Tag Archives: Russia

The Apocalypticon ~ A-holes, drugs, Google, Russia, Swiss dry, Australia, wannabe warlords


Veteran journalist Bob Woodward has written about every US president since Richard Nixon — That makes nine in total. But in all his years covering politics, he has never encountered a president like President Trump.
Woodward’s latest work, Fear: Trump in the White House, paints a portrait of Trump as uninformed and mercurial [but hasn’t any news coverage about Trump in the last decade done the same thing?].

Hey look, an A-hole who isn’t Trump for a change!

So-called human hikes drugs prices, citing the ‘moral imperative’ do make big profits! The chief executive of a small pharmaceutical company defended hiking the price of an essential antibiotic by more than 400% and told the Financial Times that he thinks “it is a moral requirement to make money when you can.”
His father’s head — A man is suing a cryonics firm for allegedly not respecting his late father’s wishes – or contract – to have his entire body cryogenically preserved. Instead, the firm severed and stored the man’s head, sending his cremated remains to his son. [There’s just no come-back from that.]
Amazon’s skrillionaire founder Jeff Bezos ‘helps’ homeless — Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie have announced a US$2 billion philanthropic effort aimed at helping homeless families and starting preschools in low-income communities. [OK, I might be cynical – OK, I am cynical – but part of me thinks he’s realised his slave about force might die out otherwise. Once those robots fully come on stream  though, it will be a different story.]
Teens would rather text people than talk to them —A new poll of 1141 teenagers showed they prefer to text their friends than talk in person. The findings come from Common Sense Media’s 2018 Social Media, Social Life survey.
Only 15% of teens said Facebook was their main social media site, down from 68% in 2012 [ha ha, Zuckerberg!]. Snapchat is now the main site for 41% of teenagers, followed by Instagram at 22%. In addition, this year’s survey saw texting (35%) surpass in-person (32%) as teens’ favourite way to communicate with friends. In 2012, 49% preferred to communicate in person, versus 33% who preferred texting.

Google has complied with Russian order to take down opposition leader’s YouTube ads — Google took down a series of YouTube ads for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny before a vote for regional governors on Sunday and amid protests over President Vladimir Putin’s plans to raise the retirement age for state pensions. [Coz, you know, freedom and all that …]
I feel so calm … but I am dying from bacterial infections: A common antidepressant, sold under the brand name Prozac, could be helping some bacteria build resistance to antibiotics, suggests a new study from Australia. The study found that fluoxetine was capable of inducing antibiotic resistance in laboratory strains of Escherichia coli.
Swiss cows high and dry — For centuries, between late May and early October, dairy farmers have been bringing their cows up to graze in the high mountain pastures. But this summer, because of a severe drought in July and August, cows grazing in mountain pastures haven’t had enough to drink. So water has been delivered to them.

Oh, good lord, is there any good news? Maybe: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef appears to be showing signs of recovery after a massive coral bleaching event in 2016 and 2017.
The nonprofit Reef & Rainforest Research Centre has reported signs of recovery due to a milder 2017-18 summer, as well as cooperation among science, industry, and government in supporting the reef’s recovery, according to the report issued by the Queensland State Government.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Warlord wannabes may have taken over the supermarkets to control food supply, but this won’t help anybody. Why anyone’s first thought might be ‘what advantage can I take from this disaster?’ is anyone’s guess, but it certainly happens. Anyone smart or able enough won’t go anywhere near wannabe warlords anyway, unless they’re desperate. Besides, with money worthless, what will you have to trade with these types that’s worth anything? If something is worth trading, most likely you’ll need it yourself. “

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The Apocalypticon ~ World, Trump, Russia, moles, gnats, Twitter, Facebook, mouths


Nuclear power plants in Europe have been forced to cut back electricity production because of warmer-than-usual seawater. Plants in Finland, Sweden and Germany have been affected by the heat wave that has broken records in Scandinavia and the British Isles and exacerbated deadly wildfires along the Mediterranean.
Common food additives could have ‘lifelong’ health consequences, a US paediatrician group has warned.
US fascist eyes Europe: Steve Bannon built his career on right-wing politics inside the United States but now he’s taking on a new frontier: the European Parliament. He’s optimistic about uniting Europe’s right wing across its national boundaries. [Sorry, is ‘fascist’ too strong? How about Nazi, then, Steve?]
The doom of the ancient Cambodian city of Koh Ker may have been the result of bad engineering – plus some bad karma, baby.

