Tag Archives: Apocalypse

The Apocalypticon ~ Tech support, people, nature, Cheese Zombies, water


‘Tech support’ — A team of scammers recently sneakily filmed dozens of Australians by remotely accessing their webcams, then uploaded those videos onto YouTube, according to Australian news outlet ABC.
Unfortunately for customers of MyHeritage, a genealogy and DNA testing service, a researcher uncovered 92 million account details related to the company sitting on a server, according to an announcement from MyHeritage. The data relates to users who signed up to MyHeritage up to and including October 26, 2017 – the date of the breach.
Journalist’s data seized — According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump, according to The Hill. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the number under the Obama administration, which had already prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.
Zuckerberg grilled at angry shareholders meeting — One investor compared the social network’s poor stewardship of user data to a human rights violation. Another warned that scandal is not good for Facebook’s bottom line, and one advised Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to emulate George Washington, not Vladimir Putin, and avoid turning Facebook into a “corporate dictatorship.”
Apple set on ‘jamming’ Facebook — The next version of iOS and macOS will frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users. At the company’s developer conference, Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi said, “We’re shutting that down,.” He added that Safari – you know, the FREE SECURE BROWSER ON EVERY APPLE DEVICE (see below), would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity.
Apple also declared war on ‘browser fingerprinting‘.
Why you should ditch Chrome —
 Unlike Chrome, Firefox is run by Mozilla, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for a ‘healthy'” internet. Its mission is to help build an internet in an open-source manner that’s accessible to everyone – and where privacy and security are built in. Contrast that to Chrome’s privacy policy, which states that it stores your browsing data locally unless you are signed in to your Google account, which enables the browser to send that information back to Google … [Honestly, the amount of Apple users I have met who insist on using Chrome as a browser and worse, Gmail accounts when there’s privacy-protecting Safari on every Mac and Apple device already, and secure, encrypted free iCloud email! Grrr! Bloody madness!]
Psychopathic AI — A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a psychopathic algorithm named Norman, as part of an experiment to see what training artificial intelligence on data from “the dark corners of the net” would do to its world view. Unlike most “normal” algorithms by AI, Norman does not have an optimistic view of the world. [I almost wish that was running the US instead of Trump – at least there’d be some logic to it.]
Chinese government hackers have compromised the computers of a US Navy contractor, stealing massive amounts of highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare – including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on US submarines by 2020, according to American officials. The breaches occurred in January and February, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
At least five cryptocurrencies have recently been hit with an attack in the last month– one that used to be more theoretical than actual.
Carbon bubble burst will hurt — The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst, and posits that such a slump is likely before 2035 based on current patterns of energy use.

People — More than 50,000 union workers in Las Vegas are set to go on strike if new contracts are not settled and at the top of the list of concerns for the Culinary and Bartenders Unions is protection against robot replacements.
Suicide rates are up by 30% across the US — Amidst all the name calling and straw man arguments about the overall health of America, sometimes it helps to look at data from people who sacrificed everything based on their perception of reality. Whatever politics you subscribe to, the feeling of hopelessness is evidently real, and frightening. Suicide rates are up by 30% across the nation since 1999, federal health officials have reported.
Opioids caused 1 In 5 deaths of young people in the US in 2016 — A new study published by JAMA Network Open highlights just how devastating the crisis has been to certain age groups. In 2016, it found, opioid overdoses were responsible for a fifth of all deaths among people in their mid-20s to 30s — a fivefold increase from 15 years ago.

Nature — Biggest iceberg ever set to break up: the  iceberg is so large that even smaller chunks of it were behemoths in their own right. By 2014, the largest remnant was B-15T, which was so thick it kept running aground. One of those last-made icebergs, B-15Z, may now be nearing the end of its life. At the end of May 2018, the International Space Station crew captured an image of B-15Z that showed a crack running right down its middle. It’s ten miles by 5!
How microbes survive in ‘sterile’ spacecraft — Rakesh Mogul, a Cal Poly Pomona professor of biological chemistry, was the lead author of an article in the journal Astrobiology that offers the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason contamination persists. The research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities, finding that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used during spacecraft assembly …
Asteroid strikes Africa soon after it was detected — A meteor lit up the sky over Botswana, Africa, early Saturday evening local time. Scientists discovered the 2m-wide asteroid just hours before it reached – and struck – Earth.
Hurricanes are slowing down and that’s a bad thing. The pace at which hurricanes move across the planet is slowing, according to new research. This suggests Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas last year, may not have been an anomaly, and that highly destructive, slow-moving tropical storms are becoming more common.

Finally, some good news: Cheese Zombies! In the late 1950s, a school district in Washington’s Yakima Valley received an excess of subsidized cheese. Faced with the abundance of dairy, the food services supervisor (or, by other accounts, a local cafeteria cook) invented a new sandwich that soon appeared on cafeteria menus: the Cheese Zombie.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “There’s more to water than meets the eyes, of course. Cities like London, New York and Moscow have entire teams and systems dedicated to pumping water away from underground systems built deep underground.”

