All posts by Mark Webster

Apple commentator and trainer, history writer, publisher

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.

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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? 

 

New Mac mini! 5 times faster, quad- and 6-core processors, up to 64GB RAM, all-flash storage


Apple today gave Mac mini a massive increase in performance — Now with quad- and 6-core processors, up to 64GB of faster memory and blazing fast all-flash storage, the new Mac mini delivers an insane five times faster performance, making it the most powerful Mac mini ever made.1 And with Thunderbolt 3 ports, the Apple T2 Security Chip and a 10Gb Ethernet option, the new Mac mini is a faster and more capable desktop that can do so much more.
It has more than five times the performance, up to 6-core desktop-class processors, the Apple T2 Security Chip, faster memory up to 64GB, high‑performance all-flash storage, and is packed with advanced ports including four Thunderbolt 3, two USB-A, HDMI video, audio and Ethernet up to 10 Gbps. All of this power is packed into the same-sized enclosure as before, perfect for customers updating or creating all‑new installations where Mac mini is the ideal solution.

Five times faster and more powerful than ever — Now with quad- and 6-core eighth-generation Intel Core processors with Turbo Boost speeds up to 4.6GHz and Intel UHD graphics, Mac mini delivers up to five times faster performance than the previous generation.1 Mac mini now rips through traditional desktop tasks like photo and video editing, music creation and software development, and crushes pro workflows including video transcoding, code compiling and live musical performances. And with up to 64GB of 2666 MHz memory, Mac mini can load larger files into memory, run more virtual machines and manipulate even larger datasets. Every Mac mini now features the speed and reliability of all-flash storage. With capacities up to 2TB, the SSD storage on Mac mini is up to four times faster, so working with large files and opening apps is quicker than ever.1

The Apple T2 Security Chip comes to Mac mini — The Apple T2 Security Chip brings industry-leading security to your Mac mini. The T2 Security Chip features an SSD controller with on-the-fly data encryption so everything stored on the SSD is automatically and fully encrypted. The Secure Enclave in the T2 Security Chip ensures that software loaded during the boot process has not been tampered with. The T2 Security Chip also features HEVC video transcoding that’s up to an incredible 30 times faster, enabling pro users to work more quickly with higher-resolution video throughout their workflow.1

Higher-performance I/O with Thunderbolt 3 and 10Gb Ethernet — With four Thunderbolt 3 ports — twice as many Thunderbolt ports as the previous generation and each with double the performance — the new Mac mini can connect to high-speed storage, 4K and 5K Thunderbolt displays and output video in three formats. Mac mini also features an HDMI 2.0 port, two USB-A ports, an audio jack and Gigabit Ethernet, so it can connect to almost anything. And for remarkably fast networking performance, Mac mini offers a 10Gb Ethernet option for the first time.

100 per cent recycled aluminium enclosure and a smaller carbon footprint — Now in a gorgeous new space grey finish, every new Mac mini enclosure uses an Apple‑designed aluminium alloy made from 100 per cent recycled aluminium for the first time, which has the same strength, durability and beautiful finish as the aluminium in all Apple products.2 The Mac mini also features the use of more post-consumer recycled plastic in parts like the foot. All together, these advancements help to reduce the carbon footprint of the new Mac mini by nearly 50 per cent.3

macOS Mojave — All new Macs come with macOS Mojave, the latest version of the world’s most advanced desktop operating system, with new features inspired by pros, but designed for everyone. In macOS Mojave, Dark Mode transforms the desktop with a dramatic new look that puts the focus on your content. The new Stacks feature organises messy desktops by automatically stacking files into neat groups. Familiar iOS apps — including News, Stocks, Voice Memos and Home — are now available on Mac for the first time. FaceTime now adds support for group calling, and the Mac App Store gets a full redesign featuring rich editorial content and apps from top developers like Microsoft and Adobe.

Pricing and availability — Starting at a recommended retail price of NZ$1449 inc. GST, the new Mac mini is available to order today on apple.com/nz. It will also be available through Apple Authorised Resellers starting on Wednesday, 7 November. Additional technical specifications, configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at http://www.apple.com/nz/mac.

