Category Archives: Apocalypse

The Apocalypticon ~ Bias, lies, Trump, China, smog, climate, stuttering, losses, support, bat Ebola, anti-gay Chechnya, robot cull, fake rain, right rises, EU, opioids beat road deaths


We’re all biased. We all cling to beliefs despite the evidence. Immersive theatre experience The Justice Syndicate aims to show why. We compare ourselves to others to evaluate our own opinions and abilities.

Lies, loyalty … Cohen admits polling schemes — President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen has now acknowledged  he schemed to rig online polls that sought to make Trump seem like a more plausible presidential candidate. [Yeah, because that was always one hell of a stretchy, and yet …] “I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.” [We all regret that of you, Michael.]
President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. As Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, who was in charge of the project. This is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

More stutters for Chump — A federal judge in Pennsylvania has blocked the Trump administration from implementing a rule allowing employers to decline to offer contraceptive coverage on moral or religious grounds with a nationwide injunction. The new policy cannot be reconciled with the text and purpose of the ACA — which seeks to promote access to women’s healthcare, not limit it. [So there.]
Base slips — While the longest government shutdown in US history continues, President Trump’s approval rating is down, and there are cracks showing with his base. He currently stands at 39% approve, 53% disapprove — a 7-point net change from December when his rating was 42% approve, 49% disapprove.
Surprising Republican governor introduces sweeping environmental protections — In his first week in office, Florida’s new Republican Governor Ron Desantis has made the environment and climate change a top focus. [What climate change, right Don?]

Around the world — The poles are shifting: the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. And the error is increasing all the time.
Not much left — A comprehensive new high-resolution analysis of human modification of the planet finds that just 5% of the Earth’s land surface is currently unaffected by humans, far lower than a previous estimate of 19%. 95% of the Earth’s land surface has some indication of human modification, while 84% has multiple human impacts, the study found.

Opioids beat US road toll:
 for the first time in US history, a leading cause of deaths — vehicle crashes — has been surpassed in likelihood by opioid overdoses, according to a new report on preventable deaths from the National Safety Council. Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the council’s analysis of 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103.
Chechen anti-gay crusade — Around 40 have been detained and another two killed in the latest crackdown on Chechnya’s LGBT community, Russian activists say.
Bat-borne Ebola virus in China — Researchers from Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School, in collaboration with scientists in China, have identified and characterised a new genus of filovirus from a Rousettus bat in China. The results confirm that the Měnglà virus is evolutionarily closely related to Ebola virus and Marburg virus.
Fake rain for the fog — In the capital of Thailand, a bout of toxic air has gotten so bad that officials are planning to literally make it rain to combat the smog.
Right rises and aims to infiltrate EU — Right-wing populist parties in Europe have been gaining strength for years. Now, they hope to use European Parliament elections in May as a springboard for gaining greater influence in the EU. Surveys indicate they may be successful.
Robot cull — The world’s first hotel “staffed by robots” has culled half of its steely eyed employees, because they’re rubbish and annoy the guests.  The hotel has multilingual ‘female’ robots on the reception desk; guests are checked in using face recognition and robot concierges carry your luggage. [Maybe they should join the Hotel Workers Union?]

In, erm, ‘good’ news — Apple’s CEO reckons we deserve online privacy. You know, coz Apple makes all its billions from charging too much rather than selling our data. Yeah, go Tim. [Anyway, I suspect this has more to do with casting aspersions on competitors.]

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Apocalypticon ~ World fear, climate of fear, data wars, quaking and shaking, magic soil


At year’s end, global health numbers offer reason for both hope and despair — There is one strong positive note: an overriding public health finding is that people are living longer.
But then there are the million-plus cases of cholera in Yemen — deemed “a hideous milestone for the 21st century” by the International Committee of the Red Cross. And there’s lots more to mourn. For example, 8.6 million people died from no, or poor, health care.
Japan is withdrawing from an international group that bans commercial whaling — Japan will resume commercial hunts for the first time in 30 years next July. Japan will leave the International Whaling Commission, which put a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s.
More US law enforcement officers were shot and killed in the line of duty in 2018 than last year. This fact drove a 12% overall increase in the number of officers who died on the job, according to preliminary data from The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
12 sickened by stem cell treatments — A recent report from the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the health risks stem cell procedures can have. An outbreak linked to stem cell injections contaminated with bacteria sickened at least 12 people this year.
Higher education is supposed to be the ticket to employment — But in some US Bay Area counties, workers with high school diploma have lower unemployment rates than those with bachelor’s degrees or higher.
Bottled water slakes thirst, creates massive problems — A consumer backlash against disposable plastic plus new government mandates and bans in places such as zoos and department stores have the world’s biggest bottled-water makers scrambling to find alternatives. [Finally!]
2018 was the year robots started to take over service jobs — “We face the prospect of major upheaval in the last dependable pool of jobs we’ve got.”

Data wars — Zuckerberg claims ‘we’ve changed’. In his year-end post, Zuckerberg was optimistic, if a little defensive. He ticked off changes the company’s made – or, as he put it, “We’ve fundamentally altered our DNA” – to focus more on handling the bad stuff that happens on Facebook. [To which I respond ‘bullshit!’ I am about to purge Facebook and Instagram fundamentally from all my systems.]
This follows the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill, the massive hack affecting 29 million people, the bombshell report from The New York Times questioning both Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg’s leadership … in just a short couple of years, Zuckerberg has gone from possible presidential contender to a parody on SNL. [Also, why wasn’t the ‘DNA altered’ after Cambridge?]
The New York Times has already questioned this so-called’DNA altering’. Apparently, Facebook has a serious content moderation problem.
Google caves to Turkish pressure, condemns a culture to oblivion — Google has removed a map outlining the geographical extent of the Greater Kurdistan after the Turkish state asked it to do so, a simple inquiry on the Internet giant’s search engine from Wednesday on can show. “Unavailable. This map is no longer available due to a violation of our Terms of Service and/or policies,” a note on the page that the map was previously on read. Google did not provide further details on how the Kurdistan map violated its rules. [Yeah, you suck too, Google.]
LinkedIn too — Co-founder Reid Hoffman has a lot to apologise for, but now he’s specifically saying he’s sorry for funding a political experiment gone horribly awry.
The New York Times revealed that a research group with ties to the Democrat Party ran an experimental campaign using social media tactics inspired by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Chinese hackers target cutting-edge US firms — A Justice Department poster shows two Chinese citizens suspected of carrying out an extensive hacking campaign directed at dozens of US tech companies. US law enforcement says such cases are on the rise as China seeks to become a world leader in advanced technologies by 2025.
To understand China’s espionage goals, US officials say, just look at the ambitious aims the country set out in the plan ‘Made in China 2025.’

