Category Archives: Apocalypse

The Apocalypticon ~ Reprehensible Facebook, data breaches, underhand Uber, Zoomy, Russian Brexit, Putin, Venezuela, iTunes, cyclone Idai, temperatures rise, Jacinda Ardern


Facebook can’t be all profit and no responsibility — In my 101st Apocalpyticon, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave a powerful speech expressing solidarity with the victims of Friday’s terrorist attack that left 50 dead and dozens injured. Ardern also had strong words for the social media companies that enabled the shooter to broadcast his massacre around the world. [But isn’t ‘all profit, no responsibility’ the American dream?]
The gunman explained he targeted New Zealand because Muslims feel safe here and explicitly mentioned President Donald Trump.
Arden has also called for a global fight against racism. [If I am bigoted against racists, what then am I?]
Facebook at first said only 200 people had seen the video the Christchurch gunman streamed, but later admitted it was seen at least 4000 times[I wonder how viewing that affected people’s ad algorithms?]
Of course, countless more views occurred in the hours afterward, as copies of the video proliferated online.
Facebook also recently admitted it was concerned about Cambridge Analytica well before it had previously admitted knowing about it. [Have I not been warning about Facebook for ages, now, along with many others?] The new information could suggest Facebook has consistently misled British lawmakers about what it knew and when about Cambridge Analytica. [Surprise!]
Facebook caves on discriminatory ads, then tries to sell it as a ‘triumph’ — After an 18-month court battle and years of fierce criticism, Facebook says it will stop allowing housing, jobs, and credit advertisers to show ads to only users of specific races, genders, or age groups.
Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg went on to thank the groups that sued Facebook for “showing leadership” … [Gah!]

But wait, there’s more —  It’s scary how much personal data people leave on old devices. A recent experiment by Josh Frantz, a senior security consultant at Rapid7, suggests users are taking few if any steps to protect their private information before releasing their used devices back out into the wild.
Underhand Uber — Uber used a secret spyware program, codenamed Surfcam, to steal drivers from an Australian competitor with the aim of putting that company out of business. [I won’t use Uber, I use Zoomy, a NZ startup that pays its drivers better.]
Russian collusion on Brexit — Arron Banks was a British businessman who funded the most extreme end of the pro-Brexit Leave campaign, and he possibly did so with help from Russia. [Coz Russia benefits from a destabilised Europe and a destabilised US.]
President Vladimir Putin recently tightened his grip on the Russian internet by signing two censorship bills into law. One bans ‘fake news’ [except for his, anyway] while the other makes it illegal to insult public officials. [Vlad, maybe it’s time to grow that little moustache you’ve been dreaming of, hey?]
Venezuelan soldiers escape over the border — Over the past month, nearly 1000 Venezuelan troops have fled to Colombia to avoid arrest back home, according to the Colombian Foreign Ministry, which recognises Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.
Crashed Boeings had safety features available — but you had to purchase them as extras! The recent Boeing 737 MAX crashes involving an Ethiopian Airlines flight and a Lion Air flight may have been a result of two missing safety features that Boeing charged airlines extra for. [OK, I have to admit that’s as cynical as Facebook.]
Apple’s encryption for iTunes Store hacked — All 24 movies from the iTunes exclusive 4K James Bond Collection have leaked online,  further evidence suggesting pirates have found a way to decrypt 4K source files from the iTunes store. [Gold…finger …]

Cyclone Idai crashed into Mozambique and caused dramatic flooding

Natural disasters — Flash! Bang! Meteor! A meteor explosion over the Bering Sea late last year unleashed 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, scientists have revealed.
And again — The second-largest asteroid to hit Earth in the last 30 years went undetected, until now. Measuring several metres in size, the space rock exploded 25.6km above the Earth’s surface with an impact energy of 173 kilotons (about 40% of the above meteor).
Sharp and potentially devastating temperature rises of 3C to 5C in the Arctic are now inevitable even if the world succeeds in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement.
Africa’s Cyclone Idai — Rescue workers are continuing the search for survivors of Cyclone Idai, which swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe last week, destroying towns and villages in its path. Floods of up to six metres (19ft) deep caused incredible devastation over a huge area of Mozambique.

And the good news? New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has shown other world leaders how to lead, with love and understanding and firm resolution.
Thank goodness I am a citizen of her country!