1 Testing conducted by Apple in October 2018 using preproduction 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7–based Mac mini systems with 64GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, and shipping 3.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7–based Mac mini systems with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Performance tests are conducted using specific computer systems and reflect the approximate performance of Mac mini.
2 Recycled material claim applies to the enclosure.
3 Based on Product Greenhouse Gas Life Cycle Assessment. See our Product Environmental Reports for more information.

All-New MacBook Air Takes Flight


Apple introduced an all-new MacBook Air today in New York, bringing a stunning 13-inch Retina display, Touch ID, the latest processors and an even more portable design to the world’s most loved notebook. Delivering the all-day battery life it’s known for, the new MacBook Air is available in three gorgeous finishes — gold, silver and space grey. The most affordable Mac with a Retina display also includes an Apple-designed keyboard, a spacious Force Touch trackpad, faster SSDs, wide stereo sound, the Apple T2 Security Chip and Thunderbolt 3, making the new MacBook Air the perfect notebook to take with you everywhere you go.
Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Redesigning MacBook Air started with a stunning Retina display and all-day battery life, and then we added Touch ID and the Apple T2 Security Chip, the latest processors, incredible sound, the third-generation keyboard and Force Touch trackpad, high-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports and of course macOS Mojave, in a beautiful, thinner, lighter, all-aluminium design that a whole new generation of MacBook Air customers are going to love.”

Retina Display Comes to MacBook Air — The new MacBook Air features a stunning 13.3-inch Retina display with over 4 million pixels of resolution so text and images in macOS Mojave look sharp and stunning. And with 48 per cent more colour than the previous generation, images are more lifelike than ever. The new MacBook Air also includes a built-in FaceTime HD camera, which is perfect for Group FaceTime calls with friends and family members, as well as a three microphone array for better sound quality when making calls and improved voice recognition in Siri.

Featuring Touch ID and the Apple T2 Security Chip — MacBook Air now includes Touch ID — a fingerprint sensor built into the keyboard — which allows you to conveniently and instantly unlock your MacBook Air; authenticate your identity; and make fast, simple and secure purchases using Apple Pay. To support Touch ID, MacBook Air comes with the Apple T2 Security Chip, which makes your notebook far more secure. Its Secure Enclave protects Touch ID information and ensures that software loaded during the boot process has not been tampered with. The T2 Security Chip also features an SSD controller with on-the-fly data encryption for everything stored on the SSD. These allow MacBook Air to offer the most secure boot process and storage of any notebook. The T2 Security Chip features an always-on processor that enables Hey Siri, letting you use just your voice to ask Siri for things like finding files or opening an app.

Latest Generation Keyboard and Industry’s Best Trackpad — MacBook Air features a third-generation Apple-designed keyboard for more precise and responsive typing. Each key is individually backlit using low-power LEDs for more accurate illumination. The new MacBook Air also includes the industry-best Force Touch trackpad, which delivers pressure-sensing capabilities and haptic feedback. It’s also 20 per cent larger than the trackpad on the previous-generation MacBook Air, offering a quieter and more capable trackpad experience.

Fuller, More Immersive Audio Experience — With more advanced speakers and audio processing technology, MacBook Air delivers a higher-quality audio experience and wide stereo playback that makes watching movies and listening to music more immersive than ever. The speakers are 25 per cent louder with twice as much bass as the previous generation, for more dynamic range and fuller sound.1

Performance to Power Your Daily Activities — The new MacBook Air features an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor, Intel UHD graphics and faster 2133 MHz system memory up to 16GB, delivering the performance you need for everyday activities like organising your photos, browsing the web, creating presentations, or viewing and editing videos. MacBook Air also features SSDs up to 1.5TB in capacity, that are up to 60 per cent faster than the previous generation and make launching apps and opening files feel snappier and more responsive.1

Thunderbolt 3, the Most Versatile Port Ever — MacBook Air now comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, so you can charge your notebook; quickly transfer data via USB and Thunderbolt; output video in three formats; and connect to a whole host of devices including external storage, docks for additional ports, 4K and 5K displays, and eGPUs for faster graphics. It’s the most versatile port ever. The ecosystem has over 700 Thunderbolt 3 devices and counting, along with thousands of USB-C devices, so MacBook Air allows you to take advantage of a whole new generation of accessories.