Advertisements

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebotch, Big Brothers and another excerpt


Facebook has booted AggregateIQ, the Canadian election consulting firm that built data tools for sketchy election firm Cambridge Analytica, this week on the grounds that it may have received some of the extensive data on 87 million Facebook users the latter company received through a partnership with an app.
Facebook is also suspending a data analytics firm called CubeYou from the platform after CNBC notified the company that CubeYou was collecting information about users through quizzes. CubeYou misleadingly labeled its quizzes “for non-profit academic research,” then shared user information with marketers. [I would guess ‘sold’ rather than ‘shared’, myself. ] Almost 10% of Americans have already deleted their Facebook accounts.

(Image from Atlas Obscura’s article on Soviet industrial design)

Does that sound bad? How about this, then – the data could be in Russia: Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie says the data the firm gathered from Facebook could have come from more than 87 million users and could be stored in Russia. The professor who was managing the data harvesting process was going back and forth between the UK and Russia, you see. Hooray!
So Facebook has a dubious plan to ‘improve’ the situation.

Better passwords — Anyway, here’s some advice on better passwords. Read it!

Bigger Brothers: a man in China got caught by his face — The man was reportedly caught by facial recognition software running on cameras at a concert identified him. That’s despite there being over 50,000 people attending the concert, which took place in Nanchang. Law enforcement in the country has increasingly been turning to facial recognition software to surveil the public for persons of interest.
The Indian government intends to build an identification system of unprecedented scope. The country is reportedly “scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones.” [All of these ventures are for the betterment of humanity. Well, 1% of humanity, anyway.]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Authorities often scramble security and defence forces to combat ‘panic’ and looting after disasters. In fact, though, if you think back to news reports you have seen, this is rarely the case. For example, flooding swamps a community and emergency services respond, and of course they are extremely helpful and proficient, but almost inevitably they arrive to find people towing the disabled on boats, helping fill sandbags and passing around supplies.
These scenes are often captured by the very same news crews that would have you believe the people on the ground are panicking, paralysed or looting, ‘so thank God (or whatever) the authorities have arrived’.
Of course, some people do those unhelpful things too, but the point is, most people do not.

The Apocalypticon ~ Hackers, water, China, Space-X hole, medical, stupidity, apocalypse


But wait! There is more from the a-holes at Cambridge Analytica — Cambridge Analytica got its hands on millions of people’s Facebook likes in 2014 by getting an academic, Aleksander Kogan, to design an app with a personality test that hoovered up data from the 250,000 or so Facebook users that took it, as well as from their millions of friends. Cambridge Analytica then used all those likes combined with the magic of big data to help put Donald Trump in the White House. But that’s only the half of it ….
It may be a while since you’ve heard the handle Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who took responsibility for the infamous DNC hack of 2016. Reports from the intelligence community at the time, as well as common sense, pegged Guccifer 2.0 not as the Romanian activist he claimed to be, but a Russian operative. He messed up once, and now Guccifer 2.0 has been fingered as a particular GRU officer working out of the Russian agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.
AI outsmarting its creators — A paper recently published to ArXiv highlights just a handful of incredible and slightly terrifying ways that algorithms think.

Gyre-normous — The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is filled with 79,000 metric tonnes (87,000 tons) of plastic, and that’s between 10 to 16 times higher than previous estimates, according to new research.
Marine researchers say recent sea star wasting disease epidemic defies prediction. Some sea star communities on the west coast could recover, but marine scientists still can’t pinpoint the environmental factors behind the unprecedented disease outbreak.
The number of people short of water could rise to 5.7 billion people by 2050. Currently, about 3.6 billion people are estimated to be living in areas with a potential for water scarcity for at least one month per year.

China’s terrifying “social credit” system isn’t planned to be fully implemented until 2020, but we’re already seeing facets of it being put in place. In May, people who have committed acts of “serious dishonor” will reportedly be unable to travel on trains or flights for up to a year.
And China has approved the creation of one of the world’s largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image. [Greetings from George Orwell, and good luck with that.]

Space-X made a hole — The Falcon 9 rocket that launched last August reportedly ripped a temporary hole in the ionosphere due to its vertical launch.

Cell tower cancer link — Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy announce that a large-scale, lifetime study (PDF) of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer.
A massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five US deaths. Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths  had harbored levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe.

People asked to name women tech leaders said ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ — The tech industry has a persistent problem with gender inequality, particularly in its leadership ranks, and a new study from LivePerson underscores just how depressingly persistent it truly is. When the company asked a representative sample of 1000 American consumers whether they could name a famous woman leader in tech, 91.7% of respondents drew a complete blank, while only 8.3% said they could. But wait, it gets worse: Of those 8.3% who said they could name a famous woman tech leader, only 4% actually could — and a quarter of those respondents named Siri or Alexa. [OMFG.]

