Tag Archives: climate change

The Apocalypticon ~ Fake news, tech calumny, cartel phones, radioactive, plastic not fantastic, China, climate change, filthiest animal

Fake news: it’s us! Over the last year, ‘fake news’ has gone from being a niche concern that charlatans exploited for profit, to a code red existential threat to the fabric of society … But our scientific understanding of how and why false stories spread is still limited. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab are diving in to correct that blind spot and for anyone looking to point a finger, Gizmodo has some bad news. It’s not all bots: ‘major Twitter influencers’ [perhaps they really should be called Twats] were more likely to share true stories.
Twitter has also suspended several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality.
Meanwhile, Facebook subsidiary Instagram and its competitor Snapchat have both disabled GIF-embedding service Giphy after an extremely racist image began spreading via the platform.
Hacking Team’s developers are actively continuing the development of spyware, and Reddit says it has identified and removed hundreds of Russian propaganda accounts. [Or is that Reddit propaganda?]

Shadowy phones for drug cartel — For years, a slew of shadowy companies have sold so-called encrypted phones, custom BlackBerry or Android devices that sometimes have the camera and microphone removed and only send secure messages through private networks.
Now, the FBI has arrested the CEO of one of the most established companies, Phantom Secure, as part of a complex law enforcement operation, according to court records and sources familiar with the matter.

Radioactivity — Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation has released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation’s highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn’t fully work.
So what about bricks? A team of researchers at North Carolina State University thinks they have a simple way to detect the leftover radiation simply by taking a core of material out of a brick. Something like this could be important for things such as nuclear weapons inspections. [I can do that just from a place name: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl …]
So, how about ‘better’ nuclear plants? Scientists want to create miniature suns in power plants here on Earth. [Yeah, this idea doesn’t worry me at all.] MIT has announced it is working with a new private company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) to make nuclear fusion finally happen. CFS recently attracted a $US50 million ($64 million) investment from the Italian energy company Eni, which it will use to fund the development.

Plastic water bottles full of plastic-filled water — The bottled water industry is estimated to be worth nearly US$200 billion a year, surpassing sugary sodas as the most popular beverage in many countries. But its perceived image of cleanliness and purity is being challenged by a global investigation that found the water tested is often contaminated with tiny particles of plastic. [I’ve always found this so absurd for so many reasons: this just adds another. Water should always be heated and filtered through ground coffee for maximum safety.]

China wants to bar people with ‘bad social credit’ from trains and planes — People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. [This from a country dumb enough to willingly give its authoritarian leader even more power.]
The suspected Chinese cyber-espionage group dubbed TEMP.Periscope appeared to be seeking information that would benefit the Chinese government, said FireEye, a US-based provider network protection systems. The hackers have focused on US.maritime entities that were either linked to, or have clients operating in, the South China Sea.
But hey, at least the pollution has diminished. Over the past four years, pollution in China’s major cities has decreased by an average of 32%.
But be careful, the Chinese space station may still wipe out your city. [From Heavenly Palace to Earth-smashing malice.]
Is this why Frazzled Chump wants a Space Force? 

Half a degree more global warming could flood out 5 million more people — A new study finds that by 2150, the seemingly small difference between a global temperature increase of 1.5 and 2° Celsius would mean the permanent inundation of lands currently home to about 5 million people, including 60,000 who live on small island nations.
Extreme winter weather in the US has been linked to the warmer Arctic. Extreme winter weather is two-to-four times more likely in the eastern US when the Arctic is unusually warm.
In Florida, wildlife officials are smashing the skulls of iguanas. Over the past decade, the population of this invasive lizard has absolutely exploded. Native to Mexico and Central America, these herbivorous lizards were introduced to the state as pets, but they have since taken Florida by storm, munching on plants and flowers in gardens, and damaging footpaths and seawalls with their burrows. [So officials smash ’em.] The head-bashing technique falls within the bounds of Florida’s animal cruelty laws …
But, in ‘good’ news … Around 74,000 years ago, a massive caldera erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, triggering a prolonged and devastating volcanic winter. Scientists have speculated that the Toba eruption pruned back human populations to a considerable degree, but new research published today suggests at least one group of humans living in southern Africa not only managed to survive the event, they actually prospered.

For a bit of fun, what do you reckon is the filthiest animal? Gizmodo asked the experts. [Don’t worry, humans get a mention.]

