Tag Archives: The Apocalypticon

The Apocalypticon ~ The end of the world, impacts, WannaCry still there, army robots, Chinese state terror, US stupidity, the Camp Fire, Holocaust fears


Visions of the end of the world tend to extremes: the planet fatally fracked, flooded, hurricaned, nuke-cratered. No survivors, or maybe one or two survivors, dazed and dust-grimed, roaming a wasted landscape, eating canned beans, rotted squirrels, each other. But the truth is we might be in for a slow burn, apocalypse-wise.
The “end of the world” entails not just the actual end, that last gasp of human breath, but all the agony leading up to it, too. How, though, without the fire-and-brimstone theatrics, will we know that the planet is truly terminal?
An unusually large asteroid crater measuring 19 miles wide has been discovered under a continental ice sheet in Greenland. Roughly the size of Paris, it’s now among the 25 biggest asteroid craters on Earth. The iron-rich asteroid measuring nearly a kilometre wide (0.6 miles) struck Greenland’s ice-covered surface at some point between 3 million and 12,000 years ago, according to a new study published today in Science Advances. [Well, that explains why I can’t remember it, anyway.]
Solar storm triggered Vietnam War mines — An analysis of recently declassified US military documents confirms suspicions that, during the late stages of the Vietnam War, a powerful solar storm caused dozens of sea mines to explode. It’s a stark reminder of the Sun’s potential to disrupt our technological activities in unexpected ways. [I thought a Stark reminder was “winter is coming”.]
Sand is everywhere, there are whole deserts filled with the stuff, but shortages are killing people — The sand in a desert, though, is useless as a construction material because the grains are out in the open and blow around for thousands of years. This rounds them off until they become useless as building blocks. The preferred type is the kind found in a river bed, sea, or beach. The fact that desert sand is useless makes for some unexpected situations. Despite being surrounded by endless miles of sand, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was built with sand imported from Australia. Dubai also imports sand for its beaches from Australia. Desert sand doesn’t do well in a beach atmosphere … [Personally, I think someone just needs to invent a sand rougher-upper.]

British army drilling drones and robots — The British Army is testing out over 70 new technologies, including unmanned vehicles and surveillance drones, in a four-week experiment on one of its biggest training grounds. The focus will be on “surveillance, long-range, and precision targeting, enhanced mobility and the re-supply of forces, urban warfare and enhanced situational awareness.” The aim is about reducing the danger to troops during combat, according to the UK’s Ministry of Defence. [It never ceases to amaze me that we want soldiers to be trained to kill soldiers who are trained to kill them, and then we stress out about their safety!]

WannaCry? Yeah you do. WannaCry was once the greatest cybersecurity calamity in history, but now doesn’t work. A website critical to its function is now controlled by civic-minded security researchers, and the fixed deadline to pay the ransom has long passed. Yet WannaCry still accounts for 28% of ransomware attacks: the most of any ransomware family. According to a new study by Kaspersky Lab, the defanged North Korea linked ransomware is still spreading uncontrollably.

Chinese state terror — By the time Chinese guards began torturing Kayrat Samarkand inside a re-education camp last spring, he says his life had prepared him for this. His crime was being brought up Muslim and having spend time overseas. [Inmates had to sing songs praising Chinese leader Xi Jinping before being allowed to eat. Yeah, real sophisticated, China. You know what? Just replace your citizens with robots.]
Last year, the Chinese wife of a Pakistani man traveled back home to China with their two children. She wanted to introduce her younger boy, 18 months old, to her mom.
But after she landed in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, she was detained, says her husband, a doctor named Rehman. His wife is a Uighur Muslim, a member of a minority group that has been targeted in a Chinese crackdown.

American state, ah, idiocy — President Trump has completed written answers to questions about the Russia investigation from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. The president told reporters on Friday that he wrote the answers, not his lawyers, and that he did so “very easily.” [God help us all. Still, it’s good to know he can actually still write ‘without help’. What state of dementia has he reached now? Can he even walk and chew at the same time?]
But he’s not the only American idiot — Tyler Barriss, 26, has pleaded guilty to making a false report resulting in a death, after he placed a hoax call late last year that resulted in police fatally shooting an unarmed man in Wichita, Kan. Barriss pleaded guilty to a total of 51 charges as part of a plea deal. He will be sentenced in January.
Coburn made highly-volatile, Isis-style explosives — Acting on a tip about explosives at a house in Lake Helen, Florida, police discovered jars of highly volatile triacetone triperoxide, or TATP — the same material used in terrorist bombing attacks mounted by ISIS and al-Qaida. Jared E Coburn, 37, was arrested after officers were told he had a bomb under his bed. [And yet he was supposedly ‘highly intelligent’].
Police arrive to find security guard detaining a shooting suspect, but the guard is black so they shoot him instead — When police arrived after reports of a shooting over the weekend at a bar outside Chicago, witnesses say Jemel Roberson, a 26-year-old security guard who worked there, had already subdued the alleged assailant in the parking lot, pinning him to the ground. Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney said that’s when one of his officers “encountered a subject with a gun” and shot him, according to a statement given to the media. Roberson was declared dead shortly after arriving at a hospital.
Woman tells how to work without hurting men’s feelings — Former Google employee turned comic Sarah Cooper has help for women in tech with a new book called How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. The book is, of course, a satirical look a corporate life for women. And it’s hilarious.
A mocking tweet from the National Rifle Association stirred many physicians to post on social media about their tragically frequent experiences treating patients in the aftermath of gun violence. [And how to kill a mockingtweet?] At least the Democratic House may be able to introduce some forms of gun control now

The Camp Fire has become the most destructive in history — As California burns from both ends, the Camp Fire currently ravaging the northern part of the state has become the most destructive in its history.
The fire had stretched 40,468 hectares as of Saturday morning, according to officials. At least 6453 homes and 260 commercial structures have been destroyed in the fire, the cause of which is still under investigation. [Such an innocuous name, though! It throws me every time.]
Paramount Ranch burnt down — The ranch has been the location of countless movies and TV shows over the past 90 years, including the HBO sci-fi western Westworld. But that history has sadly turned to ash over the past 24 hours, engulfed by the flames of the Woolsey wildfire that has been devastating Southern California.