The US — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday downplayed a threat by President Trump to revoke security clearances for a number intelligence officials who served under President Barack Obama as “trolling” and not a political act. [In this case, clearly, the trolling is a political act.]
Facial recognition technology made by Amazon, which is being used by some police departments and other organizations, incorrectly matched the lawmakers with people who had been arrested for a crime, the American Civil Liberties Union reported.
President Trump resumed acknowledging Russian election interference but said he fears that this year, it will benefit Democrats. [Right, because it’s clearly done wonders for them so far.]
Facebook is reportedly rolling out its ‘downvote’ button to a wider group of users in the United States. The feature began appearing on the service’s mobile app without a formal company announcement. The feature appears to currently be limited to public posts. Should your account be flagged for this week’s test, every comment in a thread will include a numeric value and small up- and down-arrows connected to that number. Other territories, particularly Australia and New Zealand, have seen wider downvote tests since April of this year. [That’s right, Facebook, get the users to do your work for you.]
And here’s new US hobby – destroying the lives of complete strangers. [Trump likes this one too, you know, putting those immigrant kids into cages.]
Gnats spreading disease — A disease spread by sandflies seen as an exotic nuisance in the US might not be solely a traveller’s disease after all. A new study suggests most American cases of leishmaniasis are actually spread by native bugs, not caught while travelling. And thanks to climate change, the parasitic illness may become even more common in the years to come.
Twitter shares fell 21% as the company reported that user growth had turned negative, even as its quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations. The decline was even greater than Facebook’s almost 19% plunge in shares after the social media giant reported disappointing results. [Oh. Gosh. Boohoo. Anyway, it’s something to share and tweet about …]

Russia — Russian hackers have broken into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by US utilities with relative easy by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies,” The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
Maria Butina’s story may point to a Russian effort, years in the making, to give the Kremlin influence in the US by connecting with American gun enthusiasts and religious conservatives, an effort that’s had a ‘surprising degree of success’. [Hardly surprising. But no doubt Trump will try and shoot this theory down.]

And finally, some good news — scientists have figured out how our mouths heal so fast. [Although the voluntary 3-metre wounds sound a little harsh – that was three millimetres, I suspect, Gizmodo copy editor!]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “In the present day, we might consider ourselves rugged individualists but we have libraries at our disposal, and we use roads, social services and communications networks all built by combined effort for our mutual benefit.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Korea, Russia, China, Social Media, cleaners, CRISPR threat, time travellers, booze anger


Korean DMZ — Is this the ‘scariest place on Earth?’ (I think Washington DC is scarier, myself). The Korean Demilitarized Zone was established in 1953 as part of the armistice agreement that ended three years of brutal fighting between North and South Korea. Stretching across the 250km (155-mile) width of the Korean peninsula, the approximately 3.2km (2-mile) wide swath of land is bounded on both sides by several lines of barbed wire fence and one of the largest concentration of soldiers and artillery in the world. President Bill Clinton once called it the “scariest place on earth.” Now you can see images of it.

Enriched uranium floating about — On 3 August 2016, 7km above Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a research plane captured something mysterious: An atmospheric aerosol particle enriched with the kind of uranium used in nuclear fuel and bombs.
It’s the first time scientists have detected such a particle just floating along in the atmosphere in 20 years of plane-based observations. And this has baffled scientists. [North Korea?]

The Russian charges — Surprise! The US Justice Department has revealed an eight-count indictment charging 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities over their alleged meddling in US politics, including the 2016 US presidential election. So while the current White House may result from Russian meddling, it has been eight months since the malware known as NotPetya tore through the internet, rippling out from Ukraine to paralyse companies and government agencies around the world. On Thursday, the White House finally acknowledged that attack. And in a reversal of its often seemingly willful blindness to the threat of Russian hacking, it has called out the Kremlin as NotPetya’s creator.
Meanwhile, Russian bots flooded Twitter with pro-gun tweets after the school shooting in Florida.

Social media — General practitioner Rangan Chatterjee says he has seen plenty of evidence of the link between mental ill-health in children and their use of social media. “One 16 year-old boy was referred to him after he self-harmed and ended up in A&E,” reports the BBC. Dr Chatterjee was going to put him on anti-depressants, but instead worked with him to help wean him off social media. Maybe he’s not the only one: Facebook lost around 2.8 million US users under 25 last year.

China — The heads of six top US intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei. [That’s going to go down well …] Huawei responded that it “poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor.”
China has reassigned over 60,000 soldiers to plan trees in a bid to combat pollution by increasing the country’s forest coverage. The soldiers are from the People’s Liberation Army, along with some of the nation’s armed police force. The majority will be dispatched to Hebei province, which encircles Beijing, known to be a major culprit for producing the notorious smog which blankets the capital city.

Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, scientists say. Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic “volatile organic compounds”, or VOCs, in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes.

