All posts by Mark Webster

Apple commentator and trainer, history writer, publisher

The Apocalypticon ~ Collapse of nature, the US, Trump and all that, food killing, suicides rising, sadder music, Tesla auto-death, ebola worsens, coal fail


How to prevent nature’s collapse — Scientists warned last week that a million species could go extinct, and it’s all our fault. ‘Our’ fault as in humanity’s. Gizmodo has some suggestions.
Carbon in the atmosphere hits record — Scientists recorded the first ever carbon dioxide reading above 415 parts per million (ppm) at the Mauna Loa Observatory. They’ve been measuring carbon dioxide levels continuously since 1958 at that location, but ice cores and other data show that it’s not just the highest carbon dioxide has been in 61 years of data. It’s the highest its ever been 800,000 years of data
Startling El Nino — Australian scientists have developed an innovative method using cores drilled from coral to produce a world first 400-year long seasonal record of El Niño events, a record that many in the field had described as impossible to extract. And clearly, Central Pacific El Niño activity increased in the late 20th Century.
Ice loss — a quarter of the ice sheets in West Antarctica, the most vulnerable part of the continent, have destabilised. Ice loss has sped up fivefold across the region’s most imperilled glaciers in just 25 years.
Remote islands strangled in plastic — a marine biologist from Australia traveled to a remote string of islands in the Indian Ocean to see how much plastic waste had washed up on the beaches, and found “373,000 toothbrushes and around 975,000 shoes, largely flip-flops,” says Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania in Australia. And that’s not all: more than 414 million pieces of plastic debris are estimated to be currently sitting on the Cocos Keeling Islands, weighing a remarkable 238 tons.

US will not sign Christchurch call against online extremism — The US will not sign onto the Christchurch call to action against online extremism expected to be released Wednesday, citing concerns that the pact would violate free speech protections in the First Amendment, the Washington Post reports.
Is it because terrorists buy guns, and that’s profitable? A series of internal National Rifle Association documents leaked online have detailed lavish six-figure spending on clothing and travel expenses for CEO Wayne LaPierre. [Quick, right wing morons, donate more money!]
Mueller cover-up — If lawmakers eventually win, they — and potentially us — could learn more about what Mueller uncovered during his roughly 22-month investigation.
Trump welcomes hard-right Hungarian — President Trump has hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the White House , a gesture the past two US presidents avoided granting to the hard-right European leader.
Navy SEAL gets hacked and tracked — Military prosecutors in the case of a US navy Seal charged with killing an Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017 installed tracking software in emails sent to defence lawyers and a reporter in an apparent attempt to discover who was leaking information to the media, according to lawyers who said they received the corrupted messages.

Ultra-processed foods is killing people — Over the past 70 years, ultra-processed foods have come to dominate the US diet. They are made from cheap industrial ingredients and engineered to be super-tasty and generally high in fat, sugar and salt. The rise of ultra-processed foods has coincided with growing rates of obesity, leading many to suspect that they’ve played a big role in our growing waistlines. A new study suggests yes, it is.

Girl suicides rising — The number of people dying by suicide in the US has been rising, and a new study shows that the suicide rate among young teenage girls has been increasing faster than it has for boys of the same age.

Music getting sadder — Today’s music expresses an even deeper unhappiness than the songs of the past is the conclusion of two recent analyses examining thousands of US and UK hits from the last few decades.

Another Tesla autopilots into a death — In March, a Tesla Model 3 crashed into a semi-truck turning onto a Florida highway, killing the driver. After a preliminary investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded Autopilot, Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving technology, was engaged at the time of the fatal crash.

Second worst Ebola outbreak kills higher percentage — The current outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has infected 1720 and killed 1136, giving the viral disease a whopping 66% fatality rate. The situation is making public health experts on the ground increasingly nervous.

Fourth-largest coal producer in the US files for bankruptcy Wasn’t Trump going to save coal? [Take. Make. Use. Lose.]