(Image from Gizmodo)

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Say you wake up one morning, and 40% of people no longer exist. That’s the honeymoon vision of apocalypse, as ridiculous as that sounds … because it is ridiculous. If people didn’t just evaporate, which you have to admit is extremely unlikely under any imaginable apocalyptical scenario, the immediate problem is getting rid of the dead. There are 56 houses in my street. If there are three people in each, averaged out, that’s 168 people. At 40% mortality, that’s 67 bodies to cope with straight away …”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Futurology ~ Planets, Mars, probes, seafloor, robots, weather and mass extinctions

The Rosetta probe is having its comet-ride closest to the sun
The Rosetta probe is having its comet-ride closest to the sun

‘Young Jupiter’ — Astronomers from Stanford and the Kavli Institute have discovered a new exoplanet orbiting 51 Eridani that strongly resembles a young Jupiter. They say its similarities could help us to understand how our own solar system formed. It’s a convenient discovery, because 51 Eridani is less than 100 light-years away, and only about 20 million years old.
~ Phew, it’s still youthful! 

Rosetta probe now in serious tanning range — The European Space Agency has released pictures taken by the Rosetta probe at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as it reached its closest approach to the Sun. The comet has now travelled 750 million kilometers since Rosetta arrived, and the increased solar radiation has caused ices to sublimate and created jets of gas.
~ Break out the sunblock! You are at perihelion!

Mars One still completely full of s__t — After watching a two-hour debate on the feasibility of the Mars One mission last night, Maddie Stone thinks she finally understands its problem. “It’s not that the company is broke. It’s that we don’t yet have the technology to sustain human life on Mars, and Mars One still won’t admit it.”
~ That’s fighting’ talk. But basically, if you go there, you will die, but you might not even make it as you might die on the way. Not really selling it, Mars One.

Hubble might soon look like a toy — The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will be “in many ways a hundred times” more capable than Hubble, isn’t launching until 2018, but already astrophysicists are thinking about its successor. They’re calling it the High Definition Space Telescope (HDST) which would have a 12-metre segmented mirror.
~ I actually already have toys that look like toys – much cheaper.

PinataDigital seafloor map can help in climate change predicting — We know less about the deep ocean than we do about the surface of Mars. But if we want to really understand how humans are impacting the Earth, we need to start looking deep into the murk. That’s why scientists created the first digital map of the seafloor’s geologic composition. The latest map, published in the journal Geology, is the first to describe the diverse sedimentary composition of the seafloor. And that’s important, because patterns in sediments can help scientists unravel past environmental changes and predict our planet’s future.
~ But it looks like a piñata. And it missed New Zealand again. 

Universal language — We know a lot about language but we know relatively little about how speech developed. Most linguists agree a combination of movement and sound like grunts and pointing probably got us started, but how we decided which sounds to use for different words remains a mystery. Now, an experimental game has shown that speakers of English might use qualities like the pitch and volume of sounds to describe concepts like size and distance when they invent new words. If true, some of our modern words may have originated from so-called iconic, rather than arbitrary, expression—a finding that would overturn a key theory of language evolution.
~ And you were hoping it was love …

Cheap, 3D-printed stethoscope challenges top model — Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician working in the Gaza strip, has 3D-printed a 30-cent stethoscope that beats the world’s best $200 equivalent as part of a project to bottom-out the cost of medical devices. It out performed the gold-standard Littmann Cardiology 3. They now intend to make a range of ultra-low cost medical devices for the developing world.
~ Yay! I can hardly wait for the affordable pulse oximeter. And also to know what that is.

Robot builds robots, learns and builds better ones — An experiment was carried out at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with ETH Zurich, and the results were published in the journal PLOS One. A mother bot (a big robotic arm) designed, built, and tested “generations” of ten “kids”: tiny, cube-shaped bots. The mother used what it observed in each experiment to churn out even better-performing offspring the next go-around.
~ I think the best response is ‘oh shit’.

Robo-Weather — Microsoft researchers Ashish Kapoor and Eric Horvitz are using machine learning to make more accurate weather predictions over a 24-hour period. So while this robo-brain won’t be able to help you with a five-day forecast, it can more accurately tell you if rain or shine is more likely during the course of your day.
~ If only we could tell if it was raining just by feeling, seeing or hearing it …

Robots simulate mass extinctions — By simulating a mass extinction on a population of virtual robots, researchers have shown these cataclysmic events are important contributors to organisms’ ability to evolve, a finding that has implications to evolutionary biology, the business sector – and even artificial intelligence.
~ OK, this is now all too robo-incestuous.

Futurology ~ Zombie Stars, Pillars of Creation, Comet pic, astronaut neurons, Infrastructure Age, morphin’ wings, Social Media and forests on climate change

This  image of the 3km wide comet was captured by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft on April 15th.
This image of the 3km wide comet was captured by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft on April 15th.

Zombies at the centre of the galaxy — NASA spotted the x-ray glow with its NuSTAR telescope array. X-rays in the area aren’t uncommon, but this particular patch was different: stronger, brighter, more intense than anything surrounding it, and, strangest of all, seemingly with no cause.
Now, researchers have come up with a series of ideas that might explain them, and almost all of them involve dying stars that feast on their neighbours.
~ So, not Egg from Our Walking Dead Up North, then.

