Tag Archives: The Apocalypticon

The Apocalypticon ~ Apple the Evil Genius, hellish eWaste, kids hacked, fart tracking and good news


FBI forensic expert calls Apple ‘evil genius’ for strengthening iPhone encryption — FBI officials continue their attack on Apple’s iPhone encryption, with the latest remarks against the company’s moves coming from a senior forensics examiner and only one day after similar remarks were made by the FBI director. Flatley said that crack time “went from two days to two months” as a result of Apple’s changes. [Dang!] But hey, a bug report on Open Radar affecting version 10.13.2 allows any user to change the App Store system preferences without a real password, in five steps or fewer.

Hellish e-waste where old tech is mined — German photographer Kai Löffelbein spent seven years documenting how metals are extracted, often under dangerous conditions, by some of the world’s poorest people. His forthcoming book, CTRL-X: A Topography of E-Waste, contains photographs from Ghana, China, and India, where much of the world’s e-waste ends up.

Millions of kids hacked, exposed — A company called VTech Electronics has just settled the US Federal Trade Commission’s first case involving an internet-connected toy. VTech will pay the FTC $US650,000 over charges it violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and “failing to take reasonable steps to secure the data it collected,” according to an FTC statement released this week. Cyberthreat intelligence firm Check Point meanwhile disclosed the existence of malicious code buried inside dozens of apps that displays pornographic images to users, and many of the apps are games reportedly geared toward young children. As a result, Google quickly removed the roughly 60 apps said to be affected from its Play Store.

Superbug related to fake sugar — Two bacterial strains that have plagued hospitals may have been at least partly fueled by a sugar additive in food products, scientists say. Trehalose, a sugar added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before, a new study finds. The results, described in the journal Nature, highlight the unintended consequences of introducing otherwise harmless additives to the food supply.

Fart tracker — Yep … A group of Australian researchers has developed an ingestible electronic capsule to monitor gas levels in the human gut. “When it’s paired with a pocket-sized receiver and a mobile phone app, the pill reports tail-wind conditions in real time as it passes from the stomach to the colon,” reports Ars Technica. [So now you can track fart development in real time on your phone. Gosh, technology, hey?]

And now for good news: Scientists have recently solved a major piece of the opioid puzzle [so have I: don’t take them] and it turns out most people say ‘thank you’ to automatic pizza deliverers. [Aw, most people!]

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The Apocalypticon ~ Bombogenesis, Spectre, NSA sucks, CPUs, hacks, NSA, Black Mirror, and the Alternative Apocalypse


The ‘very real scientific term’ weather bomb describes a storm that suddenly intensifies following a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure. Bombing out, or “bombogenesis,” is when a cyclone’s central pressure drops 24 millibars or more in 24 hours, bringing furious winds that can quickly create blizzard conditions and coastal flooding.
In the north of the US, according to the Cape Cod-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, it’s gotten so cold that sharks in the area have been washing up on the shore and essentially freezing to death.
Myles Allen, a climate expert at the University of Oxford, believes scientists can now blame individual natural disasters on climate change. Scientific American reports of how extreme event attribution is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of climate science. Now extreme event attribution is not only possible, it’s one of the most rapidly expanding subfields of climate science.

What’s going on with our CPUs? In 2017, Google’s Project Zero team in collaboration with researchers at a number of different universities identified an absolutely massive problem with speculative execution, one of the techniques employed in modern microprocessors as a way of improving performance: when a processor uses speculative execution, instead of performing tasks strictly sequentially, it predicts which calculations it might need to do subsequently. It then solves them in advance and in parallel fashion. The result is that the CPU wastes some cycles performing unnecessary calculations, but performs chains of commands much faster than if it waited to process them one after the other. However, there’s a serious flaw in the way modern processors are hardcoded to use speculative execution. They don’t check permissions correctly and leak information about speculative commands that don’t end up being run.

The worst hacks of 2017 — Critical infrastructure attacks, insecure databases, hacks, breaches, and leaks of unprecedented scale impacted institutions around the world—along with the billions of people who trust them with their data.
This list includes incidents disclosed in 2017, but note that some took place earlier.

NSA has bad morale — The US National Security Agency is losing its top talent at a worrisome rate as highly skilled personnel, some disillusioned with the spy service’s leadership and an unpopular reorganisation, take higher-paying, more flexible jobs in the private sector. Since 2015, the NSA has lost several hundred hackers, engineers and data scientists, according to current and former US officials with knowledge of the matter. The potential impact on national security is significant, they said. Their work included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, and Russian and North Korean hackers. [OK, I didn’t say ‘Trump’.]

And if you really want to zonk yourself Apocalytpticonically … there’s a new season of Black Mirror.

And the good news? I’ve read too many visions of apocalypse where survivors all turn into inhumanoids who just want to kill each other, so I’m going to write an alternative.

