Category Archives: Apocalypse

The Apocalypticon ~ Face-Google, Apple, VW, Daimler, BMW, Fortnite divorces, AI devastation, US Nazi, obesity,


Facebook’s ad discrimination — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook (and 10 other companies) over alleged age and gender discrimination in targeted employment ads.
But Google has been colluding with China’s right-wing surveillance state — Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China. ‘Dragonfly’ not only blacklists search terms to comply with the wishes of government censors but ties all searches to devices’ phone numbers.
And just in case you were relieved to be an Apple user — Apple just updated its iTunes privacy policy  making mention of a “trust score” it gives iPhone users on how they make calls or send emails.
“To help identify and prevent fraud, information about how you use your device, including the approximate number of phone calls or emails you send and receive, will be used to compute a device trust score when you attempt a purchase,” Apple explained. “The submissions are designed so Apple cannot learn the real values on your device. The scores are stored for a fixed time on our servers.”
In practical terms, the Cupertino crew will only look at Apple account usage patterns and hoover up metadata rather than more personal, and potentially damning information. The data collection and trust score assigning should help Apple better spot and dodgy activity going on in Apple accounts that aren’t in keeping with those of the legitimate users. It’s not entirely clear how Apple will use the metadata to actually spot fraud, as it hasn’t explained its workings.
And while we’re bagging big corporations … The European Commission has launched an antitrust investigation into the Volkswagen Group, BMW and Daimler, over allegations they colluded to keep certain emissions control devices from reaching the market in Europe.

Fortnite divorces — In the last 35 weeks, one online divorce site received over 200 petitions citing addiction to Fortnite and other online games as one of the reasons someone wanted a divorce. These numbers equate to roughly 5% of 4665 petitions have handled since the beginning of the year.
Developing world to suffer from AI — Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order, reports the devastating impacts artificial intelligence could have on the developing world.
China and India have presented the world with two different models for how such countries can climb the development ladder. Both models are based on a country’s cost advantages in the performance of repetitive, non-social and largely uncreative work – whether manual labour in factories or cognitive labor in call centres.
Unfortunately for emerging economies, AI thrives at performing precisely this kind of work.

US Nazi sued Warner Brothers You know, coz the film (based on true events) cast the Nazis as ‘cartoonishly evil’. [You know, as compared just balls-out evil.] Kuhn lost his lawsuit, by the way, and was eventually stripped of his American citizenship (he had been born in Munich and served in the German army in WWI). He was deported to Germany after WWII ended in 1945, where he died poor and disgraced in 1951.
American obesity — No single state had its overall obesity rate decline in 2017, but six states saw an increase.
American fault lines — The detection of strange, unpredicted behaviour deep below the surface near the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults suggests scientists have an incomplete understanding of the processes responsible for earthquakes in the region.
Geoscientists have recorded thousands of small earthquakes in California’s San Bernardino basin near the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults ver the last 40 years. New research suggests many of these quakes, some of which occur at depths between 10 and 20km, are exhibiting surprising deformation patterns: instead of slipping in a horizontal manner, many of these earthquakes show vertical movement far below the surface. [Deep Creep beneath and Shallow Creep in the White House.]
Turtle though the hurricane — Members of the non-profit, Florida Leatherbacks, Inc, watched via satellite tag as Isla the sea turtle beached to lay new clutches of fragile eggs in the sand, before starting her late summer migration north along the East Coast. She wound up north of the worst of it, but still experienced rough seas over the weekend. Even before the hurricane hit, she surfaced in an area where waves reached over 4 metres (14 feet) high.

Insect plastics, Pyongyang reportage and laziness — Microplastic can escape from polluted waters via flying insects, new research has revealed, contaminating new environments and threatening birds and other creatures that eat the insects.
NPR has reported how North Korean officials worked tirelessly to stymie Western journalists — They had Mr Kim attend them closely. He proved a “stunningly efficient one-man journalism prevention service.” [Trump should take lessons.]
If you’re too lazy to read this, all is well — A new study shows we may just have to chalk it up to our brains simply being hardwired to prefer hanging on the couch instead of the chin-up bar. Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators. [Yawn.]

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The Apocalypticon ~ A-holes, drugs, Google, Russia, Swiss dry, Australia, wannabe warlords


Veteran journalist Bob Woodward has written about every US president since Richard Nixon — That makes nine in total. But in all his years covering politics, he has never encountered a president like President Trump.
Woodward’s latest work, Fear: Trump in the White House, paints a portrait of Trump as uninformed and mercurial [but hasn’t any news coverage about Trump in the last decade done the same thing?].

Hey look, an A-hole who isn’t Trump for a change!

So-called human hikes drugs prices, citing the ‘moral imperative’ do make big profits! The chief executive of a small pharmaceutical company defended hiking the price of an essential antibiotic by more than 400% and told the Financial Times that he thinks “it is a moral requirement to make money when you can.”
His father’s head — A man is suing a cryonics firm for allegedly not respecting his late father’s wishes – or contract – to have his entire body cryogenically preserved. Instead, the firm severed and stored the man’s head, sending his cremated remains to his son. [There’s just no come-back from that.]
Amazon’s skrillionaire founder Jeff Bezos ‘helps’ homeless — Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie have announced a US$2 billion philanthropic effort aimed at helping homeless families and starting preschools in low-income communities. [OK, I might be cynical – OK, I am cynical – but part of me thinks he’s realised his slave about force might die out otherwise. Once those robots fully come on stream  though, it will be a different story.]
Teens would rather text people than talk to them —A new poll of 1141 teenagers showed they prefer to text their friends than talk in person. The findings come from Common Sense Media’s 2018 Social Media, Social Life survey.
Only 15% of teens said Facebook was their main social media site, down from 68% in 2012 [ha ha, Zuckerberg!]. Snapchat is now the main site for 41% of teenagers, followed by Instagram at 22%. In addition, this year’s survey saw texting (35%) surpass in-person (32%) as teens’ favourite way to communicate with friends. In 2012, 49% preferred to communicate in person, versus 33% who preferred texting.