The duelling visions for how humanity will survive — By 2050, the world’s population will top ten billion. As industrial capitalism evolves across the globe like no time in human history, will our planet’s ecosystem be able to sustain itself during this rapid transformation? Charles C. Mann’s grapples with these problems in The Wizard and the Prophet.
We’re sleepwalking into a mass extinction, say scientists. The most biodiverse aquatic communities may be the most vulnerable to extinction. Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record[But some of us are looking at the stars. We could become a galactic wrecking crew rather than just an Earthbound one.]

But yes, there’s a little good news: A few decades ago, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policies. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What’s left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west. But Kazakhstan’s North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. [Great, huh? Hah!]

The Apocalypticon ~ around the world and (almost) back again


Around the world … A survey of satellite data published in the journal Cryosphere [links to a PDF] confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: ice loss from the critical region of Antarctica is happening at an increasingly fast pace.
Antarctica lost roughly 1929 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) of ice in 2015, which amounts to an increase of roughly 36 gigatons per year every year since 2008. Nearly 90% of that increase in loss occurred in West Antarctica, “probably in response to ocean warming,” according to NASA.
Photos and video emerging from the Indonesian island of Sumatra are absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, no one has been hurt, but the smoke and ash bubbling from Mount Sinabung after an eruption on February 19th is like watching a mythical monster slowing taking over the sky (left).
High levels of microplastics have been found in Northwest Atlantic fish. A study, published in open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science, found microplastics in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic.
And in the US, where a deranged president is urging teachers to get armed and trained [oh yay, schoolyard firefights, they won’t be dangerous …], legislators declared porn is a health risk but assault weapons are fine.
But actually, America’s greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries’ capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group.
The latest bug to hit Apple devices wrought havoc on the internet.The issue, which has become known as the Telugu bug, gave people the ability to crash a wide range of iPhone, Mac and iPad apps just by sending a single character from the third-most-spoken language in India. Apple patched the bug a few days later (so update your Apple devices!) because mean-spirited users took to using the Telugu symbol to “bomb” other peoples’ devices. By adding the symbol to a user’s Twitter name, you can crash the iOS Twitter app simply by liking someone’s tweet.

Emerging risks of AI — A new report authored by over two-dozen experts on the implications of emerging technologies is sounding the alarm bells on the ways artificial intelligence could enable new forms of cybercrime, physical attacks, and political disruption over the next five to ten years.

Bonkers clock — Depending on the day, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is either the richest or second richest human on Earth. And while he’s trying to figure out how to use some of that money philanthropically, he announced construction has begun on the giant clock in the middle of nowhere that he put up $US42 million to build. The 10,000 Year Clock is intended as a symbolic reminder that we should consider the long-term impact of our actions.
~ Or he could spend that money on actually helping people … twat

Finally, some goodish news: more than 50% of Australia’s coal fleet will be over 40 years old by 2030, and the Australian electricity grid, along with these ageing fossil fuelled power stations, are increasingly vulnerable to worsening extreme weather events.
To reach zero carbon pollution well before 2050 in order to effectively tackle climate change, Australia needs to increase reliance on renewable energy. The good news is that Australia could reach 50% renewables by 2030 even without significant new energy storage.

The Apocalypticon ~ Space bling, Spectre, climate denial, CIA exploit, Alzheimer sugar, Trump in sights


New Zealand disco ball in space is bad for science — When NZ-based Rocket Lab launched a 91cm-wide mirror ball into orbit. Called Humanity Star, it’s supposed to remind us that we’re all puny specks of dust living in the terrifying vastness of the Universe. Some astronomers have spoken out about the stunt, claiming the sparkly object will interfere with their work – one even compared the abusiveness of the act to sticking “a big flashing strobe-light on a polar bear”.
~ The bigger problem is the precedent this otherwise useless satellite creates. Basically, Rocket Lab spent a fortune to launch a useless bit of bling into orbit. 

Hardwired meltdown — Linux progenitor Linus Torvalds has already shared his feelings regarding the bungles of Spectre and Meltdown. They weren’t happy ones. Now that patches are available, Torvalds is even less impressed, describing Intel’s effort as “complete and utter garbage“. Torvalds stated that “the whole hardware interface is literally mis-designed by morons” and the way Intel has approached the problem “implies [it] will never fix [the interface].

White House seeks 72% cut to clean energy research — The Trump administration has made it very clear that it is pro fossil fuels and has little interest in pushing programs the promote renewable energy. The Washington Post has reported that the president’s proposed 2019 budget slashes funds for Energy Department programs focused on energy efficiency.
~ When an ostrich buries its head in the sand, you’re basically presented with its arse. 