The Apocalypticon ~ Ideal population size, radiation, hacking, slacking, cryptojacking, Polygamy, Apple and fighting climate change


Earth might be looking a little worse for wear, after the last four-hundred years of reckless wide-scale resource extraction, but to its credit it hasn’t collapsed entirely. Despite our best efforts, it continues to gamely welcome our rapidly expanding population, barring the occasional earthquake. Whether the planet might be a little better off with fewer of us is a different question, a freighted one: what would the planet’s population size would be in an ideal world?
If the French lifestyle as the benchmark, we would need to reduce the world population to about 3 billion people (4.6 billion less than today’s population). If the USA, the world population would need to be reduced to 1.9 billion. Oh, darn. 

Flying irradiates you — Many flyers don’t know that soaring miles above Earth also takes us out of a vital protective cocoon and a little closer to a place where our cells can be pummeled by radiation from colliding stars, black holes and more. You can’t see these high-energy charged particles, but at any given moment, tens of thousands of them are soaring through space and slamming into Earth’s atmosphere from all directions. These rays don’t pose much of a risk to humans on Earth’s surface, since the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from most of the threat. But if you fly a lot

Bot finds Nazi accounts: Twitter banned the bot and kept the Nazi accounts — After a week of testing, Impostor Buster was born. Using a crowdsourced database of impersonator accounts, carefully curated to avoid any false positives, the bot patrolled Twitter and interjected whenever impostors tried to insinuate themselves into a discussion. Within days, this golem for the digital age had become a runaway success, garnering thousands of followers and numerous press write-ups. The developers received countless thank-yous from alerted would-be victims.
So Twitter sided with the Nazis: in April, the service suspended Impostor Buster without explanation and reinstated it only after being contacted by the ADL’s cyber-hate team. This month, Twitter suspended the bot again [link is paywalled NY Times], and this time refused to revive it.

Cryptojacking, which exploded in popularity this fall, has an ostensibly worthy goal: use an untapped resource to create an alternative revenue stream for games or media sites, and reduce reliance on ads. It works by embedding a JavaScript component in a website that can leverage a visiting device’s processing power to mine a cryptocurrency (usually Monero). Each visitor might only do a tiny bit of mining while they’re there, but every user lending some hash power over time can generate real money. And users might not even notice what’s happening. In theory, it can be a win-win.
Talking about Cryptocurrency, where did Wikileak’s Bitcoin go? The transparency organization may be sitting on a stockpile of bitcoin valued at around US$25 million, and has likely exchanged several other large cryptocurrency caches for fiat cash, according to two sources who independently analysed WikiLeaks’s bitcoin transactions. So where is the ‘transparency organization’ spending the fortune that the public blockchain indicates it has?

Fighting ‘wrongful views’ in Vietnam — Vietnam is deploying a 10,000-member military cyber warfare unit to combat what the government sees as a growing threat of “wrongful views” proliferating on the internet,. Force 47 has worked pro-actively against distorted information, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the general politics department under the Vietnam People’s Military. The disclosure of the unit comes as the Communist government pressures YouTube and Facebook to remove videos and accounts seen damaging the reputations of leaders or promoting anti-party views like this one: Hey Vietnam, totalitarianism sucks! All it does is conceal the corruption of the ruling class. 

Russia taking US biometric data — Biometric data belonging to millions of Americans may or may not be at risk – but it is frankly unclear – based on a BuzzFeed report. At least two experts are concerned, though, the report says.

But now Russia is accusing the US of (LOL!) meddling in its elections! Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has accused the US of a “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs” following the State Department’s criticism of Russia’s decision to bar opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running in the upcoming presidential election against Vladimir Putin.
In a statement shared with Business Insider last Tuesday, a State Department spokesperson expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.” “These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”
Zakharova pushed back. “And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” she said.

Is there a link between polygamy and war? Men in South Sudan typically marry as often as their wealth – often measured in cattle – will allow. Perhaps 40% of marriages are polygamous. If you ask them the reason for the violence, locals will blame tribalism, greedy politicians, weak institutions and perhaps the oil wealth which gives warlords something to fight over. All true, but not the whole story. Wherever it is widely practised, polygamy (specifically polygyny, the taking of multiple wives) destabilises society, largely because it is a form of inequality which creates an urgent distress in the hearts, and loins, of young men.
‘Gosh, I like your big new cow.’

Apple caved, finally recognising it will have to do more to calm customers’ ire after admitting to, and then apologizing for slowing down their old iPhones. Apple wrote: “We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologise.” To that end, the company has slashed the price of battery replacements for iPhone 6, 6s, and 7 devices from $US80 to $US30.
Cook showed his heartfelt contrition by accepting a huge pay rise. Yes, that is what ‘cynical’ means. 