Picking on Jews — The Open Society Foundations (OSF), a international philanthropic and grant making organisation, has responded to a bombshell report that senior management at Facebook including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired a Republican opposition research firm named Definers Public Affairs to counter the company’s growing list of critics – including by peddling conspiracy theories about OSF’s founder, Hungarian-American investor and Holocaust survivor George Soros. Definers waged a campaign to “cast Mr Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement.” This seems to be part of a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonise Soros and his foundations.
This is hardly new, of course, but it’s no less deadly for it — A decade before Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, famed physicist Albert Einstein was already sensing imminent peril for his country and his own welfare, as a newly discovered letter reveals.
The letter is interesting both for its timing and content. Einstein wrote the note after fleeing Berlin out of concerns for his safety. The Jewish-German Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, had just been assassinated by a trio of far right anti-Semitic Germans. After the killing, police warned Einstein his life could be in danger, and advised him to stop lecturing and even leave Berlin. The physicist [luckily for the entire world] heeded their warnings and moved out of the city. This little stuffed-toy monkey, owned by a Jewish boy, also escaped Berlin. And after a long time, it helped reunite survivors of the Holocaust.

And the good news is … cycles are actually faster than cars and motorbikes in some cities now.

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The Apocalypticon ~ Tangled web, FaceBook failure, breaches, HackBots, AI news, fat pollution kids, apocalypse drive-thru, wilderness,


Berners Lee wants the web saved from abuse — Tim Berners-Lee [he who invented the www] has launched a global campaign to save the web from the destructive effects of abuse and discrimination, political manipulation, and other threats that plague the online world. A report adds:
In a talk at the opening of the Web Summit in Lisbon, the inventor of the web called on governments, companies and individuals to back a new Contract for the Web that aims to protect people’s rights and freedoms on the internet. The contract outlines central principles that will be built into a full contract and published in May 2019, when half of the world’s population will be able to get online. More than 50 organisations have already signed the contract, which is published by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation alongside a report that calls for urgent action.
And speaking of that abuse … Facebook, which the United Nations’ top human rights commissioner accused earlier this year of a “slow and ineffective” response to evidence it was fuelling state genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, admitted in a blog post on Monday that their own “independent human rights impact assessment” has more or less confirmed that it really screwed that one up. [We’re supposed to applaud now?]
Dutch bust open ‘secure’ chat service —Dutch police say they “decrypted more than 258,000 messages” sent using an expensive chat service. In an Ars Technica report citing a National Police Corps statement, authorities in the Netherlands claimed to have achieved a “breakthrough in the interception and decryption of encrypted communication between criminals.” [Last message was ‘oh crap!’]
In the US, HealthCare.gov suffered a data breach exposing 75,000 customers — Details were sparse at the time of the breach, but have now learned that hackers obtained “inappropriate access” to a number of broker and agent accounts, which “engaged in excessive searching” of the government’s healthcare marketplace systems.
Gamers getting recruited by Nazi hate groups —Almost every teen in the US plays video games: 97% of boys, according to the Pew Research Center, and 83% of girls. Increasingly, these games are played online, with strangers. And experts say that while it’s by no means common, online games – and the associated chat rooms, livestreams and other channels – have become one avenue for recruitment by right-wing extremist groups. Why? Microsoft, PlayStation and Steam host 48 million, 70 million and 130 million monthly active players respectively. [248 million prospects, the same amount as the populations of Spain, France and Russia added together …]
We also need to watch out for HackBots — Protecting your data today means dealing with hacking attempts powered by machine learning (ML), the science of computers learning and acting like humans. These ML computer algorithms are based on an analytical model designed to collect data and adapt its processes and activities according to use and experience, getting ‘smarter’ all the time. Hackers are also using these algorithms to automate time-consuming cyberattacks with hackbots, email phishing, and social media phishing.

The world — It seems humanity isn’t just content to screw up the surface of the planet; we’re dissolving the seafloor too. Findings published recently show that all the carbon dioxide piling up in the ocean’s dark depths is causing the seafloor as we know it to dissolve. The results, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are yet another reminder this era of human history will leave a geological mark long after we’re gone.
Air pollution is making kids fat — High levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is emitted by diesel engines, in the first year of life led to significantly faster weight gain later, scientists have found. Other pollutants produced by road traffic have also been linked to obesity in children by recent studies.
Chinese news anchor is actually AI — “This is my very first day at Xinhua News Agency,” says a sharply dressed artificial intelligence news anchor. “I look forward to bringing you the brand new news experiences.” [Why not get your fake news from a fake newsreader?]
Japanese tsunami triggered an algae invasion of the US coast —In 2011, a colossal tsunami set off by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake slammed into the eastern shores of Japan. Not long afterwards, some of the 1.5 million tons of floating debris created by the waves, from buoys and boats to entire fishing docks, began washing up along America’s northwest Pacific coast. Dozens of species of algae snuck along on this debris and turned up in Oregon and Washington.
Apocalypse drive-through — The so-called Camp Fire consumed over 8090 hectares in Northern California, forcing about 50,000 people to evacuate. But the fire moved so quickly that some people barely escaped, like Brynn Parrott Chatfield from the town of Paradise. She posted a video to social media showing her family’s terrifying drive through the flames.

Just 20 nations control 94% of the world’s remaining wilderness, excluding Antarctica and the high seas — And within those 20, five nations – Australia, Russia, Canada, the US and Brazil – control a whopping 70%. [Well, Brazil probably not for much longer – when a nation democratically elects an obvious fascist, you know we should be working harder to raise general human intelligence along with equality.]

Is there any good news? With the Democrats having taken back the House of Representatives, the US military should get more oversight.
The ozone hole may heal one day — According to a UN report, a decades-old international treaty to ban ozone-depleting chemicals has led to their decline and “much more severe ozone depletion in the polar regions has been avoided.” There’s still work to be done, but this definitely falls into the Good News category.

 

The Apocalypticon ~ the info wars, helium leak iPhones, the world, new Titanic, the smog of complacency, animal massacres, changed planet, ice calving, transgender discrimination


