Futurology ~ Universal origin, Arctic crater, new magnet, important obscure car, smart sneakers, connection cutting, cow Tinder, Planetary Health Plate, new Sauropod


The Primula debuted the now nearly ubiquitous transverse front engine/front wheel drive design

Origin of the Universe — NASA has announced it will create a new telescope mission, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer. Luckily we can call it SPHEREx for short. It’ll look at how our universe has changed, and how common the ingredients of life are in the Milky Way.
~ Maps it.

Another Arctic crater, 35kms across — NASA glaciologists used topographical maps, satellite images, and radar scans to analyse an area of the Arctic and found a flat, bowl-shaped depression in the bedrock. This was surrounded by an elevated edge and characteristic central peaks, which form on the crater floor after an impact. The crater has eroded significantly over time, causing the team to estimate it was created somewhere between a hundred thousand years and a hundred million years ago.
~ Those big white bits of Earth must be easier to aim at. 

A new kind of magnet — It has been theorised for decades, and now may have been experimentally proven to exist. It could eventually lead to better data storage devices. In a normal magnet, the magnetic moments of individual grains align with each other to generate a magnetic field. In contrast, in the new “singlet-based” magnet, magnetic moments are temporary in nature, popping in and out of existence.
~ I like singlets, especially in this weather, but they singularly fail to make me more of an attractant. 

The most important car you’ve never heard of — According to Gizmodo, the Autobianchi Primula (main picture, above) is perhaps the most technically influential car ever, because the fundamental theory and design of that car dictated the template that most modern cars use today. Fiat built almost 75,000 Primulas between 1964 and 1970.
~ And now, I have heard of it. But to me it looks rather distressingly like an Austin 1100. 

Smart sneakers not dumb — The right shoe of every pair of UnderArmour HOVR shoes contains a chip that connects with the Map My Run app (also owned by Under Armour). With it, you can keep track of metrics like distance, pace, splits, cadence, and stride length.
~ You know you want ‘personal gait coaching’!

Cutting connection — Internet entrepreneur Arianna Huffington sees a bright future for a new kind of technology — the kind that helps individuals disconnect from the damage done by the internet’s first generation. And it can’t come soon enough, she says, as the next generation of technology may pose an ever greater threat to our lives and jobs.
~ So the next big thing in tech might be tech that lets us disconnect from tech …

Tinder for cows — UK farming start-up Hectare has launched its own equivalent for livestock. It’s called ‘Tudder‘. The app features data profiles of animals from 42,000 UK farms in an effort to help farmers find the perfect breeding partner for their cattle.
~ Cud-dle time.

The planetary health plate — This is a diet put together by scientists as a general guide for how to feed a projected 10 billion humans in 2050 while also keeping the planet from keeling over. It consists largely of vegetables and whole grains.
~ This has pretty much been my diet for the last 30 years. What are you doing? 

‘New’ dinosaur — Living 140 million years ago in the early Lower Cretaceous, the newly discovered herbivore Bajadasaurus pronuspinax had a thing for growing spikes. It was part of the Sauropod family, but looked a little like a small Brontosaurus crossed with a porcupine.
~ OK, then. 

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. 

Futurology ~ Galaxy hidden, Mars water wells, light-based 3D prints, online kidney stones, better weather, body heat power, ancient dino feather


A new way to harvest electricity from body heat could inspire new wearable devices that never need to be plugged in

Hidden galaxy discovered next door — While inspecting a known globular cluster, a team of astronomers began to notice that some of its stars didn’t seem to belong. Investigating further, they realised the anomalous stars were part of a nearby galaxy previously unknown to us.
~ OK, it’s a previously unknown dwarf spheroidal galaxy.

Mars could support wells — A science paper available for download [pdf] cites evidence from about two dozen deep impact craters located from the equator to 37 degrees north latitude that Mars has a ground ice table at an elevation that also corresponds to other shoreline features. This suggests a deep groundwater water table (as ice), though it would be almost entirely underground.
~ Bet that tastes just delicious. 

Light-based 3D printer — A research team from the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has created a printer that shines light onto specific spots in a rotating resin which solidifies when exposed to a certain light level. This forms the entire item all in one go, rather that forming items by laying down one layer of material at a time, like most 3D printers.
~ Prints take from from 30 seconds to a few minutes, compared to hours.