People start to mobilise for climate action — More than 1.8 million people worldwide have signed a petition from environmental groups to sue the French government for failing to take sufficient action on the matter. These groups, which include Greenpeace France and Oxfam France, are calling it the case of the century.
In 2017, France consumed 4.5% more fossil fuels than the scheduled target the French government had set out when it launched its energy transition act in 2015 to prevent further global warming.
Sea turtles turning female — A new study shows that climate change may cause most sea turtles to be born female. The future of sea turtles depends on the coexistence of dudes and gals, so this is not cool at all.
Under Trump, more protections removed — In another proposed reversal of an Obama-era standard, the Environmental Protection Agency Friday said limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants is not cost-effective and should not be considered “appropriate and necessary.”
US drought map — Crippling drought this year has caused more than $1 billion in damage in the US. Anyone affected by the drought or trying to manage it has turned to a once-obscure map that has become key to understanding what’s happening: the US Drought Monitor.
Londoners confronted with melting Greenland ice — Any Londoners walking past their city’s famous Tate Modern art gallery this month found it difficult not to stop and stare at a new addition to its courtyard: huge chunks of melting ice, harvested from the shores of Greenland.
Between 2011 and 2014, Greenland lost a trillion tons of ice. In July 2012, almost the entire surface of the ice sheet was melting, an event that was simultaneously unprecedented in the satellite era and a bellwether for what appears to be the new normal.

Quaking, erupting and shaking — An overnight earthquake, triggered by Italy’s Mount Etna eruption two days before, caused injuries and damage in Eastern Sicily. The volcano has been spewing ash and lava has flowed down its slopes since it began erupting on Christmas Eve.
The entire southwest flank of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau volcano is missing The erupting volcano triggered a massive landslide on December 22nd which, in turn, generated a tsunami that killed over 420 people.

Sigh. Is there any good news? This is promising: Scientists in China have developed modified clay to prevent dangerous algal blooms, a boon for Chile’s aquaculture industry. Algal blooms can take a severe toll on the health of marine organisms as their sudden rapid growth can deplete oxygen and nutrients in water bodies. If left unchecked, the vast amounts of algae can cause water to become discoloured, resulting in what is known as a ‘red tide.’

The Apocalypticon ~ Plastic overwhelms, terrible data, Chinese hacking, drone strikes,


Worrying stats — The winning international statistic of the year was 90.5% – the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled.
And in the UK category, the top stat was 27.8% – the highest percentage of all electricity which was generated by solar power.
Solar power became the UK’s number one source of electricity – beating gas and nuclear – at one point on 30 June, during the heatwave.
Ten per cent — A new variant of the Shamoon malware was discovered on the network of Italian oil and gas contractor Saipem, where it destroyed files on about 10% of the company’s PC fleet, ZDNet has learned.
Twitter damage data — Nine months after Amnesty International called on Twitter to be more transparent about abuse on its platform, the organisation has published another study indicating that, brace yourself, Twitter still has a damning online abuse problem, and it overwhelmingly affects women of colour.
Wettest on record — Friday night’s rainfall in Washington, DC elevated 2018 to the wettest year on record for the US capital, and the rain was expected to continue throughout the weekend.
Japan’s birthrate has dropped to a historic level — It’s the lowest since data gathering began in 1899. That’s what The Japan Times has reported, citing government figures released Friday. Birth and death statistics show that the pace of Japan’s population collapse is speeding up.

Is genocide predictable? Researchers say absolutely — History unfortunately does repeat itself. Two thousand years ago the Romans laid siege to Carthage, killing more than half of the city’s residents and enslaving the rest.
Hitler attempted to annihilate the Jews in Europe. In 1994 the Hutus turned on the Tutsis in Rwanda. The Khmer Rouge killed a quarter of Cambodia’s population. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbs slaughtered thousands of Bosnians at Srebrenica in July of 1995.
Genocides are not spontaneous,” says Jill Savitt, acting director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC “In the lead-up to these types of crimes we do see a consistent set of things happening.” [Check out the graph of where ‘targeted killing of over 1000 people’ is most likely to occur next.]

Dumb dumb dumb — Is your password sunshine, 666666, or monkey? Bad news: if a hacker tries to guess your password, those are some of the very first ones they’ll try. SplashData, makers of the password managers SplashID, TeamsID, and Gpass, just released its annual “worst passwords” list.
Chinese hacking spree — Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the UK published official statements formally blaming China of hacking their government agencies and local companies.

Drone strikes — English airport stalled: Gatwick’s runway had to shut as devices were repeatedly flown over the airfield.
Sussex Police said it was not terror-related but a “deliberate act” of disruption, using “industrial specification” drones.
About 110,000 passengers on 760 flights were due to fly on Thursday.
Shoot ’em down … but how? There’s been no shortage of ideas about how to stop a drone, but as the past few days at London’s Gatwick Airport show, the reality is far more difficult.
But hey, drones are delivering vaccines — Last week, 1-month-old Joy was vaccinated against hepatitis and tuberculosis. Those are standard childhood vaccinations, but there was something definitely non-standard about the way they reached Joy. They arrived by drone.

Big bad waves — Massive waves have been breaking along the coast of California, and the National Weather Service is warning of “potentially life-threatening conditions” and urging people to stay away from the water.

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate terror, data, lies, rats, Cohen


The most terrifying climate disasters Of 2018 — 2018 has been the year when climate change’s influence on our weather crystallised further. The flames showed up in our proverbial (and in some cases, literal) backyard. And the planet, our home, will go up in smoke if we don’t act soon.
Second hottest Arctic — According to a new report released by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic had its second-hottest year on record in 2018. Arctic air temperatures over the past five years exceeded all previous records since 1900.
Life is changing in the Arctic — Utqiaġvik is warming, along with the rest of the Arctic, about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, sits right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very top of Alaska. It’s the northernmost town in the United States, and home to about 4400. The coastline here used to be edged with sea ice for nearly the whole year. But that period is getting shorter and shorter, and as a result Utqiaġvik locals are dealing with coastal erosion and are changing how they hunt in the fall.
Rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history — It wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found. The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago.