CRISPR could be triggering unintended mutations — Last winter, a letter appeared in a scientific journal that challenged how truly “revolutionary” and world-changing CRISPR gene-editing technology really might be. Researchers found that when they used CRISPR to cure blindness in mice, it had resulted in not just a few but more than a thousand unintended effects. Those unintended changes to DNA, they found, were not detectable using common methods for checking for off-target effects. This, the authors wrote, meant that CRISPR needed significant fine-tuning before it was ready to cure disease in people. Stocks tumbled. The scientific community freaked out.

And in good, or at least funny, news — Time travellers: though most of their wild tales were eventually disproven, the stories are still incredible. Here are five of the most memorable.
Australian scientists are trying to work out why some drunks get so mean. Dramatic mood shifts while drinking alcohol are normal, but for some of us, booze takes us down a path toward nasty, belligerent and downright aggressive behaviour. By studying brain scans of drunk men, Australian scientists have pinpointed the parts of our brain that go weak when we drink, making us meaner than usual. But like so many aspects of human psychology, it’s a lot more complicated than that. [I’ve always thought drunkenness reveals true nature, myself.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump, Russia, hacks, security, duped iPhone owners, bent cops film themselves, food and climate


As usual, the US president trumps most of the other bad news. Someone who tried to hack Trump’s tax returns – pretty amateurishly, as it turns out – might get 5 years in prison. Would-be whistleblowers were rallied by WikiLeaks, while one high-profile Democrat offered a $5 million reward for anyone who legally leaked Trump’s financials. You might wonder why this never went any further, until you realise that co-prize a-hole Julian Assange wanted to be Australian ambassador and asked for Trump Junior’s help. How unpartisan is that? It looks like Russian agents leaked Democrat information to Wikileaks to enhance Trump’s chances, after all.
Meanwhile, Trump’s regime wants to use bigoted AI to ‘extremely vet’ would-be immigrants. An alliance of more than 50 civil liberties groups and more than 50 individual AI experts sent dual letters to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today, calling for the end of a plan to screen immigrants with predictive “extreme vetting” software.
In a new low, Senator Jeff Sessions has had all his under-oath forgetfulness listed by Wired. How’s that for an aid memoir, Jeffy boy? It gets up to no. 47 … but for a glimmer of hopes US judge has ordered Facebook to redact the info of anti-Trump activists sought by the Feds. Without this, the details of some 6000 people who ‘liked’ these pages would have been available to the FBI.

Speaking of Russians and hackers, the personal computer of an NSA worker who took government hacking tools and classified documents home with him was infected with a backdoor trojan, unrelated to these tools, that could have been used by criminal hackers to steal the US government files, according to a new report being released Thursday by Kaspersky Lab in response to recent allegations against the company. The Moscow-based antivirus firm, which has been accused of using its security software to improperly grab NSA hacking tools and classified documents from the NSA worker’s home computer and provide them to the Russian government, says the worker had at least 120 other malicious files on his home computer in addition to the backdoor. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppyThe reason that citizens in the West are subject now to more surveillance than there was in the Soviet Union is that digital technology made it possible, says Richard Stallman. “And the first disaster of digital technology was proprietary software that people would install and run on their own computers, and they wouldn’t know what it was doing. They can’t tell what it’s doing.” Stallman has been fighting this battle since 1983.

Criminals duping iPhone buyers out of their phones — A security report has shed new light on the lucrative business of unlocking and reselling stolen iPhones, a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise spanning the globe. The tools used by shadowy hackers involved in this black market trade were detailed in TrendMicro’s latest research. Criminals have turned to sophisticated methods of infiltration, targeting desperate owners of missing devices with phishing emails gearing toward capturing iCloud credentials. They play on the eagerness of the owner to reclaim their lost phone.
The victims might receive a fraudulent link, for instance, alerting them their iPhone has been located. Since the message is carefully crafted to appear legitimate, using a spoofed email account or SMS message, many owners carelessly follow the instructions they’re given. In doing so, they compromise their own iCloud accounts, granting the phone thieves full access to their device.

LA cops film themselves fitting-up a suspect with cocaine — Newly-released body camera footage from a hit-and-run arrest in April appears to show two LAPD officers planting drugs in a suspect’s wallet, selectively filming only portions of the arrest to implicate the man for drug possession. Hah!

Some goodish news — what would happen if the entire US went vegan Researchers found a 23% increase in the amount of food available – mainly in grains – and a 28% decrease in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. However, they only found a 2.6% decrease in overall greenhouse gas emissions and found deficiencies in the American diet’s essential nutrients. Still, at least it’s being considered.
And climate-conscious cities have been sharing their experiences. At last week’s COP23 climate conference in Bonn, Germany, Essen’s representative was all ears as officials from other post-industrial cities shared their stories. Speakers included representatives from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Beijing’s E-Town (short for Economic-Technological Development Area)—all cities that make up the new Urban Transitions Alliance.

