Category Archives: Apocalypse

The Apocalypticon ~ The rich will eat us, facial recognition, surveillance, Google, Facebook, jobs, data breaches, all-time heat records


Yes, hello, I’m back from a  three-week holiday, sorry about that folks, but sometimes I just have to have a break. Still, the world keeps churning …
The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind, writes Douglas Rushkoff, describing what he learned from a high-paying speaking gig about the future of technology for “five super-wealthy guys…from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world.”The Event was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus or Mr Robot that takes everything down. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader…? This is the possible Survival of the Richest.
A new paper from the Center for Global Development says we are spending too much time discussing whether robots can take your job and not enough time discussing what happens next
Facial recognition ad surveillance — After all the concern, British Police have admitted no one was arrested during a trial of controversial facial recognition technology, which sparked privacy and human rights concerns.
But you can beat it. Die-hard fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse have become accidental heroes for people concerned about facial recognition tech: according to Twitter user @tahkion, a computer science blogger for WonderHowTo, Juggalo makeup outmatches the machine learning algorithms that govern facial recognition technology.
One of many futuristic ideas Walmart has sought to patent is worker surveillance tech that ‘listens’ to them. There’s no guarantee that Walmart will ever build this technology, but the patent shows the company is thinking about using tech not just to facilitate deliveries or make its warehouses more efficient, but also to manage its workforce, which is the largest in the United States. [I prefer to call it ‘Apallmart, myself.]
Two privacy-focused organizations have accused German police of carrying out raids at their offices and members’ private homes on some pretty shoddy reasoning that makes no sense and hints at the police’s abuse of power. [Police abusing over? N-e-v-e-r…]

Jobs — Microsoft may move jobs abroad since Trump’s policies stop it finding the right workers: The Trump Administration’s tough stance on immigration has attracted a lot of criticism from big technology firms, which rely heavily on skilled foreign workers from around the world. Smith previously spoke out against efforts to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – an Obama-era policy that provides legal protection for young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children. Microsoft has advocated the protection of DACA and more broadly supported immigration as a way to make sure US companies are hiring talented people. [The problem with DACA is simply Obama’s touch as far as the sensitive bully that Trump is concerned – but worthiness has never been a sop to him cutting off his orange nose to spite his orange face.]

Once more into the (data) breach – and hacks: The information operatives who worked out of the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg, Russia did not stop at posing as American social media users or spreading false information from purported news sources, according to new details. They also created a number of Twitter accounts that posed as sources for Americans’ hometown headlines.
And another for the curse that is Google: According to The Wall Street Journal, hundreds of app developers have access to millions of inboxes belonging to Gmail users. The developers reportedly receive access to messages from Gmail users who signed up for things like price-comparison services or automated travel-itinerary planners. Some of these companies train software to scan the email, while others enable their workers to pore over private messages. [Honestly, Gmail users, do you need any more reasons not to use Google services? OK, here’s another …]
A user on Medium named Punch a Server says you should not use Google Cloud due to the no-warnings-given, abrupt way the plug is pulled on your entire system if they (or the machines) believe something is wrong. The user has a project running in production on Google Cloud (GCP) that is used to monitor hundreds of wind turbines and scores of solar plants scattered across 8 countries.
Apple is more secure, you know? And the free iCloud email that every Apple user can have FOR FREE is end-to-end encrypted by default. Apple just released iOS 11.4.1, and while most of us are already looking ahead to all the new stuff coming in iOS 12, this small update contains an important new security feature: USB Restricted Mode. Apple has added protections against the USB devices being used by law enforcement and private companies that connect over Lightning to crack an iPhone’s passcode and evade Apple’s usual encryption safeguards.

IBM and the cost of data breaches — IBM Security has released a report examining the costs and impact associated with data breaches. The findings paint a grim portrait of what the clean up is like for companies whose data becomes exposed – particularly for larger corporations that suffer so-called mega breaches, a costly exposure involving potentially tens of millions of private records.
Fracking companies use Facebook to ban protests — Facebook is being used by oil and gas companies to clamp-down on protest. Three companies are currently seeking injunctions against protesters: British chemical giant INEOS, which has the largest number of shale gas drilling licenses in the UK; and small UK outfits UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), and Europa Oil and Gas. Among the thousands of pages of documents submitted to British courts by these companies are hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from anti-fracking protesters and campaign groups, uncovered by Motherboard in partnership with investigative journalists at DeSmog UK. They show how fracking companies are using social media surveillance carried out by a private firm to strengthen their cases in court by discrediting activists using personal information to justify banning their protests.

All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week — So reports the Washington Post in the article Red-Hot Planet which was updated throughout the week with new all-time heat records.
From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East to Southern California, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week… [I know, as I was just in Canada – over 30°C for seven days in a row, who would have thought?]

And the good news? I had a break! A real break! But I’m back! (But goodness, isn’t it cold in New Zealand?!)

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The Apocalypticon ~ Football narks, Hacking-tosh, Google, Japan, China, US flaming poo, Chile plastic ban


Spanish football app turns users into narks — With the World Cup just a few days away, everyone is trying to figure out the best ways to watch and keep track of their favourite teams. But before you download any apps, here’s something to think about: the La Liga app, the official streaming app for Spain’s most popular football league, has reportedly been using the microphones on fans’ phones to root out unauthorised broadcasts of matches in public venues such as bars and restaurants. [For God’s sake, is nothing sacred!?]

Apple hacks — For years, hackers could hide malware alongside legitimate Apple code and sneak it past several popular third-party security products for Mac computers, according to new research. This is not a flaw in MacOS but an issue in how third-party security tools implemented Apple’s APIs. A researcher from security firm Okta found that several security products for Mac – including Little Snitch, xFence, and Facebook’s OSquery — could be tricked into believing malware was Apple code, and let it past their defences. [But did hackers actually do this? Doesn’t appear so, so far.]

In the ‘yet  more to love about Google’ pantheon … Jarek Duda, the inventor of a compression technique called asymmetric numeral systems (ANS), dedicated the invention to the public domain. Since 2014, Facebook, Apple, and Google have all created software based on his breakthrough. But Google is trying to patent a video encoding scheme using Duda’s Public Domain compression technique! The inventor is fighting Google in the European courts and has won a preliminary ruling, but Google’s still trying for a US patent for it.

Japan, for once … A bullet train en route to Tokyo reportedly struck and killed a 52-year-old man on Thursday afternoon, but the man’s death wasn’t uncovered until some 32km later, where authorities made a grisly discovery. [Yuk!]

China to track cars, too — Under the plan being rolled out July 1, a radio-frequency identification chip for vehicle tracking will now be installed on cars when they are registered. Compliance will be voluntary this year but will be made mandatory for new vehicles at the start of 2019. [China says this is to improve public surveillance …oh, sorry, they said ‘security’.]
A Chinese-linked cyber-espionage unit has hacked a data centre belonging to a Central Asian country and has embedded malicious code on government sites. The hack of the data center happened sometime in mid-November 2017, according to a report published by Kaspersky Lab.

