Tag Archives: data

The Apocalypticon ~ Capitalism over, data, disease, climate, guns, funs and hell


How many days do Americans waste commuting? Too many! (Red is the worst, at 56-77 days!)

Another week, another slew of terrors — Capitalism as we know it is over, or so suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. [Bull, you say? Maybe we’re just over capitalism.] Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. [I’m starting to wish I lived in uninteresting times.]
Just to get you in the mood: 9 movies about AI becoming self aware and killing us.

Talking about data — The voting records of some 14.8 million Texas residents were left exposed online and eventually got discovered by a data breach hunter in New Zealand. [Gotta love the ’net.]
MacAfee’s ‘unhackable’ storage was … hacked. Yep, computer programmer John McAfee released “the world’s first un-hackable storage for cryptocurrency & digital assets”, a US$120 device called the Bitfi wallet, that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage. McAfee was so sure of its security that it launched with a bug bounty inviting researchers to try and hack the wallet in return for a $250,000 award. Lo and behold, a researcher by the name of Andrew Tierney managed to hack the wallet, but … Bitfi declined to pay out!
Facebook and the Myanmar genocide — Facebook announced it has banned several members of the Myanmar military and organisations that were named by the United Nations as complicit in the genocide. Way too slowly to do any good, of course.
LinkedIn spying — The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down. [How will this look on your resumé?]
India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — And US tech companies are helping.
What’s Crap? Is OK, I will tell you: WhatsApp users on Android will be able to back up their messages to Google Drive for free and it won’t count towards Google Drive storage quotas … yay! But, as WhatsApp warns, those messages will no longer be protected by end-to-end encryption. Boo.
Trump spits Google dummy — President Trump says Google search results for ‘Trump News’ show only negative coverage about him. [Jeeze, can’t work out why … must be a plot.] A few hours later, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government. [Lol. Yeah, that’s exactly what Goebbels would have wanted.]

How many days do Americans waste commuting?  Educated Driver used Census Bureau data on average daily roundtrip commute times in hundreds of cities across the US to calculate how much time Americans spend traveling to and from work over the course of their lives, assuming a 45-year career working 250 days a year.
Speaking of Americans, who got Cohen’s $50-thou? Cohen seems to have been a very busy boy, with legal documents showing he made a $US50,000 ($68,560) payment to an unidentified “technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” The unknown payment suggests Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off people Trump had been bonking on the side.
Amid mounting acrimony with NATO, Russia’s military has announced plans to hold its “biggest exercises since 1981.” The country’s defence ministry says the massive exercise will involve some 300,000 Russian troops, more than 1000 aircraft plus the participation of some Chinese and Mongolian units.

On health — In a dangerous twist to Ebola, outbreaks are starting to crop up in distant areas. It could already be the worst outbreak to date.
Store-bought chicken could be causing UTIs — A new study published in mBio suggest urinary tract infections could be coming from Escherichia coli bacteria transmitted via poultry.
China withholds flu data — For over a year, the Chinese government has withheld lab samples of a rapidly evolving influenza virus from scientists in the United States. Specimens are needed to develop vaccines and treatments, according to federal health officials talking to The New York Times.
Pollution sapping our nutrients — According to new research, rising carbon dioxide levels will sap some of the nutrients from our crops and lead to dietary deficiencies in millions of humans. In 2014, field trials of common food crops including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans showed that as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, the levels of iron, zinc and protein decreased in the dietary staples by 3 to 17%. This could have a big impact in poorer nations.

Climate — We’re living in hell. The image above, created by NASA’s Earth Observatory, has red representing soot, purple showing dust, and blue for sea salt. Central Africa is awash in smoke from farmers clearing land for crops. And those little glowing specks across China, the eastern US, India and Europe are cities where air pollution from cars and buildings is strong enough to create a clear signal to satellites.
Air pollution is making us stupid — Air pollution causes a ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. [Ah, weren’t we stupid to create air pollution in the first place?] High pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
Japan to get a ‘most powerful’ storm — A dangerous super typhoon currently packing 274km/h winds could make landfall in Japan shortly. [Jebi nights.]
Sea level rise may seem like a far-off threat — But a growing number of new studies, including one out this week, shows that real estate markets have already started responding to increased flooding risks by reducing prices of vulnerable homes. [Aw, sucks to be you, right?]