The Apocalypticon ~ New Zealand mosque shooting, diseases, Mueller, Russia, corrupt Putin, the corrupt rich, flip the bird, Android malware, Arctic unravelling, Death Metal


It is with great distress that I have to accept that this happened in ‘clean, green, safe and multicultural’ New Zealand: ‘One Of New Zealand’s Darkest Days’: Shootings At Mosques Kill At Least 49‘ I have just returned from the vigil at Aotea Square in Auckland which was attended, in my estimation, by 5000-6000 people. Look, I’ll be honest: I think the Muslim faith is nuts … as nuts as all the others. But if we all killed each other for our odd beliefs, well, none of us would be here. Aroha, people, and my heartfelt condolences to all those families torn apart by this terrible crime. I am so, so sad this happened in our country of refuge. Jacinda Adern is going to change the gun law, and if there’s anything at all to thank any god for, in this mostly secular country at least, maybe it’s that. You have to wonder why 26,000 guns were imported to New Zealand last year when our Army strength is under 9000, so just what in hell is going on?
Want to help? You can be supportive to Muslims [come on, think now how frightened NZ Muslims must feel at the moment].
Facebook, YouTube both promised to remove footage of New Zealand mosque massacres, which the gunman live-streamed from a Go Pro. [You know, a nipple on a picture of a breast disappears in 2 seconds but it takes hours to remove a  video of someone murdering people. Go Facebook, go Facebook …]

Diseases — Measles: Amid two ongoing measles outbreaks on both sides of the United States, New York City health officials say an unvaccinated student attending school was linked to 21 other cases of the virus. Dozens of people have been infected since last fall in the city’s ongoing outbreak, one of particular magnitude. (It’s happening in New Zealand too.) [I have to wonder though: if someone with measles goes to school, aren’t they only infecting the others who didn’t have the vaccine?]
And here’s the harrowing story of a child in Oregon who contracted tetanus because he wasn’t vaccinated. This illness could have been prevented with five doses of the tetanus vaccine, for US$150. Instead, the ordeal cost US$811,929. [Bargain, then.]
Italian schools have begun turning away children who have not received mandatory vaccinations. The New York Times reported that at least 300 children were told they could not attend kindergarten in the city of Bologna this week.

Mulling Mueller —In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives has called for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to be made public when it is completed. [Hear, here!] The Mueller investigation has resulted in criminal charges against more than 30 individuals and entities already, including multiple aides and associates of President Trump.

Around the world of craziness — Russia blocks encrypted email: Russia has told internet providers to enforce a block against encrypted email provider ProtonMail. [So you won’t be able to email stuff like ‘Putin’s a corrupt fascist arsehole’ any more. Yes, I wrote Putin’s a corrupt fascist arsehole. Decrypt that.]
Here’s what a ‘very likely’ sequel to California’s 1862 megastorm would look like. No, it’s not fun.
Yeah, everyone loves rich people. [Newsflash: I don’t.] Federal officials have charged dozens of well-heeled parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, in what the Justice Department says was a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat college admissions standards.
But in California you can flip the bird at cops — If you’ve ever been tempted to make a rude gesture at a police officer, you can rest assured that the Constitution protects your right to do so, a federal appeals court says.
Google Android anti-virus apps are bullshit — Austrian antivirus-testing lab AV-Comparatives tested 250 antivirus apps in Google Play against 2000 malware samples. They found that only 80 (32%) of the apps could stop even a minimal amount of malware.

The Arctic is unravelling — Even if carbon pollution magically stopped tomorrow, the region’s winters would still warm an astonishing 5° Celsius by century’s end. Meeting the Paris Agreement pledges — which do not get us to the 2° warming goal — would lead to that level of warming by midcentury and up to 9° Celsius by 2100, along the way unravelling one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet and displacing people who have done very little to cause the disruption.

Any good news at all? Death Metal actually makes people happy. [Well, that’s a relief.]
Also, this is the 100th Apocalypticon. Wow!