American trampers set forest on fire with their poo — No, really. Two campers were burning poop in a hole, you know, as you do … 500 acres went up in flames. [Well, this is a country that actually voted Trump into power, so I guess I should not be all that surprised.]
Revenge porn king sues Twitter for breaching his First Amendment rights — Craig Brittain, the creator of defunct revenge porn site IsAnybodyDown who is now running for Jeff Flake’s vacated Arizona Senate seat, is suing Twitter for allegedly violating his First Amendment rights by suspending his Twitter accounts. [Again, anyone surprised?]
Illustrated conflict calendar — Here’s what a mid-level government employee working in Leavenworth, Kansas, for the US Army’s Combined Arms Combat Development Activities division, noticed about the world in the first week of March 1981: the US embassy in El Salvador was attacked (again). Lent began. It was Sonny Park’s last day in the US Army, and Walter Cronkite’s last day at CBS. Kansas won the Big 8 Tournament. He had a “nice day with Liz.” All of these details, along with many more, were recorded in brightly coloured notes and illustrations in a government-issued calendar. [Aw – stick that on the fridge.] This dude had wide-ranging interests – he chronicled truckers, terrorism, snow at home and in Lebanon, the death of a Nazi collaborator, Reagan’s 72nd birthday, Israeli politics, football results, the first female Supreme Court justice swearing in the first female Secretary of Transportation, overlong budget meetings, full moons, vernal equinoxes, Beltane, International Women’s Day, a killer tornado, Tunisian riots, trade deficits and much more.Long-term planetary offending — New research shows that even our ancestors in the Bronze Age changed the chemistry of the soils they farmed over 2000 years ago. It’s some of the earliest evidence of humans having lasting a environmental impact on planet Earth. [Um, ‘go us’?]

In good news, Chile is the first country to ban plastic bags — Chile’s Senate has passed a bill that will prohibit the use of plastic bags in stores, with a vote in their House of Representatives overwhelmingly for the measure. The new law would give large retailers one year to phase out the use of plastic bags, and smaller businesses two years. This makes Chile the first country in the Americas to ban plastic bags, and officially recognise how important such a ban would be in the effort to reduce unnecessary single-use plastic waste. [But Chile has not banned plastic clothes, car parts, computers, containers, implements, devices, pegs, pens, cables, book covers, packing, binders, cable ties …]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Supply networks [in an apocalypse] will immediately be effected by … losses to staff, clogged roads, damage to infrastructure, survivor trauma … usually, as soon as there’s a hint of disaster, people stock up. If citizens were already filling their cupboards before the disaster struck, with news reports that doctors feared a disease outbreak, or dramatic weather change, flooding, volcanic or earthquake activity, military action etcetera, supply may already have come under constraint before the full disaster becomes apparent.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Tech support, people, nature, Cheese Zombies, water


‘Tech support’ — A team of scammers recently sneakily filmed dozens of Australians by remotely accessing their webcams, then uploaded those videos onto YouTube, according to Australian news outlet ABC.
Unfortunately for customers of MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA testing service, a researcher uncovered 92 million account details related to the company sitting on a server, according to an announcement from MyHeritage. The data relates to users who signed up to MyHeritage up to and including October 26, 2017 – the date of the breach.
Journalist’s data seized — According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump, according to The Hill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the number under the Obama administration, which had already prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.
Zuckerberg grilled at angry shareholders meeting — One investor compared the social network’s poor stewardship of user data to a human rights violation. Another warned that scandal is not good for Facebook’s bottom line, and one advised Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to emulate George Washington, not Vladimir Putin, and avoid turning Facebook into a “corporate dictatorship.”
Apple set on ‘jamming’ Facebook — The next version of iOS and macOS will frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users. At the company’s developer conference, Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi said, “We’re shutting that down,.” He added that Safari – you know, the FREE SECURE BROWSER ON EVERY APPLE DEVICE (see below), would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity.
Apple also declared war on ‘browser fingerprinting‘.
Why you should ditch Chrome —
 Unlike Chrome, Firefox is run by Mozilla, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for a ‘healthy'” internet. Its mission is to help build an internet in an open-source manner that’s accessible to everyone – and where privacy and security are built in. Contrast that to Chrome’s privacy policy, which states that it stores your browsing data locally unless you are signed in to your Google account, which enables the browser to send that information back to Google … [Honestly, the amount of Apple users I have met who insist on using Chrome as a browser and worse, Gmail accounts when there’s privacy-protecting Safari on every Mac and Apple device already, and secure, encrypted free iCloud email! Grrr! Bloody madness!]
Psychopathic AI — A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a psychopathic algorithm named Norman, as part of an experiment to see what training artificial intelligence on data from “the dark corners of the net” would do to its world view. Unlike most “normal” algorithms by AI, Norman does not have an optimistic view of the world. [I almost wish that was running the US instead of Trump – at least there’d be some logic to it.]
Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a US Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare – including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on US submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
At least five cryptocurrencies have recently been hit with an attack in the last month– one that used to be more theoretical than actual.
Carbon bubble burst will hurt — The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst, and posits that such a slump is likely before 2035 based on current patterns of energy use.

People — More than 50,000 union workers in Las Vegas are set to go on strike if new contracts are not settled and at the top of the list of concerns for the Culinary and Bartenders Unions is protection against robot replacements.
Suicide rates are up by 30% across the US — Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. Suicide rates are up by 30% across the nation since 1999, federal health officials have reported.
Opioids caused 1 In 5 deaths of young people in the US in 2016 — A new study published by JAMA Network Open highlights just how devastating the crisis has been to certain age groups. In 2016, it found, opioid overdoses were responsible for a fifth of all deaths among people in their mid-20s to 30s — a fivefold increase from 15 years ago.

Nature — Biggest iceberg ever set to break up: the  iceberg is so large that even smaller chunks of it were behemoths in their own right. By 2014, the largest remnant was B-15T, which was so thick it kept running aground. One of those last-made icebergs, B-15Z, may now be nearing the end of its life. At the end of May 2018, the International Space Station crew captured an image of B-15Z that showed a crack running right down its middle. It’s ten miles by 5!
How microbes survive in ‘sterile’ spacecraft — Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason contamination persists. The research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities, finding that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly …
Asteroid strikes Africa soon after it was detected — A meteor lit up the sky over Botswana, Africa, early Saturday evening local time. Scientists discovered the 2m-wide asteroid just hours before it reached – and struck – Earth.
Hurricanes are slowing down and that’s a bad thing. The pace at which hurricanes move across the planet is slowing, according to new research. This suggests Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas last year, may not have been an anomaly, and that highly destructive, slow-moving tropical storms are becoming more common.