Quakes and tsunamis — US quake: A magnitude 4.4 earthquake struck at around 4:14am near Decatur, Tennessee on December 12th. That’s about 150 miles southeast of Nashville. But Tennessee residents weren’t the only ones to feel the temblor: over 7700 people reported experiencing it from Kentucky and northern Alabama to the western Carolinas, and even in Atlanta.
Japan’s plans for a 30-metre (100-foot) tsunami — It will shake houses and tall buildings, and unleash a 30-metre tsunami on one of the most densely populated and industrialised coastlines in the world. It could kill and injure a million people. And it will almost certainly come in the next few decades. Now, the Japanese government is making plans to evacuate millions of people in anticipation of what could be one of the worst natural disasters in history: the Nankai Trough megaquake. [Good name for a band, though!] Clearly, we need to step up our geoengineering
But we may run out of the materials we need — Plenty of high-tech electronic components, like solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and complex circuits require specific rare metals. These can include magnetic neodymium, electronic indium, and silver, along with lesser-known metals like praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. These metals are mined in large quantities in countries around the world, and they make their way into the supply chains of all sorts of electronics and renewables companies. But there may not be enough to combat climate change.

Data wars — Facebook admits bug may have briefly exposed photos of 6.8 million app users: Between September 13th and 25th, a bug temporarily exposed more photos than intended to third-party apps that use Facebook logins, the social network acknowledged in December.
So are you ready to ditch ’em? Here’s a reflection on a month without Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, plus a how-to guide if you want to quit the biggest companies in tech.
Chinese hackers are breaching Navy contractors to steal targets include everything from ship-maintenance data to missile plans, triggering a top-to-bottom review of cyber vulnerabilities, WSJ reported, citing officials and experts.
Floating IT hacks — IT systems on boats aren’t as air-gapped as people think. They are falling victims to all sorts of cyber-security incidents, such as ransomware, worms, viruses, and other malware usually carried on board via USB sticks. These cyber-security incidents have only been recently revealed as past examples of what could go wrong, in a new cyber-security guideline released by 21 international shipping associations and industry groups. In one of the many incidents, a new-build dry bulk ship was delayed from sailing for several days because its ECDIS was infected by a virus.
Android facial recognition fooled by fake heads — Forbes magazine tested four of the most popular handsets running Google’s operating systems and Apple’s iPhone to see how easy it’d be to break into them with a 3D-printed head. All the Android handsets opened with the fake (but Apple’s phone was impenetrable).
Talking about fake heads … Michael Cohen on Trump — Michael Cohen, President Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer, says his former boss knew it was wrong to order hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who say they had affairs with Trump – but he directed Cohen to do it anyway to help his election chances. Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow

Talking about rats — Washington, DC, has a serious rat problem on its hands. But this has little to do with the shady goings-on at some of the highest levels of government. The Associated Press has reported that the DC region is facing a serious problem with Rattus Norvegicus, or the brown rat, an infestation that’s being exacerbated by a population spike thanks to milder winters.

Any good news? A little: a coalition of environmental groups who monitor divestment released a report at the Poland climate talks showing that the number of groups pulling their money out of fossil fuels had reached 1000. Together, these groups manage nearly $11 trillion worth of funds.

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump, Faceplant, Climactic, Hope


Trump’s golf club employed illegals — The Trump Organization employed undocumented immigrants at one of its New Jersey golf clubs, according to a lawyer representing one former and one current employee. [Honestly, is anyone surprised at new hypocrisies to do with the Donald?] Two women, for example, worked in close proximity to Trump both before and after he was elected president.
Flynn trumpets on Trump — Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has provided “substantial” aid in the Russia investigation and beyond [my italics]. And that merits a judge’s consideration at Flynn’s sentencing this month, prosecutors said in court papers.
Only in America? Hundreds of military service members reportedly got caught up in a sextortion scam run by prison inmates using mobile phones, according to a release issued on Wednesday by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Faceplant — While we’re in the US, Facebook employees have been using burner phones to talk about Facebook: Facebook’s reputation has only continued to get more sullied in recent weeks, and it’s taking a toll on employees. Things over at the old FB are getting grim, with people now using untraceable ‘burner phones’ to talk about the company. And not even to reporters, just to other employees, according to one former employee. Another described the current scene as a ‘bunker mentality’ after nearly two years of continuous bad press. [You know, like this.]
Sandberg sure as hell knew exactly what Facebook was doing in regards to Soros —
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was directly involved in the company’s decision to seek information on billionaire philanthropist and vocal Facebook critic George Soros, the New York Times has reported. Citing people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation [you see why Facebook employees might want burner phones?], the Times reported that Sandberg specifically requested information [my italics] on Soros’ financial interests. [It’s always a bad sign when news outlets start selecting the Grinch photos.]
Facial recognition has to be regulated to protect the public, says AI report — The research institute AI Now has identified facial recognition as a key challenge for society and policymakers – but is it too late? It might mean you can unlock your phone with a smile, but it also means that governments and big corporations have been given a powerful new surveillance tool.

Climactic — massive decline of monarchs: Far fewer of the butterflies were heading south this year, and those that have arrived did so a month late, according to Xerces, a non-profit conservation group for invertebrates. One researcher said it was the fewest monarch butterflies in central California in 46 years. Surveyors at 97 sites found only 20,456 monarchs compared to 148,000 at the same sites last year, an 86% decline.
Shocking human-wrought changes to Earth — It’s one thing to know this in the abstract, and another to see global changes laid out in detail, as they are in comprehensive new maps published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Developed by geoscientist Tomasz Stepinski and his team at the University of Cincinnati’s Space Informatics Lab (SPI), the intricate visualisations reveal that 22% of Earth’s total landmass was altered between 1992 and 2015, mostly by humans.
Decline in maple syrup — Sugar maple trees need snow to stay warm and grow. Each winter, a deep blanket of snow covers about 65% of northeastern sugar maples. Without this insulating snow, the soil freezes deeper and longer, damaging the trees’ shallow roots. So as climate change reduces the amount of deep snow. a new study says this spells trouble for the trees.
Greenland may one day be a green land — Rising sea levels could become overwhelming sooner than previously believed, according to the authors of the most comprehensive study yet of the accelerating ice melt in Greenland.
Vanishing coaster settlements — Del Mar is a picturesque Southern Californian place; its name means “of the sea,” in Spanish. That’s becoming increasingly true: Del Mar is one of countless coastal communities in California and across the US that is seeing the impacts of climate change and preparing for worse to come.
But we still need to burn coal … right? More than 40% of the world’s coal plants are operating at a loss due to high fuel costs and that proportion could to rise to nearly 75% by 2040, a report by environmental think-tank Carbon Tracker showed on Friday.
Last week, at least 8000 barrels of crude oil gushed into the northern Amazon rainforest in Peru — This created one of the worst spills the region has seen in years. State oil company Petroperú is blaming a local indigenous community for sabotaging a pipeline and triggering the spill, but the leader of Peru’s Wampis Nation, whose members make up that community, denies the accusations.