Futurology ~ Moon’s mantle, selenium solar, living artificial DNA, printed organoids, inflatable weight-loss, new bio-glue, amber surprise


An incredible 99-million-year-old chunk of amber contains several trapped marine gastropods

Chinese moon rover finds geological evidence — Lying just beneath the cratered, desolate crust, the moon’s upper mantle is thought to be the frozen remnant of a vast magma ocean that existed more than 4 billion years ago. A Chinese mission has discovered signs of mantle material at the moon’s surface, effectively setting an X on lunar maps for future explorers seeking this not-so-buried geological treasure.
~ Not everybody is convinced, though. 

Researchers solve scientific puzzle that could improve solar panel efficiency — A Loughborough University Ph.D. student has helped shed light on a solar panel puzzle that could lead to more efficient devices being developed. Tom Fiducia has helped figure out how adding selenium assists improves efficiency.
~ And duralium?

World’s first living organism with fully redesigned DNA created —
Scientists have created the world’s first living organism that has a fully synthetic and radically altered DNA code. The bug’s existence proves *life can exist with a restricted genetic code and paves the way for organisms whose biological machinery is commandeered to make drugs and useful materials, or to add new features such as virus resistance.
~ *I thought Trump already proved that. 

3D-printed paper organs — Using a 3D printer, an international team of scientists has generated functional organoids that better mimic organs in the body. A 2D layer of cells is a poor substitute for the much more complex 3D structure of tissues in organs. Organs also contain supporting cells, including nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues, which are not adequately represented by 2D cell culture.
~ Organoids … good name for a band. 

Self-inflating weight-loss pill — Today, moderately obese patients and those who are too ill to undergo surgery can opt for the intragastric balloon, an established weight loss intervention that has to be inserted into the stomach via endoscopy under sedation. It is removed six months later via the same procedure. Being invasive, the treatment is not suitable for all patients, but now there’s a prototype capsule containing a balloon that can be self-inflated with a handheld magnet once it is in the stomach.
~ Ah, but can you make a balloonanimal out of it? 

New bio-glue is activated with light — A new bio-glue (an experimental adhesive gel activated by a flash of light) has been proven to stop high pressure bleeding in the hearts of pigs.
~ Pigs go wild celebrating …

99-million-year-old amber holds saline surprise — An incredible 99-million-year-old chunk of amber contains several trapped marine gastropods, including an extinct ammonite.
~ Clearly they were tree-climbing sea life. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Royal baby, traditions; fat farmers; Infowars, info and wars; Facebook; plague in Mongolia; USA; Climate change; anti-vaxxer pox


Aw, a baby! Even better, a royal baby, born into a family that doesn’t have to do anything apart from act like they deserve it to get loads of tax payers’ dollars. So as a breath of polluted air, Gizmodo ran a story called ‘Here’s How Screwed By Climate Change The UK Will Be When The Royal Baby Turns 18.’
Talking about hallowed old traditions — Eugenics and anti-immigration laws of the past still resonate today, according to journalist Daniel Okrent. He sees echos of the 1924 act in President Trump’s hard-line stance regarding immigration. [I just see recurring short-sighted stupidity, but what do I know?]
Here’s another: farmers are slimmer and fitter than city dwellers — Not so, though. Comprehensively not so: over 1000 researchers representing the Non-Communicable Disease Coalition analysed 2009 studies of more than 112 million adults from 200 countries. The study found that global averages are creeping up for everyone — but faster for rural residents. [I guess riding around all day in a ute or on a quad-bike is not quite the same as old-time farming.]

Sword-missile — Seriously, imagine a drone-fired missile that doesn’t explode, but slices you up instead. It’s real: the RX9 redefines ‘surgical strike‘.