Finally, some good news: Cheese Zombies! In the late 1950s, a school district in Washington’s Yakima Valley received an excess of subsidized cheese. Faced with the abundance of dairy, the food services supervisor (or, by other accounts, a local cafeteria cook) invented a new sandwich that soon appeared on cafeteria menus: the Cheese Zombie.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “There’s more to water than meets the eyes, of course. Cities like London, New York and Moscow have entire teams and systems dedicated to pumping water away from underground systems built deep underground.”

The Apocalypticon ~ China, surveillance, inequality, Face-oogle, data, Math Men


According to World Health Organization data, China has overtaken the United States in healthy life expectancy at birth for the first time. The data from 2016 finds Chinese newborns can look forward to 68.7 years of healthy life ahead of them, compared with 68.5 years for American babies.
The United States was one of only five countries, along with Somalia, Afghanistan, Georgia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where healthy life expectancy at birth fell in 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of the WHO data, which was published without year-on-year comparisons in mid-May. [I’m trying to get my head around 68.7-year-old babies.]
Maybe Americans should ask for more surveillance? A high school in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province located on the eastern coast of China, has employed facial recognition technology to monitor students’ attentiveness in class, local media reports. Three cameras at the front of the classroom scan students’ faces every 30 seconds, analysing their facial expressions to detect their mood. The different moods – surprised, sad, antipathy, angry, happy, afraid, neutral – are recorded and averaged during each class. A display screen, only visible to the teacher, shows the data in real-time. A certain value is determined as a student not paying enough attention.
Still sucks to be a girl, though. China’s gender gap is not confined to tech. The country’s gender parity ranking fell in 2017 for the ninth straight year, leaving China placed 100 out of 144 countries surveyed in a report by the World Economic Forum.
The country ranked 60th in terms of female labour force participation and 70th in terms of wage equality for similar work. Men on average had an estimated income of around $19,000, over $7000 more than women.
Samantha Kwok, the Australian-Chinese founder of the Beijing-based recruitment firm JingJobs, said clients often gave her two job descriptions: one to be published publicly and a second internal one that detailed requirements based on age or gender…
A greenhouse gas is billowing into the atmosphere from a source somewhere in East Asia that no one can identify at a rate scientists have never before seen, and it’s ignited a scientific dash to get to the bottom of it. In 2014, mysterious toxic plumes of CFC-11 – a type of CFC – began to drift across the Pacific Ocean. [And who left the question mark off that headline, left?]

In the data wars, Google is reminding organisations to review how much of their Google Groups mailing lists should be public and indexed by Google.com since sensitive data is being exposed. The notice was prompted in part by a review that KrebsOnSecurity undertook with several researchers who’ve been busy cataloging thousands of companies using public Google Groups lists to manage customer support and in some cases sensitive internal communications. Google Groups is a service that provides discussion groups for people sharing common interests. Because of the organic way Google Groups tend to grow as more people are added to projects – and perhaps given the ability to create public accounts on otherwise private groups – a number of organisations with household names are leaking sensitive data in their message lists.
Once, the Mad Men ruled advertising. They’ve now been eclipsed by Math Men: engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men’s adoration of data, coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their ‘science’ is nearly flawless [which has more to do with its money-making potential, I suspect], has aroused government anger much as Microsoft did two decades ago.
Unknown third parties appear to be exploiting the Chrome Store’s ‘theme’ section to offer visitors access to a wide range of pirate movies including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Rampage. When clicking through to the page offering Ready Player One, for example, users are presented with a theme that apparently allows them to watch the movie online in ‘Full HD Online 4k’. Of course, the whole scheme is a dubious scam which eventually leads users to Vioos dot co, a platform that tries very hard to give the impression of being a pirate streaming portal but actually provides nothing of use.
That’s why we all trust Google to build military drones, right? No? Coz that’s what’s happening. In March, Google signed a secretive agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was “only” for US$9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: the September emails show that Google’s business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial US$15 million to an eventual US$250 million per year.
Meanwhile, users in Europe have already filed complaints against Facebook and Google, saying the tech companies are in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Apple approves Telegram update even after Russian government demands Apple shut the app down — Amidst a contentious battle with the Russian government over demands to pull Telegram, the encrypted message app, from the App Store, Apple has approved an updated version of the messaging app having seemingly blocked such changes for two months.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Essentially, there are many threats that could wipe out huge numbers of humans. It’s worth recalling the dinosaurs were on the planet for around 60 million years before volcanoes and an asteroid wiped them out – Homo Sapiens has only been around for about 200,000 years. Yet, numbers of us may survive an apocalypse: we have done many times before.

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump security, malware, gamers, climate, Robots, Hitler’s teeth, cockroach milk, NZ monster


Trump hates handing his phones over for security checks — US President Trump has at least two iPhones, one dedicated for making calls and another one for Twitter. But a new report states Trump is often reluctant to hand the phones over to the White House security team to check for vulnerabilities. The president reportedly calls it “too inconvenient.” Trump’s Twitter phone has gone for as long as five months without a security assessment.  [That just makes us all feel so much safer. Thanks Donald!] But he can’t block people on Twitter.US District Judge Buchwald issued a 75-page ruling [pdf] clearly articulating why Donald Trump cannot block Twitter users: in short, it violates their First Amendment rights.

Speaking of malware, the FBI says reboot your routers — Researchers from Cisco’s Talos security team first disclosed the existence of the malware last Wednesday. The detailed report said the malware infected more than 500,000 devices made by Linksys, Mikrotik, Netgear, QNAP, and TP-Link. Known as VPNFilter, the malware allowed attackers to collect communications, launch attacks on others and permanently destroy the devices with a single command. The report said the malware was developed by hackers working for an advanced nation, possibly Russia, and advised users of affected router models to perform a factory reset, or at a minimum to reboot, and the FBI concurs. [I reboot mine pretty much every day anyway, as thanks to my ISP Vodafone, the bloody broadband disconnects almost every day, forcing a router restart to get the connection back. This has only been going on for a few years, though …]
AMD thwarted — A group of German researchers have devised a method to thwart the VM security in AMD’s server chips. Dubbed SEVered (PDF), the attack would potentially allow an attacker, or malicious admin who had access to the hypervisor, the ability to bypass AMD’s Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV) protections.
Banks and ransomware — A new report from cloud security specialist Carbon Black, based on responses from CISOs at 40 major financial institutions (including six of the top 10 global banks) seeks to better understand the attack landscape. Among the findings are that 90% of financial institutions report being subject to ransomware attacks in 2017.
Cisco Systems has warned that hackers have infected at least 500,000 routers and storage devices in dozens of countries with highly sophisticated malicious software, possibly in preparation for another massive cyber attack on Ukraine. A federal judge in Pennsylvania gave the FBI permission to seize an internet domain that authorities charge a Russian hacking group known as Sofacy was using to control infected devices.
But in good news, Cambridge Analytica has filed for bankruptcy.