It’s time, tech: thousands of Google employees around the world walked out of their offices. This was to protest Google’s mishandling of sexual harassment and assault cases, in what is likely the largest collective demonstration among technology workers.
Facebook and the Brazilian demagogue — The scandal-mired social media giant that has faced enormous criticism for its role in the spread of online propaganda and fake news across the globe, has a War Room it wants everyone to know is tackling that issue head-on. Facebook has touted the War Room’s efforts to clean up a torrent of hoaxes and misinformation spreading across Brazil on Facebook subsidiary and encrypted chat service WhatsApp before the country’s October 28 runoff election. But when the far-right candidate Jair Bolsonar, who has pledged support for Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship, attacked minorities and LGBTQ people, backed torture and reportedly plans to decimate the Amazon rainforest, won those elections with 55.2% of the vote, it looked an awful lot like one key element of his victory was exactly the kind of stuff the War Room was supposedly intended to fight, especially on WhatsApp.
81,000 Facebook accounts hacked — Hackers appear to have compromised and published private messages from at least 81,000 Facebook users’ accounts – but that’s just according to that pillar of fake news, the BBC
Facebook’s new political ad transparency tools allowed Business Insider to run adverts as being “paid for” by Cambridge Analytica — Yes, CA was the political consultancy that dragged Facebook into a major data scandal. The investigation demonstrates that political advertising on Facebook is still open to manipulation by bad actors, despite Facebook’s ‘greater efforts’ at transparency. [Yep, someone saw right through that one. Or should that be ‘sawed’?]
But clearly, Facebook still has its uses — The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard.
More violent than Stuxnet — Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated,” and Israeli officials are refusing to discuss what role, if any, they may have had in the operation.
But some problems are much more basic in origin — A US government network was infected with malware thanks to one employee’s “extensive history” of watching porn on his work computer, investigators found. The audit, carried out by the US Department of the Interior’s inspector general, found that a US Geological Survey (USGS) network at the EROS Center, a satellite imaging facility in South Dakota, was infected after an unnamed employee visited thousands of porn pages that contained malware. This downloaded to his laptop and “exploited the USGS’ network.”
How to coordinate a hate attack: use Gab — Gab and its founder Andrew Torba prefer to pitch the site as a free-speech hub for everyone, but in reality Gab is mostly well known as a haven for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremists who have used it as a far-right echo chamber (in many cases after being they themselves were removed from mainstream platforms). But after the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, one of its primary fundraising methods has been cut off: PayPal confirmed it had terminated Gab’s account in the wake of the attack.

Helium leak disables multiple hospital iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads — Eric Woolridge, a system administrator at Morris Hospital in Illinois, said in a detailed post on the r/sysadmin subreddit that helium was to blame for many malfunctioning iDevices. Android phones were ‘just fine’…

Yes, it had to happen — Trump. He’s bellicose, angry, aggressive, a bully … and yet, he’s seemingly pissing his pants over some desperate refugees making their way slowly towards the US on foot. The US military has been ordered to send approximately 5000 troops to the US-Mexico border to counter the ‘threat’ of the caravan. [He’s depicting it as an ‘invasion! Pathetic!]
While we’re out in the world — Supporting Indonesia’s 1975 invasion, dodgy oil and gas deals, corporate espionage and trying a whistle blower in a secret court are just a few things that The Juice Media shines a big uncomfortable spotlight on in this video. Brutal!
Titanic II, a replica of the original Titanic, will make its first voyage in 2022 — It will have room for 2400 passengers and 900 crew members and have the same cabin layout and decor as the original legendary ocean liner. The $500 million ship, to be built in China, is set to make its maiden voyage from Dubai to Southhampton, UK in 2022. [And because it will be unsinkable II, they can save money on lifeboats.]
Russians mark Stalin’s purge victims outside Moscow security headquarters — Nelli Tachko, 93, was one of hundreds of Muscovites who waited for hours in frigid temperatures Monday to take part in an annual tradition in which anybody who wants to can read the name, age, profession and date of execution of a victim of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s Great Terror eight decades ago. [This must warm Putin’s heart.]

Disease, plague and pestilence — Last year’s flu season in the US was one of the worst ones seen in decades. Nearly 80,000 flu-related deaths and the highest hospitalisation rate for the virus in modern history. But new estimations from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are presenting a clearer idea of just how bad last year’s flu season really was.
Yellow Fever in New Orleans — At least this one was historic. Some say New Orleans is haunted because of witches; others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.
Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10% of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname ‘Necropolis’: the city of the dead.
Moving to the US might make you fat — Moving to the US can seriously mess with immigrants’ microbiomes, according to a new study that tracked the digestive health of refugees coming to Minnesota from Southeast Asia. The study found new migrants almost immediately begin losing some of their native microbes, including strains that help them break down and glean nutrients. This has been tied to obesity.
Teeth in Georgia, USA walls — It’s not unusual for construction workers to find historical objects inside of walls. But the team renovating the TB Converse Building in Valdosta, Georgia, were caught off guard when they found an estimated 1000 teeth buried in a second-floor wall. The weirdest thing is that the same thing has happened in two other Georgia towns.

The environment — Today, more than 77% of land on earth, excluding Antarctica, has been modified by human industry. This is according to a study published in the journal Nature, up from just 15% a century ago. The study, led by researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, paints the first global picture of the threat to the world’s remaining wildernesses – and the image is bleak.
And while we’re at it, animal populations have been massacred — The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970.
Air pollution is the new tobacco — The head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said air pollution is the “new tobacco”: the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more. “Despite this epidemic of needless, preventable deaths and disability, a smog of complacency pervades the planet,” Tedros said.
Another massive berg tips into the sea — While the internet was obsessing over that rectangular iceberg, some more disconcerting icy behaviour went down on the other side of the Antarctic: the Pine Island Glacier has been breaking off monstrous icebergs over the past five years, presenting a worrying sign that the West Antarctic is destabilising. The latest occurred this weekend. Satellite imagery shows an iceberg roughly 300 square kilometres (115 square miles, or five times the size of Manhattan) breaking off the front of the glacier (below, under ‘2018’).Good lord, is there any good news? Facebook released its third-quarter earnings on Tuesday and the results are mixed. While revenue rose 33% and profit increased 9% for the third quarter from a year earlier, revenue growth was down from the 42% jump that Facebook had reported in the previous quarter. [But these a-holes are still making a mint from flogging your data.]
Here’s a glimmer, though: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, and dozens of other tech companies have come together to condemn discrimination against transgender people in the face of actions President Donald Trump is reportedly considering to reduce their legal protections.

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump wants more nukes, bots are slaving, tech wars, bans galore


Trump thinks the world needs more nukes — The US has had a brief respite from nuclear apocalypticism after that brief period when Donald Trump seemed pretty likely to start a war with North Korea via Twitter. But it’s Trump: the power of the US nuclear arsenal has never seemed very far from his mind, and he recently announced the country will be leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) – a landmark Ronald Reagan-era treaty between the US and the former Soviet Union (now Russia) that eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles with a range between 500-5200km (not including those based at sea).
Deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute Malcolm Chalmers told the Guardian the situation was more serious than at any time since the 1980s. [Ah, yeah, ‘Let’s make America threat again!’]
But wait, what about ‘hypersonics’? Over the past year, the US, China and Russia have all stepped up efforts to develop a new kind of missile, a weapon that can fly faster and farther than almost anything in existence. [Yay, excellent, give the biggest gorillas the biggest sticks!] China said it had conducted the first successful tests of a hypersonic prototype called Starry Sky 2 this year – it flew for more than five minutes and reached speeds above 6437kph  (4000mph).
So, what is a ‘nationalist’? A word in more or less everyone’s vocabulary has become a flashpoint once it was claimed by President Trump during a stump speech in Texas. Trump said he was a “proud” nationalist, using the term it to contrast himself with previous presidents who negotiated trade deals, arms agreements and immigration laws — all of which involve the interests of other nations in addition to our own.
Meanwhile, the Feds are unsealing new charges against Russia — The US government warned about the continued threat of foreign interference on Friday as it unsealed a new criminal complaint against a Russian woman described as the paymistress for Moscow’s program of information war — a scheme targeting next month’s midterm elections in the US.