Google has complied with Russian order to take down opposition leader’s YouTube ads — Google took down a series of YouTube ads for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny before a vote for regional governors on Sunday and amid protests over President Vladimir Putin’s plans to raise the retirement age for state pensions. [Coz, you know, freedom and all that …]
I feel so calm … but I am dying from bacterial infections: A common antidepressant, sold under the brand name Prozac, could be helping some bacteria build resistance to antibiotics, suggests a new study from Australia. The study found that fluoxetine was capable of inducing antibiotic resistance in laboratory strains of Escherichia coli.
Swiss cows high and dry — For centuries, between late May and early October, dairy farmers have been bringing their cows up to graze in the high mountain pastures. But this summer, because of a severe drought in July and August, cows grazing in mountain pastures haven’t had enough to drink. So water has been delivered to them.

Oh, good lord, is there any good news? Maybe: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef appears to be showing signs of recovery after a massive coral bleaching event in 2016 and 2017.
The nonprofit Reef & Rainforest Research Centre has reported signs of recovery due to a milder 2017-18 summer, as well as cooperation among science, industry, and government in supporting the reef’s recovery, according to the report issued by the Queensland State Government.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Warlord wannabes may have taken over the supermarkets to control food supply, but this won’t help anybody. Why anyone’s first thought might be ‘what advantage can I take from this disaster?’ is anyone’s guess, but it certainly happens. Anyone smart or able enough won’t go anywhere near wannabe warlords anyway, unless they’re desperate. Besides, with money worthless, what will you have to trade with these types that’s worth anything? If something is worth trading, most likely you’ll need it yourself. “

The Apocalypticon ~ Flights of disfancy, loneliness bots, bad oil, machines, algorithms, IBM surveillance, cats and more


Scary flights — A flight that had left Dubai in the United Arab Emirates landed at JFK International Airport in New York on September 5th with 549 passengers and crew on board. It was promptly quarantined due to a mysterious ailment spreading throughout the cabin. In the neighbourhood of 100 people on board showed symptoms including coughing, fever and vomiting, though only 11 ended up being taken to hospitals for evaluation. And one of those passengers was Vanilla Ice! [Actually, his real name is ‘Robert Matthew Van Winkle’ – why did he even want a stage name?] But we still don’t really know what that illness was …
Talking about ice — Since it snapped off the Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017, the trillion-tonne iceberg known as A68 has spent most of its time stuck in the mud. Now, new satellite data reveals that the ‘berg made its biggest move yet over the austral winter — a dramatic counterclockwise rotation that shows no signs of stopping.
Flights of fancy — President Trump, who was bombarded with negative news cycles last month, naturally turned to Twitter, venting frustrations and dismissing an increasingly wide variety of things he doesn’t like as “fake” or “phony.” [I hereby coin Megamaniacal’. Thank you.]
And, this time from Huawei — UL, the company behind the tablet and phone performance benchmark app 3DMark, has delisted new Huawei phones from its Best Smartphone leaderboard after AnandTech discovered the phone maker was boosting its performance to ace the app’s test

Australia does not actually have Free Speech — That’s right. Many Australians don’t appear to realise free speech is not a legal right they hold. [Although the right, apparently, to be terrified of a few desperate refugees remains unassailable.]
Oh, you think I hold a grudge? We humans are masters of resentment. This characteristic can be traced back the beginnings of recorded history. Feuds seem to be an indelible aspect of the human condition, but why should this be? Gizmodo spoke to the experts to find out why we love to hold a grudge, and the importance of letting go.
But there are loneliness bots — Internet-connected robots that can stream audio and video are increasingly helping housebound sick children and elderly people keep in touch with teachers, family and friends, combating the scourge of isolation and loneliness. [Soon we’ll be saying ‘there’s a bot for that’ …]

Speaking of machines … At its 60th anniversary conference on Friday, DARPA announced a $2 billion investment to push the frontier of AI forward. DARPA’s investment will focus on creating systems with common sense, contextual awareness and better energy efficiency. Advances could help the government automate security clearances, accredit software systems and make AI systems that explain themselves. [All the better to kill us with.]
And most of us don’t understand algorithms — just to make it worse, algorithms beget ever more algorithms, just to make it that much harder.
Trust them? Sure … Nearly three-quarters of American Facebook users have changed how they use the social media app in the past year, following a barrage of scandals involving the abuse of personal data, foreign interference in US elections and the spread of hateful or harassing content on the platform. One in four Americans have deleted it altogether.
IBM surveillance targets skin colour — Just when you were thinking things couldn’t get worse [I know, no one ever thinks that], three months after the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Amazon provided facial recognition technology to local law enforcement, a new report by The Intercept says IBM has collaborated with the New York City Police Department to develop a system that allowed officials to search for people by skin colour, hair colour, gender, age, and various facial features. [In other words, a system to do cop discrimination for the cops.]

The bad oil — Roughly 45% of an average American’s calories come from refined oils. Consuming too much plant-based oil can result in fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines. Here’s what’s best and worst.
And your cat may hate you — or at least be, pretty justifiably, just be really scared of you.
But can we solve the refugee crisis? Der Spiegel thinks so … maybe

The Apocalypticon ~ Capitalism over, data, disease, climate, guns, funs and hell


How many days do Americans waste commuting? Too many! (Red is the worst, at 56-77 days!)