Oh, so where does all this malaise leaves us? Planning to survive a future we have profoundly tainted by what we do, how we buy and who we vote, or don’t vote, for.

The Apocalypticon ~ Space germs, fossil fuels, information wars, sensitive time capsule, Apple tax and censorship, bush fire thwarts prepper, toys


Germy space station — According to a new study in the journal PeerJ, the interior surfaces of the 17-year-old, 250-mile-high, airtight space station harbour at least 1000 and perhaps more than 4000 microbe species.

Shocking dependence on fossil fuels remains — Most of the world’s clean-energy sources are used to generate electricity, but electricity forms only 25% of the world’s energy consumption. As the rich world moved towards a cleaner energy mix, much of the poor world was just starting to gain access to modern forms of energy. Inevitably, they chose the cheapest option, which was and remains fossil fuels. But the world’s energy demand has grown so steeply that we’re also using a lot more fossil fuels than in the past.

Time capsule in, ahm, hate to say, Jesus’ butt — While preserving an 18th century wooden statue of Jesus, a team of Spanish restorers was surprised to discover a time capsule hidden within the hollowed-out buttocks-portion of the carving. Written by a Catholic chaplain, the detailed document contains economic, political and cultural information about the time period. The document was signed in 1777 by a Spanish Priest named Joaquín Mínguez, chaplain of the Cathedral of the Burgo de Osma.
~ Let us raise our eyes …

Man tries to hack mate out of prison — A Michigan man has pleaded guilty to hacking the computer network of the Washtenaw County Jail, where he modified inmate records in an attempt to have an inmate released early. To breach the jail’s network, the attacker used spear-phishing emails and telephone social engineering. He was arrested a month later and is now awaiting sentencing (maximum 10 years and a fine of up to US$250,000).
~ Once upon a time, this would have been a physical act. 

More on the information war — Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app was leaked online, after the app’s developer failed to secure the database’s server. The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customisable and personalisable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world. The database appears to only contain records on the app’s Android users.
Should we worry? We could fund a Universal Basic Income with the data we give away to Google and Facebook.
In 1929, the Nazi propaganda tabloid Der Stürmer published a caricature of an imaginary group of devious looking Jewish people peeling off in a car after apparently running over a German boy, left bleeding in the arms of his father.
In the year 2017, the president of the United States retweeted a video of a dark-haired teenager assaulting a blond, Dutch teenager on crutches, with the erroneous caption, “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” Unfortunately, there’s more. “This is scary shit,” echoes Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale and author of the book How Propaganda Works.
Now, and after the US, the UK appears to be warning its own workers to steer clear of Kaspersky‘s security products. [Kaspersky refutes he has anything to do with Russian espionage, but let me boil down how Russian espionage works: Russia is asked through official channels ‘Did you sanction, or carry out, this or that?’ Russia replies ‘No’. That’s it.]

Shout out against Apple and tax. Literally — A group of global activists stormed and occupied several Apple Stores in France last weekend in a move aimed at pressuring the company to pay up on a €13 billion (US$15.5 billion) tax bill to the European Union.
But wait, there’s more: Apple’s Tim Cook (along with Google’s Sundar Pichai) made appearances at China’s World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. [In other words, they were there to promote Chinese censorship. Go Tim ‘it’s not the morals, it’s the money’ Cook.] 

Microwaving North Korean missiles — According to an NBC News report, a weapon, still under development, could be put on a cruise missile and shot at an enemy country from a B-52 bomber. It’s designed to use microwaves to target enemy military facilities and destroy electronic systems, like computers, that control their missiles. [Fries with that?]

Bushfire prep — OK, not really. A Utah man reportedly spent 30 years building a series of underground bunkers that he hoped would outlive the apocalypse … but half of them couldn’t even survive a bushfire. [Back to the drawing board for Mr Doofus.]

Although that was funny, it’s also tragic and stupid. I like to end on a positive note. Here it is: get your kids less toys. Really.

The Apocalypticon ~ Flat-earther, Russia rads, dark wiki, Apple racism, scary tech, evil sugar, coffee good


Self-taught rocket scientist ‘Mad’ Mike Hughes is a 61-year-old limo driver who’s spent the last few years building a steam-powered rocket out of salvage parts in his garage. His project has cost him $20,000, which includes Rust-Oleum paint to fancy it up and a motor home he bought on Craigslist that he converted into a ramp. His first test of the rocket will also be the launch date. “I don’t believe in science,” said Hughes, whose main sponsor for the rocket is Research Flat Earth. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”
[Ah, yes indeedy and for sure, Mad Mike. Soon to be Flat Mad Mike …]

Russia said it had detected a significant radiation spike in the Ural Mountains, close to a sprawling Soviet-era nuclear plant still remembered as the site of an accident 60 years ago. Russia did however reject suggestions that it was the source of a radioactive cloud that hovered over Europe. [Coz if we don’t like the idea, it can’t be true.]