The tech wars — Twitter bans pro-Saudi bots: Anyone who tweeted about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the past two weeks saw major pushback on Twitter from accounts in Saudi Arabia. But that could slow down in the coming days ow that Twitter has reportedly banned an unspecified number of alleged bots that were pushing pro-Saudi propaganda.
Android apps harvesting data are out of control — A new study from Oxford University revealed that almost 90% of free apps on the Google Play store share data with Alphabet. The researchers analysed 959,000 apps from the US and UK Google Play stores and found data harvesting and sharing by mobile apps was now ‘out of control‘.
Under their skin — In Sweden, a country rich with technological advancement, thousands have had microchips inserted into their hands. The chips are designed to speed up users’ daily routines and make their lives more convenient: accessing their homes, offices and gyms is as easy as swiping their hands against digital readers. [You know, because it’s s-o-o-o-o difficult getting a swipe-card out of your pocket or bag.]
AI painted a picture, and it sold for US$432,500 … An anonymous phone bidder bought the painting, Portrait of Edmond Belamy, which was created by an algorithm developed by the Paris art collective Obvious. The three-person team fed the network 15,000 portraits from the 14th through 20th Centuries. [Not bad, although the framing is bloody terrible.]
AI beat some lawyers —In a landmark study, 20 top US corporate lawyers with decades of experience in corporate law and contract review were pitted against an AI. Their task was to spot issues in five Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), which are a contractual basis for most business deals. The study, carried out with leading legal academics and experts, saw the LawGeex AI achieve an average 94% accuracy rate, higher than the lawyers who achieved an average rate of 85%. The AI was many times faster, too. [As long as they remember to program in the prejudice, this could soon be effective in creating – sorry, that should be ‘fighting’ – crime in the US.]

Bans galore — Experts want to ban organophosphate pesticides to protect children’s health: evidence that an entire class of pesticides threatens the health of children and pregnant women is now so arresting that the substances should be banned, an expert panel of toxicologists has said. Exposure to organophosphates (OPs) increases the risk of reduced IQs, memory and attention deficits, and autism for prenatal children {surely there’s a compelling reason, though? Since it probably makes certain people loads of money].
European plastic ban — The European Parliament has voted to enact a complete ban on some single-use plastics, such as drinking straws and disposable cutlery, across the European Union and a reduction on others in an effort to reduce ocean waste. [Overreacting? Methinks not: in a pilot study, researchers looked for microplastics in stool samples of eight people from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria. To their surprise, every single sample tested positive for the presence of a variety of microplastics. We kill it, or it may kill us.]
Spanking ban — A new study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries around the world suggests banning ‘spanking’ of children by caregivers is making a difference in reducing youth violence. It marks the first systematic assessment of whether an association exists between a ban on corporal punishment and the frequency in which adolescents get into fights.

The Apocalypticon ~ The world, climate damage, insects, coffee, water wars, Germany, Trump’s US, curbing Facebook, your Apple data, sunlight and germs, cooperation


New research shows microplastics in 90%tyde of the table salt brands sampled worldwide — Of 39 salt brands tested, 36 had microplastics in them, according to a new analysis by researchers in South Korea and Greenpeace East Asia. Salt samples from 21 countries in Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia were analysed. The three brands that did not contain microplastics are from Taiwan (refined sea salt), China (refined rock salt), and France (unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation). The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Killing the world’s biggest organism — The heaviest organism on Earth isn’t a whale or an elephant. It’s a tree – or rather, a system of over 40,000 clonal trees all connected by their roots. Pando, a 13 million pound organism in central Utah, is believed to have sprouted toward the end of the last Ice Age. But after thousands of years of thriving, Pando has run into trouble.
Hawking: there’s no god, but there will be dangerous ‘superhumans’ — Stephen Hawking wrote that artificial intelligence will eventually become so advanced it will “outperform humans.” The renowned physicist who died in March the year warns of both rises in advanced artificial intelligence and genetically-enhanced “superhumans” in his book just published posthumously.
Last week was a wild climate ride — From a landmark special report saying we basically have a decade to get our act together to Hurricane Michael decimating northwest Florida, if ever there was a time for the media to finally ask politicians about their plans to address climate change, this was it. And for once, the media delivered.
Unfortunately, the politicians they consulted did not.
Hyperalarming insect loss — Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico. The study found the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too. The latest report shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates. “Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss. [Indeed.]
Coffee is under threat too — “We are in the middle of the biggest coffee crisis of our time,” said the Guatemalan producer and exporter Josué Morales, who works with over 1300 growers.
World water wars — A United Nations report says we have about a decade to get climate change under control, which, let’s be honest (see above)isn’t likely to happen. So break out your goalie masks and harpoon guns, a Mad Max future awaits! Now, as new research points out, we even know where on Earth the inevitable water wars are most likely to take place [map, below – click it for a closer look].Don’t look the perp in the iPhone — It’s no secret that law enforcement often resorts to workarounds for Apple’s security features, but the Face ID technology of the iPhone X makes things tricky. According to a report from Motherboard, forensics company Elcomsoft is advising U.S. law enforcement to not even look at phones with Face ID. This is because with its Face ID feature enabled, failed attempts to get into the phone could lock investigators out by requiring a passcode that may be protected under the Fifth Amendment (in the US, anyway).

It’s a long way back to Germany — German support for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives is at an all-time low, and in few places is that more evident than Bavaria.
A booming economy and ever fewer migrants crossing the border into the wealthy alpine state haven’t eased a populist backlash against the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the closest ally of Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). The CSU has governed Bavaria for all but three years since 1946, most of the time with an absolute majority. But now the far-right party AfD is currently the main opposition in the German parliament and is widely expected to win seats in the Bavarian legislature for the first time when regional elections are held.
Why, ma? When German organisers pulled together a demonstration in Berlin to support “an open and free society,” they had some ambitious goals: they expected roughly 40,000 people to pack the span from Berlin’s city centre, from Alexanderplatz to the Victory Column, where they were holding their final rally of the day.
But more than 240,000 people showed up for the march and rallies … [yep, sounds like Weimar again.] The march comes at a time when Germany’s far-right, anti-immigrant political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD: see above), is gaining ground across the country.

