Category Archives: Apocalypse

The Apocalypticon ~ Space germs, fossil fuels, information wars, sensitive time capsule, Apple tax and censorship, bush fire thwarts prepper, toys


Germy space station — According to a new study in the journal PeerJ, the interior surfaces of the 17-year-old, 250-mile-high, airtight space station harbour at least 1000 and perhaps more than 4000 microbe species.

Shocking dependence on fossil fuels remains — Most of the world’s clean-energy sources are used to generate electricity, but electricity forms only 25% of the world’s energy consumption. As the rich world moved towards a cleaner energy mix, much of the poor world was just starting to gain access to modern forms of energy. Inevitably, they chose the cheapest option, which was and remains fossil fuels. But the world’s energy demand has grown so steeply that we’re also using a lot more fossil fuels than in the past.

Time capsule in, ahm, hate to say, Jesus’ butt — While preserving an 18th century wooden statue of Jesus, a team of Spanish restorers was surprised to discover a time capsule hidden within the hollowed-out buttocks-portion of the carving. Written by a Catholic chaplain, the detailed document contains economic, political and cultural information about the time period. The document was signed in 1777 by a Spanish Priest named Joaquín Mínguez, chaplain of the Cathedral of the Burgo de Osma.
~ Let us raise our eyes …

Man tries to hack mate out of prison — A Michigan man has pleaded guilty to hacking the computer network of the Washtenaw County Jail, where he modified inmate records in an attempt to have an inmate released early. To breach the jail’s network, the attacker used spear-phishing emails and telephone social engineering. He was arrested a month later and is now awaiting sentencing (maximum 10 years and a fine of up to US$250,000).
~ Once upon a time, this would have been a physical act. 

More on the information war — Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app was leaked online, after the app’s developer failed to secure the database’s server. The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customisable and personalisable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world. The database appears to only contain records on the app’s Android users.
Should we worry? We could fund a Universal Basic Income with the data we give away to Google and Facebook.
In 1929, the Nazi propaganda tabloid Der Stürmer published a caricature of an imaginary group of devious looking Jewish people peeling off in a car after apparently running over a German boy, left bleeding in the arms of his father.
In the year 2017, the president of the United States retweeted a video of a dark-haired teenager assaulting a blond, Dutch teenager on crutches, with the erroneous caption, “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” Unfortunately, there’s more. “This is scary shit,” echoes Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale and author of the book How Propaganda Works.
Now, and after the US, the UK appears to be warning its own workers to steer clear of Kaspersky‘s security products. [Kaspersky refutes he has anything to do with Russian espionage, but let me boil down how Russian espionage works: Russia is asked through official channels ‘Did you sanction, or carry out, this or that?’ Russia replies ‘No’. That’s it.]

Shout out against Apple and tax. Literally — A group of global activists stormed and occupied several Apple Stores in France last weekend in a move aimed at pressuring the company to pay up on a €13 billion (US$15.5 billion) tax bill to the European Union.
But wait, there’s more: Apple’s Tim Cook (along with Google’s Sundar Pichai) made appearances at China’s World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. [In other words, they were there to promote Chinese censorship. Go Tim ‘it’s not the morals, it’s the money’ Cook.] 

Microwaving North Korean missiles — According to an NBC News report, a weapon, still under development, could be put on a cruise missile and shot at an enemy country from a B-52 bomber. It’s designed to use microwaves to target enemy military facilities and destroy electronic systems, like computers, that control their missiles. [Fries with that?]

Bushfire prep — OK, not really. A Utah man reportedly spent 30 years building a series of underground bunkers that he hoped would outlive the apocalypse … but half of them couldn’t even survive a bushfire. [Back to the drawing board for Mr Doofus.]

Although that was funny, it’s also tragic and stupid. I like to end on a positive note. Here it is: get your kids less toys. Really.

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The Apocalypticon ~ Quantum spying, Android, see level, Russians, post apocalypse garden, dazzle ships


Quantum spying — In his latest novel, David Ignatius tackles the intersection of quantum computing and espionage. The Quantum Spy revolves around a central theme of spy literature: the race for a new technology, to discover something new that, even if only for a moment, will provide a geopolitical advantage.
But it didn’t take any kind of computer to hack the US military, because they didn’t even use passwords. [Makes you feel safe, doesn’t it? ]

Three quarters of Android apps track users with third party tools — A study by French research organization Exodus Privacy and Yale University’s Privacy Lab analysed the mobile apps for the signatures of 25 known trackers and found that more than three in four Android apps contain at least one third-party ‘tracker.’

US ‘orchestrated’ Russian spy scandal, claims Russian — Right, yeah, that makes sense.

Twitter-twatted Trump — In the last few days, President Donald Trump has used his infamous Twitter account to retweet British fascists’ anti-Islam videos and tag the wrong Theresa May in an angry rant. Trump’s very bad tweets translate into almost immediate real-life consequences for everyone but him. But undoubtedly one of the high points of Trump’s tenure on the site was when his account was mysteriously nuked after what Twitter described as a “human error by a Twitter employee”. Now, per TechCrunch, we know who that legendary employee was. He’s not concerned with legal consequences, telling TechCrunch, “I didn’t hack anyone. I didn’t do anything that I was not authorised to do. I didn’t go to any site I was not supposed to go to. I didn’t break any rules.” [Give that man a medal.]

The rise of sea level rise — The problem with coastal living is that while the food supply is relatively stable, sea levels are not. They’ve always risen and fallen as the climate changes over the millennia – and thanks to the hyper-productivity of the Industrial Age, they’re in the middle of a pretty significant uptick. In the coming decades, rising sea levels could jeopardize untold billions of dollars in real estate and infrastructure along the world’s coasts and displace millions of people.