All-New, More Portable Design and The Greenest Mac Ever — The new MacBook Air packs all of these features in a new, distinctive wedge-shaped design that’s now even more compact and portable. And it delivers up to 12 hours of battery life during wireless web use and up to 13 hours of iTunes movie playback.2 Featuring a significantly smaller footprint, the new MacBook Air takes up 17 per cent less volume, is 10 per cent thinner measuring just 1.56 centimetres at its thickest point, and at just 1.25 kilograms it’s 100 grams lighter than the previous generation.
In addition, the new MacBook Air enclosure is made from a custom, Apple-designed aluminium alloy that enables the use of 100 per cent recycled aluminium for the first time, which has the same strength, durability and beautiful finish as the aluminium in all Apple products.3 Using this custom aluminium alloy helps reduce MacBook Air’s carbon footprint by nearly 50 per cent, making it the greenest Mac ever.4

Radeon Pro Vega Graphics Coming to MacBook Pro Next Month — Apple also announced new MacBook Pro graphics options that will bring powerful Radeon Pro Vega graphics to MacBook Pro for the first time. These new graphics options deliver up to 60 per cent faster graphics performance for the most demanding video editing, 3D design and rendering workloads.

Pricing and Availability — Starting at a recommended retail price of NZ$2149 inc. GST, the new MacBook Air is available to order today on apple.com/nz. It will be available through Apple Authorised Resellers starting on Wednesday, 7 November. Additional technical specifications, configure-to-order options and accessories are available online at http://www.apple.com/nz/mac.
The new graphics configuration option for MacBook Pro will be available to order on apple.com/nz and through Apple Authorised Resellers starting on Wednesday, 14 November.

Testing conducted by Apple in October 2018 using preproduction 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-based MacBook Air systems with 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD.
The wireless web test measures battery life by wirelessly browsing 25 popular websites with display brightness set to 12 clicks from bottom or 75 per cent. Battery life varies by use and configuration. See http://www.apple.com/nz/batteries for more information.
Recycled material claim applies to the enclosure and is based on auditing done by UL LLC.
Based on Product Greenhouse Gas Life Cycle Assessment. See our product environmental reports for more information.

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump wants more nukes, bots are slaving, tech wars, bans galore


Trump thinks the world needs more nukes — The US has had a brief respite from nuclear apocalypticism after that brief period when Donald Trump seemed pretty likely to start a war with North Korea via Twitter. But it’s Trump: the power of the US nuclear arsenal has never seemed very far from his mind, and he recently announced the country will be leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) – a landmark Ronald Reagan-era treaty between the US and the former Soviet Union (now Russia) that eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles with a range between 500-5200km (not including those based at sea).
Deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute Malcolm Chalmers told the Guardian the situation was more serious than at any time since the 1980s. [Ah, yeah, ‘Let’s make America threat again!’]
But wait, what about ‘hypersonics’? Over the past year, the US, China and Russia have all stepped up efforts to develop a new kind of missile, a weapon that can fly faster and farther than almost anything in existence. [Yay, excellent, give the biggest gorillas the biggest sticks!] China said it had conducted the first successful tests of a hypersonic prototype called Starry Sky 2 this year – it flew for more than five minutes and reached speeds above 6437kph  (4000mph).
So, what is a ‘nationalist’? A word in more or less everyone’s vocabulary has become a flashpoint once it was claimed by President Trump during a stump speech in Texas. Trump said he was a “proud” nationalist, using the term it to contrast himself with previous presidents who negotiated trade deals, arms agreements and immigration laws — all of which involve the interests of other nations in addition to our own.
Meanwhile, the Feds are unsealing new charges against Russia — The US government warned about the continued threat of foreign interference on Friday as it unsealed a new criminal complaint against a Russian woman described as the paymistress for Moscow’s program of information war — a scheme targeting next month’s midterm elections in the US.