Hope? Aston Martin announced it’s starting a Heritage EV program where owners of classic Aston Martins can have their cars converted to an all-electric powertrain: The British automaker said it is starting this program so that classic cars don’t get banned from cities that are moving to shun internal combustion engines in favour of boosting air quality for residents. [Yeah, you really want to look after those rich people … the innocent victims in all this … but is there another alternative?]
Free public transport — Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay €2 (£1.78) for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 2590sq km covers almost all journeys.
But from the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. [While getting loads of cars off the roads.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate change, China, Russia, US, around the world


Climate — Trump’s attempt to bury major climate change report on Thanksgiving backfired. By releasing the report on a very slow news day, the White House might have inadvertently made it easier for publications to feature its dire conclusions – including hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of additional deaths by century’s end – prominently. Of course, President Donald Trump rejected a central conclusion of a dire report on the economic costs of climate change released by his own administration. [If only he could figure out how to make money out of climate change – then he’d back it 110%.]
Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has hit its highest rate in a decade — About 7900 sq km (3050 sq miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was destroyed between August 2017 and July 2018 – an area roughly five times the size of London. [But hey, at least Brazil has a racist homophobic climate-change denier as president now.]
Insects dying at an alarming rate — Bees are actually dying at an alarming rate, but not only that, all insects are dying, plus the birds, plants and just about everything that relies on insects has seen their populations decrease by as much as 75% over the past 30 years.
Sea turtles washing up — The shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts have seen a spike in the number of debilitated and dead sea turtles, with nearly 600 animals washing up so far this year, according to wildlife officials; 340 turtles were found alive and 244 dead.
145 pilot whales stranded in New Zealand — Over the weekend a hiker was tramping across Stewart Island, a remote locale in New Zealand’s far southern regions, when the crest of a hill brought an unsettling vista into view: scores of dead pilot whales washed ashore on the beach. [I still think we should change their name – piloting seems to be the least successful thing they do – although they’re probably full of plastic or something.]

China — China’s cars talk to Chinese government. When Shan Junhua bought his white Tesla Model X, he knew it was a fast, beautiful car. What he didn’t know is that Tesla constantly sends information about the precise location of his car to the Chinese government. China has called upon all electric vehicle manufacturers in China to make the same kind of reports. [Want to sell to China? Suck up to Big Brother Xi Jinping, then.]
Another day, another high-profile incarceration — Lu Guang, an award-winning Chinese photographer and New York resident, has gone missing while visiting China, his wife says. Lu went missing after he was invited to a photography event in the heavily controlled region of Xinjiang.
Apple has removed 718 apps from the Chinese App Store in the last few days — The iPhone maker swept the apps out because their developers pushed updates without its permission.  Apple warned developers against updating iOS apps without its permission in early 2017. The banned apps included Sogou’s search engine and maps, online retailer Pinduodo and car sharing service Togo Car.

Russia —Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels near Crimea is an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory,” says US Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, calling it “another reckless Russian escalation” in a deadly and years-long conflict. [Where angels fear to tread, fools Russian.]
Ukraine bans Russian men — Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko then barred Russian men of military age from entering the country, saying the order was needed to prevent an infiltration in what appeared to be an allusion to Moscow’s 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
Russia send missiles — Russia is sending new S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to its installations in Crimea. The move came days after Russian warships seized several Ukrainian naval vessels, adding to tensions with neighbouring Ukraine over the land Russia seized in 2014.

US — Trump planned lavish gift for Putin: President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.
General Motors, Sears and Toys R Us Layoffs across America highlight a shredding financial safety net — Real retirement security has not been a big enough part of the conversation on either side of the political spectrum.
Marriott’s Starwood Hotels has confirmed its hotel guest database of about 500 million customers was stolen in a data breach — The hotel and resorts giant said in a statement filed with US regulators that the “unauthorized access” to its guest database was detected on or before September 10 — but may date back as far as 2014.
US life expectancy has dropped — Life expectancy for Americans fell again last year, despite growing recognition of the problems driving the decline and federal and local funds invested in stemming them.
US millennials are poorer — Since millennials first started entering the workforce, their spending habits have been blamed for killing off industries ranging from casual restaurant dining to starter houses. However, a new study by the Federal Reserve suggests it might be less about how they are spending their money and more about not having any to spend. [The gig economy is the beginning of the end for human workers.]
Democrats want more info on Amazon facial recognition — A group of Democratic lawmakers are demanding more answers from Amazon about its contracts to provide law enforcement agencies with facial recognition technology.
Microsoft to power US army — Microsoft has secured a US$662 million-plus contract with the US Army for Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) prototypes, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, expanding its relationship with the military and beating out a slew of other companies competing for the contract. [We are about to enter live battle zone. Please do not restart your computer: critical Security Update will now install …]