On the lighter side — Police officers in Paraguay found that at least 42 of their battle rifles had been stolen from their armoury and replaced with toy replicas. It’s unclear if a flag with the word BANG! written on it popped out of the barrels.
Adopting Mediterranean diet in old age can prolong life, a new study suggests. The diet is typically said to be rich in fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil and fruit. [So that’s my secret?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Water absorption by the human body happens pretty fast – within five minutes of entering your mouth, it’s starting to filter into your bloodstream, with peak absorption hitting at around 20 minutes – but water at body temperature is absorbed more slowly than cold water, in case you were wondering why we instinctively prefer cooler water when we’re thirsty. “

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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.”

The Apocalypticon ~ China, surveillance, inequality, Face-oogle, data, Math Men


According to World Health Organization data, China has overtaken the United States in healthy life expectancy at birth for the first time. The data from 2016 finds Chinese newborns can look forward to 68.7 years of healthy life ahead of them, compared with 68.5 years for American babies.
The United States was one of only five countries, along with Somalia, Afghanistan, Georgia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where healthy life expectancy at birth fell in 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of the WHO data, which was published without year-on-year comparisons in mid-May. [I’m trying to get my head around 68.7-year-old babies.]
Maybe Americans should ask for more surveillance? A high school in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province located on the eastern coast of China, has employed facial recognition technology to monitor students’ attentiveness in class, local media reports. Three cameras at the front of the classroom scan students’ faces every 30 seconds, analysing their facial expressions to detect their mood. The different moods – surprised, sad, antipathy, angry, happy, afraid, neutral – are recorded and averaged during each class. A display screen, only visible to the teacher, shows the data in real-time. A certain value is determined as a student not paying enough attention.
Still sucks to be a girl, though. China’s gender gap is not confined to tech. The country’s gender parity ranking fell in 2017 for the ninth straight year, leaving China placed 100 out of 144 countries surveyed in a report by the World Economic Forum.
The country ranked 60th in terms of female labour force participation and 70th in terms of wage equality for similar work. Men on average had an estimated income of around $19,000, over $7000 more than women.
Samantha Kwok, the Australian-Chinese founder of the Beijing-based recruitment firm JingJobs, said clients often gave her two job descriptions: one to be published publicly and a second internal one that detailed requirements based on age or gender…
A greenhouse gas is billowing into the atmosphere from a source somewhere in East Asia that no one can identify at a rate scientists have never before seen, and it’s ignited a scientific dash to get to the bottom of it. In 2014, mysterious toxic plumes of CFC-11 – a type of CFC – began to drift across the Pacific Ocean. [And who left the question mark off that headline, left?]

In the data wars, Google is reminding organisations to review how much of their Google Groups mailing lists should be public and indexed by Google.com since sensitive data is being exposed. The notice was prompted in part by a review that KrebsOnSecurity undertook with several researchers who’ve been busy cataloging thousands of companies using public Google Groups lists to manage customer support and in some cases sensitive internal communications. Google Groups is a service that provides discussion groups for people sharing common interests. Because of the organic way Google Groups tend to grow as more people are added to projects – and perhaps given the ability to create public accounts on otherwise private groups – a number of organisations with household names are leaking sensitive data in their message lists.
Once, the Mad Men ruled advertising. They’ve now been eclipsed by Math Men: engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men’s adoration of data, coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their ‘science’ is nearly flawless [which has more to do with its money-making potential, I suspect], has aroused government anger much as Microsoft did two decades ago.
Unknown third parties appear to be exploiting the Chrome Store’s ‘theme’ section to offer visitors access to a wide range of pirate movies including Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Rampage. When clicking through to the page offering Ready Player One, for example, users are presented with a theme that apparently allows them to watch the movie online in ‘Full HD Online 4k’. Of course, the whole scheme is a dubious scam which eventually leads users to Vioos dot co, a platform that tries very hard to give the impression of being a pirate streaming portal but actually provides nothing of use.
That’s why we all trust Google to build military drones, right? No? Coz that’s what’s happening. In March, Google signed a secretive agreement with the Pentagon to provide cutting edge AI technology for drone warfare, causing about a dozen Google employees to resign in protest and thousands to sign a petition calling for an end to the contract. Google has since tried to quash the dissent, claiming that the contract was “only” for US$9 million, according to the New York Times. Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story: the September emails show that Google’s business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial US$15 million to an eventual US$250 million per year.
Meanwhile, users in Europe have already filed complaints against Facebook and Google, saying the tech companies are in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Apple approves Telegram update even after Russian government demands Apple shut the app down — Amidst a contentious battle with the Russian government over demands to pull Telegram, the encrypted message app, from the App Store, Apple has approved an updated version of the messaging app having seemingly blocked such changes for two months.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: Essentially, there are many threats that could wipe out huge numbers of humans. It’s worth recalling the dinosaurs were on the planet for around 60 million years before volcanoes and an asteroid wiped them out – Homo Sapiens has only been around for about 200,000 years. Yet, numbers of us may survive an apocalypse: we have done many times before.