Plants for after the apocalypse — In Geneva, New York, Cornell University scientists crossbreed domesticated crops with their wild ancestors to propagate superhardy strains that better withstand droughts, heat waves, and freezes. [But not seawater – see above.]

Dazzle ships for when the navy wasn’t just Battleship Grey — Dazzle patterns  made ships really had to identify and calculate torpedo attacks upon. The British got all artsy with it, but the he US also adopted Dazzle painting as camouflage, but in a very American way. “Where the British saw this as a kind of large art project and each ship had a unique design, the Americans created a catalog of plans, then sent the plans to Eastman Kodak for testing” according to Claudia Covert, a special collections librarian at the Rhode Island School of Design. [And she has the best name ever for this job.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Flat-earther, Russia rads, dark wiki, Apple racism, scary tech, evil sugar, coffee good


Self-taught rocket scientist ‘Mad’ Mike Hughes is a 61-year-old limo driver who’s spent the last few years building a steam-powered rocket out of salvage parts in his garage. His project has cost him $20,000, which includes Rust-Oleum paint to fancy it up and a motor home he bought on Craigslist that he converted into a ramp. His first test of the rocket will also be the launch date. “I don’t believe in science,” said Hughes, whose main sponsor for the rocket is Research Flat Earth. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”
[Ah, yes indeedy and for sure, Mad Mike. Soon to be Flat Mad Mike …]

Russia said it had detected a significant radiation spike in the Ural Mountains, close to a sprawling Soviet-era nuclear plant still remembered as the site of an accident 60 years ago. Russia did however reject suggestions that it was the source of a radioactive cloud that hovered over Europe. [Coz if we don’t like the idea, it can’t be true.]

Darkweb wiki — In many parts of the world, using Wikipedia is taken for granted. But in other places, like Turkey or Syria, using Wikipedia can be difficult, and even dangerous. To make using Wikipedia safer for at-risk users, former Facebook security engineer Alec Muffett has started an experimental dark net Wikipedia service that gives visitors some strong privacy protections.

Apple only wants to put its Stores where white people live — New York’s northernmost borough is the city’s most diverse, has the lowest income per household, and is the only borough without an Apple Store after one opened in Brooklyn’s predominantly white neighbourhood of Williamsburg last year. This trend holds true on a national scale. That means 251 of the 270 stores, or 93%, are located in majority-white ZIP codes. Of the 19 that are not located in majority-white ZIP codes, eight are in ZIP codes where whites are still the largest racial bloc. [Oh, what was that word again, Apple? Let me help: ‘Diversity’.]

In scary tech news, LED street lighting has backfired — To reduce energy consumption, many jurisdictions around the world are transitioning to outdoor LED lighting. But as new research shows, this solid-state solution hasn’t yielded the expected energy savings, and potentially worse, it’s resulted in more light pollution than ever before.
The Wi-Fi Pineapple is a cheap modified wireless router enables anyone to execute sophisticated exploits on Wi-Fi networks with little to no networking expertise. It can be used to run a Wall of Sheep and execute a man-in-the-middle attack, as well as how you can protect yourself from Pineapple exploits when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.
Intel found severe bugs in management engines — After to an investigation by third-party researchers into Intel’s hidden firmware in certain chips, Intel decided to audit its firmware and on Monday confirmed it had found 11 severe bugs that affect millions of computers and servers.
German regulators have banned smartwatches for kids — Saying the technology more closely resembles a “spying device” than a toy, Germany regulators have banned the sale of smartwatches designed for kids, urging the parents who were stupid enough to buy them in the first place to destroy them.
Over 400 of the world’s most popular websites record your every keystroke — The idea of websites tracking users isn’t new, but research from Princeton University released last week indicates that online tracking is far more invasive than most users understand.
Television’s most infamous hack is still a mystery 30 years on — It has been 30 years since the Max Headroom hack, arguably the creepiest hack in the television history took place. A few minutes after 9pm on Sunday, November 22, 1987, Chicago sportscaster Dan Roan was cheerily summarizing the Bears’s victory that day for Channel 9 local news. Suddenly, televisions went silent, and their screens went black. At first, it seemed like an equipment malfunction. Without warning, televisions in the area blasted loud radio static. It was overlain with the screech of a power saw cutting into metal, or a jet engine malfunctioning. At center screen, a person wore a Max Headroom mask – a character who appeared on various television shows and movies in the 1980s.
After 30 years and an intense FCC investigation, the people behind the Headroom hack remain unknown.

Evil sugar — About 50 years ago, the sugar industry stopped funding research that began to show something they wanted to hide: that eating lots of sugar is linked to heart disease. A new study exposes the sugar industry’s decades-old effort to stifle that critical research.
Now, 46% of Americans have high blood pressure. With new guidelines, rather than one in three US adults having high blood pressure (32%) with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in nearly half of the US adult population (46%) having high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Gah! But wait, here’s some good news: coffee is good for us again — A review of 200 separate studies has shown even three or four cups a day is still more likely to benefit your health than harm it. but there are some exceptions, like women who are pregnant or at risk of fracture.
The researchers concluded that drinking coffee regularly resulted in a lower risk of heart disease and even death compared with drinking no coffee at all. They also found that drinking coffee lowered the risk of some cancers (including prostate, endometrial, skin and liver cancer), type 2 diabetes, gallstones, gout, liver disease and dementia. [Off to make one – bye!]