A world of pain — UK deals ‘extraordinary rebuke’ to Facebook: The British Parliament has seized internal Facebook documents in “an extraordinary attempt to hold the US social media giant to account” after being repeatedly spurned in their attempts to have the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify about its data privacy practices. The internal Facebook documents in question could shed light on management’s approach to data privacy issues around the same time it was dealing with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Intimate killings of women — Last year, 50,000 women worldwide were killed by intimate partners or family members. That translates to 1.3 deaths per 100,000 women, according to a global study on gender-related killing of women and girls released this month by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Australian firms can sack employees refusing scans — Businesses using fingerprint scanners to monitor their workforce can legally sack employees who refuse to hand over biometric information on privacy grounds, the Australian Fair Work Commission has ruled. [Advance Australia F____]
Online help can read what you type — Next time you’re chatting with a customer service agent online, be warned that the person on the other side of your conversation might see what you’re typing in real time.
Japan has restarted 5 nuclear power reactors in 2018 — As part of Japan’s long-term energy policy, issued in April 2014, the central government called for the nuclear share of total electricity generation to reach 20%–22% by 2030, which would require 25 to 30 reactors to be in operation by then. In 2017, four operating nuclear reactors provided 3% of Japan’s total electricity generation. [They’re on shaky ground.]
Giant viruses —In an oversized US outdoor research laboratory, scientists have made an unexpected discovery, finding 16 rare ‘giant’ viruses that are completely new to science.
Super smart computer viruses — The cybersecurity threats of deep learning and neural networks are emerging. We’re just beginning to catch glimpses of a future in which cybercriminals trick neural networks into making fatal mistakes and use deep learning to hide their malware and find their target among millions of users.
Time capsules that may survive apocalypse — Most of ’em get soggy and ruined, but there are ways

Excerpt from my forthcoming book — It’s kinda on hold as I work on another book, sorry! But I will get back to it after Christmas.

The Apocalypticon ~ Diseases, fragility of China, spawned in the USA, around the world, and some good news


One of the strangest things that can sicken us is a rogue misfolded protein that destroys the brain — But Prion is even scarier than we knew. Researchers were able to find the prions responsible for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), the most common prion disease in people, seeded everywhere in the eyes of 11 patients affected by it.
Rat hepatitis in humans — A 70-year-old Hong Kong woman has contracted the rat-specific version of Hepatitis E, signifying only the second time the disease has been documented in humans. Health officials in China are now scrambling to understand the implications of this disturbing new development.
Don’t eat the Romaine! The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out an unusually strong statement telling Americans to toss any romaine lettuce in any form: whole, chopped, pre-bagged into Caesar salads, combined into spring mix, and so on. The warning covered not just homes but retailers and restaurants, and came with a recommendation to empty any fridge where romaine has been stored, and wash it out with soap and warm water.

Marxists now being persecuted in China — Young people who belong to Marxist groups have recently become the unlikely targets of a state crackdown due to their zeal to help educate and mobilise China’s working class to fight for their rights. [OMG that’s so crazy!]
“As Communists, we should incorporate Marxist classics and principles into our lifestyle and treat Marxism as a spiritual pursuit,” President Xi Jinping said at an event celebrating the bicentennial of Marx’s birth in May … But in August, police arrested more than 50 student activists, many of them members of college Marxist groups.
China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality —  Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalised ratings for each resident.
Former FBI guy advocates retaliatory cyber attacks against China — Louis Freeh, who ran the FBI for almost eight years until 2001, said the threat of criminal charges or jail time would do little to prevent state-sponsored hackers from continuing to steal valuable intellectual property. He reckons targeted cyber attacks and a strong deterrence capability are the most effective way of preventing China and other countries continuing to steal Australian commercial secrets.
The US government is reportedly trying to persuade its foreign allies’ wireless and internet providers to avoid Huawei equipment — Officials have spoken to their counterparts and telecom bosses in Germany, Italy, Japan and other friendly countries where the Chinese company’s equipment is already in use.

Spawned in the USA — James Comey, the former head of the FBI who was fired by President Trump, says he will push back on a subpoena to appear in a closed-door session before the House Judiciary Committee unless he is allowed to testify publicly. “I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions,” Comey tweeted. “But I will resist a ‘closed door’ thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion.”
Americans blame social networks — A new survey from Axios finds that a majority of Americans don’t think social networks are good for the world. [But hey, Facebook delivered the really really best president ever!]
Creepy Facebook patent — A recently published Facebook patent application imagines an unnerving way to use your data. The company filed for a patent that explores piecing together information about a user’s entire household based on the pictures they upload, presumably for targeted advertising. And yes, Instagram photos were also cited in the filing. [I stopped using Instagram  a few weeks back, no regrets.]
US Ground Zero for climate change — The northernmost city in the US continues to be ground zero for the impacts of climate change. As sunlight fades from the Arctic, sea ice began to form this week around Utqiaġvik, an Iñupiat whaling community located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. And that’s not right, as the sea should have been covered in ice weeks ago.
Climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the US, according to a Federal report — and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date. [Oh, wait, Trump can’t here is he still has his head in the sand.]
An emerging, deeply weird conspiracy theory for the Californian fires — This holds that those fires aren’t caused by wind patterns, brutally dry conditions, the worsening effects of climate change, or possible downed power lines, but by a sinister scheme directed by nefarious elements within the government. [Of course! Except the ‘nefarious element’ is the government, starting at the top.]
Rains coming to damp the fires … and may cause another disaster — In what may be the first bit of good news in a while for Northern California, rain could be on the way by the end of this week. It could put the kibosh on the Camp Fire, ending one chapter of the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history.
Unfortunately it won’t be all good news as the rain could trigger mudslides, hamper search and rescue operations, and make the lives of thousands who are homeless miserable.

Around the world — Of course, Trump famously said the Calfornian fires were caused by not raking between trees. So Finns have been making fun of him ever since.
Russian hackers exploit deadly plane crash to go phishing — Security firm Palo Alto Networks has issued a new warning about phishing attacks linked to APT 28, the elite Russian hacking group tied to the 2016 election interference in the United States. The document, sent to myriad targets in North America, Europe, as well as a former Soviet state, was designed to capture the attention of those interested in the Lion Air 737 MAX airline crash in late October, which killed all 189 aboard.
North Korean state media announced the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently oversaw tests of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon.” The new report is extremely light on details, but it’s a reminder that very little has actually changed in the US-North Korea relationship since US president Donald Trump took power. Both countries have nuclear weapons and both are on a hair trigger as they develop new capabilities. [Or have they just figured out how to make rifles out of plastic?]
Sperm whale dies full of plastic cups — A dead whale floated ashore in eastern Indonesia with its stomach full of plastic junk, including 115 plastic cups and two pairs of flip-flops. World Wildlife Fund researchers found roughly 6kg of plastic in the 9.45m long sperm whale, reports the Associated Press. [Presumably the two people wearing the flip-flops didn’t make it.]
Dutch government finds Microsoft collected telemetry data — Microsoft has been accused of breaking EU’s GDPR law by harvesting information through Office 365 and sending it to US servers. The discovery was made by the Dutch government.