Hydrogel gets stronger under stress — A research group in Japan has found a method to develop stronger, longer-lasting materials using a strategy inspired by the process responsible for muscle growth. The team led by Professor Gong Jian Ping of Hokkaido University, Japan, developed what they call double-network hydrogels made from 85% water and two types of polymer networks—one rigid and brittle, the other soft and stretchable, mimicking the way muscle strengthens as it’s worked.
~ So beware when future robots start working out. 

Online service predicts kidney stones — A calculator devised by researchers called the Recurrence Of Kidney Stone (ROKS) model was originally developed and released to the public by the Mayo Clinic in 2014, as both an online tool and smartphone app. But the original version could only predict someone’s likelihood of getting a second stone following their first episode.
Now the researchers have detailed the creation of an upgraded ROKS capable of predicting later episodes that need medical care no matter how many stones someone has already had.
~ Start me up …

A modern five-day forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was in 1980 — Over the past few decades, scientists have gotten significantly, even staggeringly, better at predicting the weather. Modern 72-hour predictions of hurricane tracks are more accurate than 24-hour forecasts were 40 years ago.

Body heat power — Researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have developed a new method of harvesting electricity from body heat to power wearable devices. The new, wearable thermoelectric generator is sourced from non-toxic and non-allergenic substances, making it a viable candidate for wearable technology. The substrate on which the generator is built is plain old cotton fabric.
~ Well, pants to that. 

Dinosaur feather — Using advanced imaging technology, scientists have shown that a fossilised feather uncovered in the 19th century likely didn’t belong to the bird-like Archaeopteryx as conventionally believed. The 150-million-year-old fossilized feather was uncovered in 1861 within Late Jurassic limestones from the Solnhofen area of southern Germany. The diversity of bird-like Jurassic dinosaurs is likely greater than we’ve appreciated, and there are likely more fossils of unknown species still waiting to be discovered.
~ Probably will cause quite a flap, then. 

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.

Futurology ~ Earth Moon rock, brains talking, plastic replacements, stethoscope AI, thin air chargers, Neanderthal revelations, lost Homo species


Scientists have converted brain patterns into intelligible speech.

Old Earth rock brought back from the Moon — A re-analysis of lunar materials collected during the Apollo 14 mission has resulted in a rather astonishing conclusion: One of the rocks brought back appears to contain a small chunk of Earth dating back some four billion years. Incredibly, it’s now amongst the oldest terrestrial rocks known to exist.
~ Ah, that Felsite Clasp!

Neuroscientists translate brainwaves into speech — Using brain-scanning technology, artificial intelligence, and speech synthesisers, scientists have converted brain patterns into intelligible verbal speech — an advance that could eventually give voice to those without.
~ Don’t think it, don’t think it … ah, damn!

What can we use to replace plastics? The true scourge of single-use plastics is our sheer over-reliance on them. But scientists, engineers and designers are shifting their focus to ecologically friendly alternatives that create circular, low-waste ecosystems – liquid wood, algae insulation, and polymer substitutes made from fermented plant starch such as corn or potatoes, for example.
~ Mushrooms, pee , rock and slag … hoorah!

Stethoscopes boosted with artificial intelligence — The Johns Hopkins device is an electronic stethoscope that improves on digital devices currently on the market. The upgrades start with its hardware: the chest piece is packed with transducer arrays to achieve a uniform sensitivity over the entire active area.
~ So listen closely.

Super-thin sheets could charge phones — Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created super-thin, bendy materials that absorb wireless internet and other electromagnetic waves in the air and turn them into electricity. They can be made large enough to capture useful amounts of energy.
~ So your wifi might suffer coz everyone’s charging their devices? 

More Neanderthal revelations — In the past, Neanderthal humans were believed to be largely close-distance hunters. A new paper in the journal Nature, based on actual outdoor tests with multiple test subjects throwing two wooden spears closely mimicking ancient spears found in various places at a target, surmises that spear-throwing Neanderthals may in fact have been able to kill animals at distances of 18 metres (60 feet) or even greater.
~ So duck!

Denisovans and Neanderthals shared cave — A pair of new studies traces the history of archaic human occupation at the site, showing who lived there and when – including a possible era during which the two now-extinct species hung out together.
~ Well, it may have been a time-share.