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump, Russia, hacks, security, duped iPhone owners, bent cops film themselves, food and climate


As usual, the US president trumps most of the other bad news. Someone who tried to hack Trump’s tax returns – pretty amateurishly, as it turns out – might get 5 years in prison. Would-be whistleblowers were rallied by WikiLeaks, while one high-profile Democrat offered a $5 million reward for anyone who legally leaked Trump’s financials. You might wonder why this never went any further, until you realise that co-prize a-hole Julian Assange wanted to be Australian ambassador and asked for Trump Junior’s help. How unpartisan is that? It looks like Russian agents leaked Democrat information to Wikileaks to enhance Trump’s chances, after all.
Meanwhile, Trump’s regime wants to use bigoted AI to ‘extremely vet’ would-be immigrants. An alliance of more than 50 civil liberties groups and more than 50 individual AI experts sent dual letters to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today, calling for the end of a plan to screen immigrants with predictive “extreme vetting” software.
In a new low, Senator Jeff Sessions has had all his under-oath forgetfulness listed by Wired. How’s that for an aid memoir, Jeffy boy? It gets up to no. 47 … but for a glimmer of hopes US judge has ordered Facebook to redact the info of anti-Trump activists sought by the Feds. Without this, the details of some 6000 people who ‘liked’ these pages would have been available to the FBI.

Speaking of Russians and hackers, the personal computer of an NSA worker who took government hacking tools and classified documents home with him was infected with a backdoor trojan, unrelated to these tools, that could have been used by criminal hackers to steal the US government files, according to a new report being released Thursday by Kaspersky Lab in response to recent allegations against the company. The Moscow-based antivirus firm, which has been accused of using its security software to improperly grab NSA hacking tools and classified documents from the NSA worker’s home computer and provide them to the Russian government, says the worker had at least 120 other malicious files on his home computer in addition to the backdoor. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppyThe reason that citizens in the West are subject now to more surveillance than there was in the Soviet Union is that digital technology made it possible, says Richard Stallman. “And the first disaster of digital technology was proprietary software that people would install and run on their own computers, and they wouldn’t know what it was doing. They can’t tell what it’s doing.” Stallman has been fighting this battle since 1983.

Criminals duping iPhone buyers out of their phones — A security report has shed new light on the lucrative business of unlocking and reselling stolen iPhones, a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise spanning the globe. The tools used by shadowy hackers involved in this black market trade were detailed in TrendMicro’s latest research. Criminals have turned to sophisticated methods of infiltration, targeting desperate owners of missing devices with phishing emails gearing toward capturing iCloud credentials. They play on the eagerness of the owner to reclaim their lost phone.
The victims might receive a fraudulent link, for instance, alerting them their iPhone has been located. Since the message is carefully crafted to appear legitimate, using a spoofed email account or SMS message, many owners carelessly follow the instructions they’re given. In doing so, they compromise their own iCloud accounts, granting the phone thieves full access to their device.

LA cops film themselves fitting-up a suspect with cocaine — Newly-released body camera footage from a hit-and-run arrest in April appears to show two LAPD officers planting drugs in a suspect’s wallet, selectively filming only portions of the arrest to implicate the man for drug possession. Hah!

Some goodish news — what would happen if the entire US went vegan Researchers found a 23% increase in the amount of food available – mainly in grains – and a 28% decrease in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. However, they only found a 2.6% decrease in overall greenhouse gas emissions and found deficiencies in the American diet’s essential nutrients. Still, at least it’s being considered.
And climate-conscious cities have been sharing their experiences. At last week’s COP23 climate conference in Bonn, Germany, Essen’s representative was all ears as officials from other post-industrial cities shared their stories. Speakers included representatives from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Beijing’s E-Town (short for Economic-Technological Development Area)—all cities that make up the new Urban Transitions Alliance.

The Apocalypticon ~ Consumer hell, code and encryption, human-rat hybrids and the war on journalism


In Consumer Hell, there are alternatives to the iPhone X — “I love the dumb notch! And the face-scanning thing I don’t want! The iPhone X is exactly the kind of absurd luxury good I crave,” you say. But you have not even scratched the diamond-encrusted surface of true decadence. Sit right there like the tiny, foolish baby you are and Bryan Menegus will tell you about an even newer, more exciting bauble, the likes of which have not been seen since Nordstrom’s leather-wrapped stone: Tiffany & Co.’s new “tin can” for a mere $US1000.

But there are bigger issues — Was there a warm plume erupting under the ice three years ago? Well, not really, as it’s probably been there millions of years.
But while we’re indulging in hyperbole, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that randomness is a more powerful component of the evolution of English than previously thought. Woa, random!
Last week, a single user ‘permanently’ locked down 300M worth of ethereum. dozens of digital wallets containing nearly $300 million dollars worth of ether, the unit of exchange on the Ethereum platform, allegedly by accident. Ouch. They need a hard fork to fix this, apparently.
Crypto aint so crypto after all, is it? We think we’ve locked all this stuff up, yet … five years ago Benjamin Delpy walked into his room at the President Hotel in Moscow, and found a man dressed in a dark suit with his hands on Delpy’s laptop. A few minutes earlier, the then 25-year-old French programmer had made a quick trip to the front desk to complain about the room’s internet connection. He had arrived two days ahead of a talk he was scheduled to give at a nearby security conference and found that there was no Wi-Fi, and the ethernet jack wasn’t working. Since then, his Mimikatz code has been widely used. “Mimikatz wasn’t at all designed for attackers. But it’s helped them,” Delpy says in his understated and French-tinged English.
Thank god for walls of lava lamps, then. Cloudflare provides security and domain name services for millions of the most prominent sites on the web. The company has built a solid reputation for its secure encryption, and one of the key factors in its system is a wall of 100 lava lamps in the lobby of its San Francisco headquarters. Really! Cloudflare videotapes its wall of colourful constantly morphing lava lamps and translates that video information into unique cryptographic keys.
Watch out for the devious Netflix phish. The email says your Netflix account has been suspended, due to a problem with your billing information. It offers a link, which takes you to what looks very much like a Netflix landing page. It’s not. It’s a phishing scam that collects extensive personal data on victims. But as with all of the most pernicious phishes, the problem with the Netflix phish isn’t just its convincing look, it’s that whoever’s behind it has found new ways to bypass spam filters over and over again.