Trump-themed dating app leaks data almost immediately — Mere hours after Fox News revealed the existence of a new Trump-centric dating app, a security researcher apparently uncovered evidence that “Donald Daters” is leaking sensitive user information online.
The app, with the tagline ‘Make America Date Again’, is reportedly dumping photos and biographical information about its users into a publicly accessible database and may even be leaking authentication tokens, which could grant full access to a person’s account, including their private messages.
Trump may be self-made, but he’s far from a self-made billionaire Investigative reporters Susanne Craig and David Barstow say the president received today’s equivalent of $413 million from his father’s real estate empire through what appears to be tax fraud [but that’s what made him so ‘clever’, right?].
Massive partisan gaps in the new US — A new poll gives a clearer picture of what US “tribalism” no looks like: Americans differ not just on their ideology or political team, but on the issues they view as problems. The poll presented registered voters with 18 issues, asking those voters how big of a problem each issue is.
Voters supporting Democrats for Congress this year were far more likely to see most of these as problems, with majorities saying 13 out of the 18 issues are ‘very big’ problems. On many of those issues Democratic voters highlighted, there are yawning partisan gaps. For example, 8 in 10 people supporting Democrats say gun violence is a very big problem, but only 1 in 4 Republicans do. Likewise, 72% of Democrats see climate change as a big problem, compared with just 11% of Republicans.
Trump supported offering ‘free helicopter rides’ — Hilarious, right? As they mean free rides in the manner of Pinochet’s helicopters that dropped captured, bound activists and opponents into the sea. Yeah, it’ ‘just humour’.

Data: How ago all but rid yourself of Facebook — In the immediate aftermath of the news that hackers had access to the personal information of about 30 million Facebook users, Gizmodo shows you how to bolt down Facebook – should you still want to use it – so much less information about you is retained.
And here’s how to download all the data Apple has on you

Oh my lord, is there any good news? A little: your grandmother was right about sunlight killing germs: rooms exposed to daylight have fewer germs.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “The reason I reject that ‘me against the world’ scenario is that humans are where we are now because of cooperation, not in spite of it. We socialise and swap stories, and then we help each other dig a channel to redirect water, raise a roof or to dig a field over. In the present day, some of us might consider ourselves rugged individualists but, no matter what we tell ourselves, we have libraries at our disposal, and we use roads, social services, health care and communications networks. All of these were built by combined effort for mutual benefit.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Chinese totalitarianism, animal antics, sunscreen, Molotov’d troll, Chernobyl power, oyster shells, mattock


Interpol President Meng Hongwei has resigned after being detained by Chinese authorities who accuse him of corruption. The shocking turnabout comes days after Meng’s wife said the career police officer had disappeared after he left France to visit his native China. China’s Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi said on Monday that Meng is being investigated for allegations of bribery — charges that he did not describe in detail. Zhao said his ministry supports the inquiry; he also spoke of the importance of loyalty to the Communist Party’s ideals [my italics].
Apple denies ‘wild’ Bloomberg allegations about Chinese surveillance hardware — Apple (and Amazon) quickly and fiercely refuted claims that rice-grain-sized hardware had been introduced to their server hardware. Another strongly-worded denial is available to read in full – this is one Apple wrote to members of Congress (as Reuters reported). The full letter is now online.

Dinosaurs to blame for us needing sunscreen — The idea is that the ancient ancestors of modern mammals (including humans) had to live underground or were exclusively nocturnal in order to to avoid being eaten by dinosaurs. Therefore, we did not evolve the so-called ‘photoreactivation DNA repair function’. Dang.
But who is to blame for us being overexposed to computer and device screens? Not these Kickstarter glasses! Scott Blew, an entrepreneur and engineer, recalled an article he’d recently read in WIRED about a new kind of film that blocked the light emitted from screens. He wondered if the same technology might work on a pair of glasses, to block the screens that seemed to be everywhere.
It does work (below). They tune out most televisions and some computers, but not the newer crop of smartphones like the just-released OLED-packing iPhones.

Animal antics: Polar bears eating whales — Just over a year ago, 150 polar bears amassed on a remote island off the north coast Siberia to devour a dead bowhead whale that had washed ashore. It was the largest swarm of polar bears ever recorded feasting on a stranded whale — but events such as this could become more common in a warmer world.
Gecko made multiple prank calls — The director of a seal hospital in Hawaii says she was deluged with a more than a dozen mysterious calls to her mobile phone. When she picked up, however, the line was silent.
To make the situation even stranger, the calls were apparently coming from inside the hospital. It turned out to be a rather active tiny gold dust day gecko ..

Molotov hits Russian troll factory — [I love that headline!] Russia’s most famous ‘troll factory,’ a building where Kremlin-financed posters waged a battle of words in the New Cold War, has been hit with a molotov cocktail. No one was injured in the attack.
Chernobyl is producing power again — though not the kind that triggered a nuclear meltdown 32 years ago. Ukraine is now turning to solar power, and in the process, making good use of land that won’t be habitable to humans for another 24,000 years. The modest one-megawatt plant, located just 100m from the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant, has been launched by Ukranian authorities. The photovoltaic cells of this €1 million (US$1.6 million) solar station take up four acres of land and produces enough energy to power about 2000 households. [Since no one can live there, it’s an ingenious use of the real estate.]

Now for some good news — Used oyster shells are helping save New York harbourOver 70 restaurants across New York City are tossing their oyster shells  into the city’s eroded harbour as part of Billion Oyster Project’s restaurant shell-collection program. The journey from trash to treasure begins after an oyster half shell is turned upside down and left on an icy tray. It joins hundreds of thousands of other half shells collected in blue bins and picked up (free of charge) from restaurants five days a week. They are trucked to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighbourhood and, once cured, they’re used to hatch live oysters which become part of New York harbour reclamation projects.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “One famous trope for surviving in zombie apocalypse is to carry a spade, because it is useful and because nobody immediately interprets a spade as a weapon, since it’s such a a common tool. But I prefer a mattock …”

The Apocalypticon ~ Politics, Kavanaugh, climate, poison, Ebola, rat hepatitis, flu, NZ law


Kavanaugh’s family listens at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (Image: Jim Bourg, Reuters)

German far right party now at second — In last September’s elections, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the first far-right party to win seats in the Bundestag in more than half a century, becoming the official opposition to Merkel’s ruling ‘grand coalition’ of conservatives and social democrats. Although — or precisely because — the AfD is treated as a pariah in the legislature, its support is growing among German voters. Now it’s in second place with 18% of the vote. [They only need to double that to be where Hitler was when he took power.]
Beer-swilling misogynist Kavanaugh requires millions — Since July, when President Trump nominated Kavanaugh, the warring advocacy groups have spent some $10 million on TV ads either assailing or praising him.
Facebook consternation at Kavanaugh support — Hundreds of Facebook employees have reportedly expressed anger that an executive attended Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s public hearing last week to support him. Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s head of global policy, was at Kavanaugh’s hearing because he is reportedly close friends with the Supreme Court Justice nominee …