Major report nixes negative emission tech anyway — Senior scientists from across Europe have evaluated the potential contribution of negative emission technologies (NETs) to allow humanity to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets of avoiding dangerous climate change. They find that NETs have “limited realistic potential” to halt increases [PDF] in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the scale envisioned in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios. None of the NETs have the potential to deliver carbon removals at the gigaton (Gt) scale and at the rate of deployment envisaged by the IPCC, including reforestation, afforestation, carbon-friendly agriculture, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs), enhanced weathering, ocean fertilisation, or direct air capture and carbon storage.

A 15-year-old convinced Verizon he was the head of the CIA — A British teenager managed to obtain access to sensitive US plans about intelligence operations in different Middle East countries by acting as former CIA Director John Brennan, a court heard on Friday. Kane Gamble, now 18, researched Brennan and used the information he gathered to speak to an internet company and persuade call handlers to give him access to the spy chief’s email inbox in 2015. He pretended to be both a Verizon employee and Brennan to access Brennan’s internet account.
~ This is not hacking so much as exploiting gullibility. 

More evidence of a strange link between sugar and Alzheimers — People with high blood sugar stand to experience worse long-term cognitive decline than their healthy peers, even if they’re not technically type 2 diabetic, new research suggests. The findings are not the first linking diabetes with impaired cognitive functions, but they’re some of the clearest yet showing blood sugar isn’t just a marker of our dietary health: it’s also a telling predictor of how our brains may cope as we get older.

Trump claims memo vindicates him but it doesn’t, and Mueller has made more progress than most think — In a tweet over the weekend that the controversial Nunes memo “totally vindicates” him. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if anything, the Mueller investigation appears to have been picking up steam in the past three weeks – and homing in on a series of targets.
~ This is, therefore, in the ‘good news’ category. 

The Apocalypticon ~ ‘Free’ speech, robots, ‘smart leaders’


How free is that speech? For most of modern history, the easiest way to block the spread of an idea was to keep it from being mechanically disseminated. Shutter the news­paper, pressure the broad­cast chief, install an official censor at the publishing house. Or, if push came to shove, a loaded gun at an announcer’s head. Now we’re in the Golden Age of free speech – and twitter bots and fake news. Here are six tales of modern censorship for you.
And Snap, an instant messaging service, had a simple message to its employees: leak information and you could be sued or even jailed. The chief lawyer and general counsel of Snapchat’s parent company, Michael O’Sullivan, sent a threatening memo to all employees last week. [OK, who leaked the memo?]. Sure, whose even heard of Snap? Apple isn’t allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained “objectionable content” and “has no direct benefits to the user!” [From ‘Way to go, Apple!’ to ‘You have a way to go, Apple.] Eventually, though, it was allowed.

Robotic progress and fears — An interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the US Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and who has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War).
Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, “a cloud of air and ground robotic systems”). But he also argues that “In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don’t know.”
Our greatest fear these days may be the singularity: when the abilities of AI and robots surpass those of humans, growing so advanced that civilization is forced to reboot as humanity spirals into existential dread. Or worse, the machines turn us into batteries, à la The Matrix. But perhaps we should instead consider the dangers of the Multiplicity.

Smart leaders smart — Intelligence makes for better leaders, from undergraduates to executives to presidents, according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. [I’m more afraid of idiots who think they are smart. You know, like really, really smart.]
And how ‘smart’ is this? In September 2017, Mark Zuckerberg quietly bought a 106.68m ‘exploration yacht’ for $US150 million. However, a Zuckerberg spokesperson has soundly denied the Facebook CEO bought the ship. It’s potentially a giant escape yacht’. The massive ship “can sail halfway around the world without refuelling and is designed to endure the toughest weather conditions” – making it the perfect vessel to wait out an impending apocalypse that only the billionaire creator of Facebook knows about. [Well, Zuck, you’ve got to get to that yacht first.]
But wait … dirt might save us. And California is going to close its last nuclear power plant.

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


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

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

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

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

(Image from The Mercury)

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

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

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

The Apocalypticon ~ It’s all about phones, data breaches, Facebook hate, maps, move more, sheltering with Kristen Bell


Trump administration sued over phone searches at US borders — The Trump administration has engaged in an unconstitutional practice of searching without a warrant the phones and laptops of Americans who are stopped at the border, a lawsuit filed last week alleged. From a report:Ten US citizens and one lawful permanent resident sued the Department of Homeland Security in federal court, saying the searches and prolonged confiscation of their electronic devices violate privacy and free speech protections of the US Constitution. DHS could not be immediately reached for comment. The lawsuit comes as the number of searches of electronic devices has surged in recent years, alarming civil rights advocates. One approach is to encrypt your phone data, of course, and it’s not that hard (but proceed cautiously as I have heard of people locking themselves out of their own devices irretrievably).
And what do do about ‘mega-breaches‘ like the Equifax debacle? This put 143 million US consumers’ personal data at risk, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and even some drivers license and credit card numbers. For safer email, maybe the only answer is to write text-only messages.