The Apocalypticon ~ AI’s dark side, data, climate fears, humans, nuclear


AI: Google co-founder Sergey Brin warns the current boom in artificial intelligence has created a “technology renaissance” that contains many potential threats — In the company’s annual Founders’ Letter, the Alphabet president struck a note of caution. “The new spring in artificial intelligence is the most significant development in computing in my lifetime,” writes Brin. “Every month, there are stunning new applications and transformative new techniques.” But, he adds, “such powerful tools also bring with them new questions and responsibilities.” [Meanwhile I have been writing of Sergei Brin’s – and Google’s – dark side for well over a decade.]

Companies throughout China are using brainwave sensors to train workers and screen for mental fitness — More than a dozen factories are requiring workers to wear devices that use artificial intelligence to monitor their emotions. While officials say this saves money, the implications for workers are deeply troubling.

Data: and you thought Cambridge Analytica was bad …. how about Thiel’s Palantir getting the same data? British lawmakers grilled Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer last week, asking him questions about the social media company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which roughly 87 million Facebook users had their data pilfered through a personality quiz app. When one of the members of Parliament asked about Palantir having “improper access” to user data, Schroepfer confirmed the company was looking into concerns about Palantir, billionaire Peter Thiel’s highly secretive surveillance and data-analytics company that has worked with the CIA, NSA and FBI [and New Zealand’s National government spent undisclosed sums on Palantir while giving Thiel NZ citizenship … that’s right, people].
In the United States, US Immigration is getting a large amount of information from police data-mining.
Researchers have found mysterious Russia-linked malware that hijacks anti-theft software Lojack — Security researchers are warning that malware with suspected links to Russian cyber-espionage group and alleged Democratic National Committee hackers Fancy Bear is turning up in installations of Lojack, an anti-computer theft program used by many corporations to guard their assets.

Climate: London invaded by climate-change poisonous caterpillars — UK forestry officials are warning that oak processionary moth caterpillars have been sighted emerging from eggs in and near the city since mid-April. Each of the beastie’s 62,000 hairs contain the protein thaumetopoein, which can cause allergic reactions up to “skin and eye irritation, difficulty breathing and even anaphylactic shock.” The insects originate in southern Europe, but have had a presence in southern England since 2005. [Presumably, England didn’t used to be warm enough for them to thrive.]

Not-so-fresh Swiss waters — Emerging evidence toxins are also problematic in freshwater, which may even be the source. It didn’t take long for the Geneva team to find that many samples of Swiss ‘fresh’ water contained hazardous and toxic elements including cadmium, mercury and lead,  in some cases in very high concentrations.

Arabian Sea’s dead zone is even bigger — A surprising new survey shows, the Arabian Sea features an oxygen-starved aquarium over twice the size of Tasmania – and it’s still growing.

North America’s zombie deer — Scientists’ worst fears over a so-called “zombie deer” prion disease currently spreading across the US and Canada are unlikely to come to pass, suggests a long-term study published this week in the Journal of Virology.
The fatal ailment, known as chronic wasting disease (CWD) and caused by a mysterious kind of protein called a prion, doesn’t seem capable of crossing the species barrier and spreading to humans – at least according to this experiment. But other research has found otherwise ,,,

Humans: Gates thinks millions could die in a flu pandemic. Bill Gates thinks there is a new flu epidemic lurking just around the corner and we are woefully unprepared for it. The billionaire philanthropist warned today that there is a “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes”. [Millions have died in flu pandemics before.]

The rate of autism diagnoses is continuing to increase. Researchers from 11 US states enrolled in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network were brought together and asked to analyse the medical and school records of more than 300,000 children who were 8-years-old in 2014. They estimated that about one in every 59 children had autism, a 15% increase from the one in every 64 rate reported two years earlier.

Japanese researchers find people with Type O blood survive injuries less — Looking at blood type alone, they found that 28% of people with blood type O died despite medical intervention, compared to 11% of people with any other blood type. [Ouch.]

DNA service can’t even differentiate between humans and dogs — An investigation into home DNA testing kits by NBC Chicago found that at least one DNA testing company could not distinguish between the two.