The tech wars — Twitter bans pro-Saudi bots: Anyone who tweeted about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the past two weeks saw major pushback on Twitter from accounts in Saudi Arabia. But that could slow down in the coming days ow that Twitter has reportedly banned an unspecified number of alleged bots that were pushing pro-Saudi propaganda.
Android apps harvesting data are out of control — A new study from Oxford University revealed that almost 90% of free apps on the Google Play store share data with Alphabet. The researchers analysed 959,000 apps from the US and UK Google Play stores and found data harvesting and sharing by mobile apps was now ‘out of control‘.
Under their skin — In Sweden, a country rich with technological advancement, thousands have had microchips inserted into their hands. The chips are designed to speed up users’ daily routines and make their lives more convenient: accessing their homes, offices and gyms is as easy as swiping their hands against digital readers. [You know, because it’s s-o-o-o-o difficult getting a swipe-card out of your pocket or bag.]
AI painted a picture, and it sold for US$432,500 … An anonymous phone bidder bought the painting, Portrait of Edmond Belamy, which was created by an algorithm developed by the Paris art collective Obvious. The three-person team fed the network 15,000 portraits from the 14th through 20th Centuries. [Not bad, although the framing is bloody terrible.]
AI beat some lawyers —In a landmark study, 20 top US corporate lawyers with decades of experience in corporate law and contract review were pitted against an AI. Their task was to spot issues in five Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), which are a contractual basis for most business deals. The study, carried out with leading legal academics and experts, saw the LawGeex AI achieve an average 94% accuracy rate, higher than the lawyers who achieved an average rate of 85%. The AI was many times faster, too. [As long as they remember to program in the prejudice, this could soon be effective in creating – sorry, that should be ‘fighting’ – crime in the US.]

Bans galore — Experts want to ban organophosphate pesticides to protect children’s health: evidence that an entire class of pesticides threatens the health of children and pregnant women is now so arresting that the substances should be banned, an expert panel of toxicologists has said. Exposure to organophosphates (OPs) increases the risk of reduced IQs, memory and attention deficits, and autism for prenatal children {surely there’s a compelling reason, though? Since it probably makes certain people loads of money].
European plastic ban — The European Parliament has voted to enact a complete ban on some single-use plastics, such as drinking straws and disposable cutlery, across the European Union and a reduction on others in an effort to reduce ocean waste. [Overreacting? Methinks not: in a pilot study, researchers looked for microplastics in stool samples of eight people from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria. To their surprise, every single sample tested positive for the presence of a variety of microplastics. We kill it, or it may kill us.]
Spanking ban — A new study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries around the world suggests banning ‘spanking’ of children by caregivers is making a difference in reducing youth violence. It marks the first systematic assessment of whether an association exists between a ban on corporal punishment and the frequency in which adolescents get into fights.

Futurology ~ 3D bridge, power computing, water from air, solar efficiency, exercise exercise, early spearpoints, Australian lion


World’s first 3D printed bridge looks pretty cool — The world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge, a 12.19m stainless steel structure titled simply The Bridge, looks tantalizingly otherworldly thanks to its unique construction methods. It is now ready for installation in Amsterdam following its ongoing week on show at the Dutch Design Week from October 20-28.
~ Far canal.

Creating the first Quantum Internet — Scientists in Chicago are trying to create the embryo of the first quantum internet. If they succeed, the researchers will produce one, 30-mile piece of a far more secure communications system with the power of fast quantum computing.
The key has been the realisation of an unused, 30-mile-long fibre-optic link connecting three Chicago-area research institutions: Argonne National Lab, Fermi Lab and the University of Chicago. This led to the idea to combine efforts and use the link for what they call the Chicago Quantum Exchange.
~ That’s your dedicated channel right there. 

