Tag Archives: The Apocalypticon

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.]

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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!

The Apocalypticon ~ Warming oceans, Eclipse disruption, surveillance in China, gunshot detectors, AI on income, Mozilla bar, Russian hack-school, ultra secure PC, WannaCry deleted speeding tickets


The oceans are warming — If you are going to measure the changing climate of the oceans, you need to have many sensors spread out across the globe that take measurements from the ocean surface to the very depths of the waters. Importantly, you need to have measurements that span decades so a long-term trend can be established. Scientists have found that regardless of whose data was used or where the data was gathered, the oceans are warming.
This is all part of our sickening cities. Flooding in Quebec this spring damaged nearly 1900 homes in 126 municipalities, causing widespread psychological distress. Summer heatwaves are predicted to become more frequent and severe each year, putting more people at risk of injury and death. Vancouver and Toronto are working to manage these risks. Most Canadian cities need to work harder to include climate change in public health planning.

Solar eclipse disruption — On August 21, 2017, the contiguous United States will experience its first total solar eclipse since 1979. As the eclipse approaches, articles are appearing predicting the possibility of automobile traffic jamming rural roads. There is also concern about the ability of rural cellular networks to handle such a large influx. AT&T is bringing in Cell On Wheel (COW) systems to rural locations in Kentucky, Idaho, and Oregon, while Verizon is building a temporary tower in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The disruption could be frustrating to those trying to get p-laces to view the eclipse or share their photos via social networking. If cellular networks can’t handle the data, apps like Waze won’t be much help in avoiding the traffic. If communication is essential near the eclipse path, Astronomy Magazine recommends renting a satellite phone …
~ Which strikes me as ironic.

Facial-recognition technology, once a specter of dystopian science fiction, is becoming daily life in China — Authorities are using it on streets, in subway stations, at airports and at border crossings in a vast experiment in social engineering. Their goal: to influence behavior and identify lawbreakers. Ms Gan, 31 years old, had been caught on camera crossing illegally here once before, allowing the system to match her two images. Text displayed on the crosswalk screens identified her as a repeat offender. “I won’t ever run a red light again,” she said.
~ Gosh. You go, girl.

In more than 90 cities across the US, including New York, microphones placed strategically around high-crime areas pick up the sounds of gunfire and alert police to the shooting’s location via dots on a city map… ShotSpotter also sends alerts to apps on cops’ phones. “We’ve gone to the dot and found the casings 11 feet from where the dot was, according to the GPS coordinates,” Captain David Salazar of the Milwaukee Police Dept. told Business Insider. “So it’s incredibly helpful. We’ve saved a lot of people’s lives.”
~ Or how about issuing the mics to everyone who buys a gun? 

AI predicting neighbourhood wealth — According to Penny, an artificial intelligence that uses satellite imagery to predict income levels in the Big Apple and how they change as you tinker with the urban landscape, your income-area drops if you add a helipad. So it needs a bit of work.

Daniel Stenberg, an employee at Mozilla and the author of the command-line tool curl, was not allowed to board his flight to the meeting from Sweden despite the fact he’d previously obtained a visa waiver allowing him to travel to the US. Stenberg was unable to check in for his flight, and was notified at the airport ticket counter that his entry to the US had been denied. Although Mozilla doesn’t believe that the incident is related to Trump’s travel ban, the incident stirred fears among international tech workers, who fear they’ll miss out on work and research opportunities if they’re not allowed to travel to the US. The situation even caught the eye of Microsoft’s chief legal officer Brad Smith, who tweeted Stenberg to offer legal assistance.
~ Wait, aren’t Swedes evil Socialists who look after their citizens? Shudder!

Russian hackers are schooled — One reason so many talented hackers (malicious and benign) seem to come from Russia and the former Soviet States is the education. Krebs Security’s report compares how the US and Russia educate students from K-12 in subjects which lend themselves to a mastery in coding and computers – most notably computer science. It shows the Russians have for the past 30 years been teaching kids about computer science and then testing them on it starting in elementary school and through high school.