The Apocalypticon ~ Bad Chinese, data, crypto-creep, Police fraud, Chrome, Vaxxing, MMR, trash, Antarctic humans, Faceyuck, garlic, onions, sleep


Driving a car in 1909? Carry a gun — Life wasn’t easy for women in the early 20th century and race car driver and motorist Dorothy Levitt knew that for a fact, so published The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for all Women who Motor or Who Want to Motor in 1909. It tells women how to take care of themselves and their cars, and reminds them to always carry a gun.
‘Bad’ Chinese can’t use the train — China’s dystopian ‘social credit’ system penalises citizens found to have engaged in some type of misconduct by imposing a number of restrictions on their activities. This has already resulted in tens of millions of rejected attempts to purchase plane or train tickets. [All praise Xi Jinping.]
On data — Security researchers Bob Diachenko and Vinny Troia discovered an unprotected MongoDB database  belonging to an email verification service containing 150GB of detailed, plaintext marketing data, including hundreds of millions of unique email addresses.
Winnipeg police update their devices with fraudulent data — Winnipeg police have arrested a manager with the city for allegedly updating police radios with fraudulent software he got from a person considered to be a security threat by the US Department of Homeland Security. [Doh! But hey, he saved his department some money.]
Chrome meltdown — Google said this week that a Chrome zero-day the company patched last week was actually used together with a second one, a zero-day impacting the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system.
Artificial AI — Two-fifths of Europe’s AI startups do not use any AI programs in their products, according to a report that highlights the hype around the technology.
Crypto-wallets finally unlocked, but proved empty — The money was there, it was just locked away. At least that’s what the QuadrigaCX cryptocurrency exchange had been saying, before an auditor revealed it had finally accessed digital wallets set up by Quadriga’s late CEO Gerald Cotten, and that instead of holding US$137 million, the wallets were empty, drained in 2018. [Don’t invest in things you don’t understand.]

Trash talking — Gizmodo has reached out to a number of experts in geography, paleobiology, environmental science, engineering and more to figure out the absolute worst trash that humans produce. [I will stick with Donald Trump, but Xi Iinping, you’re up there.]
Microplastics host ocean-borne toxic bacteria — Plastic pollutants in the ocean serve as platforms for the growth of toxic bacteria, say scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS). 
Human footprint surprisingly big in Antarctica — Antarctica is huge, stretching nearly 5,633km at its widest extent. Despite its enormous size, however, the frozen continent features a paltry amount of habitable space: a limited resource humans have claimed to the potential detriment of the local wildlife, as new research points out.
Nature strikes back! That’s the shared theme of these 10 eco-horror movies Gizmodo has compiled in honour of Garbage Week, all tales of terrible punishments that transpire when the environment lashes out against evil, wasteful, and destructive humans.
Deflecting asteroids … not easy! According to new asteroid collision models designed by scientists at Johns Hopkins University, deflecting a large rock headed for Earth will be harder than previously thought.
US Army reckons war robots won’t murder people [OK, two words: war robots.]

MMR does not increase autism risk — The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is not associated with an increased risk of autism even among kids who are at high risk because they have a sibling with the disorder, a Danish study suggests.
Adult son of anti-vaccination parents furious after contracting measles —Joshua Nerius of Chicago, Illinois, had no idea he wasn’t vaccinated until he came down with the highly contagious disease in 2016. But Facebook reckons it’s working on dealing with anti-vax poropganda.

Faceyuck — All the bad press about Facebook might be catching up to the company. New numbers from Edison Research show an an estimated 15 million fewer users in the United States compared to 2017, with the biggest drop is in the very desirable 12- to 34-year-old group. [Maybe Facebook should just rename itself ‘Faceplant’.]

Good news: The consumption of onions and garlic is associated with lower colorectal cancer risk, according to researchers in China. [Presumably, these researchers are allowed to get the train.]
And broken DNA is repaired while you sleep — Scientists have discovered that broken DNA builds up in brain cells in the daytime and repair work reverses the damage only during sleep. For an act so universal, sleep has enormous benefits: it restores the body and helps learning and memory. In the calm hours of sleep, the repair mechanisms at a neuron level have a chance to get on top of the job. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Send in the clouds, people tracking, hacking, relentless robotisation, various dangers, some good news