Apple Back to School, Netherlands, Russia, Ireland, Mossberg criticism, security efforts, Elmedia Player


Apple's Back to School promotion is on again in New Zealand
Apple’s Back to School promotion is on again in New Zealand

Apple Back to School promo returns to Australia & New Zealand, offers Beats or iPad discounts — Apple has launched the Australian and New Zealand editions of its annual Back to School sale, offering either Beats headphones or iPad discounts to qualifying shoppers buying a new Mac.
From today through March 21, university students, their parents, and/or educational staff buying a Mac will receive instant credit towards a free pair of Beats Solo2 headphones, or else a discount when buying an iPad. People can also choose to upgrade to Solo2 Wireless headphones, but will have to pay the remaining price gap, which is NZ$180.

Prime Minister of the Netherlands meets with Apple, other tech execs — Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Neelie Kroes, special envoy for Startup Delta, are in San Francisco and have met with a number of California companies with operations in the Netherlands, including Apple, Facebook, Tesla, Cisco, Uber and Planet Labs. (Startup Delta is an organisation that collaborates with more than 10 Dutch tech hubs to make the Netherlands the largest startup ecosystem in Europe.)

Apple, other companies to be taxed on digital sales in Russia starting in 2017 — Taxes on digital sales by Apple, Google Play and Netflix has been approved by the Russian government and is expected to be implemented as of 2017.

Environmental concerns slow progress on Apple’s new Irish data centre — Progress on Apple’s new €850 million data center in Ireland is reportedly at a standstill as the Irish government continues to sort out complaints about the project’s potential to harm local wildlife.

Walt Mossberg notes quality decline in Apple’s core apps; can Phil Schiller turn things around? Veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, now an executive editor at The Verge and editor-at-large of Re/code, says that in the last couple of years, he’s noticed a “gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform.” Many think he’s right, but Apple seems to be addressing the issue. [Criticism of Apple from Mossberg? Whatever next?!]

Apple hires firmware security experts who worked on Thunderstrike 2 exploit — Apple recently added a pair of firmware security experts to its ranks when it hired the team behind “deep system security” startup LegbaCore in November, an apparent effort to bolster platforms like iOS and OS X.

Elmedia Player Pro review: Better, stronger, faster than QuickTime Player— Elmedia Player is available in two flavours: a free version supporting nearly every media format under the sun, along with an entirely optional paid upgrade that adds the ability to download YouTube content, control audio playback settings, or grab still images from video files. I tested the paid version, although they otherwise look and perform the same; with the free version, you’ll see PRO next to locked features.

Apple bought Swell, plight of indie developers, Russia wants Apple code! interesting new apps


Effects Studio handles the basics of photo editing and adds exclusive features
Effects Studio handles the basics of photo editing and adds exclusive features

Apple confirms purchase of personalized talk radio service Swell, shuts down app — Apple has indeed purchased Swell, a personalised news radio application, Apple confirmed on Wednesday NZ time, after promptly removing the free download from the iOS App Store.

The plight of the Indie iOS developer: is the App Store broken or is this much ado about nothing? — Instapaper and Overcast developer Marco Arment recently penned a blog arguing that Apple needs to do a whole lot more to direct users to higher quality apps. Under the current set up, Arment articulates that the “top lists” on the App Store tend to skew far too often towards low quality apps, rip off apps and cheap clones.

Russian government asks Apple to hand over source code amid spying concerns — Russia’s Ministry of Communications and Mass Media has suggested that Apple should open its source code for government inspection to ensure that the iPhone maker is not complicit in enabling US intelligence services to spy on the world’s largest country. [Surely they’re Putin us on?]

Effects Studio for iOS takes photo effects to the max — There are so many apps for editing and adding special effects that it’s pretty hard to keep track of them all. I’ve reviewed so many that they can become a misty blur. Effects Studio (NZ$1.29) takes adding effects to photos way beyond where most apps go but still manages to offer the basics, so it does stand out from the crowd.

Instagram launches Snapchat competitor ‘Bolt’ in selected markets — A week after rumours that Instagram would launch Bolt, the Facebook-owned company soft-launched the new time-restricted image and video messaging app in New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa.

iPhone gets first free app for encrypting voice calls — For all your spies out there, an open-source project has released the first free application for the iPhone that scrambles voice calls, which would thwart government surveillance or eavesdropping by hackers.