Facebook enabled hard of Jews — ProPublica is reporting that Facebook “enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater,’ ‘How to burn jews,’ or, ‘History of why jews ruin the world.'” The organization even went so far as to test these ad categories by paying $30 to target those groups with three “promoted posts” – in which a ProPublica article or post was displayed in their news feeds. Facebook reportedly approved all three ads within 15 minutes.

Mapping errors — the mountains of Kong form a magnificent, impassable mountain range in West Africa. Luckily it’s not real. But that didn’t stop 19th-century writers from waxing poetic about its formidable, snow-capped peaks, or illustrious cartographers from including it in historical maps. Old maps, though, also show how humans have wrecked the Florida reefs.

Aliens might save us yet — A fascinating new paper theorises that alien civilizations could reshape their homeworlds in predictable and potentially detectable ways like we have. The authors are proposing a new classification scheme that measures the degree to which planets been modified by intelligent hosts.

Spilled salmon — Last month, a pen in Washington State holding hundreds of thousands of fish broke, sending swarms of silver Atlantic salmon swimming to the south and north. As you’re no doubt aware, Washington State is not on the Atlantic. Now, these invasive fish have been reported as far as 240km away in Canada.

An alarming study indicates why some bacteria is more resistant to antibiotics in space — To learn more about why some germs seem harder to kill in near-weightless conditions, scientists aboard the ISS recently doused a batch of bacteria with antibiotics – an experiment which resulted in a series of startling physical changes that may be helping the bacteria to survive and thrive in space.

But wait, this is moving! Well, it should be. Moving your body at least every half hour could help to limit the harmful effects of desk jobs and other sedentary lifestyles, research has revealed. The study found that both greater overall time spent inactive in a day, and longer periods of inactivity were linked to an increased risk of death. So t’s relatively easy for most of us to stave that off.

And finally, if that’s not good enough news, actor Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars, Scream 4,  FrozenBad Moms etc) songs from Frozen to people sheltering from Hurricane Irma in Orlando. Among those sheltering was actor Kristen Bell, who helped cheer up gathered Floridians by performing Frozen hits at a shelter.
Cool, or what?

The Apocalypticon ~ Nazis. Trump. Putin. Germany. Sexist machines. Fish wars. Accuweather fixes dodgy app.


Nazis. We’ve recently seen the ugliest face of white nationalism in the United States. In both its structural and personal forms, racism shouldn’t surprise anyone (unfortunately).
As political scientist David Karpf has argued, these violations must be met with penalties or the norms fade away. However, just to underline US presidential hypocrisy on this kind of thing, President Trump just pardoned controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted for disobeying a judge’s order to stop detaining people illegally, seemingly because he was popular! But even if you knew that virulent hate groups existed, they’re fringe enough that most have never spoken to their members. If people engage with them, can they be recruited back into humanity?

Lamar wall cloud with very large hail falling. Taken on chase of this extreme storm near Lamar in Colorado, Denver, North America, USA. (At least Accuweather has nixed its app’s secret tracking behaviour.)

Trump’s equivocation has even managed to put off the Russians. The Kremlin had long played along with President Trump’s extreme rhetoric while he lionized Vladimir Putin – meanwhile cultivating the American right’s faith-based, family-oriented, anti-immigrant agenda. But Trump’s failure to instinctively condemn Charlottesville’s swastika-toting marchers seems to have crossed a bright red line for them. Defeating Hitler’s Germany as 27 million Soviet citizens died is a key pillar of Russian national pride; recently the Russian media has expressed dismay over the president’s equivocation. Relations had already soured – now, indulging the ghosts of fascism may forever taint Moscow’s formerly favourite US leader.

Germany, though, reckons it cannot end up with a Trump. Seven decades after World War II, a leader like President Donald Trump would have almost no chance of political success in Berlin thanks to the unique historical, political, social and cultural stories of the United States and Germany and the tumultuous path they have taken over the last century.
~ Seems like a hell of a price to pay to get to that conclusion – can America do it without world war and a Holocaust? But it’s a good question:
“Why does the US, the political, moral and military leader of the Western world since the end of World War II, now have a dangerous laughing stock, a man who has isolated his country, as its president? Why does Germany, a former pariah, now enjoy a more positive political standing than ever before?”
“There will be time for reflection. Hopefully there will be time to rebuild. But now it’s simply time to be ashamed.” [My italics.] So tweeted Republican Garrett Johnson after Trump won the Republican presidential ticket, but soon after he was attempting to get tech experts into Trump’s administration teams. But tech practitioners have been abandoning Trump, and the administration’s tech team remains largely empty. The Office of Science and Technology, for example,  employs just 40 people, down from roughly 130 under Obama.