Infowars, info and wars— When you check your Alexa dialogue history, you can see text next to the recordings like “How’s the Weather” and “Set an Alarm.” Amazon lets you delete those voice recordings, but this gives you a false sense of privacy because the company still has that data as text logs of the transcribed audio, with no option for you to delete them. [I love how Zuckerberg and his ilk are now trying to sell you privacy: first they take it away, and then they offer it back as a commodity you can purchase to make them even richer.]
Facebook co-founder says break Facebook up — Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes just published a lengthy and extremely convincing argument for breaking up Mark Zuckerberg’s empire. Hughes warned that Zuckerberg’s power to censor and control speech on the Facebook platform, where the vast majority of the social media activity takes place, along with WhatsApp and Instagram which he also controls (WhatsApp has 1.6 billion active monthly users; Instagram 1 billion), is something that lawmakers should take more seriously. [Jeeze, you reckon?]
Surprise! Uber systematically exploits workers — Studies have repeatedly found that after fees and expenses, Uber drivers make less than minimum wage in major markets. One found that half of all Uber drivers in Washington, DC lived below the poverty line. Meanwhile the CEO took in US$72 million last year. [In NZ, I seriously recommend you switch to Olla and /or Zoomy if you can, which at least keep the profits here.]
AI smart-locks locked people in — Five tenants in Hell’s Kitchen sued their landlord in March after the owners installed a Latch smart lock on the building last year. It is unlocked with a smartphone, and reportedly granted tenants access to the lobby, elevator, and mail room. But the group that sued their landlords saw this keyless entry as harassment, an invasion of privacy, and simply inconvenient. [Latch’s privacy policy indicates that the company collects and stores user information, including someone’s GPS location. In other words, Latch’s ‘privacy policy’ ensures you don’t have any.]
AI gun detection — Tech company Athena Security believes its smart security cameras can prevent attacks like the tragedy in Christchurch, and says it plans to install its AI-powered systems in mosques around the world. [I wish them good luck in Iraq.]

Thousand-year-old part drug kit — Archaeologists in the Bolivian Andes discovered a 1000-year-old ritual bundle that was basically a stash of drug paraphernalia. It contained traces of five different psychoactive substances, including cocaine and the active ingredients found in ayahuasca. [Party like it’s 999 …]

Bubonic plague strikes in Mongolia — In Mongolia, a couple died of bubonic plague on May 1 after reportedly hunting marmots. These are large rodents that can harbour the bacterium that causes the disease.

USA — Infamous Russian agents’ actions described: Newly obtained documents describe what happened when two now-infamous Russians took their outreach campaign into the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve in 2015.

(IImage from The Atlantic)

Climate change — Ice collapses, world quails, Trump regime cheers: A rational person looking at the collapse of the Arctic as we’ve known it for at least 115,000 years would see an ecological and humanitarian crisis. For the Trump administration, it’s just another business opportunity and chance to peddle climate denial. In sum, Pompeo said that climate change isn’t happenihappiness training happinessng, but also that it is but that’s actually good because it’s melting the Arctic, but also that the US has reduced emissions which is also good … yeah.
Renewable energy stalls — Installations of renewable energy plateaued in 2018 for the first time in nearly two decades of record keeping. Even if it’s just a temporary hiccup, a pause in installations is an extremely worrisome sign about the world’s ambition to address climate change.
But: Britain passed one week without coal power for first time since 1882. 

In good news: anti vaxxer twit gets chickenpox: 18-year-old Jerome Kunkel and his family filed a lawsuit against the health department that banned non-vaccinated kids from attending school. The suit claimed the vaccine violated his religious beliefs because the cell line used as the base of the chickenpox vaccine was derived from foetuses that had been aborted. Now he has chickenpox. [Well, I guess it can’t make him any dumber.]
Finally, you can train yourself 8 points to help you enjoy things: you can be taught to have a more positive attitude. And, if you work at it, a positive outlook can lead to less anxiety and depression.

Futurology ~ lasering missiles, carbon-sucking AC, desalination, breakthrough, endlessly recyclable plastic, beetle fire detectors, cancer nanomedicine, arsenic breathers, undersea archaeology


Scientists plan to drop grabs to find archaeological artefacts from a small sample range under the sea

US Air Force lasers missiles — The Force reckons it successfully used a ground-based surrogate for its laser weapons project, the Self-Protect High-Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD), to shoot down multiple air-launched missiles during a test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
~ A ground-based surrogate’? You mean the Air Force pretended to shoot down missiles with a laser? What did they use, a laser pointer? 