Super-secure self-destructing PC — The ORWL looks like the offspring of a Mac Mini and a flying saucer, and it’s nearly impervious to the probing eyes and code of data snoops, botnet admins, or the Thought Police. the 6-inch puck (above) rocks crafty encryption and for the paranoid, one of the software options is the security-first Qubes OS. But it’s physically guarded too: It can be accessed only with your password plus your NFC key fob. If you roam out of Bluetooth range, the ORWL locks itself. An accelerometer shuts down the machine if it’s moved while you’re gone and as a fail-safe, the motherboard is enclosed in a mesh sleeve that can’t be unscrewed, cracked, or even bored through, thanks to a circuit lining the interior that shatters at the touch of a drill bit.
The moment that barrier is breached, all your data is zapped—along with the hopes of your attacker. $1699 and up.
~ By George.

And finally, some good(-ish) news: roadside cameras infected with WannaCry virus invalidated 8000 traffic tickets in Victoria, Australia — Yahoo News reported Victoria Police officials announced on Saturday, June 24, they were withdrawing all speed camera infringement notices issued statewide from June 6 after a virus in the cameras turned out to be more widespread than first thought. But the infringement notices may be re-issued. At first it was discovered 55 cameras had been exposed to the ransomware virus, but they’ve now determined 280 cameras were exposed. The cameras are not connected to the internet, but a maintenance worker unwittingly connected a USB stick with the virus on it to the camera system on June 6.

The Apocalypticon ~ Mystery red in the White House, Putin’s hints, climate, ‘iPad’, Windows 10, terror tactics, Android, spring cleaning for security


Mystery red light flickering in the White House — Internet-fuelled conspiracy theories have plagued US politics over the last year and made voters on both sides of the aisle appear to be reactionary maniacs. But conspiracy theories can also be fun. And the entirely benign saga of red lights flashing in the windows of the second-floor residence of the White House (below) is about as fun as these things get.
~ It’s flashing SOS …

Putin hints at Russian hacking of the US election — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers could have been involved in cyberattacks last year to help the presidential campaign of Donald J Trump. Putin continued to deny any state role, but his comments to reporters in Saint Petersburg were a departure from the Kremlin’s previous position: that Russia had played no role whatsoever in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and that, after Mr. Trump’s victory, the country had become the victim of anti-Russia hysteria among crestfallen Democrats.
~ Which hints to me that Putin has realised that investigators will soon prove links. 

Australian scientists react to more Trump narrow-minded idiocy — Climate experts at The Australian National University have weighed in on what the potential global fallout would be if Trump does pull the pin. For example, Associate Professor Nerilie Abram from ANU Research School of Earth Sciences: “There is no doubt in the science. The greenhouse gases that we are putting into Earth’s atmosphere are changing our climate.”
~ Ah, what do scientists know? 

North Korea creates ‘iPad’ — Ryonghung, a North Korean technology company, recently announced a new tablet. It looks a lot like the weird, firewalled computers the country has produced in the past, with the addition of one curious new feature: The name. It’s called… the iPad.

Windows 10 tracks “too much” — Are we surprised?

Android unleashed — As an engineer at the Apple spinoff General Magic, he built some of the world’s first internet-connected portable devices. As CEO at Danger, he created the Sidekick, a smartphone that defined the category before anyone had invented the term. And then, of course, Rubin created Android, the operating system found in more than two billion phones, televisions, cars, and watches. And he has new plans … and should you want to ditch your secure, powerful iPhone for a bug-ridden, mixed-up, non-standardised and insecure platform of wannabe copyism, here’s your guide.

Tech-created inequality can be solved … by tech — The inequality of badly-run or corrupt states is boosted by the power of technology, but it’s also easier than ever to destabilise these states, thanks to technology. The question is: which future will prevail?” As technology – specifically, networked technology – makes it easier for opposition movements to form and mobilize, even under conditions of surveillance, and to topple badly run, corrupt states.

Private security company used counter-terrorist tactics against Standing Rock — A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, reports The Intercept, decrying “the fusion of public and private intelligence operations.”

Finally, something positive: how to spring clean to make your devices less vulnerable — This is from Wired.

The Apocalypticon ~ lone accident killer, tech housing expensive, hacking through grief, Aussie police ‘lapse’, Chump, Yahoo failure gets massive payout, NSA concession


If only accidents could kill you, how long would you live? Imagine a world in which the only possible way to die was through a sudden accident, such as a car crash, falling down the stairs, or getting struck by lighting. How long could we expect to live in such a world? According to an eye-opening simulation, a very, very, long time, indeed.