Another week, another slew of terrors — Capitalism as we know it is over, or so suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. [Bull, you say? Maybe we’re just over capitalism.] Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. [I’m starting to wish I lived in uninteresting times.]
Just to get you in the mood: 9 movies about AI becoming self aware and killing us.

Talking about data — The voting records of some 14.8 million Texas residents were left exposed online and eventually got discovered by a data breach hunter in New Zealand. [Gotta love the ’net.]
MacAfee’s ‘unhackable’ storage was … hacked. Yep, computer programmer John McAfee released “the world’s first un-hackable storage for cryptocurrency & digital assets”, a US$120 device called the Bitfi wallet, that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage. McAfee was so sure of its security that it launched with a bug bounty inviting researchers to try and hack the wallet in return for a $250,000 award. Lo and behold, a researcher by the name of Andrew Tierney managed to hack the wallet, but … Bitfi declined to pay out!
Facebook and the Myanmar genocide — Facebook announced it has banned several members of the Myanmar military and organisations that were named by the United Nations as complicit in the genocide. Way too slowly to do any good, of course.
LinkedIn spying — The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down. [How will this look on your resumé?]
India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — And US tech companies are helping.
What’s Crap? Is OK, I will tell you: WhatsApp users on Android will be able to back up their messages to Google Drive for free and it won’t count towards Google Drive storage quotas … yay! But, as WhatsApp warns, those messages will no longer be protected by end-to-end encryption. Boo.
Trump spits Google dummy — President Trump says Google search results for ‘Trump News’ show only negative coverage about him. [Jeeze, can’t work out why … must be a plot.] A few hours later, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government. [Lol. Yeah, that’s exactly what Goebbels would have wanted.]

How many days do Americans waste commuting?  Educated Driver used Census Bureau data on average daily roundtrip commute times in hundreds of cities across the US to calculate how much time Americans spend traveling to and from work over the course of their lives, assuming a 45-year career working 250 days a year.
Speaking of Americans, who got Cohen’s $50-thou? Cohen seems to have been a very busy boy, with legal documents showing he made a $US50,000 ($68,560) payment to an unidentified “technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” The unknown payment suggests Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off people Trump had been bonking on the side.
Amid mounting acrimony with NATO, Russia’s military has announced plans to hold its “biggest exercises since 1981.” The country’s defence ministry says the massive exercise will involve some 300,000 Russian troops, more than 1000 aircraft plus the participation of some Chinese and Mongolian units.

On health — In a dangerous twist to Ebola, outbreaks are starting to crop up in distant areas. It could already be the worst outbreak to date.
Store-bought chicken could be causing UTIs — A new study published in mBio suggest urinary tract infections could be coming from Escherichia coli bacteria transmitted via poultry.
China withholds flu data — For over a year, the Chinese government has withheld lab samples of a rapidly evolving influenza virus from scientists in the United States. Specimens are needed to develop vaccines and treatments, according to federal health officials talking to The New York Times.
Pollution sapping our nutrients — According to new research, rising carbon dioxide levels will sap some of the nutrients from our crops and lead to dietary deficiencies in millions of humans. In 2014, field trials of common food crops including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans showed that as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, the levels of iron, zinc and protein decreased in the dietary staples by 3 to 17%. This could have a big impact in poorer nations.

Climate — We’re living in hell. The image above, created by NASA’s Earth Observatory, has red representing soot, purple showing dust, and blue for sea salt. Central Africa is awash in smoke from farmers clearing land for crops. And those little glowing specks across China, the eastern US, India and Europe are cities where air pollution from cars and buildings is strong enough to create a clear signal to satellites.
Air pollution is making us stupid — Air pollution causes a ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. [Ah, weren’t we stupid to create air pollution in the first place?] High pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
Japan to get a ‘most powerful’ storm — A dangerous super typhoon currently packing 274km/h winds could make landfall in Japan shortly. [Jebi nights.]
Sea level rise may seem like a far-off threat — But a growing number of new studies, including one out this week, shows that real estate markets have already started responding to increased flooding risks by reducing prices of vulnerable homes. [Aw, sucks to be you, right?]

On the lighter side — Police officers in Paraguay found that at least 42 of their battle rifles had been stolen from their armoury and replaced with toy replicas. It’s unclear if a flag with the word BANG! written on it popped out of the barrels.
Adopting Mediterranean diet in old age can prolong life, a new study suggests. The diet is typically said to be rich in fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil and fruit. [So that’s my secret?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Water absorption by the human body happens pretty fast – within five minutes of entering your mouth, it’s starting to filter into your bloodstream, with peak absorption hitting at around 20 minutes – but water at body temperature is absorbed more slowly than cold water, in case you were wondering why we instinctively prefer cooler water when we’re thirsty. “

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook, Trump and our world of pain


Facebook is now rating its users on the ‘trustworthiness’. [You now, coz we all trust everything Facebook does.] Facebook hasn’t been shy about rating the trustworthiness of news outlets, but it’s now applying that thinking to users as well.
Meanwhile, the world’s dominant social network has now been strongly linked with more attacks on refugees in Germany. [Now that’s something I do trust about Facebook.]
Apple has removed Facebook’s Onavo security app from the App Store because it violated the company’s privacy rules. Apple officials told Facebook that Onavo violated the company’s rules on data collection by developers.