And in good news … A US federal judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit against neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer alleging it led a “terror campaign” against a Jewish real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, and the Southern Poverty Law Center tells the New York Times it expects the civil case to now proceed to a trial.
The lawsuit accuses the Daily Stormer and its founder, racist troll Andrew Anglin, of mounting a coordinated harassment campaign against Gersh that eventually resulted in her family receiving over 700 messages including death threats and references to the Holocaust.
And my favourite: Siri pulls up image of an actual dick when asked about Trump — The apparent glitch was reported on Thursday by the Verge, which noted that the error may be the result of some turkey day trickster either editing Trump’s Wikipedia page or attempting to game an algorithm associated with the image Siri pulls up automatically.

The Apocalypticon ~ The end of the world, impacts, WannaCry still there, army robots, Chinese state terror, US stupidity, the Camp Fire, Holocaust fears


Visions of the end of the world tend to extremes: the planet fatally fracked, flooded, hurricaned, nuke-cratered. No survivors, or maybe one or two survivors, dazed and dust-grimed, roaming a wasted landscape, eating canned beans, rotted squirrels, each other. But the truth is we might be in for a slow burn, apocalypse-wise.
The “end of the world” entails not just the actual end, that last gasp of human breath, but all the agony leading up to it, too. How, though, without the fire-and-brimstone theatrics, will we know that the planet is truly terminal?
An unusually large asteroid crater measuring 19 miles wide has been discovered under a continental ice sheet in Greenland. Roughly the size of Paris, it’s now among the 25 biggest asteroid craters on Earth. The iron-rich asteroid measuring nearly a kilometre wide (0.6 miles) struck Greenland’s ice-covered surface at some point between 3 million and 12,000 years ago, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. [Well, that explains why I can’t remember it, anyway.]
Solar storm triggered Vietnam War mines — An analysis of recently declassified US military documents confirms suspicions that, during the late stages of the Vietnam War, a powerful solar storm caused dozens of sea mines to explode. It’s a stark reminder of the Sun’s potential to disrupt our technological activities in unexpected ways. [I thought a Stark reminder was “winter is coming”.]
Sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff, but shortages are killing people — The sand in a desert, though, is useless as a construction material because the grains are out in the open and blow around for thousands of years. This rounds them off until they become useless as building blocks. The preferred type is the kind found in a river bed, sea, or beach. The fact that desert sand is useless makes for some unexpected situations. Despite being surrounded by endless miles of sand, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was built with sand imported from Australia. Dubai also imports sand for its beaches from Australia. Desert sand doesn’t do well in a beach atmosphere … [Personally, I think someone just needs to invent a sand rougher-upper.]

British army drilling drones and robots — The British Army is testing out over 70 new technologies, including unmanned vehicles and surveillance drones, in a four-week experiment on one of its biggest training grounds. The focus will be on “surveillance, long-range, and precision targeting, enhanced mobility and the re-supply of forces, urban warfare and enhanced situational awareness.” The aim is about reducing the danger to troops during combat, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. [It never ceases to amaze me that we want soldiers to be trained to kill soldiers who are trained to kill them, and then we stress out about their safety!]

WannaCry? Yeah you do. WannaCry was once the greatest cybersecurity calamity in history, but now doesn’t work. A website critical to its function is now controlled by civic-minded security researchers, and the fixed deadline to pay the ransom has long passed. Yet WannaCry still accounts for 28% of ransomware attacks: the most of any ransomware family. According to a new study by Kaspersky Lab, the defanged North Korea linked ransomware is still spreading uncontrollably.

Chinese state terror — By the time Chinese guards began torturing Kayrat Samarkand inside a re-education camp last spring, he says his life had prepared him for this. His crime was being brought up Muslim and having spend time overseas. [Inmates had to sing songs praising Chinese leader Xi Jinping before being allowed to eat. Yeah, real sophisticated, China. You know what? Just replace your citizens with robots.]
Last year, the Chinese wife of a Pakistani man traveled back home to China with their two children. She wanted to introduce her younger boy, 18 months old, to her mom.
But after she landed in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, she was detained, says her husband, a doctor named Rehman. His wife is a Uighur Muslim, a member of a minority group that has been targeted in a Chinese crackdown.

American state, ah, idiocy — President Trump has completed written answers to questions about the Russia investigation from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. The president told reporters on Friday that he wrote the answers, not his lawyers, and that he did so “very easily.” [God help us all. Still, it’s good to know he can actually still write ‘without help’. What state of dementia has he reached now? Can he even walk and chew at the same time?]
But he’s not the only American idiot — Tyler Barriss, 26, has pleaded guilty to making a false report resulting in a death, after he placed a hoax call late last year that resulted in police fatally shooting an unarmed man in Wichita, Kan. Barriss pleaded guilty to a total of 51 charges as part of a plea deal. He will be sentenced in January.
Coburn made highly-volatile, Isis-style explosives — Acting on a tip about explosives at a house in Lake Helen, Florida, police discovered jars of highly volatile triacetone triperoxide, or TATP — the same material used in terrorist bombing attacks mounted by ISIS and al-Qaida. Jared E Coburn, 37, was arrested after officers were told he had a bomb under his bed. [And yet he was supposedly ‘highly intelligent’].
Police arrive to find security guard detaining a shooting suspect, but the guard is black so they shoot him instead — When police arrived after reports of a shooting over the weekend at a bar outside Chicago, witnesses say Jemel Roberson, a 26-year-old security guard who worked there, had already subdued the alleged assailant in the parking lot, pinning him to the ground. Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney said that’s when one of his officers “encountered a subject with a gun” and shot him, according to a statement given to the media. Roberson was declared dead shortly after arriving at a hospital.
Woman tells how to work without hurting men’s feelings — Former Google employee turned comic Sarah Cooper has help for women in tech with a new book called How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. The book is, of course, a satirical look a corporate life for women. And it’s hilarious.
A mocking tweet from the National Rifle Association stirred many physicians to post on social media about their tragically frequent experiences treating patients in the aftermath of gun violence. [And how to kill a mockingtweet?] At least the Democratic House may be able to introduce some forms of gun control now

The Camp Fire has become the most destructive in history — As California burns from both ends, the Camp Fire currently ravaging the northern part of the state has become the most destructive in its history.
The fire had stretched 40,468 hectares as of Saturday morning, according to officials. At least 6453 homes and 260 commercial structures have been destroyed in the fire, the cause of which is still under investigation. [Such an innocuous name, though! It throws me every time.]
Paramount Ranch burnt down — The ranch has been the location of countless movies and TV shows over the past 90 years, including the HBO sci-fi western Westworld. But that history has sadly turned to ash over the past 24 hours, engulfed by the flames of the Woolsey wildfire that has been devastating Southern California.