Darkweb wiki — In many parts of the world, using Wikipedia is taken for granted. But in other places, like Turkey or Syria, using Wikipedia can be difficult, and even dangerous. To make using Wikipedia safer for at-risk users, former Facebook security engineer Alec Muffett has started an experimental dark net Wikipedia service that gives visitors some strong privacy protections.

Apple only wants to put its Stores where white people live — New York’s northernmost borough is the city’s most diverse, has the lowest income per household, and is the only borough without an Apple Store after one opened in Brooklyn’s predominantly white neighbourhood of Williamsburg last year. This trend holds true on a national scale. That means 251 of the 270 stores, or 93%, are located in majority-white ZIP codes. Of the 19 that are not located in majority-white ZIP codes, eight are in ZIP codes where whites are still the largest racial bloc. [Oh, what was that word again, Apple? Let me help: ‘Diversity’.]

In scary tech news, LED street lighting has backfired — To reduce energy consumption, many jurisdictions around the world are transitioning to outdoor LED lighting. But as new research shows, this solid-state solution hasn’t yielded the expected energy savings, and potentially worse, it’s resulted in more light pollution than ever before.
The Wi-Fi Pineapple is a cheap modified wireless router enables anyone to execute sophisticated exploits on Wi-Fi networks with little to no networking expertise. It can be used to run a Wall of Sheep and execute a man-in-the-middle attack, as well as how you can protect yourself from Pineapple exploits when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.
Intel found severe bugs in management engines — After to an investigation by third-party researchers into Intel’s hidden firmware in certain chips, Intel decided to audit its firmware and on Monday confirmed it had found 11 severe bugs that affect millions of computers and servers.
German regulators have banned smartwatches for kids — Saying the technology more closely resembles a “spying device” than a toy, Germany regulators have banned the sale of smartwatches designed for kids, urging the parents who were stupid enough to buy them in the first place to destroy them.
Over 400 of the world’s most popular websites record your every keystroke — The idea of websites tracking users isn’t new, but research from Princeton University released last week indicates that online tracking is far more invasive than most users understand.
Television’s most infamous hack is still a mystery 30 years on — It has been 30 years since the Max Headroom hack, arguably the creepiest hack in the television history took place. A few minutes after 9pm on Sunday, November 22, 1987, Chicago sportscaster Dan Roan was cheerily summarizing the Bears’s victory that day for Channel 9 local news. Suddenly, televisions went silent, and their screens went black. At first, it seemed like an equipment malfunction. Without warning, televisions in the area blasted loud radio static. It was overlain with the screech of a power saw cutting into metal, or a jet engine malfunctioning. At center screen, a person wore a Max Headroom mask – a character who appeared on various television shows and movies in the 1980s.
After 30 years and an intense FCC investigation, the people behind the Headroom hack remain unknown.

Evil sugar — About 50 years ago, the sugar industry stopped funding research that began to show something they wanted to hide: that eating lots of sugar is linked to heart disease. A new study exposes the sugar industry’s decades-old effort to stifle that critical research.
Now, 46% of Americans have high blood pressure. With new guidelines, rather than one in three US adults having high blood pressure (32%) with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in nearly half of the US adult population (46%) having high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Gah! But wait, here’s some good news: coffee is good for us again — A review of 200 separate studies has shown even three or four cups a day is still more likely to benefit your health than harm it. but there are some exceptions, like women who are pregnant or at risk of fracture.
The researchers concluded that drinking coffee regularly resulted in a lower risk of heart disease and even death compared with drinking no coffee at all. They also found that drinking coffee lowered the risk of some cancers (including prostate, endometrial, skin and liver cancer), type 2 diabetes, gallstones, gout, liver disease and dementia. [Off to make one – bye!]

The Apocalypticon ~ Consumer hell, code and encryption, human-rat hybrids and the war on journalism


In Consumer Hell, there are alternatives to the iPhone X — “I love the dumb notch! And the face-scanning thing I don’t want! The iPhone X is exactly the kind of absurd luxury good I crave,” you say. But you have not even scratched the diamond-encrusted surface of true decadence. Sit right there like the tiny, foolish baby you are and Bryan Menegus will tell you about an even newer, more exciting bauble, the likes of which have not been seen since Nordstrom’s leather-wrapped stone: Tiffany & Co.’s new “tin can” for a mere $US1000.