Nikola is suing Tesla — In November last year Tesla revealed the Tesla Semi, a fully-electric truck that will have a range up to 800km and be able to haul a forty-tonne trailer. It looks and sounds quite impressive, but the Nikola Motor Company (a zero-emissions truck startup) wasn’t so enthusiastic.
In fact, the company believes that the Tesla Semi is infringing upon several of its design patents, so it’s suing for $US2 billion.

Nuclear: Human bone from Hiroshima reveals atomic bomb exposure — A technique originally intended for dating archaeological artefacts has been used to estimate the amount of radiation produced by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. It marks the first time a bone fragment from a victim of the explosion has been used successfully for such an analysis. The researchers measured a dose of 9.46 grays (Gy), which is very, very high. Even at half that dose of exposure, at around 5 Gy, a person who had their entire body exposed would be killed.

Underground nuclear test that did not stay underground — At 7:30am on December 18, 1970, the Baneberry test began at the Nevada Test Site. A nuclear bomb had been lowered into a hole a little more than seven feet in diameter. More than 900 feet underground, the bomb – relatively small for a nuclear bomb – was detonated.
But things went wrong. About 300 feet from the hole where the bomb had been planted, a fissure opened in the ground and a cloud of radioactive dust and vapor began pouring skyward. It would rise 8000 feet into the atmosphere; the fallout would spread over Nevada and into California and other neighbouring states.

But hey, on the good side, there’s always That Perfect Meal. And here’s a fact you really ought to know already: the Food Foundation, an independent think-tank tackling the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system, corroborates that you can’t go wrong with seasonal vegetables. [Phew!]

In more good news, maybe Earth’s poles won’t flip

Another 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 phrase sounds … because it is ridiculous. People don’t just evaporate under almost any imaginable scenario. The immediate problem will always be dealing with 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.
Of course, even that’s far too neat. There’s almost no known event from our experience that simply kills 40% of any given population in a very short time frame. Deaths would begin, and the process would take time, and there would be distress, panic, hopelessness, fear, loathing … But bear with me.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple value, Swift, data, wifi diagnostics, Railroads, iCloud Photos issues, Bluetooth to improve


Build your own railway with Sid Meier's 'Railways!' (NZ$30)
Build your own railway with Sid Meier’s ‘Railroads!’ (NZ$30)

Apple is (still) the world’s most valuable brand, but Disney is the most powerful — Apple remains the world’s most valuable brand, up 14% to $145.9 billion, according to the latest Brand Finance rankings. However, the brand valuation and strategy consultancy says Disney is the “most powerful,” thanks to the record-breaking success of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.
Brands are evaluated to determine which are the most powerful (based on factors such familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation) and which are most valuable and ranked in the Brand Finance Global 500.

Apple’s Swift language project gains continuous integration — Apple on Monday officially launched continuous integration for Swift, enabling checks on the project’s health, and integrated testing within pull requests before any commits are made.

Analyst: Apple may decrease its use of Amazon cloud computing services — In a note to clients  Morgan Stanley analyst Brain Nowak says Apple may decrease its use of Amazon’s AWS cloud computing services. Morgan Stanley’s Katy Hubert thinks Apple spent a billion dollars on data centers last year, including money paid to Amazon, so moving away from AWS could save the company big bucks.

How to use Wireless Diagnostics to help you resolve Mac Wi-Fi issues — If you’re facing Wi-Fi issues with your Mac, you can use Apple’s Wireless Diagnostic Tool to (hopefully) help you resolve the problem. You can open Wi-Fi Diagnostics from the Wi-Fi menu in the OS X tool bar. Try to connect to your Wi-Fi network, then quit any other apps that are open. While pressing the Option key, click the Wi-Fi menu.

Sid Meier’s Railroads! is fun, but may disappoint longtime Railroad Tycoon fans — Sid Meier’s Railroads! (published by Feral Interactive and developed by Firaxis games) it’s a “re-imagining” of Railroad Tycoon on the Mac. If you haven’t followed the Railroad series, you’ll enjoy the game, though longtime Railroad Tycoon fans may be disappointed. It costs NZ$29.99 in the Mac App Store. (And here’s Macworld’s 10 Mac games from January 2016.)

Two issues with iCloud Photo Sharing — Where do comments go when you remove items from shared albums? And downloading photos added by shared users.

Bluetooth wireless range, speed to continue improving — With the improvements, devices will be able to communicate directly over a longer range and at faster speeds than with current technology.