Picking on Jews — The Open Society Foundations (OSF), a international philanthropic and grant making organisation, has responded to a bombshell report that senior management at Facebook including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired a Republican opposition research firm named Definers Public Affairs to counter the company’s growing list of critics – including by peddling conspiracy theories about OSF’s founder, Hungarian-American investor and Holocaust survivor George Soros. Definers waged a campaign to “cast Mr Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.” This seems to be part of a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonise Soros and his foundations.
This is hardly new, of course, but it’s no less deadly for it — A decade before Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, famed physicist Albert Einstein was already sensing imminent peril for his country and his own welfare, as a newly discovered letter reveals.
The letter is interesting both for its timing and content. Einstein wrote the note after fleeing Berlin out of concerns for his safety. The Jewish-German Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, had just been assassinated by a trio of far right anti-Semitic Germans. After the killing, police warned Einstein his life could be in danger, and advised him to stop lecturing and even leave Berlin. The physicist [luckily for the entire world] heeded their warnings and moved out of the city. This little stuffed-toy monkey, owned by a Jewish boy, also escaped Berlin. And after a long time, it helped reunite survivors of the Holocaust.

And the good news is … cycles are actually faster than cars and motorbikes in some cities now.

The Apocalypticon ~ Tangled web, FaceBook failure, breaches, HackBots, AI news, fat pollution kids, apocalypse drive-thru, wilderness,


Berners Lee wants the web saved from abuse — Tim Berners-Lee [he who invented the www] has launched a global campaign to save the web from the destructive effects of abuse and discrimination, political manipulation, and other threats that plague the online world. A report adds:
In a talk at the opening of the Web Summit in Lisbon, the inventor of the web called on governments, companies and individuals to back a new Contract for the Web that aims to protect people’s rights and freedoms on the internet. The contract outlines central principles that will be built into a full contract and published in May 2019, when half of the world’s population will be able to get online. More than 50 organisations have already signed the contract, which is published by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation alongside a report that calls for urgent action.
And speaking of that abuse … Facebook, which the United Nations’ top human rights commissioner accused earlier this year of a “slow and ineffective” response to evidence it was fuelling state genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, admitted in a blog post on Monday that their own “independent human rights impact assessment” has more or less confirmed that it really screwed that one up. [We’re supposed to applaud now?]
Dutch bust open ‘secure’ chat service —Dutch police say they “decrypted more than 258,000 messages” sent using an expensive chat service. In an Ars Technica report citing a National Police Corps statement, authorities in the Netherlands claimed to have achieved a “breakthrough in the interception and decryption of encrypted communication between criminals.” [Last message was ‘oh crap!’]
In the US, HealthCare.gov suffered a data breach exposing 75,000 customers — Details were sparse at the time of the breach, but have now learned that hackers obtained “inappropriate access” to a number of broker and agent accounts, which “engaged in excessive searching” of the government’s healthcare marketplace systems.
Gamers getting recruited by Nazi hate groups —Almost every teen in the US plays video games: 97% of boys, according to the Pew Research Center, and 83% of girls. Increasingly, these games are played online, with strangers. And experts say that while it’s by no means common, online games – and the associated chat rooms, livestreams and other channels – have become one avenue for recruitment by right-wing extremist groups. Why? Microsoft, PlayStation and Steam host 48 million, 70 million and 130 million monthly active players respectively. [248 million prospects, the same amount as the populations of Spain, France and Russia added together …]
We also need to watch out for HackBots — Protecting your data today means dealing with hacking attempts powered by machine learning (ML), the science of computers learning and acting like humans. These ML computer algorithms are based on an analytical model designed to collect data and adapt its processes and activities according to use and experience, getting ‘smarter’ all the time. Hackers are also using these algorithms to automate time-consuming cyberattacks with hackbots, email phishing, and social media phishing.

The world — It seems humanity isn’t just content to screw up the surface of the planet; we’re dissolving the seafloor too. Findings published recently show that all the carbon dioxide piling up in the ocean’s dark depths is causing the seafloor as we know it to dissolve. The results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are yet another reminder this era of human history will leave a geological mark long after we’re gone.
Air pollution is making kids fat — High levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life led to significantly faster weight gain later, scientists have found. Other pollutants produced by road traffic have also been linked to obesity in children by recent studies.
Chinese news anchor is actually AI — “This is my very first day at Xinhua News Agency,” says a sharply dressed artificial intelligence news anchor. “I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences.” [Why not get your fake news from a fake newsreader?]
Japanese tsunami triggered an algae invasion of the US coast —In 2011, a colossal tsunami set off by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake slammed into the eastern shores of Japan. Not long afterwards, some of the 1.5 million tons of floating debris created by the waves, from buoys and boats to entire fishing docks, began washing up along America’s northwest Pacific coast. Dozens of species of algae snuck along on this debris and turned up in Oregon and Washington.
Apocalypse drive-through — The so-called Camp Fire consumed over 8090 hectares in Northern California, forcing about 50,000 people to evacuate. But the fire moved so quickly that some people barely escaped, like Brynn Parrott Chatfield from the town of Paradise. She posted a video to social media showing her family’s terrifying drive through the flames.

Just 20 nations control 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding Antarctica and the high seas — And within those 20, five nations – Australia, Russia, Canada, the US and Brazil – control a whopping 70%. [Well, Brazil probably not for much longer – when a nation democratically elects an obvious fascist, you know we should be working harder to raise general human intelligence along with equality.]

Is there any good news? With the Democrats having taken back the House of Representatives, the US military should get more oversight.
The ozone hole may heal one day — According to a UN report, a decades-old international treaty to ban ozone-depleting chemicals has led to their decline and “much more severe ozone depletion in the polar regions has been avoided.” There’s still work to be done, but this definitely falls into the Good News category.