Send in the clouds — Cloud change climate change: People  are freaking out about how climate change is finally coming for the clouds, and silvering clouds could help defeat climate change (but would that mean people would stop bothering trying to change their damaging ways?)
Climates of stupidity:  The US Senate has confirmed Andrew Wheeler, former coal industry lobbyist, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. This in a 52-47 vote primarily along party lines. Wheeler, also a former Republican Senate aide on environmental issues, has been acting administrator since July, when former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid a host of ethics controversies. [Now we get the ‘mental’ part in ‘Environmental’.]
Climate change skeptic added to White House staff — Happer is back in the White House, still fighting against what he considers unfounded claims that our globe is in danger. But this time, his cause is backed by the man in the Oval Office.
First time Cat 5 — Cyclone Wutip the first Category 5 storm of any kind ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in February.
Drug-filled rivers — Medicines including antibiotics and epilepsy drugs are increasingly being found in the world’s rivers at concentrations that can damage ecosystems.
Government climate policy does work — Renewable energy use and reduced energy use overall have helped carbon emissions remain flat or below average as the global economy continued to grow over the years. But, as new research has found, government policy also appears to play a large role.
And for you, eating to save the planet — It’s also about what you don’t eat.

People, privacy, tracking — Canada tracking citizens: Police, social services, and health workers in Canada are using shared databases to track the behaviour of vulnerable people including minors and people experiencing homelessness. And there’s little oversight and often no consent.
China to track the way people walk — You can tell a lot of things from the way someone walks. Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Watrix says its softwares can identify a person from 50 metres away, even if they have covered their face or have their back to a camera.
Congresswoman destroys Equifax CEO over data breach — In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) asked whether Equifax CEO Mark Begor would be willing to share his address, birth date, and Social Security number publicly at the hearing. Begor declined, citing the risk of “identity theft,” letting Porter criticise Equifax’s legal response to the 2017 security breach that exposed almost 150 million people’s data of that sort to an unknown intruder. [Hah hah, Begor.]
User passwords emailed in plain text — An anonymous independent security researcher noticed their power company’s website was offering to email – not reset! – lost account passwords to forgetful users. Startled, X fed the online form the utility account number and the last four phone number digits it was asking for. Sure enough, a few minutes later the account password, in plain text, was sitting in X’s inbox. In this day and age! The companies service 15 million clients …
PDFs not so secure — Academics from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany say they’ve managed to break the digital signing system and create fake signatures on 21 of 22 desktop PDF viewer apps and five out of seven online PDF digital signing services.
Privacy in theory and in practice — A new privacy survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that 81% of consumers say they’ve become more concerned about how companies use their data, while 87% think companies should be more heavily regulated on personal data management. So you’d think people would take actions in response to companies losing or misusing their data, but they’re not.
Have you heard the mantra ‘update your software to stay secure’? Many US cities are still running on 1980s software.

PepsiCo is ‘relentlessly’ automating — PepsiCo is spending $US2.5 billion ($3.5 billion) on a plan to restructure that involves laying off an untold number of its workers. Pepsi’s new CEO, Ramon Laguarta had said in an earnings call last week that Pepsi was already “relentlessly automating and merging the best of our optimised business models with the best new thinking and technologies”.

Starbucks might consider this, since robots don’t care about the music — You may not give a second thought to the tunes spinning on a constant loop at your favourite cafe or coffee shop, but one writer and podcaster who had to listen to repetitive music for years while working in bars and restaurants argues it’s a serious workers’ rights issue. Adam Johnson told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti “I’m not suggesting that working at Applebee’s is the same as being at Guantanamo, but the principle’s the same.”
US companies installed more robots last year than ever before — Cheaper and more flexible machines put them within reach of businesses of all sizes and in more corners of the economy beyond their traditional foothold in car plants.
Those decent-paying oil jobs that help justify the industry? They’re getting automated, too.

Menagerie of dangers — Pedestrian deaths in the US reach 28-year high: the Governors Highway Safety Association has found the number of pedestrian deaths in the US has reached a 28-year high.
What happens to left over aid supplies? FEMA is planning to sell off hundreds of surplus trailer homes in Texas through a General Services Administration auction. [Ya know, coz they’ll never need those again!] But this does pose the question, what does happen to unused aid supplies?
Microsoft defends military work — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is defending the company’s $479 million contract with the Pentagon to supply augmented reality headsets to the US military. [Ya know coz it makes money, basically.]
Drunk Russian captain sails massive ship into huge bridge — The ship hit the bridge and caused some damage to itself and the lower part of the bridge, though thankfully nobody was injured.