Gamers on — Swatting gamers indicted A federal grand jury has indicted the gamer accused in Wichita’s fatal swatting as well as the two gamers involved in the video game dispute that prompted the false emergency call.
School shooting game [really!] Just a week after the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas that saw 10 people fatally shot and 13 others were wounded, Valve came under fire for a Steam school-shooting game that encourages you to “hunt and destroy” children. Active Shooter, which has been live on Steam and due for release on 6th June, is described by its developer as “a dynamic S.W.A.T. simulator.” The idea is you’re sent in to deal with a shooter at a school, but you can also play as the actual shooter, gunning down school children. There have been 22 school shootings in the US since the beginning of this year.
Robots that train themselves in battle tactics by playing video games could be used to mount cyber-attacks, the UK military fears. The warning is in a Ministry of Defence report on artificial intelligence. Researchers in Silicon Valley are using strategy games, such as Starcraft II, to teach systems how to solve complex problems on their own. But artificial intelligence (AI) programs can then “be readily adapted” to wage cyber-warfare, the MoD says.

Planet warming — sea rise blamed on ‘falling rocks’: Mo Brooks is just a plain-spoken man from Alabama with some theories on climate change. Since everything is terrible, he’s a congressman and sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee so he has a platform to float some of his entirely unfounded ideas like, for instance, sea levels are rising because rocks keep falling in the ocean. [Hey, America, maybe you should just IQ test everyone running for office? The world would surely thank you.]
The diminution of rice — As humans expel billions of metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere and raze vast swaths of forests, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our air hurries ever higher. That has the potential to severely diminish the nutritional value of rice, according to a new study published this week in Science Advances. For people who depend heavily on rice as a staple in their diets, such a nutritional loss would be devastating, says Kristie Ebi, a professor at the University of Washington.
Cost of missing climate goals to cost $20 trillion US — There are trillions of reasons for the world to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5C, the aspirational target laid out in the Paris climate agreement, according to a new study. If nations took the necessary actions to meet that goal, rather than the increasingly discussed 2C objective, there’s a 60% chance it would save the world more than $20 trillion, according to new work published this week in Nature by scientists at Stanford.
Giant worms invading France — In a Peer J study published on May 22, Giant worms chez moi! zoologist Jean-Lou Justine of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, entomologist colleagues, and Pierre Gros, outline a discovery that “highlights an unexpected blind spot of scientists and authorities facing an invasion by conspicuous large invasive animals.” About 100 citizen scientists ultimately contributed to the assessment of this alien invasion, identifying five giant predatory worm species in France that grow up to 10 inches long. [More blackbirds, maybe?]

Robots, Hitler’s teeth, cockroach milk and NZ monster — Members of the Culinary Union, who work in many of Las Vegas’ biggest casinos, have voted to approve a strike unless a deal is reached soon. On June 1, the contracts of 50,000 union workers (bartenders to guest room attendants) expire, making them eligible to strike. They want higher wages, but the workers are also looking for better job security, especially from robots.
Hitlers teeth showed cyanide — It looks like Hitler did indeed ingest cyanide, with an inspection of the fuhrer’s teeth revealing “bluish deposits” that “could indicate a ‘chemical reaction between the cyanide and the metal of the dentures”. [I thought he shot himself? I guess he wisely hedged his bets.]
The teeth are authentic, there is no possible doubt. Our study proves that Hitler died in 1945,” said professor Philippe Charlier. “We can stop all the conspiracy theories about Hitler. He did not flee to Argentina in a submarine, he is not in a hidden base in Antarctica or on the dark side of the moon.”
And speaking of cockroaches, some researchers believe insect milk, like cockroach milk, could be the next big dairy alternative. A report in 2016 found Pacific Beetle cockroaches specifically created nutrient-filled milk crystals that could also benefit humans, the Hindustan Times reports. Others report producing cockroach milk isn’t easy, either – it takes 1000 cockroaches to make 100 grams of milk, Inverse reports, and other options could include a cockroach milk pill.
New Zealand’s ‘saurian monster’ — At the slaughter yards of Frankton Junction, near Hamilton, New Zealand, in October 1886, workers found a sheep picked clean to the bones. Some creature, they reported, had taken the carcass from the hook where it hung, eaten its flesh, and then departed, leaving only a strange trail of footprints unlike any other they had seen. Men gathered their guns and revolvers and kept watch for its return.
These, New Zealand’s Daily Telegraph reported, were the “undoubted traces of a saurian monster.” The word ‘saurian’ means lizard-like – other papers concluded this monster must be an alligator or crocodile, despite New Zealand’s smattering of living reptiles being, without exception, only a few inches long.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Whereas people will undoubtedly panic, this panic reaction is often overstated in the popular perception and, besides, short-lived. In most cases, according to sociological studies like that of Quarantelli and Dynes, people react immediately to the disaster and its effects. People come together along familiar lines (ie, family and friends) then move as needed to larger groups with which they associate (to religious, sporting or other societal groupings, for example).”

The Apocalypticon ~ China and isms and Trump, battle bots, mugshot extorters, working deaths, Ebola, bums, book excerpt


Trump completely flip-flops for Chinese company — US President Donald Trump has made a big fuss out of economic competition with China. He’s even threatened a trade war! But suddenly he came out to bat for the Chinese smartphone manufacturer ZTE, which basically ceased to exist after the US Department of Commerce slapped it with a seven-year ban on buying or using components from US companies over allegations it violated sanctions on Iran and North Korea. The reason that Shenzen-based ZTE was forced to suspend most of its operations in the first place was because the Trump administration accused it of violating the sanctions on North Korea and Iran. So this is a massive reversal of both official US policy and Trump’s own talking points, seemingly at a whim and with no clear indication of whether the president got anything in return. [Oh yeah, that doesn’t sound like collusion …]
Chinese company to dispense with drivers attractiveness ratings of passengers. [No, really!] China’s ride-sharing behemoth Didi is trying to make its platform safer for users after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly murdered by one of its drivers. For starters, its carpooling service, Hitch, will no longer let drivers and passengers rate and tag the appearances of each other. Drivers have reportedly given female passengers tags like ‘long legs,’ ‘adorable girl,’ ‘goddesses,’ and ‘beauties’ … [So, welcome to the end of the last century, China.]
China fudging its GDP — China, Russia and other authoritarian countries inflate their official GDP figures by anywhere from 15 to 30% in a given year, according to a new analysis of a quarter-century of satellite data. The working paper, by Luis R. Martinez of the University of Chicago, also found that authoritarian regimes are especially likely to artificially boost their gross domestic product numbers in the years before elections, and that the differences in GDP reporting between authoritarian and non-authoritarian countries can’t be explained by structural factors such as urbanisation, composition of the economy or access to electricity. Martinez’s findings are derived from a novel data source: satellite imagery that tracks changes in the level of nighttime lighting within and between countries over time. [Gosh … (feigns surprise).]