AC to suck carbon out of the sky — Researchers with the Institute for Micro Process Engineering in Germany have dreamt up a world where air conditioners don’t make climate change worse, but rather suck carbon out of the air.
~ It’s always seemed bizarre to me that you would help warm the planet just to cool down your own little apartment. 

Game-changing way to desalinate water — Temperature Swing Solvent Extraction is designed to purify hypersaline brines (water that contains a high concentration of salts, making it up to seven times as salty as seawater). This kind of waste water is produced by industrial processes and during oil and gas production, and it poses a major pollution risk to groundwater. The game changing part is this can occur at much lower temperatures than previous methods allowed.
~ I wonder if they considered just adding pepper for a cordon bleu solution? 

Endlessly Recyclable Plastic — A team from Berkeley Lab, California  has developed a method to create a new type of plastic that can be broken down at the molecular level to create new plastic without any deterioration in quality.
~ Erp …

Beetles detect oil fires — Pyrophilous jewel beetles approach forest fires and there is considerable evidence these beetles can detect fires from great distances of more than 60 km. Melanophila beetles are equipped with infrared receptors so they are also attracted by hot surfaces: it can be concluded that these infrared receptors are used for fire detection.
~ Fire Service, get your beetles out! 

Nanomeds slip through the cracks to fight cancer — Scientists in Japan have devised a nanoparticle carrier for siRNA that can access hard-to-reach tumours, such as those of the pancreas and the brain. Due to their small size of less than 20 nanometers, the YBCs are able to squeeze into hard-to-reach tumours.
~ Well, it’s working for mice so far, anyway. 

Arsenic breathers deep n the sea — Arsenic is toxic to almost all life forms, but now researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that some microbes in the Pacific Ocean not only tolerate the stuff, but actively breathe it. The discovery has implications for how life may adapt to a changing climate, as well as where we might find it on other planets.
~ Poisson breathing poison: well I never. 

Fishing for stone age settlers — Lost at the bottom of the North Sea almost eight millennia ago, a vast land area between England and southern Scandinavia which was home to thousands of stone age settlers is about to be rediscovered. The area was submerged when thousands of cubic miles of sub-Arctic ice started to melt and sea levels began to rise.
~ North Sea fishing crews have discovered archaeological artefacts in their nets.

The Apocalypticon ~ Asia, hunger, Facebook, privacy, Russian internet, measles, Mexico, Nazis, asteroid, military spending, real news, fake meat


Hungry brains — The brain consumes a disproportionately large percentage of a person’s daily energy intake, suggesting cognitive function is tied to nutrition. In countries such as India where many children live below the poverty line, food insecurity – limited access to sufficient safe and nutritious food at home – may reduce children’s learning ability. Scientists in India and the UK warn that food insecurity negatively impacts the learning ability of adolescents in India, with almost half of Indian teens suffering from hunger.
PepsiCo Inc has sued four Indian farmers for cultivating a potato variety that the snack food and drinks maker claims infringes its patent. [There’s your moral rectitude right there.]
Smoking is pervasive and on the rise in Asia, according to an investigation spanning 20 prospective cohort studies from mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and India. [So if big corporations can’t help starve people to death, give them lung cancer?]