Maybe the HumanoRats will solve our problems — No! Yes! And yikes! At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience starting November 11 in Washington DC, two teams of scientists plan to present previously unpublished research on the unexpected interaction between human mini-brains and their rat and mouse hosts. The human mini-brains inside the rats are starting to integratewith their hosts’ brains. Queue a new film: The Planet of the Rats. They’re touting this as “an unprecedented advancement for mini-brain research”. [I was hoping that had stopped at Trump, myself.]

The billionaire war on journalism — Newsweek offers a new reminder that internet journalism can vanish in a corporate shutdown or be “sued out of existence”. Writers at the local New York City news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, as well as Gothamist’s network of city-specific sister sites, such as LAist and DCist,  learned this chilling lesson when billionaire Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down the publications and fired their employees. The decision has been widely regarded as a form of retaliation in response to the newsroom’s vote last week to unionise with the Writers Guild of America, East. Worse, for a full 20 hours after the news broke, Gothamist.com and DNAinfo.com effectively didn’t exist: Any link to the sites showed only Ricketts’s statement about his decision, which claims the business was not profitable enough to support the journalism…
The larger tragedy is a nationwide death of local news. Alt-weeklies are flailing as ad revenue dries up. The Village Voice, a legendary New York paper, published its final print issue in September. Houston Press just laid off its staff and ended its print edition last week. Countless stories won’t be covered because the journalistic institutions to tell them no longer exist. Who benefits from DNAinfo being shuttered? Billionaires. Shady landlords. Anyone DNAinfo reported critically on over the years. Who loses? Anyone who lives in the neighborhoods DNAinfo and Gothamist helped cover. [And over here in New Zealand, Winston Peters’ extra super payments he didn’t deserve and didn’t declare for several years seemingly went to his head, and he thinks he’s a billionaire too. Even though he paid it back, and he’s not that wealthy, he’s also trying to shut down journalists. Apart from those who leaked the information, he’s going after the journalists who released it. So, he wants the truth about those who tell the truth, but he wants to punish them for it. Weird.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook hack-ads, Silicon Valley, fires, planes, Cockatoos, Android bug, Welsh octopuses, plane truth, trees


Facebook’s latest data on the Russia-linked posts far exceeds the company’s previous disclosures. It was included in written testimony provided to US lawmakers, and seen by Reuters ahead of key hearings with social media and technology companies about Russian meddling in elections on Capitol Hill this week. Exposure possibly reached around half of the US population of voting age – about 126 million people. Twitter separately has found 2752 accounts linked to Russian operatives, a source familiar with the company’s written testimony said.
But apparently the Russian targets went far wider than ‘just’ the US. Meanwhile, Russia has put in place its anti-VPN law to stop people hiding their online traces.
Apple CEO Tim Cook took shots at the tech environment that lets those things happened, and undermined his self-erected moral high ground by asking for tax cuts … [Honestly, and for goodness sake, aren’t you bastards rich enough already??]
Just to further hammer in the point, Cook also said if you can afford nice coffee you can afford a US$1579 iPhone. [I guess he only drinks that coffee that civet cats shit out, served in solid-gold cups, he can’t be blamed for losing perspective or something?]

Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier. The WMO released a statement warning of “severe ecological and economic disruptions.”
And then came …

The Californian conflagration — The recent Californian wildfires destroyed irreplaceable documents on Silicon Valley history. But wait, soon they’ll also get toxic ash.

Aussie Cockatoos chew through broadband … literally — The National Broadband Network (NBN) company said it has spent tens of thousands of dollars fixing cables chewed by Cockatoos. Australian broadband is already criticised for being 50th in world internet speed. Engineers returning to sites have found spare cables chewed and frayed.

Android’s ‘infinite boot loops’ — A bug in the new Adaptive Icons feature introduced in Android Oreo has sent thousands of phones into infinite boot loops, forcing some users to reset their devices to factory settings, causing them to lose data along the way. [And turning many owners, no doubt, into instant fruit loops.]

Wales inundated with octopuses — For three consecutive nights, droves of octopuses were seen walking out of the sea and stranding themselves along several beaches in Wales. Experts say the unusual behaviour may have something to do with recent storms that swept through the region.

The Plane Truth — Data science powered the search for MH370. Nobody had tried to use this kind of data to try to locate a lost plane before. At first, Ashton’s team didn’t know if the attempt would work. But painstakingly, over the course of weeks, the team figured out how the movement of the plane, the orbital wobble of the satellite, and the electronics within the satcom system all interacted to create the data values that had been received. [And, newsflash, still failed utterly, and very expensively, to find the plane.]
But hey, America’s F-35s can’t fly 22% of the time, and repair facilities are six years behind schedule. Nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for, according to one defense news site. [So maybe we should think about that next time we feel like scoffing at North Korea.]

And the good news is … uh … Well, I sincerely do think it’s great news the new New Zealand government wants to plant millions of trees.

The Apocalypticon ~ Cambridge Analytica, nuclear bombers on alert, crypto-warning, space graveyard, big bridge swing


What did Cambridge Analytica really do for Trump’s campaign? News that Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix approached Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last year to exploit Hillary Clinton’s private emails has amplified questions about Cambridge’s role in President Trump’s 2016 campaign. [This was the most cynical manipulation of voters the world has ever seen to date. A Great Leap Forward?]

US Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991. That means the long-dormant concrete pads at the ends of this base’s 11,000-foot runway – dubbed the “Christmas tree” for their angular markings – could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice… The alert order has not been given, but preparations are under way in anticipation that it might come.

Thinking of investing in crypto-currencies? A hustler knows a hustle. So if you have ever considered sinking money into an initial coin offering – a complicated, barely regulated and booming new form of financial vehicle where startups offer investors stakes in ‘new’ cryptocurrencies rather than traditional stock – it might be a good idea to listen to what one of finance’s most notorious criminals-turned-authors has to say … spoiler alert: it’s just a huge scam.

Torn between iPhone X or iPhone 8? Psychologists have names for this kind of decision, and the hemming and hawing that goes into it. [I always think of the Law of Diminishing Returns, myself, and I let that guide me.] Gizmodo has more on this ‘behavioural economics‘ conundrum, which Apple uses skilfully [or should that be ‘mercilessly’?].

Satellite graveyard is ‘near’ Pitcairn — Whether you launch a satellite into space or an entire space station like the Russian Mir, the Chinese Tiangong-1 or the International Space Station, what goes up must eventually come down – they all re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The greater the mass of what is in space – Mir weighed 120 tons, the ISS weighs 450 tons and will be decommissioned in a decade – the greater the likelihood that larger parts will not burn up completely during re-entry and crash to earth at high velocity. So there is a need for a place on earth where things falling back from space are least likely to cause damage or human casualties. The Oceanic Pole Of Inaccessibility is one of two such places.

And finally, some good news: 245 friends jumping off a bridge and swinging by a rope is enough to gain you pseudo-fame – at least until 246 people try the same thing. Looks cool, anyway. So thanks, Hortolandia, Brazil …

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook anti-likes, Russian Troll Factory, racial recognition, falling satellites, nature’s armageddons, Pruitt wants more rads, Fahrenheit 451,


US Department of Justice dropped request for names of people who Facebook-liked and anti-Trump page — In a court hearing on October 14th, the US Department of Justice dropped its request for the names of an estimated 6000 people who ‘liked’ a Facebook page about an Inauguration Day protest. The search was considered ‘over-broad‘… [like].

A new story of Russian meddling one comes from a respected Russian news source, for a change, the RBC. From the report: “Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the US to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. RBC said it had identified 118 accounts or groups in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory, all of which had been blocked in August and September this year as part of the US investigation into Russian electoral meddling.

Apple avoided FaceID being ‘racist’ — Earlier facial recognition systems from HP and Google failed to recognise people with dark skin. In 2009, a HP webcam failed to register black people. And in 2015, Google Photos’ facial recognition categorized black people as gorillas. If Face ID made similar mistakes, it could be a sign that Apple didn’t train Face ID to recognise a diverse set of faces. Apple worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity, and other factors.

How scientists predict if a satellite is going to fall on your head — Here we introduce you to the supremely fascinating world of object reentry risk analysis: the science of predicting which of the tens of thousands of derelict spacecraft, spent launch vehicles and various other hunks of technology orbiting our planet will survive their inevitable plunge through the atmosphere and pose a threat to people here on Earth.
Because you know, an 8.5-ton Chinese space station is coming down, down …

But where have all the flying insects gone? The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon.” [Right – maybe we should be eating crickets after all, then?]

Why stop there? The Great Barrier Reef now looks like a graveyardDr Charlie Veron, the world’s leading expert on coral reefs, said this while speaking to a Nordic investment bank on the future of the Great Barrier Reef,.

Scott Pruitt reckons humans might be able to handle ‘more’ radiation — Donald Trump’s appointment of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency this year drew eyebrows, because Pruitt had made his career as a longstanding legal opponent of the EPA and a prominent climate change sceptic. Since he’s been put in charge of the agency, Pruitt has allegedly made plans to water down federal scientific research on the climate, deflected from the issue during natural disasters, and cut loose hundreds of employees in a deregulation push.
Now some are worried he’s trying to lower the bar for deadly radiation.
[Hey, maybe he’s right. I vote he tries it first.]

Fahrenheit 451 hot to read — Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a dystopian future where books have been outlawed and are destroyed by firemen who set them ablaze. But in an ironic twist, French publisher Super Terrain has created a new edition of Bradbury’s classic that actually requires extreme heat in order to be read.

Want some good news? Well, kinda: here’s how to spot fake photos on the web.

The Apocalypticon ~ Fire flood and plague, data hackers, Cuban noise, denial, cell wars


‘Perfectly normal apocalypse’ in California — that’s right. Southern California has firestorms resulting from a  boil-up of fuel thanks to wetter winters then drier summers, and single-dewllig suburbs on the fringes allow fires to spread fast. All ‘perfectly normal‘… In cities, it’s not the devouring flames you should fear but the asphyxiating smoke. This is thanks to Trump’s ‘not climate change’. Hey, at least there haven’t been any hurricanes.
Scientists are perplexed over a giant hole that has opened up in Antarctica. According to Motherboard, the “gigantic, mysterious hole” is as large as Lake Superior or the state of Maine. It’s really ‘quite remarkable‘.
Tokyo is preparing for bigger floods than ever with high tech. Linked by tunnels that divert water away from the region’s most vulnerable floodplains, its US$2 billion underground anti-flood system, completed in 2006, is an extraordinary example of the defenses that global cities are readying as they face an era of extreme weather brought on by climate change [or not, as Trump prefers].

Madagascar is fighting the plague — The World Health Organisation has delivered more than a million doses of antibiotics to Madagascar amid a raging epidemic of plague in which at least 33 people have died and 230 others have been infected. The ongoing epidemic involves mostly cases of pneumonic rather than the more common bubonic plague, but the airborne variety of the disease is significantly more transmissible and deadly.