Trump — Finger-on-the-pulse US ‘President’ Donald Trump then accused social media companies of silencing “millions of people in an act of censorship – of course, without offering evidence to support the claim. [So, don’t silence racists?]
What does it take to impeach a US President? Good question. Ron Elving of NPR has looked at former President John Tyler in the 1840s leading up to the House impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Encrypted apps didn’t work for Cohen — Former, and now convicted, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was apparently a fan of encrypted communications apps like WhatsApp and Signal, but those tools failed to keep his messages and calls out of sight from investigators. Prosecutors said in a court filing the FBI had obtained 731 pages of messages and call logs from those apps from Cohen’s phones.
Trump also set out to defend Cohen’s payments to women Trump had slept with out of wedlock. [Here are three words that describe how this went: Bull. China shop.]
Trump wants racists uncensored, but he also wants more Americans dying — The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just proposed a rule that would, by its own admission, result in more Americans getting sick and dying. And the whole reason we know that is because of landmark public health studies the Trump administration is trying to limit access to.
The Trump administration just released a new rule proposal at the centre of its environmental deregulatory frenzy. The long-anticipated rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama era initiative to rein in pollution from coal-fired power plants that was considered the former president’s signature policy for combatting climate change.
Orange is the new black — Inmates at prisons across the US are expected to stage a weeks-long strike to demand better living conditions and prison reform. [Oh no, what will this do to the slave economy?!]

World of pain — A folder containing an estimated 14.8 million Texas voter records was left on an unsecured server without a password. Considering Texas has 19.3 million registered voters, this leak is very substantial. The file was discovered by a New Zealand-based data breach hunter who goes by the pseudonym Flash Gordon; the data appears to have been compiled by a company working for the Republicans.
But personal data has become widely available in China and can be scooped up for pennies by insurance companies, banks, loan sharks, and scammers alike, according to sellers and financiers interviewed by Reuters.
Hackers linked to Russia’s government tried to target the websites of two right-wing US think-tanks. This suggests they were broadening their attacks in the build-up to November elections, Microsoft said. The software giant said it thwarted the attempts last week by taking control of sites that hackers had designed to mimic the pages of The International Republican Institute and The Hudson Institute. [Russia doesn’t need to put a distinct government in place it the US, it just seeks to destabilise the US as much as possible … imagine Putin’s glee when Trump got in!]
In troubled, desperately poor and already-overcrowded Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees would rather cope there than go back to Burma. [Buddhism is such a peace loving religion, right?]Robots to take English jobs — The chief economist of the Bank of England has warned that the UK will need a skills revolution to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming “technologically unemployed” as artificial intelligence makes many jobs obsolete. [Presumably the new jobs will involve robot dismantling?]
China wants to clean the ’net — The internet must be “clean and righteous[you know, just like Xi Jinping’s government] and vulgar content must be resisted in the field of culture, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of senior propaganda officials.
Australia will take your phone and imprison you if you don’t unlock it — The Australian government wants to force companies to help it get at suspected criminals’ data. If they can’t, it would jail people for up to a decade if they refuse to unlock their phones.
US woman sues US for taking her phone — An American woman who had her phone seized by border agents as she returned home to the United States is suing the country’s border protection agency.
Australia bans Huawei, ZTE from supplying 5G technology — Australia has blocked Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment for its 5G network, which is set to launch commercially next year. [Oh, what, don’t you want a ‘clean and righteous’ network, Australia?]
Even the old, ‘solid’ ice is now breaking up — A huge pack of floating ice along the northern Greenland coastline is breaking up and drifting apart into the Arctic Ocean – another consequence, scientists say, of global warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Talking about the world, tiny plastic is everywhere — Ecologist Chelsea Rochman at the University of Ontario has found it in fish tissue from all over the world … and even in drinking water and beer!
European ‘hunger stones’ — A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders known as hunger stones that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts – and warn of their consequences.
UTI superbugs are spreading outside hospitals — The bacteria that cause urinary tract infections are not only becoming more resistant to antibiotics, suggests a recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, but they’re starting to spread outside of hospitals. It’s another sign of increasing antibiotic resistance.
Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol — The study suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely. The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world. [Gah!]

And finally, some good news … OK, not really, but at least you might be able to have fun with it. We’ve seen a lot of machine learning systems create strange new phrases and dreamlike images after being trained on large amounts of data. But a new website lets you do the generating, and the results are just as bizarre as you’d expect. [Crikey.]

OK, well, this sounds more positive (excerpt from my forthcoming book): “The fact that we have come so far, despite very real and growing threats to our existence and even to the planet we live on, is testimony not to the worst side of humanity, but to the best, despite the creative and oftentimes effective destructive efforts of the more regrettable among us.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Ripped off, data and destruction, loneliness infections, the weather


They’re ripping us off — The chief executives of America’s top 350 companies earned 312 times more than their workers on average last year, according to a new report published by the Economic Policy Institute. The rise came after the bosses of America’s largest companies got an average pay rise of 17.6% in 2017, taking home an average of US$18.9m in compensation while their employees’ wages stalled, rising just 0.3% over the year.
Is it any wonder young Americans are souring on capitalism? Less than half, 45%, view capitalism positively, representing a 12-point decline in young adults’ positive views of capitalism in just the past two years and a marked shift since 2010, when 68% viewed it positively.
While we’re talking about inequality, over 300 newspapers have denounced Trump’s attacks on the media in coordinated editorials.