But there are bigger issues — Was there a warm plume erupting under the ice three years ago? Well, not really, as it’s probably been there millions of years.
But while we’re indulging in hyperbole, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that randomness is a more powerful component of the evolution of English than previously thought. Woa, random!
Last week, a single user ‘permanently’ locked down 300M worth of ethereum. dozens of digital wallets containing nearly $300 million dollars worth of ether, the unit of exchange on the Ethereum platform, allegedly by accident. Ouch. They need a hard fork to fix this, apparently.
Crypto aint so crypto after all, is it? We think we’ve locked all this stuff up, yet … five years ago Benjamin Delpy walked into his room at the President Hotel in Moscow, and found a man dressed in a dark suit with his hands on Delpy’s laptop. A few minutes earlier, the then 25-year-old French programmer had made a quick trip to the front desk to complain about the room’s internet connection. He had arrived two days ahead of a talk he was scheduled to give at a nearby security conference and found that there was no Wi-Fi, and the ethernet jack wasn’t working. Since then, his Mimikatz code has been widely used. “Mimikatz wasn’t at all designed for attackers. But it’s helped them,” Delpy says in his understated and French-tinged English.
Thank god for walls of lava lamps, then. Cloudflare provides security and domain name services for millions of the most prominent sites on the web. The company has built a solid reputation for its secure encryption, and one of the key factors in its system is a wall of 100 lava lamps in the lobby of its San Francisco headquarters. Really! Cloudflare videotapes its wall of colourful constantly morphing lava lamps and translates that video information into unique cryptographic keys.
Watch out for the devious Netflix phish. The email says your Netflix account has been suspended, due to a problem with your billing information. It offers a link, which takes you to what looks very much like a Netflix landing page. It’s not. It’s a phishing scam that collects extensive personal data on victims. But as with all of the most pernicious phishes, the problem with the Netflix phish isn’t just its convincing look, it’s that whoever’s behind it has found new ways to bypass spam filters over and over again.

Maybe the HumanoRats will solve our problems — No! Yes! And yikes! At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience starting November 11 in Washington DC, two teams of scientists plan to present previously unpublished research on the unexpected interaction between human mini-brains and their rat and mouse hosts. The human mini-brains inside the rats are starting to integratewith their hosts’ brains. Queue a new film: The Planet of the Rats. They’re touting this as “an unprecedented advancement for mini-brain research”. [I was hoping that had stopped at Trump, myself.]

The billionaire war on journalism — Newsweek offers a new reminder that internet journalism can vanish in a corporate shutdown or be “sued out of existence”. Writers at the local New York City news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, as well as Gothamist’s network of city-specific sister sites, such as LAist and DCist,  learned this chilling lesson when billionaire Joe Ricketts abruptly shut down the publications and fired their employees. The decision has been widely regarded as a form of retaliation in response to the newsroom’s vote last week to unionise with the Writers Guild of America, East. Worse, for a full 20 hours after the news broke, Gothamist.com and DNAinfo.com effectively didn’t exist: Any link to the sites showed only Ricketts’s statement about his decision, which claims the business was not profitable enough to support the journalism…
The larger tragedy is a nationwide death of local news. Alt-weeklies are flailing as ad revenue dries up. The Village Voice, a legendary New York paper, published its final print issue in September. Houston Press just laid off its staff and ended its print edition last week. Countless stories won’t be covered because the journalistic institutions to tell them no longer exist. Who benefits from DNAinfo being shuttered? Billionaires. Shady landlords. Anyone DNAinfo reported critically on over the years. Who loses? Anyone who lives in the neighborhoods DNAinfo and Gothamist helped cover. [And over here in New Zealand, Winston Peters’ extra super payments he didn’t deserve and didn’t declare for several years seemingly went to his head, and he thinks he’s a billionaire too. Even though he paid it back, and he’s not that wealthy, he’s also trying to shut down journalists. Apart from those who leaked the information, he’s going after the journalists who released it. So, he wants the truth about those who tell the truth, but he wants to punish them for it. Weird.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook hack-ads, Silicon Valley, fires, planes, Cockatoos, Android bug, Welsh octopuses, plane truth, trees


Facebook’s latest data on the Russia-linked posts far exceeds the company’s previous disclosures. It was included in written testimony provided to US lawmakers, and seen by Reuters ahead of key hearings with social media and technology companies about Russian meddling in elections on Capitol Hill this week. Exposure possibly reached around half of the US population of voting age – about 126 million people. Twitter separately has found 2752 accounts linked to Russian operatives, a source familiar with the company’s written testimony said.
But apparently the Russian targets went far wider than ‘just’ the US. Meanwhile, Russia has put in place its anti-VPN law to stop people hiding their online traces.
Apple CEO Tim Cook took shots at the tech environment that lets those things happened, and undermined his self-erected moral high ground by asking for tax cuts … [Honestly, and for goodness sake, aren’t you bastards rich enough already??]
Just to further hammer in the point, Cook also said if you can afford nice coffee you can afford a US$1579 iPhone. [I guess he only drinks that coffee that civet cats shit out, served in solid-gold cups, he can’t be blamed for losing perspective or something?]

Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier. The WMO released a statement warning of “severe ecological and economic disruptions.”
And then came …

The Californian conflagration — The recent Californian wildfires destroyed irreplaceable documents on Silicon Valley history. But wait, soon they’ll also get toxic ash.

Aussie Cockatoos chew through broadband … literally — The National Broadband Network (NBN) company said it has spent tens of thousands of dollars fixing cables chewed by Cockatoos. Australian broadband is already criticised for being 50th in world internet speed. Engineers returning to sites have found spare cables chewed and frayed.

Android’s ‘infinite boot loops’ — A bug in the new Adaptive Icons feature introduced in Android Oreo has sent thousands of phones into infinite boot loops, forcing some users to reset their devices to factory settings, causing them to lose data along the way. [And turning many owners, no doubt, into instant fruit loops.]

Wales inundated with octopuses — For three consecutive nights, droves of octopuses were seen walking out of the sea and stranding themselves along several beaches in Wales. Experts say the unusual behaviour may have something to do with recent storms that swept through the region.

The Plane Truth — Data science powered the search for MH370. Nobody had tried to use this kind of data to try to locate a lost plane before. At first, Ashton’s team didn’t know if the attempt would work. But painstakingly, over the course of weeks, the team figured out how the movement of the plane, the orbital wobble of the satellite, and the electronics within the satcom system all interacted to create the data values that had been received. [And, newsflash, still failed utterly, and very expensively, to find the plane.]
But hey, America’s F-35s can’t fly 22% of the time, and repair facilities are six years behind schedule. Nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for, according to one defense news site. [So maybe we should think about that next time we feel like scoffing at North Korea.]

And the good news is … uh … Well, I sincerely do think it’s great news the new New Zealand government wants to plant millions of trees.

The Apocalypticon ~ Cambridge Analytica, nuclear bombers on alert, crypto-warning, space graveyard, big bridge swing


What did Cambridge Analytica really do for Trump’s campaign? News that Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix approached Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last year to exploit Hillary Clinton’s private emails has amplified questions about Cambridge’s role in President Trump’s 2016 campaign. [This was the most cynical manipulation of voters the world has ever seen to date. A Great Leap Forward?]

US Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991. That means the long-dormant concrete pads at the ends of this base’s 11,000-foot runway – dubbed the “Christmas tree” for their angular markings – could once again find several B-52s parked on them, laden with nuclear weapons and set to take off at a moment’s notice… The alert order has not been given, but preparations are under way in anticipation that it might come.

Thinking of investing in crypto-currencies? A hustler knows a hustle. So if you have ever considered sinking money into an initial coin offering – a complicated, barely regulated and booming new form of financial vehicle where startups offer investors stakes in ‘new’ cryptocurrencies rather than traditional stock – it might be a good idea to listen to what one of finance’s most notorious criminals-turned-authors has to say … spoiler alert: it’s just a huge scam.

Torn between iPhone X or iPhone 8? Psychologists have names for this kind of decision, and the hemming and hawing that goes into it. [I always think of the Law of Diminishing Returns, myself, and I let that guide me.] Gizmodo has more on this ‘behavioural economics‘ conundrum, which Apple uses skilfully [or should that be ‘mercilessly’?].

Satellite graveyard is ‘near’ Pitcairn — Whether you launch a satellite into space or an entire space station like the Russian Mir, the Chinese Tiangong-1 or the International Space Station, what goes up must eventually come down – they all re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. The greater the mass of what is in space – Mir weighed 120 tons, the ISS weighs 450 tons and will be decommissioned in a decade – the greater the likelihood that larger parts will not burn up completely during re-entry and crash to earth at high velocity. So there is a need for a place on earth where things falling back from space are least likely to cause damage or human casualties. The Oceanic Pole Of Inaccessibility is one of two such places.

And finally, some good news: 245 friends jumping off a bridge and swinging by a rope is enough to gain you pseudo-fame – at least until 246 people try the same thing. Looks cool, anyway. So thanks, Hortolandia, Brazil …

The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook anti-likes, Russian Troll Factory, racial recognition, falling satellites, nature’s armageddons, Pruitt wants more rads, Fahrenheit 451,


US Department of Justice dropped request for names of people who Facebook-liked and anti-Trump page — In a court hearing on October 14th, the US Department of Justice dropped its request for the names of an estimated 6000 people who ‘liked’ a Facebook page about an Inauguration Day protest. The search was considered ‘over-broad‘… [like].

A new story of Russian meddling one comes from a respected Russian news source, for a change, the RBC. From the report: “Russian trolls posing as Americans made payments to genuine activists in the US to help fund protest movements on socially divisive issues. RBC said it had identified 118 accounts or groups in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that were linked to the troll factory, all of which had been blocked in August and September this year as part of the US investigation into Russian electoral meddling.