Sagging climate — Never drink from the tap: Americans across the country, from Maynard’s home in rural Appalachia to urban areas like Flint, Michigan, or Compton, California, are facing a lack of clean, reliable drinking water. At the heart of the problem is a water system in crisis: ageing, crumbling infrastructure and a lack of funds to pay for upgrading it.
Indonesian tsunami warning system hadn’t worked for years — After an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia on Friday left more than 800 people dead, a spokesperson for the nation’s board of national disaster affairs revealed that a critical part of its warning and detection system hasn’t been working for years. Not one of 22 buoys was functional…

Poison — The red tide algae bloom that’s plagued Florida’s Gulf Coast for months has now jumped east to the Atlantic. Florida officials are dubbing it an “extremely rare” occurrence, underscoring just how far from over the state’s algae crisis is.
Old poisons could kill most orcas — A group of industrial chemicals humans started banning decades ago could cause many of the world’s orca whale populations to collapse over the next century, an alarming new study has found.
Artificial sweeteners become toxic in the gut — Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore tested the toxicity of aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. They observed that when exposed to only 1 milligram per millilitre of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic.

Ebola could spread beyond Congo — More than two months since an Ebola outbreak was declared in an eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, health officials are still struggling to end it. At least 130 people have been infected. Last week the World Health Organization declared the risk has gone from “high” to “very high” that the disease will spread to other parts of the country and to neighbouring countries.
Rat hepatitis migrated to a human — A 56-year-old man from Hong Kong contracted the rat-specific version of hepatitis E, something never observed before in a human patient. Health officials are now scrambling to understand how this could have happened — and the possible implications.
US had more flu deaths last winter than in decades — This past winter’s flu season was quickly recognised as one of the worst to come along in a long time. But new data from the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention highlights just destructive it was in the United States. According to new data, there were 80,000 flu-related deaths last season, the single highest toll seen in at least four decades.

New Zealand enacts digital search border control law — The Customs and Excise Act 2018 now in effect sets guidelines around how Customs can carry out ‘digital strip-searches.’ Previously, NZ Customs could stop anyone at the border and demand to see their electronic devices. However, the law did not specify that people had to also provide a password. The updated law makes clear that travelers must provide access, whether that be a password, pin-code or fingerprint, but officials would need to have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
Customs spokesperson Terry Brown said. If people refused to comply, they could be fined up to $5000 and their device would be seized and forensically searched. Mr Brown said the law struck the “delicate balance” between a person’s right to privacy and Customs’ law enforcement responsibilities. [Yeah, that’s delicate all right!] Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Thomas Beagle said the law was an unjustified invasion of privacy. [Because, you know, it’s an unjustified invasion of privacy.]

And in good news … it’s spring here in New Zealand and it’s beautiful.

 

The Apocalypticon ~ Quakes, food, water, temperatures, shocks and planet Earth, energy conundrum, better food, people, politics, power, TB, Amazon, Google, Facebook, unions, vanilla Apple


The planet — Powerful earthquakes struck along the western coast of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on Friday 27th September, triggering a tsunami that reportedly caused damage in two cities. The US Geological Survey said it was a 7.5 magnitude quake just six miles deep. It hit a sparsely populated area in the early evening. The epicenter was about 50 miles north of Palu.
Trump’s administration admits to temperature rise — Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: on its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 4°C (7° degrees Fahrenhei) by the end of this century. But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: the analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.
Roundup’s killing the bees — A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin posit that glyphosate – the active ingredient in the herbicide – destroys specialised gut bacteria in bees, leaving them more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria. [And it’s linked to cancer in humans.]
Human activity wobbles the Earth — When looking at the Earth from afar it appears to be a perfect sphere, but that actually isn’t the case. Because Earth isn’t uniform on all sides due to land masses that shift and change over time, the planet actually wobbles a bit when it spins. Now, a new study by researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several universities and science centres has pinpointed the causes of Earth’s imperfect spin, called ‘polar motion’ and they found that humans are contributing to it.
Human activity shocked space — Humans barely touch on space, you know, apart from staring at it a lot, ringing the planet in space trash and sending objects crashing into other planets and asteroids … or do they? As if the devastating effects of bombs dropped on European cities during the Second World War weren’t terrible enough, a surprising new study shows that the shockwaves produced by these bombing raids reached the edge of space, temporarily weakening the Earth’s ionosphere.
Healthy food, healthy planet? As sales of plant-based proteins rise, there’s growing awareness of the ecological footprint of beef production. Who knew it could take about 190 litres (50 gallons) of water to produce a 100 gram hamburger? More sustainable eating choices are better for the planet.
Clean energy means more intensive, planet-imaging mining — The irony of transitioning to clean energy is we’re going to have to mine the crap out of the Earth to do it. Much like our computers and smartphones, wind turbines and solar panels are high-tech devices whose production demands a smattering of metals and minerals from across the periodic table and the planet.

Politics, unions, people and ‘governance’ — There is a pattern not only in North America and not only in Europe but also in Asia of assaults on democracy, of a new way of using social media to undermine democracy, of new ways of conceiving of political parties as authoritarian political parties. And it’s repeating itself all over the world.
And Trump tries to obscure the Russian mirror with Chinese smoke — President Trump accused China of trying to interfere in upcoming US midterm elections because of the hard line he has taken on trade, airing the claim as he opened Wednesday’s meeting of the UN Security Council in New York. [This is a purely political move that’s technically referred to as ‘an outright lie’ by any reasonable human.]
Amazon Inc guns for unions — Amazon, the US’ second-largest employer, has so far remained immune to any attempts by US workers to form a union. With rumblings of employee organisation at Whole Foods – which Amazon bought for $13.7 billion last year – a 45-minute union-busting training video produced by the company was sent to Team Leaders of the grocery chain last week.
In ‘good’ company … Google parent Alphabet and the other four dominant US technology companies – Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook – are fast becoming industrial giants. They spent a combined $80 billion in the last year on big-ticket physical assets, including manufacturing equipment and specialised tools for assembling smart phones and powerful computers and even undersea internet cables. Why? So nobody else can compete.

TB or not TB — A cure for TB has been widely available since the 1950s, yet TB is still the deadliest infectious disease on earth. It kills about 1.5 million people each year, or 4000 people each day, including 600 children. It kills more people than HIV or car accidents. So why don’t we end TB?
Young blood for New Yorkers — Ambrosia [why not ‘Vampyria’, you may wonder?], the startup that injects the plasma of young people into those 35 and older, is looking to open up shop in New York City.