The Security Paradox — There were 400,000 Britons were exposed in the US Equifax data breach. Oh, wait, the number was actually closer to 700,000.
That’s why we use VPN, right? Except a VPN provider has been sharing it’s logs with the FBI. Logs the provider said it didn’t keep. You see, someone who secures you information has access to that information. This is the Security Paradox – what happens when the locksmith wants to get into your house?
But don’t worry, there’s an Antivirus Paradox too: Russia exploited ‘antivirus software’ from Kaspersky Lab to trawl US systems for classified data. and HP Enterprise actually allowed Russia to review the cyberdefense software used by the Pentagon. The source code review could help Moscow discover weaknesses in the software, potentially helping attackers to blind the US military to a cyber attack. This is why people increasingly want AI to take over these tasks. Shame it’s already so biased, and yet we’re entering the Age of the Bizarrely Intelligent Robots. What’s it like working with them? Wired knows. This makes a perverse kind of sense when you consider that in many cases, we’re allowing – no, in some cases actually voting for – our countries to be run by the most greedy and flawed people.

Can noise weapon? If ever anything sounded like fake news … The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some US Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks. The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen. Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer. [Aha, but Castro’s speeches were s o  l o n g  . . . ]

Deny this: a restored prisoner’s letter uncovers horrific details of life at Auschwitz death camp. In 1944, Marcel Nadjari, a Greek Jew who was forced to remove bodies from the Auschwitz gas chambers, buried a letter in a forest near the camp. The text was rediscovered in 1980, but was virtually unreadable. Using a new imaging technique, scientists have finally reconstructed the letter, and it’s providing harrowing new details of the Holocaust — and what it was like to work as a forced labourer in a Nazi extermination camp.

Parody ‘Subgenius’ religion wants to crowd-fund contacting aliens — In 1979 the followers of J.R ‘Bob’ Dobbs founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Subgenius. Combining UFOs and conspiracy theories with some social critiques (and a few HP Lovecraft characters), the strange group is now re-emerging online with an official Facebook page and a slick new video channel.
Eighteen months of experimentation lead to clues about a flying saucer arriving on ‘the Black Day’ – and one last chance at eternal salvation and everlasting Slack: the construction of an alien-contacting beacon. [Good for a laugh, anyway. At least, they’re enjoying themselves.]

And after that, some good news … In an effort to reduce the 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide humans produce each year, three companies have been working to build machines that can capture the gas directly from the air. One such machine in Iceland has begun operation.
Climeworks just proved the cynics wrong. On October 11th, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, the startup inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions.
This technology could pull us back from the brink. Yay!

The Apocalypticon ~ cow farts, algo-disrhythmia, airline tragedy map, adapting mice, angry eagles, leaked leak email, stick insect progress


NASA finds a lot more cow farts — Another reason for New Zealand farmers to bury their heads in their shitty dirt is a new NASA-sponsored study which shows that global methane emissions produced by livestock are 11% higher than estimates made last decade. Because methane is a particularly nasty greenhouse gas, the new finding means it’s going to be even tougher to combat climate change than we realised.

Algorithms have already gone rogue — Tim O’Reilly has been the conscience of the tech industry for more than two decades. In his new book WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us, although optimistic about tech, he doesn’t shy away from its potentially dangerous consequences.

Interactive ocean map results from airline tragedy — The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 ran for more than three years, and was one of the largest marine surveys ever conducted. Within the search area coordinated by the Australian government, 278,000 square kilometres of ocean floor data was collected and collated by Geoscience Australia. That data is now publicly available, and has been used to create an interactive story map of the search for the missing aircraft.

Mice are adapting to New York City; Australian eagles are attacking drones — New York mice seem to be adapting to the city evolutionarily. A team of scientists analysed the genomes of white-footed mice captured in New York and New York-adjacent parks to see whether they’d evolved given the pressures of city life. It turns out the urban critters have probably been adapting, genetically, to their new city diets, which may or may not include cheeseburgers and pizza.
In Australia, angry birds are ripping $80,000 drones out of the sky — Daniel Parfitt thought he’d found the perfect drone for a two-day mapping job in a remote patch of the Australian Outback. The roughly $80,000 machine had a wingspan of over two metres and resembled a stealth bomber. There was just one problem. His machine raised the hackles of one prominent local resident: a wedge-tailed eagle. Swooping down from above, the protected eagle used its talons to punch a hole in the carbon fiber and Kevlar fuselage of Parfitt’s drone, which lost control and plummeted to the ground. Ouch. Some think 20% of Australian drones have been destroyed this way in the outback.

(Image from The Mercury)

What happens when you send an anti-leak training email to staff? Someone leaks it — Trump’s ‘administration’ is mandating government-wide training sessions on “the importance of protecting classified and controlled unclassified information” leaked just under a month ago, the courses themselves have started making their way around to various federal agencies. We know this because the training was leaked.

What now, Silicon Valley ‘disconnectors’? Justin Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who created the ‘like’ button, now  belongs to a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who fear a smartphone dystopia — they complain about the rise of the so-called “attention economy”: an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy.
One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

And finally, some good news: the possible triumphant return of the Lord How Island stick insect — The most bizarre island on Earth is shaped like a skinny pyramid, the remnant of a shield volcano. In 2003, scientists scaled its sheer cliffs in search of the only thing more bizarre than the island itself: the Lord Howe Island stick insect. It’s enormous, growing over 15cm long (six inches), with a dark, robust abdomen and chunky back legs. The researchers managed to bag just two breeding pairs, because Lord Howe Island stick insect was, and remains, one of the rarest critters on the planet after an invasion of rats almost wiped them out. But thanks to genetic test improvements, a very-closely-related species from another island might be able to save the day.