Good news? Despite the skeptics and powerful lobbying that seemed to all came from the same position of ‘what about the profits?!’, a new study found that the drinking habits of Berkeley residents got better and stayed better over the three years after a 2014 soft drink tax was passed.
And anger can be contagious, but you can stop the spread. For example, if you start to become happier with your life, a friend living close by has a 25% higher chance of becoming happy too. Yay!

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump’s attacks, hate groups heavily-armed Americans, hackers, blood, blockchain, no Huawei threat, sickness


Relentless attacks by Trump on FBI, and staggering Russian contacts — Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe condemned what he called the “relentless attack” that President Trump has waged against the FBI even as it continues scrutinising whether Americans in Trump’s campaign may have conspired with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election.
Trump wants to cancel Californian train — The Trump administration says it intends to cancel a $929 million federal grant for California’s high-speed rail project. The administration also wants to reclaim another $2.5 billion in federal funds already spent by California on the project. [Can’t think what they want that money for …]
US hate groups continue rise — For the fourth year in a row, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organisation that tracks hate groups, reports that hate and domestic extremism are rising in an unabated trend. The centre found a 30% increase in US hate groups over the past four years and a 7% increase in hate groups in 2018 alone, according to the centre’s annual Year in Hate and Extremism report.
A US Coast Guard lieutenant spent hours on end planning a wide-scale domestic terrorist attack — He even logged in at his work computer on the job at headquarters to study the manifestos and heinous paths of mass shooters, prosecutors say. He researched how to carry out sniper attacks, they contend, and whether rifle scopes were illegal. And all the while, investigators assert, he was amassing a cache of weapons as he ruminated about attacks on politicians and journalists.
Heavily-armed US mercenaries found in Haiti — We know their names, and where they were. But no one has given a public explanation for what five former elite US service members were doing in Haiti, and why they were driving without license plates, carrying an assortment of automatic rifles, drones and other gear.
Microsoft workers protest at having to build weapons —Microsoft workers are calling on the giant tech company to cancel its nearly $480 million US Army contract, saying the deal has “crossed the line” into weapons development by Microsoft for the first time. They say the use of the company’s HoloLens augmented reality technology under the contract “is designed to help people kill.”
Iranian and Chinese hackers step up attacks on the US — Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been energized by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China.
Rich people who want your blood —The Food and Drug Administration is officially not a fan of Elizabeth Báthory. On Tuesday, the agency sent out an advisory warning people to avoid clinics and companies that promise to rejuvenate health with infusions of blood plasma taken from young people. Among other things, they noted, there’s no proof these treatments do anything at all, let alone that they reverse the sands of time.

Huawei no threat to UK, Germany — Despite persistent US allegations of Chinese state spying, Britain said it is able to manage the security risks of using Huawei telecom equipments and has not seen any evidence of malicious activity by the company, a senior official said on Wednesday. Asked later whether Washington had presented Britain with any evidence to support its allegations, he told reporters: “I would be obliged to report if there was evidence of malevolence […] by Huawei. And we’re yet to have to do that. So I hope that covers it.” Germany has also found no evidence.
‘Unhackable Blockchain’ is getting hacked — Early last month, the security team at Coinbase noticed something strange going on in Ethereum Classic, one of the cryptocurrencies people can buy and sell using Coinbase’s popular exchange platform. Its blockchain, the history of all its transactions, was under attack. An attacker had somehow gained control of more than half of the network’s computing power and was using it to rewrite the transaction history.

Sickness — Hundreds have fallen ill in a US Salmonella outbreak tied to raw turkey, with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reporting more than 60 new cases in 24 states since its last report in December.
Philippine measles outbreak linked to anti-vexers — Thousands of people have been infected in a measles outbreak that has been linked to the deaths of 136 people, according to the Philippine health secretary. The Associated Press reported that most of those who died were young children, with roughly half between the ages of 1 and 4. The US Pacific Northwest is also facing an ongoing measles outbreak.