Can of worms — Yes, we opened it. The White House was forced to backtrack after wildly misstating the level of job gains by African-Americans under Trump’s predecessor, the presidential [see what I did there?] Barack Obama. Trump’s regime was only wrong by 2.9 million jobs, though
Can Trump legally keep former staff quiet? No, probably not. Manigault Newman’s nondisclosure agreement, like others, contained a no-disparagement clause: a pledge to never, ever disparage the campaign, Trump, Vice President Pence, their families, their families’ companies, and so forth. [And she may have done some really dumb things in her life, like , you know, working for Trump, but at least she refused to sign it.]
Torturing CIA chief — Gina Haspel was confirmed by the US Senate to be director of the CIA on May 17th. But the public never got to see the memos that she wrote and authorised about the brutal torture of Al Qaeda suspects at a CIA black site that she oversaw in Thailand in 2002. Until now. [Yes, it’s weird and horrific. Yes, we should be deeply worried.]
Trade war — when Donald Trump had a brain-fart [does anyone have a better explanation?] and decided to embark on trade wars with America’s biggest trade partners, not many Americans realised what impact this would have in the shops. NPR has investigated what this may mean.

Devices, data and destruction — Artificial intelligence will reshape the world of finance over the next decade. It will do so by automating investing and other services – but it could also introduce troubling systematic weaknesses and risks, according to a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Firefox snoops — Mozilla has removed 23 Firefox add-ons from its add-on store that snooped on users and sent data to remote servers, a Mozilla engineer told Bleeping Computer. [The real question being why were these ever allowed in the first place?]
Facebook and the murder gf Rohingya — More than 1000 anti-Rohingya posts featuring calls for their murder among other hate speech were live on Facebook last week. But it seems the network is still being used to encourage violence against the Muslim minority in Myanmar despite the tech firm promising to tackle the issue.
Speaking of which, the CW’s new Batwoman, Ruby Rose, is the latest high-profile actor to quit social media after facing harassment from so-called fans over her role. It’s becoming more common for actors and creators to leave social media platforms because of online abuse, enough that it’s starting to feel like an everyday annoyance we can ignore. It’s not. And we shouldn’t.
German kids drowning because of parents’ phone use — The German Lifeguard Association (DLRG) has made a direct connection between children getting into difficulty in the water and parents being too busy on their mobile phones to notice. More than 300 people have drowned in Germany so far this year.
People maim their pets to get opioids — A recent survey suggests that some people struggling with opioid addiction might be turning to a tragically desperate method to get more prescription painkillers: hurting their own pets. And veterinarians themselves may be abusing opioids or helping to illegally sell them.
And forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests — The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

Sleepless people may infect you with loneliness — A new study from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that poor sleep can be a nightmare for our social lives too. It just might turn us into lonely outcasts, capable of spreading our misery to others. [Damn it, I like being a lonely outcast!]

The weather — yeah, it’s really out there. Tiny though they are, microscopic phytoplankton, when infected with a particular virus, may influence atmospheric processes such as cloud formation, according to new research.
But there’s hope — a tiny sliver anyway. The US Department of Defence is one of the few federal agencies that still treats climate change as a threat under President Donald Trump. [The others have either been decapitated or have assumed the Ostrich Position.]
And … people are finally realising climate change is real — The scorching temperatures and forest fires of this summer’s heatwave have finally stirred the world to face the onrushing threat of global warming, claims the climate scientist behind the recent Hothouse Earth report. Following an unprecedented 270,000 downloads of his study, Johan Rockstrom, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, said he had not seen such a surge of interest since 2007, the year the Nobel prize was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even in the US, whose president [that’s Donald Trump, although I still feel incredulous about this] has vowed to pull out of the Paris accord, public opinion surveys have shown a growing acceptance of climate science. [See? I always try and end on a good note after this avalanche of human stupidity.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate on Earth, Trump in space, suspicious activity, nuking carrier, Chinese Muslims, Facebook bum shot, German sex alert, Monsanto to pay, iPhone ears


Welcome to the future, where the air is made of fire and your beach house is underwater — Our incredible planet is at risk of entering a ‘hothouse climate‘: Earth with a global average temperature of up to 5° Celcius higher than pre-industrial temperatures, and long-term rises in the sea level of between 10 and 60 metres.
Human-caused global warming of two degrees Celsius may trigger other Earth System processes, often called feedbacks, that can trigger further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases. [I guess this explains why Trump isn’t afraid of global warming – he isn’t human so he thinks he’s not responsible.]
Geoengineering won’t save us, either. A new study in Nature uses two historic eruptions to gauge how a global program of reflecting sunlight away from the Earth’s surface – an idea known as solar geoengineering – could impact agriculture. It finds that while cooling the planet could offset some of the negative impacts climate change will have on staple crops, it’s hardly a panacea.
First Nations’ wild rice under threat in the US — Northern wild rice, also known as manoomin, is a staple food in Ojibwe communities across the Upper Midwest, where it’s also used in traditional ceremonies. And, like any wild crop, some years yield more than others, depending on the weather. And now it’s under threat by climate change.
Aerial views show extent of Carr fire devastation — The pictures from the ground of the Carr Fire showed devastation on a human scale. But new aerial imagery released by the city of Redding puts the massive bushfire in a landscape context, revealing both the power and capriciousness of one the most destructive fires in California history.
Black Widows heading north — An updated species distribution map published in a new PLOS One study shows that the northernmost range of black widow spiders (Latrodectus variolus) has increased by about 50km over the past 60 years. Because climate is a major factor in terms of where black widows can live, the researchers suspect climate change has something to do with its expanding habitat.