Lost human ancestor found with an algorithm —  Buried deep within the DNA of Asian individuals is a genetic clue pointing to the existence of an unknown human ancestor. Remarkably, it wasn’t a human who reached this startling conjecture, but rather an artificially intelligent algorithm. Welcome to archaeology in the 21st century.
~ The mystery hominid is likely a hybrid species of Neanderthals and Denisovans: Neandersovan? Denisthal?

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.]

Futurology ~ weird orbits, moon added life, deep ice life, carbon dioxide fix, chatting cells, Alzheimers cause and cure


An artist’s impression of what Planet 9 might look like. (Don’t you love these? ‘Yes, I’ll knock something up. Ah, a planet, now what shape should that be …?’)

Weird orbits don’t require Planet 9 — The weirdly clustered orbits of some far-flung bodies in our solar system can be explained without invoking a big, undiscovered ‘Planet Nine,’ a new study suggests. The shepherding gravitational pull could come from many fellow trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) rather than a single massive world.
~ Nein, Nine, nein!

Collision that created our moon may have added life — Scientists are claiming the cosmic collision that made the moon left a host of elements behind on Earth that were crucial for life to emerge.
The impact, 4.4 billion years ago, is thought to have occurred when an itinerant planet the size of Mars slammed into the fledgling Earth, scattering a shower of rocks into space. The debris later coalesced into the moon. Beyond an act that shaped the sky, the smash-up transferred essential elements to the Earth’s surface, meaning that most of the carbon and nitrogen that makes up our bodies probably came from the passing planet.
~ Um, thanks?

Ice deep under the Antarctic — Scientists have found the bodies of tardigrades, algae, diatoms and small crustaceans in a body of water buried beneath over a kilometre of Antarctic ice, according to a news report from Nature. The carcasses originated from either 10,000 or 120,000 years ago during warming periods, after which ice smothered the lake again.
~ All tardigrades are sure to be rejoicing. Or rejuicing, maybe. 

New system absorbs carbon dioxide and produces electricity and useable hydrogen — Researchers at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) and Georgia Tech have developed a new system that absorbs carbon dioxide while producing electricity and useable hydrogen fuel.
The new device, which the team calls a Hybrid Na-CO2 System, is basically a big liquid battery.
~ We need to stop producing carbon dioxide, but also clean up what we have already produced. 

Cheaper artificial compound eyes — Scientists in China have found a low-cost way to create lenses mimicking the compound eyes of insects. Dr Wang Wenjun and colleagues at Xi’an Jiaotong University fired a laser through a double layer of acrylic glass, focusing on the lower layer. The laser caused the lower layer to swell, creating a convex dome shape.
~ I see.

Artificial cells the can communicate with each other — Scientists around the world are working on creating artificial, cell-like systems that mimic the behavior of living organisms. Friedrich Simmel and Aurore Dupin, researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), have for the first time created artificial cell assemblies that can communicate with each other. The cells, separated by fatty membranes, exchange small chemical signalling molecules to trigger more complex reactions, such as the production of RNA and other proteins.
~ Ah, the rise of the micromanipulators!

Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease, may be causing Alzheimer’s — Gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published Wednesday shows it might stop and even reverse Alzheimer’s.
~ Just gonna clean my teeth …

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.]

Futurology ~ Quad system, Titan puddles, dark-side pano, better rice, dark retro predictions, dino-tree, longest aircraft, fat-fooling cancer, moving really helps


Quadruple star system — Astronomers using the ALMA telescope have discovered an oddly tilted planet-forming disk within a double binary star system, a configuration that up until this point only existed in theory. The star system is 146 light-years from Earth, and is called HD 98800. New research published in Nature Astronomy reveals this system features an exceptionally strange protoplanetary disk.
~ Yes, but everything about space is strange to me. 

Wet Footprint Effect shows rain on Titan — Scientists have found evidence of seasons on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. Cassini’s observations of the long-overdue rain finally came in on June 7, 2016, signalling the start of Titan’s north polar summer.
~ And so ends the moon drought.

China posts Moon dark-side panorama — The Moon’s far side near its southern pole is a dead, dim place littered with pits and rocks, as the first panoramic image taken by China’s Change’ 4 lander confirms.
~ That lander sure uses a lot of tin foil! Maybe Musk is missing a trick, here?

