pain, climate change, schadenfreude


Tech execs in the gun — In the wake of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand last month, Australia is putting major pressure on Big Tech to prevent the spread of hateful and violent content on their platforms, with a new law that threatens major fines and imprisonment.
Microsoft’s culture of sexual discrimination — An internal Microsoft email chain, first reported by Quartz, reportedly details a litany of egregious acts of sexual harassment and discrimination experienced by women at the company.
Facebook paying for better press — Facebook is paying British newspaper the Daily Telegraph to run a series of sponsored articles called “Being human in the information age” defending it against claims it is encouraging the spread of misinformation, aiding in the spread of hate speech, violating privacy, and generally ruining society in myriad other ways. [So weird that new media is paying old media to make it look better! I hope it costs Facebook a lot before getting it nowhere.]
Meanwhile, in the US, the ABC network did the same — ABC News aired an exclusive interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Good Morning America, but instead of asking Zuckerberg tough questions, interviewer George Stephanopoulos lobbed softball after softball so Zuck could deliver his prepared talking points.
Facebook is still not doing enough to prevent the ongoing promotion of violence and hate in Myanmar on its social network, according to a member of the United Nations team.
Researchers uncovered more than 70 Facebook groups openly selling black-market cyberfraud services, some of which they say had been running for up to eight years.
Google’s ‘ethics’ — Vox and other outlets reported that Google’s newly-created AI ethics board was falling apart amid controversy over several of the board members.
Youtube’s extreme videos — Facing criticism over the videos it recommends to users, YouTube seems to have a new favourite talking point, one that might surprise anyone who has spent time online: extreme content, the company claims, just doesn’t do that well on the site. Yet even a cursory review of YouTube shows that the most shocking and inflammatory videos are regularly among news outlets’ most viewed content.

Around the world of pain — Donald Trump claimed wind turbines cause cancer with their noise This may be because the president has a grudge against wind power, or because he is a complete and total idiot, but it is a patently ridiculous claim that it would be more or less a total waste of our time to debunk. The claim has no scientific support whatsoever, yet his flunkies still pretended the President’s words weren’t idiotic.
Brunei now stones people — Brunei’s interpretation of Islamic law now imposes death by stoning as a punishment for sex between men and adultery, as well as amputation of limbs for theft. Lesbian sex can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in jail. [Um, peace be with you?]
South Korean wildfires — South Korea is using its military to contain a large forest fire that spread quickly after igniting in Gangwon Province, along the country’s east coast. Strong winds have moved the blaze from city to city.
Venezuela is in the midst of “a major, major emergencywhen it comes to health.
Proper procedure did not help crashing plane — The pilots of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 followed proper procedures before the March 10 flight that killed 157 people, according to a preliminary report by the Ethiopian government.
Job-changing in China can drop your social credit — Lots of things can hurt your social credit in China. Failing to repay your debts, plagiarizing academic articles and building a debt-laden tech empire and then fleeing to another country, to name a few. One province now wants to add another “discredited behavior” that seems much more harmless: switching jobs too often. [If only we could stop China’s atrophied leadership from watching Black Mirror and thinking all its concepts are good ideas.]
Chinese autism rates are the same — Around one in a hundred people in China has autism spectrum conditions – a proportion similar to that of the West
Russian military talking to dolphins — A journal published by Russia’s Ministry of Defence became the subject of mockery after publishing claims “Russian specialists” have communicated with dolphins, crashed computer programs and even looked into safes using the power of telepathy.
US strips visa from International Criminal Court prosecutor after they infer US war crimes in Afghanistan — The US has revoked the visa of the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor just weeks after warning it would take such an action against anyone from the ICC who is investigating allegations that US personnel may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
In the US, three-quarters of a million people would likely lose their food stamps later this year under a new proposal by the Trump administration. The goal is to encourage able-bodied adults to go to work and get off government aid. But opponents predict people would go hungry instead, if the rule goes into effect.