Now for some craziness — yes I mean Trump. In space. No one but US defence contractors and their accountants knows why America needs a Space Force. [Enlisting now for the Space Cadets!] But moments after announcing the new US military branch, the Trump campaign gave us a hint at this arguably idiotic idea’s true purpose: lining the campaign’s pockets. As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear…” [Seriously. No, I am not kidding.]
Fear versus immigrants — US immigration enforcement has been handed over to a small group of militant, anti-immigration hawks who cultivate fear to accomplish their goal of driving out undocumented immigrants. [OK, I could say Gestapo, KGB … oh wait, I did.]
More power forever — At least Trump is working to increase his power over government appointments.  [Didn’t see that coming. Oh wait, I did. Because, you know, Hitler and Stalin, and Mao for that matter.]
Republican decides insider trading is a good reason to quit — Chris Collins, the New York Republican who was indicted Wednesday on insider trading charges, announced Saturday he’s suspending his re-election campaign. [You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t often persuade it to drown itself.]

While we’re taking about falls — Broadcom co-founder Henry Nicholas was arrested in Las Vegas on suspicion of trafficking narcotics, according to police. Authorities say the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist was found with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy in his hotel suite. [What, was he a Democrat? Coz why on earth would this guy need to traffic drugs? He’s stinkin’ rich!]
Facebook dispute results in shot bottom — A recent Facebook dispute between two strangers in Florida led to a bullet in the butt. Brian Sebring, 44, faces felony charges after he decided to take an argument offline.
“I went off the deep end,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.” [Really, Brian, you think?]

Costly decommission — Six years after decommissioning USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the US Navy is still figuring out how to safely dismantle the ship.
The General Accounting Office estimates the cost of taking apart the vessel and sending the reactors to a nuclear waste storage facility at up to US$1.5 billion, or about one-eighth the cost of a brand-new aircraft carrier.

China cracks down on Muslims — Thousands of members of China’s Hui Muslim minority have gathered at the site of a mosque in Weizhou, in northwestern China, in an attempt to block the government from demolishing the year-old building. This region has been known as a more ‘accepted’ Chinese Muslim minority so locals are mystified why authorities want to do this.  [Why? Because they can.]

Berlin Airport bomb scare was sex toys — Police investigated the matter for about an hour before calling in a bomb squad, then determined the “technical stuff” that the scanner showed was just a bunch of sex toys, with at least one vibrator. The terminal reopened around an hour later.

Robot takes kids’ jobs — That’s right. A creative agency called RedPepper built a robot that levels the Where’s Wally playing field using a camera and machine learning AI to spot the striped traveller in as little as four-and-a-half seconds. [Ooh, I know, how about a robot that plays in the playground so your kids don’t have to?]

Monsanto to pay US$289 million in Roundup cancer trial — Chemical giant Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages to a man who claimed herbicides containing glyphosate had caused his cancer. In a landmark case, a Californian jury found that Monsanto knew its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers were dangerous and failed to warn consumers. It’s the first lawsuit to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer. Monsanto denies that glyphosate causes cancer and says it intends to appeal against the ruling. [Let’s hope the floodgates open and put this bestial company out of business!]

Your iPhone isn’t listening to you — Apple has told US lawmakers its iPhones do not listen to users without their consent and do not allow third-party apps to do so either, after lawmakers asked the company if its devices were invading users’ privacy. [I guess that’s good news?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book about the Apocalypse: “If we move into the hills, behind us the cities will be collapsing. When the Romans left Britain starting in the 400s CE, people moved into their abandoned villas. As they lived in them, adapting them to their needs, parts of them collapsed without the skills left among the local population to fix them. Gradually they fell completely into ruin and were abandoned …”

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate, weather, fire storms, penguins, trade war, hackers, ransoms, facial recognition, begging robots, money choked off, French harassment, meat


The weather — US car companies knew about climate change 30 years ago and did nothing. The New York Times Magazine has been teasing out its upcoming issue in recent days, as it’s dedicated to a single story that focuses on how we had an opportunity to address climate change in the 1980s, but failed to do anything. Coinciding with the current administration’s proposal to roll back fuel economy targets, expected to be unveiled this week, the timing couldn’t be any better. [Coz money literally trumps everything else.]
And just when you thought this situation couldn’t get any worse, the Trump administration announced it would be putting Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards on hold and moving to replace them with watered-down regulations.
Penguin colony in steep decline — The last time scientists visited Ile aux Cochons in 1982, an island that is part of an archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, the king penguin population was booming. Over 500,000 breeding pairs (around two million penguins total) huddled together there, making the island the largest king penguin colony in the world. New research shows their numbers have been on a stiff decline since then — by as much as 88%
Firenado — California’s Carr fire, one of the most destructive fires in the state’s history, was burning in Redding, when conditions aligned to create a massive whirl of smoke and fire. It lasted for an hour and a half, and the people who caught it on video called it the ‘Firenado.’

It’s war! Trade war … China has announced a plan to impose new tariffs on $60 billion of American goods, in retaliation for the latest tariff threats from the Trump administration.
The White House said it was considering boosting tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, raising those tariffs from 10% to 25%.