Machine learning failures because they learned from humans. Ironic or what? Two prominent research-image collections – including one supported by Microsoft and Facebook – display a predictable gender bias in their depiction of activities such as cooking and sports. Images of shopping and washing are linked to women, for example, while coaching and shooting are tied to men. Machine-learning software trained on the datasets didn’t just mirror those biases, it amplified them.
~ So our pure machines are now sexist. Nice one, tech nerds. Maybe it would be better if men simply weren’t allowed to vote

Fish wars coming — Battles over politics and ideologies may be supplanted by fights over resources as nations struggle for economic and food security. These new conflicts have actually already begun – over fish.
In 1996, Canada and Spain almost went to war over the Greenland turbot. Canada seized Spanish vessels it felt were fishing illegally, but Spain did not have the same interpretation of the law and sent gunboats to escort its ships. In 1999, a US Coast Guard cutter intercepted a Russian trawler fishing in the US exclusive economic zone. The lone cutter was promptly surrounded by 19 Russian trawlers. Fortunately, the Russian Border Guard and the Coast Guard drew on an existing relationship and were able to defuse the situation… Japan protested when 230 fishing vessels were escorted by seven China Coast Guard ships in the waters of the disputed Senkaku Islands. Incidents in the South China Sea between the Indonesian Navy and Chinese fishing vessels and China Coast Guard have escalated to arrests, ramming, and warning shots leading experts to suggest only navies and use of force can stop the IUU fishing.

Finally, some good news — Responding to privacy concerns (as reported last week on Mac NZ), AccuWeather is out with a new version of its iOS app that removes a controversial data sharing behavior. Earlier this week, security researcher Will Strafach called attention to the practice in a post and users took to Twitter to announce their intention to dump the app in droves. “AccuWeather’s app employed a Software Development Kit (SDK) from a third party vendor (Reveal Mobile) that inadvertently allowed Wi-Fi router data to be transmitted to this third-party vendor,” the company wrote in a statement accompanying the app update. “Once we became aware of this situation we took immediate action to verify the operation and quickly disabled the SDK from the IOS app. Our next step was to update the IOS app and remove Reveal Mobile completely.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Sans Sharif, climate instability, bot-soldiers, Trump of course, piggybacking flood rabbits, Android virus vulnerability


Best headline this week: ‘Pakistan now Sans Sharif’ — Ever since the Panama Papers were anonymously leaked back in 2015, there has been a major shift in the political situation in many countries. One such is Pakistan, where the names of numerous members of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family were spotted in the papers.
To deflect examination, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz submitted photocopies of several documents in order to deny corruption, but the documents were dated February 6, 2006 and contained Microsoft’s Calibri font. Which wasn’t commercially available until January 30, 2007.
Hah! Sharif has now been disqualified from his position as a part of the court’s final verdict of the case.

Climate change is fostering instability, bot attacks and Trump’s military — Climate change will escalate instability across the globe and make it harder for the US military to conduct its operations, according to two former admirals, a retired general, a once-ambassador to Nigeria, and the former undersecretary to the Secretary of Defense. Nothing they said, however, was all that new. In fact, the Department of Defense has known about, and sometimes planned for, the security threats created by climate change for well over a decade.
Maybe that’s why they want attacking bot-swarms to replace soldiers? Even though top soldiers have warned about the dangers of such things. Will Trump listen or care? probably not, as Trump’s mind-defying ban on transgender troops certainly cuts down the pool or available humans who want to kill people, sorry ‘defend’ people.
Trump: I consulted the military about the transgender ban. The military: no you didn’t. [This is what ‘streamlined government means, people.]

Researchers have discovered multiple unpatched vulnerabilities in radiation monitoring devices that could be leveraged by attackers to reduce personnel safety, delay detection of radiation leaks, or help international smuggling of radioactive material. Ruben Santamarta, a security consultant at Seattle-based IOActive, at the Black Hat conference on Wednesday, saying that radiation monitors supplied by Ludlum, Mirion and Digi contain multiple vulnerabilities.
But vulnerabilities are also opportunities. The Black Hat and Def Con security conferences now have a booming side business in recruitingWild rabbits escape floods on the backs of NZ sheep — Really. This remarkable scene was captured by a New Zealand farmer who said he’d never seen anything like it.

Antivirus for Android is pretty bad — Researchers at Georgia Tech who analyzed 58 mainstream options found that many were relatively easy to defeat, often because didn’t take a nuanced and diverse approach to malware detection. So have fun with those, Meanwhile, the forthcoming Apple iOS 11 will disable “Auto join” for any network which suffers from low speed issues or is deemed to be generally unreliable. Good-oh.

the Apocalypticon ~ Facebook bug, 3D ID, CIA hacks, Russian election infiltration, Trump heat, Apple answers


Facebook leaks to terrorists — Facebook first posted a detailed explanation of its counter-terrorism program, defending itself from criticism by European leaders in the wake of recent terror attacks in Britain and France and stating there is “no place on Facebook for terrorism.” But any goodwill earned by that post seems to have lasted less than a day, as a report revealed that a “bug” affecting more than 1000 Facebook content moderators inadvertently exposed some of their identities to suspected terrorists.
~ Tick’Dislike’

A French artist says he received a national ID Card using a computer-generated headshot — With a stunt that will probably see France initiating changes to its National ID card program, an artist named Raphaël Fabre submitted a photorealistic computer-generated image of himself – and he says it was approved without question. Fabre told Gizmodo that he modelled it by hand using 3D software, instead of digitising his head using a laser scanner.
~ If 3D models could have voted in the US, I doubt we’d have ended up with Trump. 