Facebook — Facebook has announced it is banning a number of far-right political figures on its platforms, including InfoWars founder Alex Jones, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous, and InfoWars contributor Paul Joseph Watson, among a host of others. Leaked internal emails from Facebook had previously described Jones as a “hate figure,” which led users to wonder why he hadn’t been banned sooner. [Zuckerberg hasn’t been banned, though.]
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reckons privacy is now important. He says he’s committed to turning his company around. Onstage at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, the chief executive said that privacy will be the defining pillar of his social network’s sprawling empire going forward. [Entire world lols. Yeah we all totally trust you, Mark.]
So will he quit? If Zuckerberg wants to prove just how serious Facebook is about guarding user privacy, though, he should it prove it by announcing he’s quitting, says Phillip Michaels.
The dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years — New analysis by academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) [no, not Oxford Analytica] , part of the University of Oxford, predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within fifty years, a trend that will have grave implications for how we treat our digital heritage in the future. [So Zuck’s real challenge may be how to make a mint from dead people’s privacy.]

Around the world: Russia wants its own internet — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed into law new measures that would enable the creation of a Russian national network, able to operate separately from the rest of the world. For now, the network remains largely theoretical though, with few practical details disclosed.
Measles leads to cruise ship quarantine — A cruise ship with nearly 300 passengers and crew was ordered quarantined in the Caribbean port of St. Lucia after a case of measles was confirmed on board, island health officials said Wednesday.
US/Mexican border DNA tests — The US Department of Homeland Security will start using Rapid DNA tests on some asylum seekers at the US–Mexico border next week. The tests are intended to determine whether adults and children who are travelling together are actually family members.
Meanwhile, giant tent structures have been erected in Texas to serve as short-term detention facilities to process a huge influx of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America arriving at the US-Mexico border.
Lost to Nazis — A Jewish family has lost a 15-year legal battle to recover a painting stolen by Nazis during World War II.

Global military spending is continuing to increase — It has grown for the second year in a row and reaching the highest levels since reliable global figures became available in 1988. That’s the finding of a new report out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Total spending is up 76% from the post-Cold War low in 1998.

Asteroid threat — An asteroid slammed down and did away with all the dinosaurs, paving the way for such developments as the human race, capitalism, and posting on the internet: it’s the story we all know and love. Yet if things had shaken out differently – if the asteroid had stayed in its place, and the dinosaurs allowed to proceed with their business – what would things have looked like?Asteroid threat exercise — NASA, FEMA and other national and international agencies are once again gearing up for a hypothetical asteroid impact preparedness scenario. They hope to learn the best strategies for responding to a potential strike, starting from the moment a threatening asteroid is first detected by astronomers.

Biodegradeable plastic bags now biodegrading — Plastic bags that claim to be biodegradable were still intact and able to carry shopping three years after being exposed to the natural environment, a study has found. [‘Compostable’ bags were better, though.]

In good news — In the future, we were promised flying cars and fake meat. While the flying car part hasn’t panned out, fake meat appears poised to make inroads in even Americans’ lives, particularly through fast foods. And in the process, it could end up being a big deal for the planet. [If you honestly want to make a difference, why don’t you consider dropping one meat meal a week?]

Futurology ~ Solar plutonium, water worlds, protein data, AIDS end, pinhol-lographics, one-step biodegradables, four-legged beast


New research describes the remains of a gigantic, four-legged mammalian carnivore that terrorised Africa some 22 million years ago.

Scientists locate neutron star collision that could have created our solar system’s plutonium — in 2017, observatories around the world observed a high-energy collision between a pair of dense objects, each slightly more massive than the Sun but only the size of a city. A similar collision closer to home could have been responsible for producing some of the heaviest elements in our own solar system – and scientists think they know when it happened.
Using measurements of what’s left of these elements in ancient meteorites, a pair of researchers worked backward to locate the neutron star merger that produced some of them.
~ The abundances of these elements spiked approximately 80 million years before the solar system formed.

Water worlds could have very deep oceans — Scientists have good reason to believe that so-called water worlds – exoplanets with surfaces covered entirely by a single gigantic ocean – are common in the galaxy. But new computer simulations suggests that not only are water worlds prevalent, they’re also teeming with water – and at mind-boggling scales. Imagine oceans hundreds, and even thousands, of kilometres deep.
~ That’s no reason for Kev to make a movie, though. Water worlds are still hypothetical.