Hacking recognition and all that — A recent review by UK cybersecurity firm Sophos in partnership with cryptocurrency firm Neutrino has concluded that the crew — or possibly one extremely proficient black hat hacker — behind the SamSam ransomware attacks have rolled in at least $US5.9 million in ransom payments, according to BleepingComputer. [And they can work from home.]
Amazon proves why it shouldn’t give it’s face recognition tech to the police — Days after the ACLU released a damning report on Amazon’s face recognition product ‘Rekognition’, Amazon’s general manager of AI, Dr Matt Wood, countered its findings in a blog post. The ACLU used Rekognition to scan the faces of all 535 members of US Congress, finding the software mistook 28 of them for suspected criminals. Dr Wood notes first that the ACLU doesn’t reveal its methodology or dataset in the report, then punctuates Amazon’s original response – that it encourages higher confidence thresholds for law enforcement.
But conspicuously missing from the blog was a specific rebuttal to the enormous racial disparity uncovered by the ACLU. For Congress as a whole, the error rate was only 5%,, but for non-white members of Congress, the error rate was 39%.
It’s harder to turn robots off when they beg you not to — A recent experiment by German researchers demonstrates that people will refuse to turn a robot off if it begs for its life. In the study, published in the open access journal PLOS One, 89 volunteers were recruited to complete a pair of tasks with the help of Nao, a small humanoid robot. In roughly half of experiments, the robot protested, telling participants it was afraid of the dark and even begging: “No! Please do not switch me off!” When this happened, the human volunteers were likely to refuse to turn the bot off. Of the 43 volunteers who heard Nao’s pleas, 13 refused. And the remaining 30 took, on average, twice as long to comply compared to those who did not not hear the desperate cries at all.

General malfeasance — Secretly tracking airline passengers: some Americans have been trailed and closely monitored by undercover air marshals as they travelled on US flights, as part of a previously undisclosed Transportation Security Administration program called Quiet Skies. The marshals take notes on the targeted traveler’s behaviour, sending detailed reports to the TSA.
Distraught parents going on hunger strike — Recent news stories have been filled with the joyous reunions of migrant parents who had been separated from their children at the Southwest border. Yet hundreds of families were reunited only to be detained again, this time together. Inside one of those detention centers in Texas, weary fathers are now staging a hunger strike to highlight their plight.
Scientists stunned as non profit halts research money — On 24 July, 37 grant recipients received an email from the March of Dimes Foundation in New York City informing them their 3-year grants had been cut off, retroactively, starting 30th June. Many of the researchers were only a year into their projects, and had had just enough time to hire and train staff, purchase supplies and generate preliminary results. Now, several say that they might need to lay off employees, euthanise lab animals and shelve their research projects if they cannot find other funding – fast.
Apple’s dick move — Apple, which just became the world’s first trillion dollar company, has announced it will punish some of the people who helped build its success. Affiliates who’ve promoted apps and taken a small cut of the purchase price are being pushed out because they’re apparently no longer useful, since Apple had built better ‘discovery’ into its App Stores. [Apple, you really, really suck for this.]

Finally, some good news: French lawmakers have approved a measure outlawing sexual harassment in the street, rendering catcalling and lewd or degrading comments a crime punishable by on-the-spot fines of up to 750 euros — or more than US$870. The country’s Senate passed the legislation late Wednesday as part of a broader package of measures targeting sexual violence, which the lower house of Parliament advanced earlier this year.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “As a further drain on the environment, each litre (about two pints) of milk produced requires up to 1000 litres of water. Large-scale meat production leads to high greenhouse gas emissions – another factor that might lead, or at least add to, an apocalypse.
However, I don’t believe meat is bad for humans per se – I have always believed that good meat is good for you. But overconsumption (not uncommon) of meat is definitely not great for people – eating too much processed meat, including bacon, salami and sausage, is linked to heart disease; too much red meat is linked to cancer.”

The Apocalypticon ~ World, Trump, Russia, moles, gnats, Twitter, Facebook, mouths


Nuclear power plants in Europe have been forced to cut back electricity production because of warmer-than-usual seawater. Plants in Finland, Sweden and Germany have been affected by the heat wave that has broken records in Scandinavia and the British Isles and exacerbated deadly wildfires along the Mediterranean.
Common food additives could have ‘lifelong’ health consequences, a US paediatrician group has warned.
US fascist eyes Europe: Steve Bannon built his career on right-wing politics inside the United States but now he’s taking on a new frontier: the European Parliament. He’s optimistic about uniting Europe’s right wing across its national boundaries. [Sorry, is ‘fascist’ too strong? How about Nazi, then, Steve?]
The doom of the ancient Cambodian city of Koh Ker may have been the result of bad engineering – plus some bad karma, baby.

The US — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday downplayed a threat by President Trump to revoke security clearances for a number intelligence officials who served under President Barack Obama as “trolling” and not a political act. [In this case, clearly, the trolling is a political act.]
Facial recognition technology made by Amazon, which is being used by some police departments and other organizations, incorrectly matched the lawmakers with people who had been arrested for a crime, the American Civil Liberties Union reported.
President Trump resumed acknowledging Russian election interference but said he fears that this year, it will benefit Democrats. [Right, because it’s clearly done wonders for them so far.]
Facebook is reportedly rolling out its ‘downvote’ button to a wider group of users in the United States. The feature began appearing on the service’s mobile app without a formal company announcement. The feature appears to currently be limited to public posts. Should your account be flagged for this week’s test, every comment in a thread will include a numeric value and small up- and down-arrows connected to that number. Other territories, particularly Australia and New Zealand, have seen wider downvote tests since April of this year. [That’s right, Facebook, get the users to do your work for you.]
And here’s new US hobby – destroying the lives of complete strangers. [Trump likes this one too, you know, putting those immigrant kids into cages.]
Gnats spreading disease — A disease spread by sandflies seen as an exotic nuisance in the US might not be solely a traveller’s disease after all. A new study suggests most American cases of leishmaniasis are actually spread by native bugs, not caught while travelling. And thanks to climate change, the parasitic illness may become even more common in the years to come.
Twitter shares fell 21% as the company reported that user growth had turned negative, even as its quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations. The decline was even greater than Facebook’s almost 19% plunge in shares after the social media giant reported disappointing results. [Oh. Gosh. Boohoo. Anyway, it’s something to share and tweet about …]

Russia — Russian hackers have broken into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by US utilities with relative easy by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies,” The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
Maria Butina’s story may point to a Russian effort, years in the making, to give the Kremlin influence in the US by connecting with American gun enthusiasts and religious conservatives, an effort that’s had a ‘surprising degree of success’. [Hardly surprising. But no doubt Trump will try and shoot this theory down.]