Apple avoided FaceID being ‘racist’ — Earlier facial recognition systems from HP and Google failed to recognise people with dark skin. In 2009, a HP webcam failed to register black people. And in 2015, Google Photos’ facial recognition categorized black people as gorillas. If Face ID made similar mistakes, it could be a sign that Apple didn’t train Face ID to recognise a diverse set of faces. Apple worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity, and other factors.

How scientists predict if a satellite is going to fall on your head — Here we introduce you to the supremely fascinating world of object reentry risk analysis: the science of predicting which of the tens of thousands of derelict spacecraft, spent launch vehicles and various other hunks of technology orbiting our planet will survive their inevitable plunge through the atmosphere and pose a threat to people here on Earth.
Because you know, an 8.5-ton Chinese space station is coming down, down …

But where have all the flying insects gone? The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon.” [Right – maybe we should be eating crickets after all, then?]

Why stop there? The Great Barrier Reef now looks like a graveyardDr Charlie Veron, the world’s leading expert on coral reefs, said this while speaking to a Nordic investment bank on the future of the Great Barrier Reef,.

Scott Pruitt reckons humans might be able to handle ‘more’ radiation — Donald Trump’s appointment of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency this year drew eyebrows, because Pruitt had made his career as a longstanding legal opponent of the EPA and a prominent climate change sceptic. Since he’s been put in charge of the agency, Pruitt has allegedly made plans to water down federal scientific research on the climate, deflected from the issue during natural disasters, and cut loose hundreds of employees in a deregulation push.
Now some are worried he’s trying to lower the bar for deadly radiation.
[Hey, maybe he’s right. I vote he tries it first.]

Fahrenheit 451 hot to read — Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a dystopian future where books have been outlawed and are destroyed by firemen who set them ablaze. But in an ironic twist, French publisher Super Terrain has created a new edition of Bradbury’s classic that actually requires extreme heat in order to be read.

Want some good news? Well, kinda: here’s how to spot fake photos on the web.

The Apocalypticon ~ Fire flood and plague, data hackers, Cuban noise, denial, cell wars


‘Perfectly normal apocalypse’ in California — that’s right. Southern California has firestorms resulting from a  boil-up of fuel thanks to wetter winters then drier summers, and single-dewllig suburbs on the fringes allow fires to spread fast. All ‘perfectly normal‘… In cities, it’s not the devouring flames you should fear but the asphyxiating smoke. This is thanks to Trump’s ‘not climate change’. Hey, at least there haven’t been any hurricanes.
Scientists are perplexed over a giant hole that has opened up in Antarctica. According to Motherboard, the “gigantic, mysterious hole” is as large as Lake Superior or the state of Maine. It’s really ‘quite remarkable‘.
Tokyo is preparing for bigger floods than ever with high tech. Linked by tunnels that divert water away from the region’s most vulnerable floodplains, its US$2 billion underground anti-flood system, completed in 2006, is an extraordinary example of the defenses that global cities are readying as they face an era of extreme weather brought on by climate change [or not, as Trump prefers].

Madagascar is fighting the plague — The World Health Organisation has delivered more than a million doses of antibiotics to Madagascar amid a raging epidemic of plague in which at least 33 people have died and 230 others have been infected. The ongoing epidemic involves mostly cases of pneumonic rather than the more common bubonic plague, but the airborne variety of the disease is significantly more transmissible and deadly.

The Security Paradox — There were 400,000 Britons were exposed in the US Equifax data breach. Oh, wait, the number was actually closer to 700,000.
That’s why we use VPN, right? Except a VPN provider has been sharing it’s logs with the FBI. Logs the provider said it didn’t keep. You see, someone who secures you information has access to that information. This is the Security Paradox – what happens when the locksmith wants to get into your house?
But don’t worry, there’s an Antivirus Paradox too: Russia exploited ‘antivirus software’ from Kaspersky Lab to trawl US systems for classified data. and HP Enterprise actually allowed Russia to review the cyberdefense software used by the Pentagon. The source code review could help Moscow discover weaknesses in the software, potentially helping attackers to blind the US military to a cyber attack. This is why people increasingly want AI to take over these tasks. Shame it’s already so biased, and yet we’re entering the Age of the Bizarrely Intelligent Robots. What’s it like working with them? Wired knows. This makes a perverse kind of sense when you consider that in many cases, we’re allowing – no, in some cases actually voting for – our countries to be run by the most greedy and flawed people.

Can noise weapon? If ever anything sounded like fake news … The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some US Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks. The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen. Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer. [Aha, but Castro’s speeches were s o  l o n g  . . . ]

Deny this: a restored prisoner’s letter uncovers horrific details of life at Auschwitz death camp. In 1944, Marcel Nadjari, a Greek Jew who was forced to remove bodies from the Auschwitz gas chambers, buried a letter in a forest near the camp. The text was rediscovered in 1980, but was virtually unreadable. Using a new imaging technique, scientists have finally reconstructed the letter, and it’s providing harrowing new details of the Holocaust — and what it was like to work as a forced labourer in a Nazi extermination camp.