Data on protein — By 2020, researchers estimate that the world’s digital archive will weigh in at around 44 trillion gigabytes. That’s an astounding amount of data that isn’t necessarily being stored in the safest of places. Most storage mediums naturally degrade over time (if they’re not hacked or accidentally destroyed) and the cloud isn’t as reliable as companies want us to believe.
So researchers at Harvard University have turned to some unique chemistry they believe could safely archive the world’s data for millions of years — without requiring any power. Chemists at Harvard University took inspiration from nature and came up with a way to store data using oligopeptides: molecules made up of amino acids that are considerably smaller and easier to work with than DNA.
~ Getting pumped? Shake it, baby. 

An end to AIDS may be within sight —A landmark study found men whose HIV infection was fully suppressed by antiretroviral drugs had no chance of infecting their partner. The findings support the message of the international U=U campaign that an undetectable viral load makes HIV untransmittable.
~ A major step forward. 

Pinholes aid holographic transmission — Researchers in South Korea have designed an ultrathin display that can project dynamic, multi-colored, 3D holographic images.
~ This suggests holographic displays could be projected from thin devices like  cell phones.

One-step method for biodegradable plastics — Researchers in Japan and the Netherlands have devised a one-stop method to produce plant-derived plastics. Bio-based plastics are emerging as a next generation material and are expected to replace petroleum-derived plastics. A plant-derived polyester, called polyethylene furanoate (PEF), is a promising polymer derived from plants that can replace the current favourite of the plastic industry, polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
~ Pfft.

Astonishing Densiovan fossil — The archaeology world has been abuzz with news of the first Denisovan fossil found outside Siberia. The 160,000-year-old jawbone was uncovered by a Buddhist monk in a Chinese cave nearly 40 years ago.
Now that it has finally been studied, it’s known it belonged to a young Denisovan individual who occupied the cave some 160,000 years ago.
~ Home Sapiens date back 200,000 years. 

New research describes the remains of a gigantic, four-legged mammalian carnivore that terrorised Africa 22 million years ago — Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, which translated from Swahili means ‘big lion coming from Africa.’ But this was no feline: it belonged to an extinct group of mammals known as hyaenodonts, which have no close relation to any species of mammalian carnivore living today. Larger than a polar bear, and with a head as big as a rhino’s, Simbakubwa spent its time as an apex predator in Eastern Africa around 22 million years ago, eventually going extinct under mysterious circumstances.
~ Honestly, record keeping back then was all over the place. 

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. 

Th Apocalypticon ~ The right, Trump, ridiculoUS, China sin, around the world of pain, stupidity, complacence and inequality


Resurgence of the right — JM Berger, an author who studies extremist movements, says “We’re seeing a resurgence [of white nationalism] in various countries. It’s a worldwide phenomenon.” Berger studies the online activity of extremists. He notes the New Zealand shooter praised US President Trump as “as a symbol of renewed white identity” in a 74-page document he published before the massacre. [Holy crap,  Trump constantly underlines how far from any kind of supremacy a white male can possibly be!]
Trump Tweet spike — There has been a spike in tweets about ’embarrassment’ under Trump. Scientists analysed millions of US Twitter posts to find a 45% rise in references in 13 months.
Trump can’t block his Twitter haters — Last year, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that Donald Trump (a man whose tweeting has ranged from boosting neo-Nazi propaganda and slamming critics to worrying the military about nuclear war) could not block critics on Twitter: his feed is a public forum and blocking his haters amounted to a violation of the First Amendment. Well, he’s still fighting that ruling. [Of course he is.]
Personnel money diverted to Trump’s stupid wall — The Department of Defense is shifting $1 billion from a military personnel account to build a 57-mile fence at the southern US border, saying the funds were freed up after some service branches fell short of their recruiting goals.
US airbases under water — The US Air Force says it needs $4.9 billion in new funding over the next two and a half years to cover the costs of rebuilding two air bases hit by natural disasters. [You know, those  disasters Trump thinks aren’t caused by climate change.]