Intel’s latest consumer CPU is close to a revolution — The 9th-Gen i9 9900K retails for US$859, has 8 cores that can run up to 16 threads concurrently, and it’s one of the first CPUs to ship with a turbo frequency of 5GHz. It isn’t just fast, it’s coming close breaking a long believed theoretical limit. 5GHz has been something of a pipe dream for many years, posing a theoretical barrier that most CPUs could not surpass without significant tweaking to the fundamental design of processors. But Intel shipped a limited edition i7-8086K earlier this year with the same clock speed, while AMD shipped the FX 9590 back in 2013 (although this was largely considered a failure).
~ Gassin’ the GigaHertz all right.

Tiny PC a powerhouse — You’ll soon be able to get Hardkernel’s ODROID-H2 — a 110mm² motherboard packing a full, x86-64 Intel CPU that can not only run Windows 10, but power two 4K displays.
The guts of the ODROID-H2 is Intel’s quad-core J4105 processor, clocked at 2.3GHz and based on the Goldmont Plus architecture. This isn’t some cut-down hardware, but a full, x86-64 chip that can run anything a regular desktop can. And it weighs just 320 grams!
~ Boo-yah! Well, I guess we should be surprised going by how much wallop the latest smartphones pack. 

Device pulls drink water from the air — A new device that sits inside a shipping container can use clean energy to almost instantly bring clean drinking water anywhere: the rooftop of an apartment building in Nairobi, a disaster zone after a hurricane in Manila, or a rural village in Zimbabwe. And it does it by pulling water from the air. The design, from the Skysource/Skywater Alliance, just won US$1.5 million in the Water Abundance XPrize. The competition, launched in 2016, asked designers to build a device that could extract at least 2000 litres of water a day from the atmosphere (enough for the daily needs of around 100 people), use clean energy, and cost no more than 2 cents a litre. That challenge has now concluded.
~ Yeah, you thought it was a roof and guttering, didn’t you? But this thing even works where there is no rainfall. 

New material can raise the efficiency of solar power — A composite of tungsten and zirconium carbide (both of which have the extremely high melting points of 3,700K) conduct heat extremely well, and neither of them expands or softens much under these conditions, meaning they would hold up better to the mechanical stresses. This could help, eventually, to lower the price of solar concentration arrays because it’s possible to use much less of it to build a heat exchanger.
~ The real hurdle is to come up with good enough, affordable batteries so that solar power can be used overnight. 

Not exercising at all is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease — Exercise helps you live longer [and this is, after all, a column about the future]. But a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open goes further, finding that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease. There appears to be no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise. Researchers have always been concerned that “ultra” exercisers might be at a higher risk of death, but the study found that not to be the case.
~ Of course, exercising on an active battlefield still poses potentially life-shortening risks no matter how fast you can run while carrying a load. 

Archaeologists have discovered two previously unknown forms of spearpoint technology at a site in Texas — The triangular blades appear to be older than the projectile points produced by the Paleoamerican Clovis culture (once thought of as the earliest example of human activity in North America). This observation is complicating our understanding of how the Americas were colonised – and by whom.
~ And that’s the real point of the spearpoints.

Fearsome marsupial ‘lion’ of Australia disappeared 35,000 years ago, but why? — New research suggests it was climate change rather than human activity that caused Thylacoleo carnifex to become extinct. For millions of years, Thylacoleo carnifex ruled the forests of Australia, but the predatory species disappeared around 35,000 to 45,000 years ago. Humans first appeared in Australia around 60,000 years ago, leading scientists to wonder if humans were somehow responsible – hardly an outrageous suggestion, given our track record.
But this research helps demonstrate that even the fiercest predators [hint hint] can succumb to climate change.
~ What’s that, Skippy? Steve’s Land-Rover has overturned in the ravine? 

The Apocalypticon ~ The world, climate damage, insects, coffee, water wars, Germany, Trump’s US, curbing Facebook, your Apple data, sunlight and germs, cooperation