Goodbye to the Pillars of Creation — One way or another, the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula are toast. Based on new observations at the European Southern Observatory, these awe-inspiring structures have another three million years before their ghostly image fizzles away into cosmic nothingness. Actually, there’s a good chance they were already destroyed over a thousand years ago.
~ But what are they holding up?

Nicest picture of comet so far — A stunning view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko shows what happens when it moves closer toward the Sun: it ejects gas and dust that gets left in its wake. And it looks gorgeous too (main picture).

Radiation in space may alter astronaut’s neutrons — NASA hopes to send the first round-trip, manned spaceflight to Mars by the 2030s. But a study in mice suggests particles from cosmic rays could alter the shape of neurons, impairing astronauts’ memories and other cognitive abilities.
~ They leave as people. They arrive as damaged mice. With damaged memories, they may wonder why they wanted to go there, which I’m already wondering now.

New test suggests NASA’s “impossible” EM Drive will work in space — Last year, NASA’s advanced propulsion research wing made headlines by announcing the successful test of a physics-defying electromagnetic drive, or EM drive. Now, this futuristic engine, which could in theory propel objects to near-relativistic speeds, has been shown to work inside a space-like vacuum.
~ I get it! Space is also a ‘space-like vacuum’!

The Information Age is over. Please welcome the Infrastructure Age — The age of information tech isn’t exactly finished, it has just matured to the point where all we keep getting better iterations of the same thing: better cameras and apps for our phones, VR that actually works. But these are not revolutionary gadgets, just realizations of dreams that began in the 1980s, when the information revolution transformed the consumer electronics market.
But now we’re we’re entering the age of infrastructure gadgets
~ It will transform our relationship to energy. 

Morphing wings could  turn planes into fuel-savers — NASA’s new wing design adjusts its flaps mid-flight. NASA teamed up with the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and Michigan-based engineering firm FlexSys Inc to create a new type of wing that tailors its flap angles from -2 degrees to 30. These flexible wings can be adjusted up and down to make the aircraft more aerodynamic to make aircraft lighter, and also less noisy during takeoff and landing.
~ The airline industry must be in a flap about this. 

Instragrammed climate change — Social media’s ability to so easily capture and share observations has inspired a new citizen science project to use tools like Instagram and Twitter to document evidence of climate change. It’s called ISeeChange.
~ Why not? Citizen Reporting has already replaced journalism.

China’s Great Wall of Trees — China’s monster, 32 million-acre army of trees is a step in the planet-saving direction. According to a recent study in Nature Climate Change from researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia, humans have planted enough vegetation since 2003 to consume four billion tons of carbon worldwide, thanks largely to China.
~ Always nice to hear something positive about China’s environment. 

Green Cook, next-gen USB, Mac anti-malware 2015, and Conan parodies the U2 giveaway controversy

Fast and reversible, with video – the USB we've always wanted
Fast and reversible, with video – the USB we’ve always wanted

Apple CEO Tim Cook shares ‘optimistic’ views on reversing climate change & selling green products to consumers — Taking part in the Climate Week NYC kickoff on Monday, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook expressed a self-described “optimistic” outlook on his company’s ability to affect climate change, saying that he believes that consumers, when given the choice, will do the right thing and buy green products.
[I feel like this Mac News section could almost be called Cook News these days!]

Next-gen USB 3.1 Type-C connector will support DisplayPort, 5K video output — The new USB 3.0 reversible Type-C connector (above) will also support DisplayPort Alternate Mode with screen resolutions of “4K and beyond,” the standards setting group behind the technology announced on Monday. [Finally, a totally sensible connector!]

McAfee announces 2015 editions of its antivirus and security suites — If you’re still paying for your desktop security suite, you’ll be happy to hear that McAfee on Monday released the newest editions of its security suites. The new lineup includes McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2015, McAfee Internet Security 2015, McAfee Total Protection 2015, and McAfee Live Safe 2015 for Mac and Windows. [Phishing is the biggest threat to Macs.]

Conan’s “documentary” about Apple’s U2 removal program is incredible — The public reaction to Apple’s giveaway of U2’s latest album was decidedly mixed. Some people were excited to find the new album in their iTunes account, while a large contingent of users either didn’t want to hear it or found the way the giveaway was handled an invasion of privacy.
From the Great U2 Controversy of 2014 comes a short ‘documentary’ of sorts from the parody factory at TBS’ Conan. Apple’s U2-Removal Service goes the extra step in making sure you forget every aspect of hearing the new U2 album, even if it means rewriting your brain. Enjoy. (And here’s Bono’s comeback, if you’re interested.)