Vanilla-beige Apple RFB media — Apple’s new streaming service reportedly has a $US1 ($1.37) billion budget, but apparently it can’t buy some nerve. The company has long censored its walled-garden offerings on platforms like the App Store, and per a report in the Wall Street Journal, Apple is still aiming to keep its content offerings squeaky clean, with little “gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.” [Also known as ‘RFB’, or ‘really f___king boring’, programming that’s about as edgy as a blancmange.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Face-Google, Apple, VW, Daimler, BMW, Fortnite divorces, AI devastation, US Nazi, obesity,


Facebook’s ad discrimination — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Facebook (and 10 other companies) over alleged age and gender discrimination in targeted employment ads.
But Google has been colluding with China’s right-wing surveillance state — Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China. ‘Dragonfly’ not only blacklists search terms to comply with the wishes of government censors but ties all searches to devices’ phone numbers.
And just in case you were relieved to be an Apple user — Apple just updated its iTunes privacy policy  making mention of a “trust score” it gives iPhone users on how they make calls or send emails.
“To help identify and prevent fraud, information about how you use your device, including the approximate number of phone calls or emails you send and receive, will be used to compute a device trust score when you attempt a purchase,” Apple explained. “The submissions are designed so Apple cannot learn the real values on your device. The scores are stored for a fixed time on our servers.”
In practical terms, the Cupertino crew will only look at Apple account usage patterns and hoover up metadata rather than more personal, and potentially damning information. The data collection and trust score assigning should help Apple better spot and dodgy activity going on in Apple accounts that aren’t in keeping with those of the legitimate users. It’s not entirely clear how Apple will use the metadata to actually spot fraud, as it hasn’t explained its workings.
And while we’re bagging big corporations … The European Commission has launched an antitrust investigation into the Volkswagen Group, BMW and Daimler, over allegations they colluded to keep certain emissions control devices from reaching the market in Europe.

Fortnite divorces — In the last 35 weeks, one online divorce site received over 200 petitions citing addiction to Fortnite and other online games as one of the reasons someone wanted a divorce. These numbers equate to roughly 5% of 4665 petitions have handled since the beginning of the year.
Developing world to suffer from AI — Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and author of AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order, reports the devastating impacts artificial intelligence could have on the developing world.
China and India have presented the world with two different models for how such countries can climb the development ladder. Both models are based on a country’s cost advantages in the performance of repetitive, non-social and largely uncreative work – whether manual labour in factories or cognitive labor in call centres.
Unfortunately for emerging economies, AI thrives at performing precisely this kind of work.

US Nazi sued Warner Brothers You know, coz the film (based on true events) cast the Nazis as ‘cartoonishly evil’. [You know, as compared just balls-out evil.] Kuhn lost his lawsuit, by the way, and was eventually stripped of his American citizenship (he had been born in Munich and served in the German army in WWI). He was deported to Germany after WWII ended in 1945, where he died poor and disgraced in 1951.
American obesity — No single state had its overall obesity rate decline in 2017, but six states saw an increase.
American fault lines — The detection of strange, unpredicted behaviour deep below the surface near the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults suggests scientists have an incomplete understanding of the processes responsible for earthquakes in the region.
Geoscientists have recorded thousands of small earthquakes in California’s San Bernardino basin near the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults ver the last 40 years. New research suggests many of these quakes, some of which occur at depths between 10 and 20km, are exhibiting surprising deformation patterns: instead of slipping in a horizontal manner, many of these earthquakes show vertical movement far below the surface. [Deep Creep beneath and Shallow Creep in the White House.]
Turtle though the hurricane — Members of the non-profit, Florida Leatherbacks, Inc, watched via satellite tag as Isla the sea turtle beached to lay new clutches of fragile eggs in the sand, before starting her late summer migration north along the East Coast. She wound up north of the worst of it, but still experienced rough seas over the weekend. Even before the hurricane hit, she surfaced in an area where waves reached over 4 metres (14 feet) high.

Insect plastics, Pyongyang reportage and laziness — Microplastic can escape from polluted waters via flying insects, new research has revealed, contaminating new environments and threatening birds and other creatures that eat the insects.
NPR has reported how North Korean officials worked tirelessly to stymie Western journalists — They had Mr Kim attend them closely. He proved a “stunningly efficient one-man journalism prevention service.” [Trump should take lessons.]
If you’re too lazy to read this, all is well — A new study shows we may just have to chalk it up to our brains simply being hardwired to prefer hanging on the couch instead of the chin-up bar. Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators. [Yawn.]

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. “

The Apocalypticon ~ Flights of disfancy, loneliness bots, bad oil, machines, algorithms, IBM surveillance, cats and more


Scary flights — A flight that had left Dubai in the United Arab Emirates landed at JFK International Airport in New York on September 5th with 549 passengers and crew on board. It was promptly quarantined due to a mysterious ailment spreading throughout the cabin. In the neighbourhood of 100 people on board showed symptoms including coughing, fever and vomiting, though only 11 ended up being taken to hospitals for evaluation. And one of those passengers was Vanilla Ice! [Actually, his real name is ‘Robert Matthew Van Winkle’ – why did he even want a stage name?] But we still don’t really know what that illness was …
Talking about ice — Since it snapped off the Larsen C ice shelf in July 2017, the trillion-tonne iceberg known as A68 has spent most of its time stuck in the mud. Now, new satellite data reveals that the ‘berg made its biggest move yet over the austral winter — a dramatic counterclockwise rotation that shows no signs of stopping.
Flights of fancy — President Trump, who was bombarded with negative news cycles last month, naturally turned to Twitter, venting frustrations and dismissing an increasingly wide variety of things he doesn’t like as “fake” or “phony.” [I hereby coin Megamaniacal’. Thank you.]
And, this time from Huawei — UL, the company behind the tablet and phone performance benchmark app 3DMark, has delisted new Huawei phones from its Best Smartphone leaderboard after AnandTech discovered the phone maker was boosting its performance to ace the app’s test

Australia does not actually have Free Speech — That’s right. Many Australians don’t appear to realise free speech is not a legal right they hold. [Although the right, apparently, to be terrified of a few desperate refugees remains unassailable.]
Oh, you think I hold a grudge? We humans are masters of resentment. This characteristic can be traced back the beginnings of recorded history. Feuds seem to be an indelible aspect of the human condition, but why should this be? Gizmodo spoke to the experts to find out why we love to hold a grudge, and the importance of letting go.
But there are loneliness bots — Internet-connected robots that can stream audio and video are increasingly helping housebound sick children and elderly people keep in touch with teachers, family and friends, combating the scourge of isolation and loneliness. [Soon we’ll be saying ‘there’s a bot for that’ …]

Speaking of machines … At its 60th anniversary conference on Friday, DARPA announced a $2 billion investment to push the frontier of AI forward. DARPA’s investment will focus on creating systems with common sense, contextual awareness and better energy efficiency. Advances could help the government automate security clearances, accredit software systems and make AI systems that explain themselves. [All the better to kill us with.]
And most of us don’t understand algorithms — just to make it worse, algorithms beget ever more algorithms, just to make it that much harder.
Trust them? Sure … Nearly three-quarters of American Facebook users have changed how they use the social media app in the past year, following a barrage of scandals involving the abuse of personal data, foreign interference in US elections and the spread of hateful or harassing content on the platform. One in four Americans have deleted it altogether.
IBM surveillance targets skin colour — Just when you were thinking things couldn’t get worse [I know, no one ever thinks that], three months after the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Amazon provided facial recognition technology to local law enforcement, a new report by The Intercept says IBM has collaborated with the New York City Police Department to develop a system that allowed officials to search for people by skin colour, hair colour, gender, age, and various facial features. [In other words, a system to do cop discrimination for the cops.]