New research shows microplastics in 90%tyde of the table salt brands sampled worldwide — Of 39 salt brands tested, 36 had microplastics in them, according to a new analysis by researchers in South Korea and Greenpeace East Asia. Salt samples from 21 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia were analysed. The three brands that did not contain microplastics are from Taiwan (refined sea salt), China (refined rock salt), and France (unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation). The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Killing the world’s biggest organism — The heaviest organism on Earth isn’t a whale or an elephant. It’s a tree – or rather, a system of over 40,000 clonal trees all connected by their roots. Pando, a 13 million pound organism in central Utah, is believed to have sprouted toward the end of the last Ice Age. But after thousands of years of thriving, Pando has run into trouble.
Hawking: there’s no god, but there will be dangerous ‘superhumans’ — Stephen Hawking wrote that artificial intelligence will eventually become so advanced it will “outperform humans.” The renowned physicist who died in March the year warns of both rises in advanced artificial intelligence and genetically-enhanced “superhumans” in his book just published posthumously.
Last week was a wild climate ride — From a landmark special report saying we basically have a decade to get our act together to Hurricane Michael decimating northwest Florida, if ever there was a time for the media to finally ask politicians about their plans to address climate change, this was it. And for once, the media delivered.
Unfortunately, the politicians they consulted did not.
Hyperalarming insect loss — Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico. The study found the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too. The latest report shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates. “Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss. [Indeed.]
Coffee is under threat too — “We are in the middle of the biggest coffee crisis of our time,” said the Guatemalan producer and exporter Josué Morales, who works with over 1300 growers.
World water wars — A United Nations report says we have about a decade to get climate change under control, which, let’s be honest (see above)isn’t likely to happen. So break out your goalie masks and harpoon guns, a Mad Max future awaits! Now, as new research points out, we even know where on Earth the inevitable water wars are most likely to take place [map, below – click it for a closer look].Don’t look the perp in the iPhone — It’s no secret that law enforcement often resorts to workarounds for Apple’s security features, but the Face ID technology of the iPhone X makes things tricky. According to a report from Motherboard, forensics company Elcomsoft is advising U.S. law enforcement to not even look at phones with Face ID. This is because with its Face ID feature enabled, failed attempts to get into the phone could lock investigators out by requiring a passcode that may be protected under the Fifth Amendment (in the US, anyway).

It’s a long way back to Germany — German support for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives is at an all-time low, and in few places is that more evident than Bavaria.
A booming economy and ever fewer migrants crossing the border into the wealthy alpine state haven’t eased a populist backlash against the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the closest ally of Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). The CSU has governed Bavaria for all but three years since 1946, most of the time with an absolute majority. But now the far-right party AfD is currently the main opposition in the German parliament and is widely expected to win seats in the Bavarian legislature for the first time when regional elections are held.
Why, ma? When German organisers pulled together a demonstration in Berlin to support “an open and free society,” they had some ambitious goals: they expected roughly 40,000 people to pack the span from Berlin’s city centre, from Alexanderplatz to the Victory Column, where they were holding their final rally of the day.
But more than 240,000 people showed up for the march and rallies … [yep, sounds like Weimar again.] The march comes at a time when Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD: see above), is gaining ground across the country.

Trump-themed dating app leaks data almost immediately — Mere hours after Fox News revealed the existence of a new Trump-centric dating app, a security researcher apparently uncovered evidence that “Donald Daters” is leaking sensitive user information online.
The app, with the tagline ‘Make America Date Again’, is reportedly dumping photos and biographical information about its users into a publicly accessible database and may even be leaking authentication tokens, which could grant full access to a person’s account, including their private messages.
Trump may be self-made, but he’s far from a self-made billionaire Investigative reporters Susanne Craig and David Barstow say the president received today’s equivalent of $413 million from his father’s real estate empire through what appears to be tax fraud [but that’s what made him so ‘clever’, right?].
Massive partisan gaps in the new US — A new poll gives a clearer picture of what US “tribalism” no looks like: Americans differ not just on their ideology or political team, but on the issues they view as problems. The poll presented registered voters with 18 issues, asking those voters how big of a problem each issue is.
Voters supporting Democrats for Congress this year were far more likely to see most of these as problems, with majorities saying 13 out of the 18 issues are ‘very big’ problems. On many of those issues Democratic voters highlighted, there are yawning partisan gaps. For example, 8 in 10 people supporting Democrats say gun violence is a very big problem, but only 1 in 4 Republicans do. Likewise, 72% of Democrats see climate change as a big problem, compared with just 11% of Republicans.
Trump supported offering ‘free helicopter rides’ — Hilarious, right? As they mean free rides in the manner of Pinochet’s helicopters that dropped captured, bound activists and opponents into the sea. Yeah, it’ ‘just humour’.