Still in the US — The US Department of Housing and Urban Development is suing Facebook for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act. HUD accuses Facebook of unlawfully discriminating against people based on race, religion, familial status, disability and other characteristics that closely align with the 1968 Fair House Act’s protected classes.
Gun ‘enthusiasts’ fail in bump-stock concessions — The US Supreme Court officially denied an appeal from gun rights advocates seeking to stop a Trump administration ban on bump stocks, the gun add-ons that can dramatically increase rates of fire. The ban went into effect on Tuesday. [But they’re so much better for murdering large groups of people!]
Anti-vaxx rabbit holes — Social media giants crackdown and Facebook says it will make changes to stop anti-vaxx content, but Instagram’s recommendation engine makes it exceptionally easy to come across a waterfall of anti-vaccine accounts.
New York suburb declares Measles emergency — In a move aimed at getting the public’s attention, officials in New York’s Rockland County have declared a state of emergency in response to an ongoing measles outbreak. Among the measures is a 30-day ban on any unvaccinated people under the age of 18 from being in public places.
Pot User — Pot use, especially with edibles, can sometimes cause health problems serious enough to prompt a trip to the hospital. It found that people in Colorado have increasingly sought emergency care for cannabis-related symptoms.
Intel back doors — Researchers have discovered new undocumented features in Intel chipsets that can be abused.
Biometric drivers licence a ‘human rights issue’ — Phillip Hudok claims the state of West Virginia is violating his religious beliefs by requiring him to get a biometric drivers licence.
The Christian West Virginia man garnered local attention on Monday afternoon when he arrived at the Elkins Department of Motor Vehicles wearing Native American attire. [Apparently, his cultural misappropriation did not clash with his supposedly deeply held religious beliefs.]

The China sin-drome — Former Interpol boss on charges: Meng Hongwei, president of Interpol when he was reported missing in China last year, has been expelled from the Communist Party of China and will be prosecuted on bribery charges. [Serves him right for having his own thoughts! And phooey to the international policing body!]
China Grindr — Beijing Kunlun Tech, the parent company of dating app Grindr, is planning to sell the service after a national security committee in the US found its acquisition of the dating app last year posed a national security risk.
Chinese Macs have Taiwanese flag deleted — Following Monday’s release of macOS 10.14.4, Macs sold in China are reportedly no longer displaying the Taiwanese flag emoji. [China is an amazing super power. That apparently doesn’t stop it being petty and ridiculous.]

Around the whirled — Italian government malware in Google Play Store: Hackers working for a surveillance company infected hundreds of people with several malicious Android apps that were hosted on the official Google Play Store in Italy for months.
Fukushima contaminants went a long way — Radioactive contamination from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant hit by a tsunami in 2011 has drifted as far north as waters off a remote Alaska island in the Bering Strait.
Aquaculture elevates greenhouse gases — An international team of scientists has determined that the adoption of industrial-scale aquaculture is linked to rapid increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
Automation threatens 1.5 million English jobs — About 1.5 million workers in Britain are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation, according to government estimates, with women and those in part-time work most affected.
Australia threatens social media giants — Following the live-streamed New Zealand mosque shooting that left 50 dead in Christchurch, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to crack down on extremist content on social media.
Morrison will meet with Australian executives of Facebook, Twitter and Google to discuss extremist content legislation that would punish these companies’ executives with jail time. Local internet service providers will also be present at the meeting. [Lock them up! Lock them up…]

Good news: The European Union is taking the lead in saving the world — The EU parliament has voted to ban single-use plastic cutlery, plastic cotton swabs, straws, and coffee stirrers as part of a sweeping law aimed at fighting the plastic waste that pollutes oceans and beaches.
Glacier reverses decline — Jakobshavn Isbrae has been the single largest source of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet over the last 20 years. During that time, it has been retreating, accelerating and thinning. Airborne altimetry and satellite imagery has shown, though, that since 2016 Jakobshavn has been re-advancing, slowing and thickening.