The Apocalypticon ~ The Data Wars, airlines, animals, ice, carbon …


Moscow is adding facial-recognition technology to its network of 170,000 surveillance cameras across the city in a move to identify criminals and boost security. Since 2012, CCTV recordings have been held for five days after they’re captured, with about 20 million hours of video stored at any one time. This quickly became almost impossible to process by police officers alone, so they’re automating the process.
Are, Russia, so security conscious … The ‘secure messaging app’ Telegram has employees in Saint Petersburg in the same building as Kremlin-influenced social network VK, which is owned by the oligarch and Putin ally Alisher Usmanov. Doesn’t that make us feel secure?
Meanwhile, Russian hacktivist group Fancy Bear (also referred to as APT28, Sofacy, and Strontium) has been using a flaw in Google’s caching of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) to phish targets, Salon reports. To make matters worse, Google has been aware of the bug for almost a year but has refused to fix it…

Of course, things are much better in the United States of America. The Department of Homeland Security plans to expand the files it collects on immigrants, as well as some citizens, by including more online data – most notably search results and social media information – about each individual. The plan is set out in the Federal Register, where the government publishes forthcoming regulations. A final version is set to go into effect on October 18th.
But here, lax security can be incredibly rewarding. The CEO of Equifax is retiring from the credit reporting bureau with a pay day worth as much as US$90 million – or roughly 63 cents for every customer whose data was potentially exposed in its recent security breach. Nice one, good job there Dick, love your work.
Data is the new oil, or so the saying goes. So why are we giving it away for nothing more than ostensibly free email, better movie recommendations and more accurate search results? It’s an important question to ask in a world where the accumulation and scraping of data is worth billions of dollars..

Airlines worldwide were forced to delay flights as a global flight-bookings system operated by Amadeus IT Group SA suffered what the company called a “network issue.” Major carriers including British Airways, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Cathay Pacific Airways and Qantas Airways were among those reportedly impacted by the outage. At least their planes still had fuel.

While we’re back in the analogue world, humans are changing animal migrate routes in ways you may not expect. White storks in Europe typically fly to southern Africa for the winter. Yet when researchers at Germany’s Max Plank Institute for Ornithology tracked a bird’s path using a GPS logger in 2016, they found it and a few others had skipped the grueling migration across the Sahara Desert. That year, the birds stopped, instead, in cities like Madrid, Spain, and Rabat, Morocco. Apparently, they had developed a taste for junk food, in particular the stuff that piles up in landfills along the migration route.

But hey, there’s a new rat, and it’s a biggun! The Solomon Islands is a nation comprised of nearly one thousand islands located northeast of Australia. Dense, lush rainforest blankets the majority of the islands, and the country’s coral reef biodiversity is among the richest in the world. Many of the plants and animals in the Solomon Islands have evolved in splendid isolation, and now, one of these animals has emerged from its idyllic surroundings, revealing itself to science for the first time: the vika (Uromys vika), a big-arse rat four times the size of even the heftiest of the familiar, city-slicker variety.

If you want an unusual but punchy telling of the world’s explosion of climate-warping gases, look no further than this visualisation of CO2 levels over the past centuries soaring like skyscrapers into space.

 

Satellite images taken last weekend show a new 267km2 iceberg emerging from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. The calving event did not come as a complete surprise, but it’s a troubling sign with regards to future sea level rise.

And in good news … OK, I’m struggling. How about this mirrored train ride through Tokyo?

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump’s Facebook, hackering, Japanese thunder, dads are mutants, super malaria, bison shot, Nestlé, diesel deaths, vote


A note about The Apocalypticon: I found so many apocalyptical news stories researching for the aforementioned Futurology, probably thanks to Donald Trump more than anything, I started  following my weekend Futurology column with this, on the premise that if nightmares truly are strengthening our psyches against possible disasters, this might serve similarly. That said, I try and end on a positive note (I’ve always liked D, myself). 

Thanks to the terrifying wonders of social media, President Trump has launched targeted digital ads on Facebook, , only on a much larger scale than he did. Most seem to be offering conflicting versions of his plans for the border wall. Facebook is attempting to regulate political ads, apparently – yeah right, coz if Zuckerberg does run for president, don’t expect that to continue! But hey, it’ not all bad – Facebook plans to read our thoughts one day. I thought it was already. I guess that’s what you get with a CEO whose name means’Sugar Mountain’.

Amazon knows if you’re trying to make a bomb. Amazon’s listings for ingredients commonly used in DIY bombs are often accompanied by ‘frequently bought together’ suggestions for the exact chemicals necessary to turn relatively harmless substances into viable weapons.

In other software/wetware news, if you’re a gamer who installed the Steam Inventory Helper on your PC, you may want to uninstall it as soon as possible. Recent reports suggest this extension used to buy and sell digital goods on Steam is spying on its users. [Ha ha, I have a Mac.] Also, the Feds in the US are ditching Kapersky ‘security tools‘ citing the company’s potential ties to the Russian government.

Thunderous Japanese particle accelerator — Thunderclouds rolled into the Japanese beach town of Uchinada early one December morning in 2015. The scientists expected the storms; they’d staked out the location specifically for studying something normally only seen by satellites. Sometime after 5am, a flash of lightning struck a wind turbine. And along came a more perplexing weather phenomenon, too: The thunderstorm turned into a particle accelerator and blasted gamma radiation at the ground.

Dads are mutants — Children inherit four times as many new mutations from their fathers than their mothers, according to research that suggests faults in the men’s DNA are a driver for rare childhood diseases. Bugger.