The Apocalypticon ~ That wall, idiots and sticks, measles, Spanish, 3D gun, data wars, threats to life, processed food, greener China


The wall, and blocks — Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, the president of the US can declare an emergency for just about anything. As President Trump has considered using that authority to circumvent Congress and build a wall along the Southern border, that near-unlimited presidential power has gotten a lot of attention. Lots of presidents have used emergency powers in the past for, you know, emergencies. Trump’s declaration is categorically different, since the president is using his power to fund a border wall far bigger and more expensive than Congress was willing to pay for. [This is what you get for giving a big idiot a big stick.]
More bricks in the wall — Two women who were detained and asked to show identification after speaking Spanish in a convenience store in Montana are suing US Customs and Border Protection, saying the CBP agent violated their constitutional rights when he detained them and asked to see their identification.  [This is what you get for giving a little idiot any kind of stick.]
Talking about idiots and sticks — Amid a measles outbreak in Washington state that officials have confirmed has spread to at least 51 people and suspect to have spread to over a dozen others, hundreds of people showed up to a rally on Friday to demand the right to keep exposing their kids to the possibility of contracting easily prevented, potentially fatal illnesses.
3D gun printer had a hit-list of lawmakers — A Dallas man was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday after the authorities caught him with a partially 3-D-printed rifle and what federal prosecutors described as a hit list of lawmakers in his backpack.
Fox News doesn’t want anti-Nazi content on its channel — Fox News has refused to air an ad for the short documentary film A Night at the Garden.
The 7-minute movie, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award, explores the terrifying day on February 20, 1939 when thousands of American Nazis held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. [That sick feeling when you see your grandfather giving a Sieg Heil … no, not me, I’m not American.]
Sexual assaults still rising at US military academies — Congress is keeping watch and the military has introduced prevention programs. Yet sexual assaults at military service academies keep rising. The leaders of those academies got an earful when they testified before a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Threats to life: US teens not sleeping or exercising — That is the unhealthy lifestyle of nearly all US high school students, new research finds.
Nanoparticals cause blood vessel leaks — A research group in Singapore has found that nanoparticles can cause blood vessels to become ‘leaky,’ which could help cancer spread in the body.
Yes, processed food shortens lives — A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine tracked diet and health over eight years in more than 44,000 French men and women. Their average age was 58 at the start. About 29% of their energy intake was ultraprocessed foods including instant noodles, soups, breakfast cereals, energy bars and drinks, chicken nuggets and many other ready-made meals and packaged snacks. They discovered an increase in early death.
Post-surgery more lethal than HIVm tuberculosis and malaria combined — About 4.2 million people worldwide die every year within 30 days of surgery. That’s more than from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Data wars — Older satnavs and such devices won’t be able to use America’s Global Positioning System properly after April 6 unless they’ve been suitably updated or designed to handle a looming epoch rollover.
Photo-sharing service 500px announced it was the victim of a hack back in July 2018 — Personal data was exposed for all the roughly 14.8 million accounts that existed at the time.
Swiss invites hackers to sort eVoting — The Swiss government is offering bug bounties of up to CHF 50,000 (around $50,000) to anyone who can expose vulnerabilities in its internet-based e-voting system in a test later this month.

In good news — India and China are actually managing to get [literally] greener. I know, surprising, right?

The Apocalypticon ~ New Cold War, data pain, the cold, rich kids, people run-out, Earth eating, British Co2


New Cold War! It’s official: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the US will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, a landmark agreement first signed in 1987 that helped protect the world from nuclear war. [But hey, it’s going to make some very rich people very much richer. Yay for them.]
Russia’s defence minister has already ordered work to begin on new land-based intermediate range missiles, to be ready within two years.

NASA created a visualisation of the Polar Vortex

Talking about the cold — Rising temperatures in the Himalayas, home to most of the world’s tallest mountains, will melt at least one-third of the region’s glaciers by the end of the century (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) even if the world’s most ambitious climate change targets are met, according to a report. If those goals are not achieved, and global warming and greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates, the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100, according to the report.
Polar vortex — It was cold in the Continental US. Colder than Alaska, Mars (technically), and even parts of Antarctica, which isn’t so surprising because it’s presently summer in Antarctica, but sounds wild nonetheless.
A new gif by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the Aqua satellite offers a visual depiction of the dramatic and deadly cold snap, demonstrating temperatures plummeting to -40C.
Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the British Met Office.