Climate — Great Barrier is not regenerating: Successive ocean heat waves are not only damaging Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, they are compromising its ability to recover, raising the risk of “widespread ecological collapse,” a new study has found.
Canada warming twice as fast — Canada is, on average, experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with Northern Canada heating up at almost three times the global average, according to a new government report.
Nebraskan flooding disaster — The byzantine networks of rivers and streams that drain the Midwest is facing a flooding crisis of historic proportions.
UK Labour declares climate emergency — The Labour Party declared a climate emergency. It likely marks the first major party declaring a climate emergency at the national level anywhere in the world, in yet another sign that climate politics are rapidly shifting.

Schadenfreude — Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno has accused Julian Assange of violating the terms of his asylum and leaking private photos of Moreno’s family and friends online in the latest dust-up between the WikiLeaks founder and his increasingly frustrated hosts.
So-called ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli is now in solitary. Shkerli earned the eternal ire of the public when he was the CEO of a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals, which he bought the rights to the life-saving drug Daraprim then jacked the price from US$19 to $1052 a pill. He was caught still running one of his companies from inside.

Any good news? Coffee may limit prostate cancer: A research group in Japan has identified compounds found in coffee which may inhibit the growth of prostate cancer.

Futurology ~ Better encryption, better batteries, better pesto, post menopause, better movement, Pole trees, new Mammoths, 4-legged whale


Remnants of a previously unknown, 42.6-million-year-old quadrupedal whale has been discovered along the coast of Peru

Un-decryptable — set of computer scientists has taken a major step toward this goal with the release today of EverCrypt, a set of digital cryptography tools. The researchers were able to prove ( in the sense that you can prove the Pythagorean theorem) that their approach to online security is completely invulnerable to the main types of hacking attacks that have felled other programs in the past.
~ But did they only achieve this by very strictly limiting the operational parameters? 

Better solid-state batteries — Scientists in Japan have developed a complex hydride lithium superionic conductor that could result in all-solid-state batteries with the highest energy density to date.
All-solid-state batteries incorporating a lithium metal anode have the potential to address the energy density issues of conventional lithium-ion batteries. But until now, their use in practical cells has been limited by the high resistance of lithium ion transfer within anode materials.
~This should open up new fields in solid electrolyte materials.

Better pesto — Machine learning has been used to create basil plants that are extra-delicious. The effort reflects a broader trend that involves using data science and machine learning to improve agriculture.
~ I’ll wait till the machine learning learns to harvest my basil and make the pesto.

Bone loss mechanisms in post-menopausal women — Japanese researchers have found that blood serum levels of Sema3A decrease in premenopausal women as they get older and drop even further once women reach menopause, linked to oestrogen loss, and this appears to be the mechanism for weakened bones.
~ See how I didn’t use ‘Osteoporosis breakthrough’?

Even an hour of walking a week can help older adults with ailing knees — Researchers looked at data from an earlier project studying thousands of middle-aged and elderly Americans with knee osteoarthritis, the Osteoarthritis Initiative, which began in 2004. Exercise helps prevent conditions of knee osteoarthritis and improve symptoms, reduces pain, and slows down the disease’s progression.
~ I’ve always been of fan of ‘more movement, less worrying about food’.

‘New’ Californian mammoths — Mammut pacificus, a new species of mastodon specific to a small segment of the North American West, is the first new mastodon species to be recognised in 50 years.
~ There have been known examples, just not recognised as distinctive.

Four-legged Peruvian whale — The discovery of a fossilised, 42-million-year-old, four-legged whale is shedding new light on the evolution and geographical spread of these aquatic mammals.
~ The ancestors of modern whales and dolphins evolved from a small, four-limbed hoofed animal that lived in south Asia around 50 million years ago during the Eocene.

Trees almost at the Pole — Using sedimentary records and plant fossils, researchers have found that temperatures near the South Pole were about 20C higher than now in the Pliocene epoch, from 5.3m to 2.6m years ago. Then, a variety of beech and possibly conifer trees grew at Oliver Bluffs, 300 miles from the South Pole.
~ So plants may colonise that area again, at current rates.