Bioengineering increases rice yield by 27% — A new bioengineering approach for boosting photosynthesis in rice plants could increase grain yield by up to 27%, according to a study in Molecular Plant. The approach, called GOC bypass, enriches plant cells with CO2 that would otherwise be lost through a metabolic process called photorespiration.
~ Then won’t you need more water for it? Ah, that’s why we’re increasing the water yield from the frozen north and south!

“The world will just melt and the world will become one vast atomic explosion” — Some of the most interesting predictions for the future don’t come from expert futurists or well-financed think tanks, they come from average kids. Gizmodo has a video from the 1960s that features kids talking about their own vision for tomorrow. And it’s depressing as hell.
~ Gosh, I do hate it when the world melts.

Arborists are bringing the Dinosaur of Trees back to life — Arborists are cloning saplings from the stumps of the world’s largest, strongest, and longest-lived trees, felled for timber more than a century ago, to create redwood “super groves” to help fight climate change.
Already, super saplings from the project are thriving in groves in Canada, England, Wales, France, New Zealand, and Australia – not places where coastal redwoods grow naturally.
These trees are champions when it comes to eco-technology; they filter air, soil, and water and are capable of removing record amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, the leading cause of accelerating climate change, from the atmosphere.
~ Can we wait long enough? 

Longest aircraft, the Airlander 10, gets go-ahead — The world’s longest aircraft is set to go into full production with the model designed to take its first passengers. Bedford firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) has been given Production Organisation Approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The prototype £32m Airlander 10, a combined plane and airship, has been formally retired following successful final testing.
~ Longest. Not fastest.

Researchers report breakthrough in ice-repelling materials —
Researchers from the University of Houston have reported a new theory in physics called stress localisation which they used to create a durable silicone polymer coating capable of repelling ice from any surface.
Icy weather is blamed for multibillion dollar losses every year in the United States, including delays and damage related to air travel, infrastructure and power generation and transmission facilities. Finding effective, durable and environmentally stable de-icing materials has been stymied by the stubborn tenacity with which ice adheres to the materials on which it forms.
~ Cold comfort indeed. 

Fat to fool cancer cells — Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland have discovered they can prevent the formation of metastases by fooling breast cancer cells into fat cells. The proof-of-concept study was published in the journal Cancer Cell.
~ Now that’s ‘good fat’!

Movement mitigates Alzheimers — Moving more might help to keep people’s brains sharp as they age – even in the face of dementia. Scientists have found older adults fared better when it came to cognitive tasks if they clocked up higher levels of daily activity on a wrist-based tracker – something the researchers said picked up everything from exercising to mundane tasks like chopping onions.
~ I’ve always thought just moving more is better all round for everything, over fad diets and some medications. 

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.]

Futurology ~ Space radio, black hole eats, deep Pacific still cooling, CES exoskeletons, blue-teeth manuscripts


Samsung has been showing off a line of exoskeleton concepts at CES

Radio busts from space — Canadian scientists detected 13 new fast radio bursts from outer space. The mysterious, split-second, high-energy pulses reach us from unknown origins billions of light-years away. Intriguingly, one of these newly documented bursts is a repeater, becoming just the second-known repeating fast radio burst among the 60 documented so far.
~ Seven were lowest radio frequencies measured so far.

Black Hole spotted ‘eating stuff’ — A telescope on the International Space Station made an incredible high-resolution measurement of the x-rays resulting from a black hole sucking up matter that could have important implications for astronomers’ understanding of these mysterious objects.
Black holes are regions of space so massive and compact that beyond a certain point, called the event horizon, no matter or energy (including visible light) can escape their gravitational pull.
~ Scientists measured these light echoes to and incredible half-millisecond.

Deep Pacific cooling down — Most of the world’s waters may be warming as a result of climate change, but a new study shows that the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean still appear to be cooling down hundreds of years after the period in history known as the Little Ice Age.
~ There has been a lag of a few centuries in terms of temperature change in the deep Pacific, as surface waters warm up as a result of climate change.