Battle bots evolve — Chomp looks like a regular BattleBot on the outside, but inside there’s a secret trick: Artificial intelligence. This killer attack is called Auto-Chomp and it blew audiences away back in 2016, Chomp’s debut season on BattleBots. The feature then represented an AI-powered BattleBot on a basic level, as the weapon was automated but didn’t necessarily think for itself. Now, Chomp is getting smarter, and BattleBots as we know it could be evolving in a fascinating way.
[You know, ‘fascinating’ in that it might one day outwit and kill us.]

The alleged owners of Mugshots.com have been charged and arrested — These four men Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie, Thomas Keesee, and David Usdan only removed a person’s mugshot from the site if this individual paid a “de-publishing” fee, according to the California Attorney General on Wednesday. That’s apparently considered extortion. [I apparently also consider extortion to be extortion.]

Bird scooters ruining Venice, California — The first Bird electric scooters appeared in Venice and there, the flock is thickest. Bird’s founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, says, “We won”t be happy till there are more Birds than cars.” Aside from road safety, Bird is also tearing away at the fabric of society. In Venice and Santa Monica, where Bird is centralised, thousands of people live on the streets, which helps explain the scooter’s popularity. With a press of a throttle button, one can be whizzing along, leaving it all in a blur. Bird calls this solving the “first/last mile” problem. So now, to walk through Venice is to understand that human misery exists just outside the frame of your Instagram feed [Ouch, Nate.]

Working harder physically leads to earlier death — Researchers in the Netherlands claim that a “physical activity paradox” exists, where exercise may only be good for you if it’s done outside of your job. Manual labourers may be physically active all day but that doesn’t actually help them. In fact, the research claims it might actually increase their risk of dying early. “While we know leisure-time physical activity is good for you, we found that occupational physical activity has an 18% increased risk of early mortality for men,” says Pieter Coenen, public health researcher at UV University medical centre in Amsterdam. “These men are dying earlier than those who are not physically active in their occupation.” [Really, that took hard research to figure out?]

Ebola is back, this time in an urban area — This is really scary. Ebola has once again resurfaced. Today, the World Health Organisation reported that there have been at least 34 suspected cases of the viral disease and 18 deaths since early April in the Bikoro District of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But Ebola’s resurgence, hardly unexpected, can’t help but bring a question to mind: Why haven’t we found a surefire way to cure or prevent it yet?

On a more positive note, here’s why we have bums.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Apart from the act of killing something, butchery is an unforgiving science – if you get it wrong, the meat becomes corrupted from ruptured intestines. Then any ‘good’ meat may have to be hung, cured, parts cooked immediately … it’s a very far cry from picking up a vacuum pack or a chicken from the supermarket. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Lady driver guns, Koreas, May Day, US & data, complaining plants, so do I


Life wasn’t easy for women in the early 20th century, as motorist Dorothy Levitt knew. That’s why she published The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for all Women who Motor or Who Want to Motor in 1909. It tells women how to take care of themselves and their cars, and reminds them to always carry a gun.

Koreas: Honeymoon Island’s dark and bloody past — Nearly 90 flights a day leave Seoul for Jeju, a semitropical island 60 miles off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. With citrus groves, dramatic black-rock beaches, and waterfalls spilling into the sea, Jeju has earned the nickname Honeymoon Island. But many vacationers today may not remember the time when it had a very different reputation.
On April 3, 1948, an uprising pitted Jeju islanders against police, the US military and the newly formed South Korean government. In the ensuing conflict, up to 30,000 civilians lost their lives, and those who survived were branded traitors and communists. Nearly 800 historical sites are related to that period. Most are unmarked, untended, and virtually unknown, but one of the most significant is right where thousands of visitors arrive on the island – a mass grave under a runway of Jeju International Airport.
Probing the bowels of what he believed to be North Korean hacking architecture, American cybersecurity researcher Darien Huss found an outlier: iPhone software. It appeared at first glance to be a fairly mundane program, a mobile device management (MDM) tool. Such apps are typically used for businesses to remotely monitor and control employees’ phones. But, according to Huss, it’s most likely one of, if not the only, example of North Korean spyware for Apple’s smartphone.
Satellite analysis shows North Korea’s 2017 nuclear test literally moved a mountain — By combining satellite radar with seismic data, an international team of researchers has reassessed the effects of North Korea’s most recent nuclear test at Mount Mantap, offering disturbing new estimates for the strength of the device used and its influence on the mountain itself. The device could have been 20 times more powerful than the US bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

China chose May Day to shame debtors — While labourers all over the world spent May Day marching in the streets and demonstrating for worker’s rights, China’s government spent the holiday shaming citizens with outstanding debts by plastering their faces and personal information on giant screens.

Trump, data and all that — Measuring climate-warming greenhouse gases is crucial, and challenging to measure. In recent years satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon. So, of course, President Donald Trump’s administration just killed the CMS. [There’s a good reason for this, actually: idiocy.]
It’s almost been a year since the White House held its last big tech summit. This week, it will reportedly host representatives from 38 of the biggest companies in the US to discuss the future of artificial intelligence and how the US government can help avoid disaster. [Good luck with that, as above, You just can’t reason with a powerful, egotistical idiot.]
3500 Russia-linked Facebook and Instagram ads released — Russian operatives used Facebook groups and targeted ads to influence the 2016 US election and sow discord in the United States. Facebook has declined to release the ads to the public, but now Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee have dropped a data dump of 3500 examples for your browsing pleasure. Be warned they come in a cumbersome PDF format and are split into batches that have to be opened one at a time.
Malicious Google apps get back in Play Store just be changing their names — Malicious Android apps that have been previously reported to Google are showing up again on company’s marquee Play Store with new names, security researchers are reporting. [Reeeal secure, there, Google. But don’t feel too good, Apple users – Signal’s”disappearing’ messages don’t actually evaporate on Macs.]

In slightly lighter news, plants ‘complain’ if neighbours get too close — Plants don’t like to be touched. For these immobile organisms, it means they’re likely growing too close to a neighbouring plant, and that their access to available sunlight is under threat. New research shows that touch-sensitive plants can communicate a warning message to their related neighbours, advising them to adjust their growth patterns accordingly.

And employers think over-50’s are ‘too old to learn new technology’. The good news is I know for a fact they are wrong.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: The raw, vegan diet of the gorilla requires hours upon hours of eating plants to provide enough calories to support their mass. This can fill 80% of a 12-hour waking day … Humans, thanks to cooking, have many extra hours to devote to, building, helping one another and, let’s face it, chatting and socialising.

The Apocalypticon ~ AI’s dark side, data, climate fears, humans, nuclear


AI: Google co-founder Sergey Brin warns the current boom in artificial intelligence has created a “technology renaissance” that contains many potential threats — In the company’s annual Founders’ Letter, the Alphabet president struck a note of caution. “The new spring in artificial intelligence is the most significant development in computing in my lifetime,” writes Brin. “Every month, there are stunning new applications and transformative new techniques.” But, he adds, “such powerful tools also bring with them new questions and responsibilities.” [Meanwhile I have been writing of Sergei Brin’s – and Google’s – dark side for well over a decade.]