CIA hacking routers — In the latest instalment of its Vault 7 series of leaks, WikiLeaks has disclosed an alleged CIA program known as CherryBlossom. Its purpose is to replace a router’s firmware with a CIA-modified version known as FlyTrap. In some cases, WikiLeaks says, physical access to the device may not even be necessary.

The classified intel Trump leaked — President Trump spilled highly classified intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office. We now have a report on what kind of intelligence Trump shared. The extremely sensitive info was about ISIS plans to hide bombs in consumer electronics. And it came from Israeli cyber specialists who infiltrated a group of bombmakers in Syria.
~ Clearly, the man is a genius. 

Russia’s US election infiltration — If you had any doubt that Russian hackers attempted to meddle with the United States electoral system, a new report from Bloomberg states that not only did Russia go after a voting software supplier in one state (as previously reported by The Intercept), Putin’s cyber army reportedly targeted systems in 39 states. The hackers attempted to manipulate voter databases, the voter registration process, and voting machine software.
~ That’s in four out of five US states … Meanwhile, Trump’s defenders say his opposition will do anything to bring them down, without bothering to wonder why that might be. 

Here’s all the people Trump has blocked on Twitter — Trump loves Twitter because any brain spasm he has can be instantly translated into a thoughtless missive launched into the ether. Unfortunately, in addition to Trump’s loyal armies of patriots and trolls, Twitter also hosts both liberals and members of the lying liberal media – people who do not show President Trump the respect he believes (fervently) that he deserves. And for that, they must be blocked.
Trump has recently trained his sights on higher-profile targets. On the morning of June 13, Trump blocked the account for VoteVets.org, a group representing over 500,000 veterans, family members and civilian supporters. Not long after, Trump also blocked Simpsons extra and occasional novelist Stephen King.

Is it so bad the world gets a little hotter? Actually, yes — Many of us have at least a dim apprehension that the world is flying out of control, that the center cannot hold. Raging wildfires, once-in-1000-year storms, and lethal heat waves have become fixtures of the evening news—and all this after the planet has warmed by less than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.
But here’s where it gets really scary. If humanity burns through all its fossil fuel reserves, there is the potential to warm the planet by perhaps more than 10 degrees Celsius and raise sea levels by hundreds of metres. This is a warming spike comparable in magnitude to that so far measured for the End-Permian mass extinction. If the worst-case scenarios come to pass, today’s modestly menacing ocean-climate system will seem quaint. Even warming to half of that amount would create a planet that would have nothing to do with the one on which humans evolved, or on which civilisation has been built. The last time it was 4 degrees warmer there was no ice at either pole and the sea level was hundreds of metres higher than it is today.
But I always like to end with at least a little hope …

According to the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration, wind and solar produced 10 percent of the electricity generated in the US for the first time in March — The Hill reports: The Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) monthly power report for March found that wind produced 8 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. that month, with solar producing 2 percent. The two sources combined to have their best month ever in terms of percentage of overall electricity production, EIA said. The agency expects the two sources topped 10 percent again in April but forecasts that their generation will fall below that mark during the summer months.

Apple issued a Green Bond after Trump edited the Paris Climate Agreement — Apple offered a $1 billion bond dedicated to financing clean energy and environmental projects, the first corporate green bond offered since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. The offering comes over a year after Apple issued its first green bond of $1.5 billion – the largest issued by a US corporation – as a response to the 2015 Paris agreement. Apple said its second green bond is meant to show that businesses are still committed to the goals of the 194-nation accord.
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, who feels he has had to work with Trump, defended this be stating “I feel a great responsibility as an American, as a CEO, to try to influence things in areas where we have a level of expertise. I’ve pushed hard on immigration. We clearly have a very different view on things in that area. I’ve pushed on climate. We have a different view there. There are clearly areas where we’re not nearly on the same page. We’re dramatically different. I hope there’s some areas where we’re not. His focus on jobs is good. So we’ll see. Pulling out of the Paris climate accord was very disappointing.”
In fact, some people have decided Cook’s stance is almost presidential …
~ But gosh, who would Samsung-using PC fans vote for? 

The Apocalypticon ~ Surviving pandemic, hackers’ old doorway, Chumped, deaf, Norwegian doomsday vault, ancient cannibals


Let’s start with some advice — how to survive the next catastrophic pandemic. Experts say it’s not a matter of if, but when a global scale pandemic will wipe out millions of people. And we are grossly unprepared for the next major outbreak. But in the event of a devastating pandemic – whether it be triggered by a mutated strain of an existing virus or a bioengineered terror weapon – there are some practical things you can do, both before and during the outbreak, to increase your odds of survival.
~ Phew. But good luck finding space for all the supplies you’ll need. 