Data: How ago all but rid yourself of Facebook — In the immediate aftermath of the news that hackers had access to the personal information of about 30 million Facebook users, Gizmodo shows you how to bolt down Facebook – should you still want to use it – so much less information about you is retained.
And here’s how to download all the data Apple has on you

Oh my lord, is there any good news? A little: your grandmother was right about sunlight killing germs: rooms exposed to daylight have fewer germs.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “The reason I reject that ‘me against the world’ scenario is that humans are where we are now because of cooperation, not in spite of it. We socialise and swap stories, and then we help each other dig a channel to redirect water, raise a roof or to dig a field over. In the present day, some of us might consider ourselves rugged individualists but, no matter what we tell ourselves, we have libraries at our disposal, and we use roads, social services, health care and communications networks. All of these were built by combined effort for mutual benefit.”

Futurology ~ 10 trillion frames, driverless military, digital acting, super-laser, Viking ship, sponge on steroids


Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists in Norway have discovered an ancient Viking ship (outlined in green) buried just 50cm beneath the surface of a farmer’s field.

World’s fastest camera shoots 10 trillion frames a second — For the new imaging technique, the team started with compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), a method that it is capable of 100 billion fps. That’s nothing to scoff at by itself, but it’s still not fast enough to really capture what’s going on with ultrafast laser pulses, which occur on the scale of femtoseconds. A femtosecond, for reference, is one quadrillionth of a second.
So the team built on that technology by combining a femtosecond streak camera and a static camera, and running it through a data acquisition technique known as Radon transformation. This advanced system was dubbed T-CUP.
~ I think Zeno ought to step in here. 

The US Army is getting ready to drive into war in driverless trucks — In a year, its ‘Leader-Follower’ technology will enable convoys of autonomous vehicles to follow behind one vehicle driven by a human. It’s a direct response to the improvised explosive devices that caused nearly half the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
~ Surely you just blow up the first truck then? Then they all stop, and let the plundering begin.. The next step is complete soldier-less wars.

Actors are digitally preserving themselves to continue their careers beyond the grave — From Carrie Fisher in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story to Paul Walker in the Fast & Furious movies, dead and magically “de-aged” actors are appearing more frequently on movie screens. Sometimes they even appear on stage: next year, an Amy Winehouse hologram will be going on tour to raise money for a charity established in the late singer’s memory. Some actors and movie studios are buckling down and preparing for an inevitable future when using scanning technology to preserve 3-D digital replicas of performers is routine. Just because your star is inconveniently dead doesn’t mean your generation-spanning blockbuster franchise can’t continue to rake in the dough.
~ So go image yourselves before the botox, filler and plastic surgery looks too obvious. 

Powerful lasers changing labs — The winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics didn’t just make discoveries. Their revolutionary work turned powerful lasers into ubiquitous lab tools. The tennis-court sized Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator, or BELLA, uses one of the Nobel-winning methods to create one of the most powerful laser pulses on Earth.
~ BELLA is chirped pulse amplification on steroids. So you’d hope their aim is pretty good.

Antarctic ice making weird noises — Using special instruments, scientists have discovered weird sounds at the bottom of the world. The noise is actually vibrating ice, caused by the wind blowing across snow dunes, according to a new study. It’s kind of like you’re blowing a flute, constantly, on the ice shelf,” study lead author Julien Chaput, a geophysicist and mathematician at Colorado State University, said in a statement. Another scientist, glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal of the University of Chicago, likened the sounds to the buzz of thousands of cicadas. The sounds are too low in frequency to be heard by human ears unless sped up by the monitoring equipment.
~ Sounds cool.

Ancient Viking ship just metres from a motorway — Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists in Norway have discovered an ancient Viking ship buried just 50cm beneath the surface of a farmer’s field. The 20m-long ship, deliberately buried during a funeral ritual, appears surprisingly intact – and it could contain the skeletal remains of a high-ranking Viking warrior.
~ I guess it’s not all that surprising since it’s near the the large and fully intact Jelle burial mound.