Companies throughout China are using brainwave sensors to train workers and screen for mental fitness — More than a dozen factories are requiring workers to wear devices that use artificial intelligence to monitor their emotions. While officials say this saves money, the implications for workers are deeply troubling.

Data: and you thought Cambridge Analytica was bad …. how about Thiel’s Palantir getting the same data? British lawmakers grilled Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer last week, asking him questions about the social media company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which roughly 87 million Facebook users had their data pilfered through a personality quiz app. When one of the members of Parliament asked about Palantir having “improper access” to user data, Schroepfer confirmed the company was looking into concerns about Palantir, billionaire Peter Thiel’s highly secretive surveillance and data-analytics company that has worked with the CIA, NSA and FBI [and New Zealand’s National government spent undisclosed sums on Palantir while giving Thiel NZ citizenship … that’s right, people].
In the United States, US Immigration is getting a large amount of information from police data-mining.
Researchers have found mysterious Russia-linked malware that hijacks anti-theft software Lojack — Security researchers are warning that malware with suspected links to Russian cyber-espionage group and alleged Democratic National Committee hackers Fancy Bear is turning up in installations of Lojack, an anti-computer theft program used by many corporations to guard their assets.

Climate: London invaded by climate-change poisonous caterpillars — UK forestry officials are warning that oak processionary moth caterpillars have been sighted emerging from eggs in and near the city since mid-April. Each of the beastie’s 62,000 hairs contain the protein thaumetopoein, which can cause allergic reactions up to “skin and eye irritation, difficulty breathing and even anaphylactic shock.” The insects originate in southern Europe, but have had a presence in southern England since 2005. [Presumably, England didn’t used to be warm enough for them to thrive.]

Not-so-fresh Swiss waters — Emerging evidence toxins are also problematic in freshwater, which may even be the source. It didn’t take long for the Geneva team to find that many samples of Swiss ‘fresh’ water contained hazardous and toxic elements including cadmium, mercury and lead,  in some cases in very high concentrations.

Arabian Sea’s dead zone is even bigger — A surprising new survey shows, the Arabian Sea features an oxygen-starved aquarium over twice the size of Tasmania – and it’s still growing.

North America’s zombie deer — Scientists’ worst fears over a so-called “zombie deer” prion disease currently spreading across the US and Canada are unlikely to come to pass, suggests a long-term study published this week in the Journal of Virology.
The fatal ailment, known as chronic wasting disease (CWD) and caused by a mysterious kind of protein called a prion, doesn’t seem capable of crossing the species barrier and spreading to humans – at least according to this experiment. But other research has found otherwise ,,,

Humans: Gates thinks millions could die in a flu pandemic. Bill Gates thinks there is a new flu epidemic lurking just around the corner and we are woefully unprepared for it. The billionaire philanthropist warned today that there is a “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes”. [Millions have died in flu pandemics before.]

The rate of autism diagnoses is continuing to increase. Researchers from 11 US states enrolled in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network were brought together and asked to analyse the medical and school records of more than 300,000 children who were 8-years-old in 2014. They estimated that about one in every 59 children had autism, a 15% increase from the one in every 64 rate reported two years earlier.

Japanese researchers find people with Type O blood survive injuries less — Looking at blood type alone, they found that 28% of people with blood type O died despite medical intervention, compared to 11% of people with any other blood type. [Ouch.]

DNA service can’t even differentiate between humans and dogs — An investigation into home DNA testing kits by NBC Chicago found that at least one DNA testing company could not distinguish between the two.

Nikola is suing Tesla — In November last year Tesla revealed the Tesla Semi, a fully-electric truck that will have a range up to 800km and be able to haul a forty-tonne trailer. It looks and sounds quite impressive, but the Nikola Motor Company (a zero-emissions truck startup) wasn’t so enthusiastic.
In fact, the company believes that the Tesla Semi is infringing upon several of its design patents, so it’s suing for $US2 billion.

Nuclear: Human bone from Hiroshima reveals atomic bomb exposure — A technique originally intended for dating archaeological artefacts has been used to estimate the amount of radiation produced by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. It marks the first time a bone fragment from a victim of the explosion has been used successfully for such an analysis. The researchers measured a dose of 9.46 grays (Gy), which is very, very high. Even at half that dose of exposure, at around 5 Gy, a person who had their entire body exposed would be killed.

Underground nuclear test that did not stay underground — At 7:30am on December 18, 1970, the Baneberry test began at the Nevada Test Site. A nuclear bomb had been lowered into a hole a little more than seven feet in diameter. More than 900 feet underground, the bomb – relatively small for a nuclear bomb – was detonated.
But things went wrong. About 300 feet from the hole where the bomb had been planted, a fissure opened in the ground and a cloud of radioactive dust and vapor began pouring skyward. It would rise 8000 feet into the atmosphere; the fallout would spread over Nevada and into California and other neighbouring states.

But hey, on the good side, there’s always That Perfect Meal. And here’s a fact you really ought to know already: the Food Foundation, an independent think-tank tackling the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system, corroborates that you can’t go wrong with seasonal vegetables. [Phew!]

In more good news, maybe Earth’s poles won’t flip

Another excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Say you wake up one morning, and 40% of people no longer exist. That’s the honeymoon vision of apocalypse, as ridiculous as that phrase sounds … because it is ridiculous. People don’t just evaporate under almost any imaginable scenario. The immediate problem will always be dealing with the dead. There are 56 houses in my street. If there are three people in each, averaged out, that’s 168 people. At 40% mortality, that’s 67 bodies to cope with straight away.
Of course, even that’s far too neat. There’s almost no known event from our experience that simply kills 40% of any given population in a very short time frame. Deaths would begin, and the process would take time, and there would be distress, panic, hopelessness, fear, loathing … But bear with me.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Your data, killer DNA, killer animals, North Korean collapse, Polish Christ sprouts antennae, Zuckerberg for laughs


Who has more of your personal data than Facebook? Try Google — Facebook may be in the hot seat right now for its collection of personal data without our knowledge or explicit consent, but as The Wall Street Journal points out, “Google is a far bigger threat by many measures: the volume of information it gathers, the reach of its tracking and the time people spend on its sites and apps.” [OMG I have been telling people for YEARS about how bad Google is! And no, I do not recommend Gmail! Gah!]
But that does not get Facebook off the hook, oh no. A patent filed by the social network describes how personality characteristics, including emotional stability, could be determined from people’s messages and status updates. Facebook says it has never, so far, used the personality test in its products. But the patent was first filed in 2012. [Yeah, we really trust you, Facebook.]