Russian hackers still using the same old route — About a year ago, the two-decade-old trail of a group of Russian hackers led Thomas Rid to a house in the quiet southern English village of Hartley Wintney. Rid, a cybersecurity-focused political science professor and historian, wrote a long-shot email to David Hedges, a 69-year-old retired IT consultant who lived there.
Rid wanted to know if Hedges might somehow still possess a very specific, very old chunk of data: the logs of a computer Hedges had used to run a website for one of his clients in 1998. He did, and researchers accordingly now say they’ve found a piece of vintage malicious code in that trove that survives today, as part of the arsenal of a modern-day team of Russian hackers, known as Turla, who are believed to have Kremlin ties.

Sorry, but we had to get to Chump sooner or later. Is he finally upsetting his alt-right bedrock? Despite plummeting approval ratings (recently down to 35%) and a GOP rapidly distancing itself from his unhinged policy proposals, Trump’s most ardent supporters remained steadfast buoyed by anonymous imageboards, Twitter eCelebrities, a healthy dose of faked fervour from botnets, and a dedicated subreddit which bans dissenting views. They spun positive narratives out of a cabinet which has habitually lied to the public, and a president who has followed through on none of his campaign promises.
But with the recent  airstrike on Assad’s forces in Syria, which some already speculate will lead to a full-scale war, even these zealots who believe they memed the man into the world’s most powerful office can’t find a speck of good news buried under the rubble.
~ It is bizarre – Trump cozied up to Russia while denying links, next minute he’s attacking the corrupt regime Russia has been propping up. Ouch, is this the end of the Putin/Trump bromance?

US 5-billion dollar agency can’t hire a deaf interpreter. That’s because despite being in charge of keeping an eye on the entire planet with the most advanced imaging technology in the world, and with an estimated annual budget of at least $5 billion, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has a position for a sign language interpreter but they’re not allowed to fill it because Donald Trump imposed a federal hiring freeze, arbitrarily leaving thousands of job vacancies across the US government.
~ Ah, that genius the alt right voted for, again. Let’s hope none of them are deaf. OK, I’ll leave that up to you. 

Just in time for doomsday, Norway’s ‘Doomsday Vault’ is getting an expansion. Officially known as the World Arctic Archive, the new vault opened this week and has already taken submissions from two countries. This time, instead of storing seeds that will survive the apocalypse, the vault is archiving data using specially developed film.

Ancient people didn’t eat other people for the calories. I’m not sure if this is good news or not, but a new, slightly morbid study based on the calorie counts of average humans suggests that man-eating was mostly ritualistic, not dietary, in nature among hominins including Homo erectus, H. antecessor, Neandertals, and early modern humans. On average, an adult male human contains 125,822 calories of fat and protein. When compared with other animals widely available to ancient man like mammoths (3,600,000 calories), wooly rhinoceroses (1,260,000 calories), and aurochs (979,200 calories), it hardly seems worthwhile to hunt hominins that are just as wily and dangerous as the hunters, the researchers conclude.
~ So maybe it was more like an ancient form of Scrabble: Hard Scrabble.

The Apocalypticon ~ crowd killdozer, poison back, prep for space war, online self-defence, volcano no longer dormant


Crowd control ‘killdozer’ — Slovenian company Bozena has created an all-new RIOT system, a crowd-control killdozer for all your protest-suppressing needs. The vehicle’s shield has launching ports designed for guns or other projectile launchers and the trailer is capable of displacing the water/foam or its mixtures (available additives: pepper or painting substances) under the high pressure into the distance of several dozen meters. Yay.

Chumpian overturns pesticide ban  — Government scientists at the EPA concluded that a pesticide sprayed on crops was toxic. A few months later, Scott Pruitt comes into the agency as Trump’s appointee, looks at the agency’s petition to ban the substance, and denies it. He decided that, although the substance is proven to be poisonous, he’d rather keep spraying crops with it.
America, America …

The US ‘should’ prepare for a space war — Coz, well, why the hell not? Recently, two US military officials said that America should be getting ready for a war in space. Their advice was seemingly bolstered by a Hill article penned by two US national security experts this week, which reminded Americans that North Korea could in theory use a satellite weapon to send an electromagnetic pulse over the United States, triggering widespread blackouts and ultimately, societal collapse.
~ Should we be giving them credit for imagination?

Feeling assailed? You can defend yourself online — Congress has just dismantled a set of Obama-era internet privacy rules. In effect, the Republicans just gave big telecom companies unfettered access to people’s browsing history and will even let ISPs sell that data for profit. Here’s how to keep your data from snooping ISPs, and how not to protect your privacy online.

Volcano erupts after centuries of dormancy — Just in case this has all been too cheerful for all you Aucklanders, who famously live in a city dotted with dozens of inactive volcanoes, one in Russia just erupted after at least 250 years of not doing anything. Sorry.