Samsung showing off exoskeleton concepts at CES — The GEMS-H (Gait Enhancing and Motivating System) is designed to hug your hips and upper thighs like a comfortable pair of slacks (main picture, above), and then a module strapped to each leg helps you walk. Once you strap the thing on, it’s easy to forget that the exoskeleton is even there since it’s so light, and the robotic elements of it are understated.
~ I’m picturing the overweight jogging past me the way they zoom past on electric bikes while I’m puffing on my single-speed! I must admit I prefer the vision of Ripley slugging it out while wearing a ‘waldo’ in Alien

Blue pigment in 1000-year-old teeth links women to the production of medieval manuscripts — Traces of a rare and expensive blue pigment, called ultramarine, have been detected in the teeth of a woman who died in Germany nearly 1000 years ago. The discovery suggests women played a more prominent role in the production of manuscripts during the medieval period, and that ultramarine was more available in Europe than previously assumed.
~ It’s another history made secret, like all those Viking woman warriors identified a few years ago. Women didn’t get to write their own historical narratives.  

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?]

Futurology ~ Asteroid water, Earth crust, quantum-brains, 3D-printed batteries, anti-malarial gold, truck-bot, Moore’s Lawless, predictions, 1200-year-old climate fix


Scientists in South Korea and the US have used 3D printing to manufacture batteries of various shapes and sizes

AKARI finds signs of water in asteroids — A Japanese research team has used the infrared camera aboard the AKARI satellite to detect the presence of hydrated materials inside C-type asteroids.  Using the infrared camera of the AKARI satellite, a Japanese research team has detected the existence of water in the form of hydrated minerals in a number of asteroids. They reported their findings in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.
~ Makes the concept of interstellar life a little more possible. 

A huge part of Earth’s crust is missing, and now scientists may know why — The Grand Canyon is a gigantic geological library, with rocky layers that tell much of the story of Earth’s history. Curiously though, a sizeable layer representing anywhere from 250 million years to 1.2 billion years is missing. Known as the Great Unconformity, this massive temporal gap can be found not just in this famous crevasse, but in places all over the world. Using multiple lines of evidence, an international team of geoscientists reckons the thief was Snowball Earth, a hypothesised time when much, if not all, of the planet was covered in ice.
~ Cold comfort.

Quantum-computing brains — The unprecedented power of brain suggests that it may process information quantum-mechanically. Pavlo Mikheenko, a superconductivity researcher at the University of Oslo, has published a paper (PDF at that link) in the Journal of Superconductivity and Novel Magnetism suggesting that microtubule structures in pig neurons exhibit evidence of superconductivity that could represent a mechanism for quantum computing performed by the brain to achieve the brain’s phenomenal information processing power.
~ This was predicted as a possibility in 1972; now there may be proof. 

Breaking the battery mould with 3D printing — Scientists in South Korea and the US have used 3D printing to manufacture batteries of various shapes and sizes. Flexible, wireless electronic devices are rapidly emerging, and many have gone on to become commercial products. However, the batteries contained in these devices are either spherical or rectangular structures, which results in inefficient use of space. Enter 3D printers … scientists use an electrospinning process to uniformly coat electrochemically-active polyaniline.
~ Batteries can thus be printed for small-scale wearable electronic devices.

Anti-malarial drug breakthrough — A team of researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, has developed a class of gold-containing molecules that impair the malaria parasite’s metabolic function, leading to parasite death. Their findings are published in the journal Dalton Transactions.
~ Malaria has been developing drug resistance at a frightening rate. 

Aussie train may be world’s biggest robot — Mining corporation Rio Tinto says that an autonomous rail system called AutoHaul that it’s been developing in the remote Pilbara region of Australia for several years is now entirely operational, an accomplishment the company says makes the system the “world’s largest robot.”
~ They have the power and money to delete jobs thanks to voracious mining. Er, yay? 

Chip makers are circumventing Moore’s Law — Silicon’s time may have come.
~ Death Valley …

Pundits predict — What’s coming In 2019? Global thinkers make big, bold predictions in NPR.
~ Some of them are just scary. 

Climate change is affecting Peru, but there’s a 1200-year-old fix — Instead of looking for modern solutions to improve access to water, the villagers turned to an old one: centuries-old hydraulic systems that dot the Nor Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve, a state-protected natural area seven hours east of Lima. These ancient systems have been used to help irrigate the reserve’s pastures and provide nutrient-rich soil for hundreds of years.
~ Ancient smarts.

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