Golden Gate killer tracked down by genealogy DNA — The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, has finally been arrested by police. Investigators used DNA from crime scenes that had been stored all these years and plugged the genetic profile of the suspected assailant into an online genealogy database. They found distant relatives of DeAngelo’s and, despite his years of eluding the authorities, traced their DNA to to his front door.

Chinese institutionalised misogyny — A Human Rights Watch report reveals gender discrimination amongst major tech companies, as in the rest of Chinese society, is common and widespread. Search engine Baidu listed a job for content reviewers in March 2017 stating that applicants had to be men with the “strong ability to work under pressure, able to work on weekends, holidays and night shifts.” The conglomerate Tencent, which owns WeChat, the massive game Honor of Kings and a majority stake in League of Legends was found to have posted an ad for a sports content editor in March 2017, stating it was looking for “strong men who are able to work nightshifts.”

Animals who kill us — Mosquitos take the crown, but even cows are pretty bad. Oh, you’re not worried? The cow could be left as the biggest land mammal on Earth in a few centuries, according to a new study that examines the extinction of large mammals as humans spread around the world.

The world is agog at the Koreas talking, but — A new reports suggests the collapse of North Korea’s test facility may have been a contributing factor. Ouch.

Massive Polish Christ suddenly sprouts antenna — Rising 36m in the air, Christ the King is said to be the tallest statue of Jesus in the world. Since 2010, it’s loomed over the residents of Świebodzin, Poland, and it’s apparently already getting some upgrades. Signal broadcasting equipment was recently spotted embedded in the statue’s crown, but no one’s quite sure what’s going on with Jesus 2.0. [Monetising belief – now there’s an idea!]

And OK, let’s have a laugh at Mark Zuckerberg. Why not? He became a gazzlionaire off our data. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebotch, Big Brothers and another excerpt


Facebook has booted AggregateIQ, the Canadian election consulting firm that built data tools for sketchy election firm Cambridge Analytica, this week on the grounds that it may have received some of the extensive data on 87 million Facebook users the latter company received through a partnership with an app.
Facebook is also suspending a data analytics firm called CubeYou from the platform after CNBC notified the company that CubeYou was collecting information about users through quizzes. CubeYou misleadingly labeled its quizzes “for non-profit academic research,” then shared user information with marketers. [I would guess ‘sold’ rather than ‘shared’, myself. ] Almost 10% of Americans have already deleted their Facebook accounts.

(Image from Atlas Obscura’s article on Soviet industrial design)

Does that sound bad? How about this, then – the data could be in Russia: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie says the data the firm gathered from Facebook could have come from more than 87 million users and could be stored in Russia. The professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the UK and Russia, you see. Hooray!
So Facebook has a dubious plan to ‘improve’ the situation.

Better passwords — Anyway, here’s some advice on better passwords. Read it!

Bigger Brothers: a man in China got caught by his face — The man was reportedly caught by facial recognition software running on cameras at a concert identified him. That’s despite there being over 50,000 people attending the concert, which took place in Nanchang. Law enforcement in the country has increasingly been turning to facial recognition software to surveil the public for persons of interest.
The Indian government intends to build an identification system of unprecedented scope. The country is reportedly “scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones.” [All of these ventures are for the betterment of humanity. Well, 1% of humanity, anyway.]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Authorities often scramble security and defence forces to combat ‘panic’ and looting after disasters. In fact, though, if you think back to news reports you have seen, this is rarely the case. For example, flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.
These scenes are often captured by the very same news crews that would have you believe the people on the ground are panicking, paralysed or looting, ‘so thank God (or whatever) the authorities have arrived’.
Of course, some people do those unhelpful things too, but the point is, most people do not.

The Apocalypticon ~ US oh God, new bacteria, Serial’s Syed, Estonian DNA


Facebook exec who wrote terrorism and death are ‘justified‘ by Facebook’s ‘growth’ says he was just trying to be ‘provocative‘. Andrew Bosworth wrote in an internal company memo that said Facebook may be used to coordinate terrorist attacks and that it might cause deaths from bullying, but that those effects were justified in the name of corporate growth.  [Not the best deployment of social capital, then.] But Facebook’s fake news problems extend far beyond Russian trolls interfering in US elections. Overseas, false stories have turned into tools of political warfare – most notably in Myanmar, where government forces have carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. Even Zuckerberg admits that’s a ‘real’ issue. [Big of him, or what?]
But wait there’s more: a week after Apple CEO Cook said “some well-crafted regulation is necessary ” in light of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and that Apple was better off than Facebook because it doesn’t sell user data to advertisers, Facebook’s CEO decried Tim Cook as being ‘glib‘.

Ah, companies that make money from your personal information … Last year, Google announced some upgrades to Chrome, by far the world’s most used browser – and the one security pros often recommend. The company promised to make internet surfing on Windows computers even “cleaner” and “safer” adding what The Verge called “basic antivirus features.” What Google did was give its browser the ability was scanning files in the Documents folder of Windows computers. [I’ve said it before, and it seems like I’ll be saying it again and again: Google makes money from your personal data. Why would you trust it? Or its Gmail, for that matter.]
So, Google should be trusted to build AI for killer drones, right? The US Army describes how it’s working to make a battlefield network of machines and humans a reality. [And there Commander in Chief is …]
Richard Stallman, the president of the Free Software Foundation, says that the surveillance imposed on us today is ‘worse than in the Soviet Union’. He argues that we need laws to stop this data being collected in the first place. Security guru Bruce Schneier warns that “thousands of companies” are spying on us and manipulating us for profit. [Did you ever think what ‘the Information Age’ was really going to lead to?]
So, are you being hacked? Here’s how to tell. In other US news, Illinois is dealing with an outbreak of synthetic weed that makes its users bleed from their eyes and ears. Deaths in the us from synthetic opioids doubled from 2015 to 2016. And eating out a lot might disrupt your hormones. [And I thought phthalates was exercise for people who lisp.] ‘Nightmare bacteria’ with unusual resistance to antibiotics of last resort were found more than 200 times in the United States last year in a first-of-a-kind hunt to see how much of a threat these rare cases are becoming, health officials said this week. Hey, at least it’s also the new era of Super Gonorrhoea!Cellphones might kill too
A pair of studies by the US National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence” that exposure to radiation caused heart tumors in male rats, and found “some evidence” that it caused tumors in the brains of male rats. [And that’s why I won’t let my rats have smartphones.]