Painful data — If you’ve experienced terrible pain after negative experiences online, you’re not alone. New research from Microsoft suggests that such agony is widespread, with over a third of global internet users reporting “moderate or severe pain” from online experiences, including 5% of survey respondents who said they suffered “unbearable pain.”
Crypto-pain — Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX says it cannot repay most of US$262 million in client holdings after its founder Gerald Cotten, the only person who knew the passwords to its “cold storage,” unexpectedly died in India in December 2018. [OK, I’m aware I shouldn’t find that funny.]
House Democrats tell Ajit Pai to stop screwing over the public — The US House Commerce Committee is “reassuming its traditional role of oversight to ensure the agency is acting in the best interest of the public and consistent with its legislative authority,” Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) said.
FBI wants your DNA — There are plenty of reasons to be wary of at-home DNA testing, particularly if you’re concerned about genetic privacy.
That’s especially true now that it’s come to light that FamilyTreeDNA, one of the largest private genetic testing companies, is cooperating with the FBI to give its agents access to its genealogy database.
German curbs Facebook — Facebook has been ordered to curb its data collection practices in Germany after a landmark ruling that the world’s largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent.
AI hears your anger in 1.2 seconds — MIT Media Lab spinoff Affectiva’s neural network, SoundNet, can classify anger from audio data in as little as 1.2 seconds regardless of the speaker’s language — just over the time it takes for humans to perceive anger.
Aussie cop used police databases for Tinder trawls — An ex-cop in Western Australia has been gaoled for six months for using police databases to snoop on the records of dozens of women he’d encountered on dating sites such as Tinder and PlentyOfFish.
Russian government accessing corporate data — A Dutch security researcher found credentials for the Russian government’s backdoor account for accessing servers of businesses operating in Russia.
Huawei admits security issues — In a remarkable piece of honest self assessment, Huawei has produced a letter to a UK House of Commons committee member in response to security concerns raised by the UK Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in its annual report, a body that includes Huawei, UK operators and UK government officials.

Rich kids in school cheating with their Apple Watches — There is one demographic that has embraced the Apple Watch with open arms: tech-savvy, upper middle-class teens and tweens. The Watch is a convenient workaround for classroom cell-phone bans; it can be used for everything from texting to cheating on tests. [That’s progress …]

Billions more people … or not — By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consuming people on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations. But what if they’re wrong? Not by a rounding error, either. By billions.
Eating like you’re going to save the Earth — That’s what Brian Kahn tried for Gizmodo. 
French government pays out to Holocaust survivors — Around three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust ended with the extermination of at least six million Jews, some survivors, as well as victims’ families and estates, are receiving reparations from France, in acknowledgment of the government’s role in deporting them to Nazi death camps via French trains.

Any good news? A little: the UK’s CO2 emissions peaked in the year 1973 and have declined by around 38% since 1990, faster than any other major developed country. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Around the world in hatey ways


Your world is going to shatter — So says Eric Hinton. But then, it always has and it always will. Trump shut down the US, and now there’s ‘untold morale problems’. This is what happens when giant ego strikes general workforce. The US may have added 304,000 jobs in January, but the shutdown boosted unemployment to 4%.
And people can’t afford to buy homes as their student dept is too high.
But hey, maybe a robot will call to ask how you’re doing?

The cold doesn’t help — Medical effects of extreme cold: why it hurts and how to stay safe. Meanwhile, it’s been toasty and humid in Auckland while Australia bakes under a record-breaking heat wave. [See-saw …]
Bangkok closing schools thanks to pollution — Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok has been dealing with shitty air quality all month, but now the incessant air pollution has forced the city to close schools for the rest of the week.

How about a war then? The US and Russia are stocking up on missiles and nukes for a different kind of war. [Coz you know, when you can’t govern, you’re messing up the planet but won’t admit it and there’s terrible pollution, why not go to war?]

Tech-wars — Yes, we have them too. A Russian government agency has reportedly been ‘strong-arming’ Apple.
A new website exposes the extent to which Apple cooperates with Chinese government internet censorship, blocking access to Western news sources, information about human rights and religious freedoms, and privacy-enhancing apps that would circumvent the country’s pervasive online surveillance regime. [To me, willingly colluding with a corrupt regime for profit is the same as being a corrupt regime.]
China’s so wonderful, right? A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for ‘subverting state power‘. [In other words, for criticising state power.]
Want to cut Microsoft out of your life? It’s probably no longer possible.
Billions of records getting passed around — When hackers breached companies like Dropbox and LinkedIn in recent years, stealing 71 and 117 million passwords, respectively, they at least had the decency to exploit those stolen credentials in secret, or sell them for thousands of dollars on the dark web. Now, it seems, someone has cobbled together those breached databases and many more into a gargantuan, unprecedented collection of 2.2 billion unique usernames and passwords, and is freely distributing them on hacker forums and torrents. [And you think governments won’t partake?]
Government hacks in Japan — The Japanese government has approved a law amendment that will allow government workers to hack into people’s Internet of Things devices as part of an unprecedented survey of insecure IoT devices. The survey will be carried out by employees of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Costly older Tinder daters —Tinder is supposed to dish out $US17.25 million ($24 million) worth of cash and in-app features to users over the age of 29 who were required to pay extra for their subscription services.