The bad oil — Roughly 45% of an average American’s calories come from refined oils. Consuming too much plant-based oil can result in fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines. Here’s what’s best and worst.
And your cat may hate you — or at least be, pretty justifiably, just be really scared of you.
But can we solve the refugee crisis? Der Spiegel thinks so … maybe

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. “

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook, Trump and our world of pain


Facebook is now rating its users on the ‘trustworthiness’. [You now, coz we all trust everything Facebook does.] Facebook hasn’t been shy about rating the trustworthiness of news outlets, but it’s now applying that thinking to users as well.
Meanwhile, the world’s dominant social network has now been strongly linked with more attacks on refugees in Germany. [Now that’s something I do trust about Facebook.]
Apple has removed Facebook’s Onavo security app from the App Store because it violated the company’s privacy rules. Apple officials told Facebook that Onavo violated the company’s rules on data collection by developers.

Trump — Finger-on-the-pulse US ‘President’ Donald Trump then accused social media companies of silencing “millions of people in an act of censorship – of course, without offering evidence to support the claim. [So, don’t silence racists?]
What does it take to impeach a US President? Good question. Ron Elving of NPR has looked at former President John Tyler in the 1840s leading up to the House impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Encrypted apps didn’t work for Cohen — Former, and now convicted, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was apparently a fan of encrypted communications apps like WhatsApp and Signal, but those tools failed to keep his messages and calls out of sight from investigators. Prosecutors said in a court filing the FBI had obtained 731 pages of messages and call logs from those apps from Cohen’s phones.
Trump also set out to defend Cohen’s payments to women Trump had slept with out of wedlock. [Here are three words that describe how this went: Bull. China shop.]
Trump wants racists uncensored, but he also wants more Americans dying — The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just proposed a rule that would, by its own admission, result in more Americans getting sick and dying. And the whole reason we know that is because of landmark public health studies the Trump administration is trying to limit access to.
The Trump administration just released a new rule proposal at the centre of its environmental deregulatory frenzy. The long-anticipated rule would replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama era initiative to rein in pollution from coal-fired power plants that was considered the former president’s signature policy for combatting climate change.
Orange is the new black — Inmates at prisons across the US are expected to stage a weeks-long strike to demand better living conditions and prison reform. [Oh no, what will this do to the slave economy?!]

World of pain — A folder containing an estimated 14.8 million Texas voter records was left on an unsecured server without a password. Considering Texas has 19.3 million registered voters, this leak is very substantial. The file was discovered by a New Zealand-based data breach hunter who goes by the pseudonym Flash Gordon; the data appears to have been compiled by a company working for the Republicans.
But personal data has become widely available in China and can be scooped up for pennies by insurance companies, banks, loan sharks, and scammers alike, according to sellers and financiers interviewed by Reuters.
Hackers linked to Russia’s government tried to target the websites of two right-wing US think-tanks. This suggests they were broadening their attacks in the build-up to November elections, Microsoft said. The software giant said it thwarted the attempts last week by taking control of sites that hackers had designed to mimic the pages of The International Republican Institute and The Hudson Institute. [Russia doesn’t need to put a distinct government in place it the US, it just seeks to destabilise the US as much as possible … imagine Putin’s glee when Trump got in!]
In troubled, desperately poor and already-overcrowded Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees would rather cope there than go back to Burma. [Buddhism is such a peace loving religion, right?]Robots to take English jobs — The chief economist of the Bank of England has warned that the UK will need a skills revolution to avoid “large swathes” of people becoming “technologically unemployed” as artificial intelligence makes many jobs obsolete. [Presumably the new jobs will involve robot dismantling?]
China wants to clean the ’net — The internet must be “clean and righteous[you know, just like Xi Jinping’s government] and vulgar content must be resisted in the field of culture, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of senior propaganda officials.
Australia will take your phone and imprison you if you don’t unlock it — The Australian government wants to force companies to help it get at suspected criminals’ data. If they can’t, it would jail people for up to a decade if they refuse to unlock their phones.
US woman sues US for taking her phone — An American woman who had her phone seized by border agents as she returned home to the United States is suing the country’s border protection agency.
Australia bans Huawei, ZTE from supplying 5G technology — Australia has blocked Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment for its 5G network, which is set to launch commercially next year. [Oh, what, don’t you want a ‘clean and righteous’ network, Australia?]
Even the old, ‘solid’ ice is now breaking up — A huge pack of floating ice along the northern Greenland coastline is breaking up and drifting apart into the Arctic Ocean – another consequence, scientists say, of global warming caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Talking about the world, tiny plastic is everywhere — Ecologist Chelsea Rochman at the University of Ontario has found it in fish tissue from all over the world … and even in drinking water and beer!
European ‘hunger stones’ — A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders known as hunger stones that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts – and warn of their consequences.
UTI superbugs are spreading outside hospitals — The bacteria that cause urinary tract infections are not only becoming more resistant to antibiotics, suggests a recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, but they’re starting to spread outside of hospitals. It’s another sign of increasing antibiotic resistance.
Even the occasional drink is harmful to health, according to the largest and most detailed research carried out on the effects of alcohol — The study suggests governments should think of advising people to abstain completely. The uncompromising message comes from the authors of the Global Burden of Diseases study, a rolling project based at the University of Washington, in Seattle, which produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world. [Gah!]

And finally, some good news … OK, not really, but at least you might be able to have fun with it. We’ve seen a lot of machine learning systems create strange new phrases and dreamlike images after being trained on large amounts of data. But a new website lets you do the generating, and the results are just as bizarre as you’d expect. [Crikey.]

OK, well, this sounds more positive (excerpt from my forthcoming book): “The fact that we have come so far, despite very real and growing threats to our existence and even to the planet we live on, is testimony not to the worst side of humanity, but to the best, despite the creative and oftentimes effective destructive efforts of the more regrettable among us.”