 

The Apocalypticon ~ the info wars, helium leak iPhones, the world, new Titanic, the smog of complacency, animal massacres, changed planet, ice calving, transgender discrimination


It’s time, tech: thousands of Google employees around the world walked out of their offices. This was to protest Google’s mishandling of sexual harassment and assault cases, in what is likely the largest collective demonstration among technology workers.
Facebook and the Brazilian demagogue — The scandal-mired social media giant that has faced enormous criticism for its role in the spread of online propaganda and fake news across the globe, has a War Room it wants everyone to know is tackling that issue head-on. Facebook has touted the War Room’s efforts to clean up a torrent of hoaxes and misinformation spreading across Brazil on Facebook subsidiary and encrypted chat service WhatsApp before the country’s October 28 runoff election. But when the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonar, who has pledged support for Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, attacked minorities and LGBTQ people, backed torture and reportedly plans to decimate the Amazon rainforest, won those elections with 55.2% of the vote, it looked an awful lot like one key element of his victory was exactly the kind of stuff the War Room was supposedly intended to fight, especially on WhatsApp.
81,000 Facebook accounts hacked — Hackers appear to have compromised and published private messages from at least 81,000 Facebook users’ accounts – but that’s just according to that pillar of fake news, the BBC
Facebook’s new political ad transparency tools allowed Business Insider to run adverts as being “paid for” by Cambridge Analytica — Yes, CA was the political consultancy that dragged Facebook into a major data scandal. The investigation demonstrates that political advertising on Facebook is still open to manipulation by bad actors, despite Facebook’s ‘greater efforts’ at transparency. [Yep, someone saw right through that one. Or should that be ‘sawed’?]
But clearly, Facebook still has its uses — The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard.
More violent than Stuxnet — Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated,” and Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation.
But some problems are much more basic in origin — A US government network was infected with malware thanks to one employee’s “extensive history” of watching porn on his work computer, investigators found. The audit, carried out by the US Department of the Interior’s inspector general, found that a US Geological Survey (USGS) network at the EROS Center, a satellite imaging facility in South Dakota, was infected after an unnamed employee visited thousands of porn pages that contained malware. This downloaded to his laptop and “exploited the USGS’ network.”
How to coordinate a hate attack: use Gab — Gab and its founder Andrew Torba prefer to pitch the site as a free-speech hub for everyone, but in reality Gab is mostly well known as a haven for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremists who have used it as a far-right echo chamber (in many cases after being they themselves were removed from mainstream platforms). But after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, one of its primary fundraising methods has been cut off: PayPal confirmed it had terminated Gab’s account in the wake of the attack.

Helium leak disables multiple hospital iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads — Eric Woolridge, a system administrator at Morris Hospital in Illinois, said in a detailed post on the r/sysadmin subreddit that helium was to blame for many malfunctioning iDevices. Android phones were ‘just fine’…

Yes, it had to happen — Trump. He’s bellicose, angry, aggressive, a bully … and yet, he’s seemingly pissing his pants over some desperate refugees making their way slowly towards the US on foot. The US military has been ordered to send approximately 5000 troops to the US-Mexico border to counter the ‘threat’ of the caravan. [He’s depicting it as an ‘invasion! Pathetic!]
While we’re out in the world — Supporting Indonesia’s 1975 invasion, dodgy oil and gas deals, corporate espionage and trying a whistle blower in a secret court are just a few things that The Juice Media shines a big uncomfortable spotlight on in this video. Brutal!
Titanic II, a replica of the original Titanic, will make its first voyage in 2022 — It will have room for 2400 passengers and 900 crew members and have the same cabin layout and decor as the original legendary ocean liner. The $500 million ship, to be built in China, is set to make its maiden voyage from Dubai to Southhampton, UK in 2022. [And because it will be unsinkable II, they can save money on lifeboats.]
Russians mark Stalin’s purge victims outside Moscow security headquarters — Nelli Tachko, 93, was one of hundreds of Muscovites who waited for hours in frigid temperatures Monday to take part in an annual tradition in which anybody who wants to can read the name, age, profession and date of execution of a victim of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Terror eight decades ago. [This must warm Putin’s heart.]

Disease, plague and pestilence — Last year’s flu season in the US was one of the worst ones seen in decades. Nearly 80,000 flu-related deaths and the highest hospitalisation rate for the virus in modern history. But new estimations from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are presenting a clearer idea of just how bad last year’s flu season really was.
Yellow Fever in New Orleans — At least this one was historic. Some say New Orleans is haunted because of witches; others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.
Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10% of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname ‘Necropolis’: the city of the dead.
Moving to the US might make you fat — Moving to the US can seriously mess with immigrants’ microbiomes, according to a new study that tracked the digestive health of refugees coming to Minnesota from Southeast Asia. The study found new migrants almost immediately begin losing some of their native microbes, including strains that help them break down and glean nutrients. This has been tied to obesity.
Teeth in Georgia, USA walls — It’s not unusual for construction workers to find historical objects inside of walls. But the team renovating the TB Converse Building in Valdosta, Georgia, were caught off guard when they found an estimated 1000 teeth buried in a second-floor wall. The weirdest thing is that the same thing has happened in two other Georgia towns.

The environment — Today, more than 77% of land on earth, excluding Antarctica, has been modified by human industry. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature, up from just 15% a century ago. The study, led by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, paints the first global picture of the threat to the world’s remaining wildernesses – and the image is bleak.
And while we’re at it, animal populations have been massacred — The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.
Air pollution is the new tobacco — The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said air pollution is the “new tobacco”: the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more. “Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said.
Another massive berg tips into the sea — While the internet was obsessing over that rectangular iceberg, some more disconcerting icy behaviour went down on the other side of the Antarctic: the Pine Island Glacier has been breaking off monstrous icebergs over the past five years, presenting a worrying sign that the West Antarctic is destabilising. The latest occurred this weekend. Satellite imagery shows an iceberg roughly 300 square kilometres (115 square miles, or five times the size of Manhattan) breaking off the front of the glacier (below, under ‘2018’).Good lord, is there any good news? Facebook released its third-quarter earnings on Tuesday and the results are mixed. While revenue rose 33% and profit increased 9% for the third quarter from a year earlier, revenue growth was down from the 42% jump that Facebook had reported in the previous quarter. [But these a-holes are still making a mint from flogging your data.]
Here’s a glimmer, though: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, and dozens of other tech companies have come together to condemn discrimination against transgender people in the face of actions President Donald Trump is reportedly considering to reduce their legal protections.

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


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

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

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