Ancient sea sponge on steroids — Scientists from the University of California, Riverside, are claiming to have discovered the oldest known animal fossil – an ancient sea sponge that emerged between 660 million and 635 million years ago.
~ Unfair advantage? 

The Apocalypticon ~ Chinese totalitarianism, animal antics, sunscreen, Molotov’d troll, Chernobyl power, oyster shells, mattock


Interpol President Meng Hongwei has resigned after being detained by Chinese authorities who accuse him of corruption. The shocking turnabout comes days after Meng’s wife said the career police officer had disappeared after he left France to visit his native China. China’s Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi said on Monday that Meng is being investigated for allegations of bribery — charges that he did not describe in detail. Zhao said his ministry supports the inquiry; he also spoke of the importance of loyalty to the Communist Party’s ideals [my italics].
Apple denies ‘wild’ Bloomberg allegations about Chinese surveillance hardware — Apple (and Amazon) quickly and fiercely refuted claims that rice-grain-sized hardware had been introduced to their server hardware. Another strongly-worded denial is available to read in full – this is one Apple wrote to members of Congress (as Reuters reported). The full letter is now online.

Dinosaurs to blame for us needing sunscreen — The idea is that the ancient ancestors of modern mammals (including humans) had to live underground or were exclusively nocturnal in order to to avoid being eaten by dinosaurs. Therefore, we did not evolve the so-called ‘photoreactivation DNA repair function’. Dang.
But who is to blame for us being overexposed to computer and device screens? Not these Kickstarter glasses! Scott Blew, an entrepreneur and engineer, recalled an article he’d recently read in WIRED about a new kind of film that blocked the light emitted from screens. He wondered if the same technology might work on a pair of glasses, to block the screens that seemed to be everywhere.
It does work (below). They tune out most televisions and some computers, but not the newer crop of smartphones like the just-released OLED-packing iPhones.

Animal antics: Polar bears eating whales — Just over a year ago, 150 polar bears amassed on a remote island off the north coast Siberia to devour a dead bowhead whale that had washed ashore. It was the largest swarm of polar bears ever recorded feasting on a stranded whale — but events such as this could become more common in a warmer world.
Gecko made multiple prank calls — The director of a seal hospital in Hawaii says she was deluged with a more than a dozen mysterious calls to her mobile phone. When she picked up, however, the line was silent.
To make the situation even stranger, the calls were apparently coming from inside the hospital. It turned out to be a rather active tiny gold dust day gecko ..

Molotov hits Russian troll factory — [I love that headline!] Russia’s most famous ‘troll factory,’ a building where Kremlin-financed posters waged a battle of words in the New Cold War, has been hit with a molotov cocktail. No one was injured in the attack.
Chernobyl is producing power again — though not the kind that triggered a nuclear meltdown 32 years ago. Ukraine is now turning to solar power, and in the process, making good use of land that won’t be habitable to humans for another 24,000 years. The modest one-megawatt plant, located just 100m from the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant, has been launched by Ukranian authorities. The photovoltaic cells of this €1 million (US$1.6 million) solar station take up four acres of land and produces enough energy to power about 2000 households. [Since no one can live there, it’s an ingenious use of the real estate.]

Now for some good news — Used oyster shells are helping save New York harbourOver 70 restaurants across New York City are tossing their oyster shells  into the city’s eroded harbour as part of Billion Oyster Project’s restaurant shell-collection program. The journey from trash to treasure begins after an oyster half shell is turned upside down and left on an icy tray. It joins hundreds of thousands of other half shells collected in blue bins and picked up (free of charge) from restaurants five days a week. They are trucked to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighbourhood and, once cured, they’re used to hatch live oysters which become part of New York harbour reclamation projects.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “One famous trope for surviving in zombie apocalypse is to carry a spade, because it is useful and because nobody immediately interprets a spade as a weapon, since it’s such a a common tool. But I prefer a mattock …”