Is there any good news? I take heart that Adnan Syed, the man whose murder conviction became the subject of the wildly popular Serial podcast, was granted a new trial by Maryland’s second-highest court of appeals last week, although whether that actually happens is still in limbo.
Oh, and the jury’s still out on whether the Estonian governments program that aims to collect the DNA of 100,000 of its 1.3 million residents to then offer them lifestyle and health advice based on their genetics is a good thing or not.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: On calling in the army after a disaster to ‘control looting and maintain order’: “It’s interesting that the panic myth is so persistent. Think about news reports you have seen: flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Nuke yourself in sim, surveillance, Apple, your passwords, China, forest shapes and good news


Nuclear Explosion Simulator shows just how screwed we’d be if Russia dropped another Tsar Bomba — For years, one of the more perversely interesting things on the internet has been Alex Wellerstein’s NUKEMAP, which — true to its name — shows you the estimated damage if you dropped a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. Now the Outrider Foundation has released its own, rather more elegant version, and we’re back to blowing up our backyards.
Outrider’s simulator lets you enter any location and select from a number of bomb strengths, from the 15KT Little Boy (the first nuke used in war) to the 50,000KT Tsar Bomba, which Russia tested in 1961. [Finally, a more compelling reason to move to the outer burbs! Except for the Tsar Bomba – that just wipes out the entire Greater Auckland from Pukekohe in the south to north of Orewa.]In the US, President Trump has slammed Amazon for ‘causing tremendous loss To the United States’ — President Trump recently escalated his attack on Amazon, saying the e-commerce giant does not pay enough taxes, and strongly suggested he may try to rein in the e-commerce business. A sexual harassment lawsuit against Google might proceed as a Class Action; a department of the US State Department dedicated to diplomatic security has reportedly procured a $US15,000, Apple TV-sized device its manufacturers advertise as being able to break iPhone encryption in anywhere from two hours to three days (the FBI did not have the technical capability to access an iPhone used by one of those behind the San Bernardino shooting, it turns out).
Facebook may be able to listen to you through its app … During an appearance before a committee of UK lawmakers, Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie breathed new life into longstanding rumours that the Facebook app listens to its users in order to target advertisements.

Dark Australian — In 2015, during the transition from paper to contactless public transit cards, Australia passed sweeping new data retention laws. These laws required all Australian internet service providers and telecommunications carriers to retain customers’ phone and internet metadata for two years: details like the phone number a person calls, the timestamps on text messages or the cell tower a phone pings when it makes a call. So Claire Reilly ‘went dark‘…

Apple adds more privacy and security — Apple’s updates (macOS 10.13.4, iOS11.3 and tvOS 11.3) were prompted by the enormous new European data protection regulation GDPR, and have been in the works since at least January. But they come at a good time for the company, whose head Tim Cook has been merrily capitalising on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, publicly rebuking Mark Zuckerberg over the social network’s business model.

Your passwords — Do you know whether the ones you’re using are strong enough to stand up to repeated hacking attempts? If you want to know how to do a self-audit on password security, and the best combinations to use to keep your data safe, Gizmodo has asked the experts to explain.

China sin-drome — China is testing cutting-edge defence technology to develop a powerful yet relatively low-cost weather modification system to bring substantially more rain to the Tibetan plateau, Asia’s biggest freshwater reserve. The network will be three times bigger than Spain[And it uses burners! Yeah, global warming, China, for goodness sake!]
But hey, at least the jaywalkers will be sent ‘punishing text messages‘. [Angry face sad face …]

Shaping forests — Scientists have made a fundamental discovery about how fires on the edges of tropical forests control their shape and stability. The study implies that when patches of tropical forest lose their natural shape it could contribute to the catastrophic transformation of that land from trees to grass.

Some good news — A class of antibiotics heralded as an essential future weapon against drug-resistant superbugs passed an important test. There’s now evidence they can be used to treat serious infections in live animals (in vivo) without being toxic.
Staunch ancients — Soon after the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age, our planet was vulnerable to abrupt and dramatic shifts in climate, including prolonged cold snaps that lasted for decades. New research suggests early hunter-gatherers living in the British Isles didn’t just manage to survive these harsh conditions – they actually thrived.

The Apocalypticon ~ Hackers, water, China, Space-X hole, medical, stupidity, apocalypse


But wait! There is more from the a-holes at Cambridge Analytica — Cambridge Analytica got its hands on millions of people’s Facebook likes in 2014 by getting an academic, Aleksander Kogan, to design an app with a personality test that hoovered up data from the 250,000 or so Facebook users that took it, as well as from their millions of friends. Cambridge Analytica then used all those likes combined with the magic of big data to help put Donald Trump in the White House. But that’s only the half of it ….
It may be a while since you’ve heard the handle Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who took responsibility for the infamous DNC hack of 2016. Reports from the intelligence community at the time, as well as common sense, pegged Guccifer 2.0 not as the Romanian activist he claimed to be, but a Russian operative. He messed up once, and now Guccifer 2.0 has been fingered as a particular GRU officer working out of the Russian agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.
AI outsmarting its creators — A paper recently published to ArXiv highlights just a handful of incredible and slightly terrifying ways that algorithms think.

Gyre-normous — The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is filled with 79,000 metric tonnes (87,000 tons) of plastic, and that’s between 10 to 16 times higher than previous estimates, according to new research.
Marine researchers say recent sea star wasting disease epidemic defies prediction. Some sea star communities on the west coast could recover, but marine scientists still can’t pinpoint the environmental factors behind the unprecedented disease outbreak.
The number of people short of water could rise to 5.7 billion people by 2050. Currently, about 3.6 billion people are estimated to be living in areas with a potential for water scarcity for at least one month per year.

China’s terrifying “social credit” system isn’t planned to be fully implemented until 2020, but we’re already seeing facets of it being put in place. In May, people who have committed acts of “serious dishonor” will reportedly be unable to travel on trains or flights for up to a year.
And China has approved the creation of one of the world’s largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image. [Greetings from George Orwell, and good luck with that.]

Space-X made a hole — The Falcon 9 rocket that launched last August reportedly ripped a temporary hole in the ionosphere due to its vertical launch.

Cell tower cancer link — Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer.
A massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five US deaths. Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths  had harbored levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe.

People asked to name women tech leaders said ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ — The tech industry has a persistent problem with gender inequality, particularly in its leadership ranks, and a new study from LivePerson underscores just how depressingly persistent it truly is. When the company asked a representative sample of 1000 American consumers whether they could name a famous woman leader in tech, 91.7% of respondents drew a complete blank, while only 8.3% said they could. But wait, it gets worse: Of those 8.3% who said they could name a famous woman tech leader, only 4% actually could — and a quarter of those respondents named Siri or Alexa. [OMFG.]

The duelling visions for how humanity will survive — By 2050, the world’s population will top ten billion. As industrial capitalism evolves across the globe like no time in human history, will our planet’s ecosystem be able to sustain itself during this rapid transformation? Charles C. Mann’s grapples with these problems in The Wizard and the Prophet.
We’re sleepwalking into a mass extinction, say scientists. The most biodiverse aquatic communities may be the most vulnerable to extinction. Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record[But some of us are looking at the stars. We could become a galactic wrecking crew rather than just an Earthbound one.]

But yes, there’s a little good news: A few decades ago, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What’s left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west. But Kazakhstan’s North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. [Great, huh? Hah!]