Parody ‘Subgenius’ religion wants to crowd-fund contacting aliens — In 1979 the followers of J.R ‘Bob’ Dobbs founded a satirical religion called the Church of the Subgenius. Combining UFOs and conspiracy theories with some social critiques (and a few HP Lovecraft characters), the strange group is now re-emerging online with an official Facebook page and a slick new video channel.
Eighteen months of experimentation lead to clues about a flying saucer arriving on ‘the Black Day’ – and one last chance at eternal salvation and everlasting Slack: the construction of an alien-contacting beacon. [Good for a laugh, anyway. At least, they’re enjoying themselves.]

And after that, some good news … In an effort to reduce the 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide humans produce each year, three companies have been working to build machines that can capture the gas directly from the air. One such machine in Iceland has begun operation.
Climeworks just proved the cynics wrong. On October 11th, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, the startup inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions.
This technology could pull us back from the brink. Yay!

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


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

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

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

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

(Image from The Mercury)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apocalypticon ~ US ‘justice’, old trauma, 91 Antarctic volcanoes, phone repairs contain hacks, medical emergencies, bees, solar eclipse myths, Miami flooding


US ‘Department of Justice’ demands data from anti-Trump sites — A web hosting provider has revealed the US Justice Department’s efforts to obtain records about an activist website established to coordinate “mass protests to shut down the inauguration of Donald Trump”. DreamHost said it was opposing a broadly-worded US federal warrant that seeks access to “all information available” about the website disruptj20.org. In other Trump news, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich is leaving President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council, the latest executive to distance himself from the president following the weekend’s events in Virginia. In a blog post, Krzanich said that the decline in American manufacturing remains a serious issue, but said that “politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base. I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing.” Trump recently more or less validated – several times – the racist and thuggish ideologies hurled by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
US voting machines have leaked 1.8 million Chicago voter records, and Wired has published a handy guide to Russian hacking attempts aimed at US democracy, all part of an increasingly digital intelligence playbook known as “active measures:” techniques and strategies that Russian military and intelligence services deploy to influence the affairs of nations across the globe.
~ And Americans thought they’d been specially singled out …

Can your great-great grandparents’ trauma be passed on to you? An affinity for Russian literature might be something your parents passed on via social influence, reading it to you before bedtime, just as their parents did for them. But life experiences such as trauma, researchers have recently found, can be passed on, too: children can inherit the changes that occur in how their parents genes are expressed due to environmental stressors.

91 volcanoes discovered under Antarctic ice — Scientists have uncovered the largest volcanic region on Earth, and it’s two kilometres below the surface of the vast ice sheet that covers west Antarctica.
~ We’d best uncover that as soon as possible, then … don’t worry, we’re working on it. 

Replacement phone parts can contain secret chips — Just when you were congratulating yourself on that cheap phone repair you found, there’s a possibility the replacement parts installed by repair shops contain secret hardware that completely hijacks the security of your device. The concern arises from research that shows how replacement screens, one put into a Huawei Nexus 6P and the other into an LG G Pad 7.0, can be used to surreptitiously log keyboard input and patterns, install malicious apps, and take pictures and email them to the attacker.

Medical emergencies: UK deadly fungus outbreak — More than 200 patients in 55 UK hospitals were discovered by healthcare workers to be infected or colonized by the multi-drug resistant fungus Candida auris, a globally emerging yeast pathogen that has experts nervous.
An alarming report from the World Health Organisation estimates that some 500,000 Yemenis have contracted cholera since April of this year, of which 2000 have died. It’s now the worst active cholera epidemic in the world, and one of the largest in decades.

Popular pesticides are stopping bumble bees laying eggs — Wild bees, such as bumblebees, play just as crucial a role in pollinating many fruits, vegetables and wildflowers, and compared to managed colonies of honeybees, they’re in much greater jeopardy. A group of scientists in the United Kingdom decided to look at how bumblebee queens are affected by some widely used and highly controversial pesticides known as neonicotinoids. What they found isn’t pretty.

Solar eclipse myths — Loads of evidence to the contrary won’t stop people from believing some pretty bizarre eclipse myths – mostly ones that involve sex and/or death.

Finally for this week why is the sea rising so fast in Miami? Sunny day flooding is occurring more often, and rising sea levels and climate change are to blame. But, as is often the case when you drill down into the inner workings of our planet, the full story is a bit more complicated. A combination of two naturally-occurring climate patterns (the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Atlantic Oscillation) are associated with hot spots of sea level rise along the Eastern seaboard.
~ That was supposed to be the good news that ends this column … sorry!