Nestlé makes millions bottling free water — But you knew this, right? This is, after all, the company that invested heavily in stopping third world mum’s breastfeeding so they’d buy its milk powder. Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, has been bottling water since 1843 and has grown into the largest seller of bottled water. But a detailed report on Bloomberg uncovers the company’s operation in Michigan, revealing that Nestle has come to dominate in the industry in part by going into economically depressed areas with lax water laws [LIKE NEW ZEALAND!]. It makes billions selling a product for which it pays close to nothing.
[Which makes Nestlé and ilk (Coca-Cola, for example) clever and the New Zealand government really, really stupid. Cows freely shit in lots of our NZ water, and what’s left pure-ish we virtually give away to overseas corporations to sell. Duh!]

Diesel cars and trucks kill 5000 a year in Europe — Emissions from diesel cars rigged to appear eco-friendly may be responsible for 5000 air pollution deaths per year in Europe alone, according to a study. The numbers are in line with previous assessments of deaths due to the so-called Dieselgate scandal, which erupted when carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating on vehicle emissions tests. [Imagine what the figures would be in China and India.]
But hey, now you can build virtual roads in what must be a truly maddening game.

Super-malaria — A newly-mutated strain of drug-resistant malaria has spread into Vietnam, complicating efforts to contain the the mosquito-borne virus in Southeast Asia and potentially posing a global threat.

First wild bison appears in Germany in 250 years, and is promptly shot dead — seriously! The World Wildlife Fund will be pursuing charges against a local official who, upon receiving a report of the first sighting of a wild bison in Germany in over 250 years, promptly ordered hunters to shoot the animal dead.

And the good news? Ah … I hope you voted. You get a one-in-roughly-four-million chance to affect the future every three years, so you may as well use it.

The Apocalypticon ~ Data, security, storms, bombs … and saving us from climate change


New Zealand’s Neoliberal drift — In New Zealand, neoliberal reforms have widened inequality and undermined the country’s self-image as an egalitarian paradise. So while Bill English keeps crowing about New Zealand’s ‘rock star economy’, why are there more homeless, more beggars, more hungry kids? I agree with the above blog’s assertions. People say you can’t sum up neoloberalism, as it covers many things, but I have made a study of it and feel I can: the basic core of neoliberalism is allowing markets to solve all issues including cultural and social. Which is as patently stupid as it appears at first glance. It also involves ‘othering’ and victimising those who can’t progress competitively and therefore shares similarities with classic Nazism. Remember that? World War Two responsible for 40-50 million deaths? The Holocaust?
Yeah. 

Data — 143 million Americans may have had their Social Security Numbers stolen (along with other sensitive personal information), so security experts are pressing for a fundamental reassessment in how, and why, we identify ourselves. Meanwhile, a Chinese man has been given a nine-month jail sentence for helping people evade government controls on where they can go online.

Security — And Russian election hacking in the US is the story that keeps on growing.  A lot of registered voters in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona didn’t even get to vote on election day last year because their names weren’t in the electronic poll books because, theoretically, Russian hackers had infiltrated the servers of VR Systems, a company that provides the software for polling equipment. However, anonymous sources from the intelligence community told the New York Times that at least two other election software companies were also hacked. And if you’re worried about that pro-Russian shock-gadfly Julian Assange’s Wikileaks site getting hacked, that was a DNS reroute.

Storms — While the massive hurricane Irma is about to hit Florida after laying waste through the Caribbean, Houstonians in Texas were left without shelter and facing the daunting task of rebuilding their lives. The staggering damage includes 40,000 homes lost, but another number also deserves close scrutiny: the flooding destroyed as many as a million cars in the Houston metro area. A job for FEMA, which over the last seven decades has evolved from building a top-secret series of bunkers designed to protect US officials in case of a nuclear attack to a sprawling bureaucratic agency tasked with mobilizing help in disasters.
And while it’s storming’ here on Earth, it’s also storming’ out in space. The Space Weather Prediction Center has upgraded a geomagnetic storm watch for September 6 and 7 to a level only occasionally seen, but scientists say it’s nothing to be too alarmed about – at least we’re getting some cool atmospheric aurora effects.

Bombs —  Sensors in South Korea, China, and the US indicated that whatever the Hermit Kingdom exploded underground recently was more powerful than the atomic weapons the US used during World War II—a benchmark North Korea had not definitively topped before. But hoorah! Because America has way more powerful bombs still.
Large sections of central Frankfurt, Germany were evacuated in preparation for authorities to defuse a World War II-era, 1.4-ton ‘Blockbuster’ HC 4000 air mine. At least 60,000 people were asked to leave the area while the bomb defusal operation proceeds. The bomb was successfully defused, but still needs to be removed from the area with utmost caution. Now there’s a perfect task for a driverless truck!

Climate change — According to Peter Wadhams, head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge, we’re barely staving off climate disaster. Your Tesla might be cool, but it’s not helping much. The pessimistic professor has been studying sea icefor nearly 50 years. “Reducing our emissions is not going to be enough to prevent catastrophic consequences,” he says. In his scorching new book, A Farewell to Ice, Wadhams presents some radical, and sometimes theoretical, ways to save civilisation. [‘Head in the sand’ isn’t one of them.]
The terrible weather isn’t our only worry. Research published by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism group, has revealed that microplastics have contaminated high proportions of tap drinking water and bottled water. Samples from the United States tested positive in 94% of instances, while Europe’s contamination averages around 72%. Tests were undertaken at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, with lead researcher Dr Anne Marie Mahon noting the risk of plastics carrying bacteria.
But at least you’re probably not gluten intolerant. [I ways like to end with some good news.]