And finally, some good news — scientists have figured out how our mouths heal so fast. [Although the voluntary 3-metre wounds sound a little harsh – that was three millimetres, I suspect, Gizmodo copy editor!]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “In the present day, we might consider ourselves rugged individualists but we have libraries at our disposal, and we use roads, social services and communications networks all built by combined effort for our mutual benefit.”

The Apocalypticon ~ hackers hack, the rich make money, morals don’t matter, NZ and Norwegian glimmers


Lots of people really admire people who are smart and greedy enough to make themselves mega-rich. I fit, needless to say, neither of those categories. Elon Musk — maker of a mini-sub that never got used, hypothetical saviour of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, general over-promiser and under-deliverer — has been one of the biggest donors to a political action committee with the primary goal of maintaining Republican control in the US House of Representatives. He’s been giving to Republicans for years including to accused child sex abuser Dennis Hastert and Dana Rohrabacher, a man who believes it is ok to refuse to sell your home to a gay person. (To be fair he has also given money to Democrats)
The bottom line is, he supports those he thinks will support his own aspirations. However, he has signed (along with Australian scientists) a pledge against killer robots.
Speaking of rich twits who can’t seem to align morals with business, after a rough week of criticism over Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s shoddy explanation for why he won’t ban conspiracy site Infowars — including a very awkward tangent into apparently believing Holocaust deniers are not “intentionally getting it wrong” — the social media giant has announced it will begin removing misinformation that provokes real-world violence. According to The New York Times, the new policy is largely a response to episodes in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India where rumours spread rapidly on Facebook, leading to targeted attacks on ethnic minorities.

Google — Yeah you knew it was coming … Commenting on the record $5 billion fine on Google by the European Commission, privacy focused search engine DuckDuckGo said it welcomes the decision as it has “felt [Google’s] effects first hand for many years and has led directly to us having less market share on Android vs iOS and in general mobile vs desktop.”
Up until just last year, it was impossible to add DuckDuckGo to Chrome on Android, and it is still impossible on Chrome on iOS [of for goodness sake, is there anyone on iOS still using Chrome? JUST DON’T!]. We are also not included in the default list of search options like we are in Safari, even though we are among the top search engines in many countries. The Google search widget is featured prominently on most Android builds and is impossible to change the search provider. For a long time it was also impossible to even remove this widget without installing a launcher that effectively changed the whole way the OS works. “Their anti-competitive search behavior isn’t limited to Android. Every time we update our Chrome browser extension, all of our users are faced with an official-looking dialogue asking them if they’d like to revert their search settings and disable the entire extension”. Google also owns http://duck.com and points it directly at Google search, which consistently confuses DuckDuckGo users. [DuckDuckGo is an untraceable search engine with a focus on privacy – Apple users can default it over Google as Safari’s search engine.]

Around the world — Hackers account for 90% of of e-commerce sites’ global login traffic, according to a report by cyber security firm Shape Security. They reportedly use programs to apply stolen data acquired on the dark web in an effort to login to websites and grab something of value like cash, airline points, or merchandise.
A bill just passed in Egypt that empowers the government to block users on social media for spreading “fake news” if they have over 5000 followers. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi still needed to ratify the legislation into law, which he is expected to do given his government’s unmerited crackdowns on journalists and critics.
China: A prestigious college in Beijing reportedly tried to bar a student because his father was on a government blacklist and it’s causing huge controversy in China. According to state media reports, a high school student with the surname Rao in the eastern city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, was accepted on the back of his score in China’s fiendishly difficult and incredibly competitive national college entrance exam. But before his family could enjoy Rao’s accomplishments, the college notified them he may not be able to attend because of his father’s poor credit standing …
Chinese police are reportedly testing waste water for the presence of illegal substances, using the data to find illegal drug manufacturers in the country. As drugs pass through people’s bodies, they may be leaving a trail for police to follow.
Chinese government reading iCloud data: Six months ago Apple caused controversy by announcing its intentions to move Chinese users’ iCloud keys out of the US and into China, in order to comply with Chinese law. Now, that data, which includes emails, text messages and pictures, is being looked after by government-owned mobile operator China Telecom, so users and human rights activists alike have big concerns.
The New Zealand company behind a landmark trial of a four-day working week has concluded it was an unmitigated success, with 78% of employees feeling they were able to successfully manage their work-life balance, an increase of 24 percentage points. Job and life satisfaction increased on all levels across the home and work front, with employees performing better in their jobs and enjoying them more than before the experiment.
Rich Norwegian millennials — Best known for its Viking history, snow sports and jaw-dropping fjords, Norway is making a new name for itself as the only major economy in Europe where young people are getting markedly richer. [Neo Liberals, you let this country escape your clutches!] People in their early thirties in Norway have an average annual disposable household income of around 460,000 kroner (around US$56,200). Young Norwegians have enjoyed a 13% rise in disposable household income in real terms compared to Generation X (those born between 1966 and 1980) when they were the same age. These startling figures come from the largest comparative wealth data set in the world, the Luxembourg Income Database, and were analysed in a recent report on generational incomes for the UK Think Tank The Resolution Foundation.

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?!)

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.”