Want to eat better? It may be be better for the planet, but what will it do to you? Luckily, the simple answer is that a healthy pattern of eating is one that encompasses a broad array of foods. [Duh!]

And the good news? Give your anger a name and you may be able to tame it. And I like this story, too: researchers used a grainy photograph of a toppled train combined with an eyewitness account to analyse the deadly earthquake that struck San Francisco over 110 years ago.

The Apocalypticon ~ Doomsday Clock, angry religious left, less GOP women, Tech A-holes, China, surveillance, Earth, asteroids, pollution, climate change profits, skills not degrees


Close to midnight — Last year brought the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s famed Doomsday Clock as close as it’s ever been to midnight. This year’s update will test if you’re a glass half full or empty person: the clock is at the same daunting precipice it was last year thanks to the “two simultaneous existential threats” of climate change and nuclear war, as well as growing concern over efforts to debase truth and information warfare. [That’s three existential threats if you ask me. Also, if it actually strikes midnight, we presumably won’t be here to notice.]
Trump provokes religious left — Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organised a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda, a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights and racial justice. [Oh my God, the terrible threats of peace, love and understanding! What would Jesus do?]
Republicans, meanwhile, face a gender crisis — New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik is deeply worried about her party. “We are facing a crisis level of Republican women in Congress,” Stefanik said, noting there are only 13 Republican women in the US House, down from 23 last session. [Maybe GOP means ‘Guys of Power’?] “Women candidates typically come out of a cohort of college-educated women. And there are far fewer college educated women identifying as Republicans these days,” Christine Matthews, a GOP pollster, told NPR after the event. [Funny, that.]

But wait, we also have the Tech A-holes: Facebook and genocide — Facebook, a tech company the United Nations said has been literally complicit in genocide, has a new feature that’s being rolled out this week. And there’s a very good chance that it’s going to be abused, no matter what assurances the company provides. [I deleted mine. Couldn’t feel better.]
Facebook to amalgamate messaging apps — Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, plans to integrate the social network’s messaging services WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger to assert his control over the company’s sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandals. [Yeah, great …]
Google wants to limit the abilities of workers to organise — Google’s employees have captured international attention in recent months through high-profile protests of workplace policies. So Google has been quietly urging the US government to narrow legal protection for workers organising online.
Seriously, it’s time to take control of your online profile!
Meanwhile, US tech companies sell their surveillance services to dictators — The intermingling of privately sold technology and authoritarian regimes is hardly an outlier.

But none of that gets China off the hook — Is China really using Huawei to hack the world’s communications? UK Wired thinks it’s not that easy to tell.
Debtor proximity alerts — China is gearing up to launch a social credit system in 2020, giving all citizens an identity number that will be linked to a permanent record. Like a financial score, everything from paying back loans to behaviour on public transport will be included. One aspect of this social credit system is a new app in the northern province of Hebei that warns you when a debtor is close. [Find My Unfriends …]

The planet Earth — According to a survey of asteroid craters at least 10 kms (6.2 miles) wide, the number of asteroids slamming into Earth has nearly tripled since the dinosaurs first roamed.
CO2 will be going up even more — The level of climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is forecast to rise by a near-record amount in 2019, according to the British Met Office.
Not just plastic polluting the ocean: noise, too — That’s right: ship-mounted seismic guns firing at the ocean floor to find more oil.
Pofiting from climate change — Despite capitalism playing a huge role in the problem of climate change, companies remain committed to the system and are already planning on how to profit from our misery. [Honestly, read and weep! As a species, we really can be nauseating.]

Is there any good news? A little. According to the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, it’s important that tech companies focus on hiring people with valuable skills, not just people with college degrees. [And guess what? They’ll have way less debt, so may be generally less anxious.]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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