Tech made houses too expensive — “You live your comfortable lives,” read a flyer that protesters handed out to passengers, “surrounded by poverty, homelessness, and death, seemingly oblivious to everything around you, lost in the big bucks and success.” This is what protestors told tech commuters in Oakland, California. That moment of backlash was an outgrowth of what I call the New Urban Crisis: the decline of middle-class neighborhoods, the gentrification of the downtowns of certain cities, and the reshaping of America’s metropolitan regions into islands of advantage surrounded by larger swaths of disadvantage.

And high-tech cities will be lonely anyway — The prospect of cities becoming sentient is “fast becoming the new reality,” according to one paper. In Tel Aviv, everyone over the age of 13 can receive personalised data, such as traffic information, and can access free municipal Wi-Fi in 80 public zones. But in a future where robots sound and objects look increasingly sentient, we might be less inclined to seek out behaviors to abate our loneliness. Indeed, one recent study found that exposure to or interaction with anthropomorphic products partially satisfy our social needs, which means the human-like robots of tomorrow could kill our dwindling urge to be around other humans.

Sheryl Sandberg grieved when her husband died suddenly, then wanted the data — Very much in the Silicon Valley-esque spirit of problem-solving, a the Facebook Chief Operating Officer grasped for answers, she reached out to a business school professor Adam Grant, a Wharton School expert on organizational psychology. She knew he would have insight into her situation grounded in data … think Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking meets business case studies.
~ Yikes! And we’re afraid of the possibility robo-chums?

The Australian Federal Police access the metadata of a journalist — And they did this without properly complying with Australia’s new metadata retention laws, AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin has revealed. The vast majority of us would be killed in car crashes (0.011 per cent of all causes of death).

Chump aims to kill the Energy Star program — Because he’s such an idiot who impresses nobody more than himself, the 25-year-old Energy Star program appears to be targeted by Trump simply because it’s run by the federal government. It’s one of 50 EPA programs that will be axed under Trump’s budget plan, which would shrink the agency’s funding by more than 30%. Critics of Energy Star say the government should get involved in the marketplace only when absolutely necessary.

Marissa Mayer ruins company, gets US$247 million payout for her efforts — When poor people fail, they just fail. But when rich people fail, the poor pay them.  Despite Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s veritable failure to rescue the company from a pile of its own rot, and after numerous setbacks including two massive security breaches and dwindling ad revenue, Mayer is set to make about $US186 million ($247 million) as a result of the company’s sale to Verizon, new SEC documents show. This sum does not include Mayer’s salary or bonuses over the past five years, which reportedly add up to more than $US200 million …
~ This even touched New Zealand, where Spark very inadvisedly let Yahoo run its email services. 

Finally, a glimmer of good news — One controversial feature of the NSA rules has for years allowed it to vacuum up communications that aren’t “to” or “from” a foreign target, but merely “about” one, no matter who sends or receives it. Now the NSA says it will end that practice. And in doing so, it concedes a significant win to the privacy advocates who have fought it for years.

The Apocalypticon ~ Pruitt protection, outing inner racists, 1967 Nazis, MOAB, spork hide knife,


Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt needs protection, apparently — Pruitt wants to ensure the US doesn’t invest a single dollar in protecting humanity from climate change, nonetheless wants to use the agency’s limited funds to protect himself from other humans.
~ The EPA to become the PPA. 

AirBnB host thanks Trump for releasing her inner racist — Dyne Suh, a 25-year-old law student from Riverside, California, wanted to enjoy a relaxing Presidents’ Day weekend with her fiancé and a couple of friends in nearby Big Bear Lake. What she was not expecting was for her Airbnb host to abruptly cancel on her because of her race, which she then thanked Trump for.
~ Just as Hitler released people to enjoy their latent anti-semitism. 

1967 classroom experiment proved how easy it was for Americans to become Nazis — In 1967, Ron Jones, a 25-year-old social studies teacher in Palo Alto, California, set out to teach his 10th grade students about the events leading up to the Holocaust, but found that many of them couldn’t get over the question of how ordinary Germans had been coerced into complicity with the regime. So he decided the best way to teach students how easily people can be swayed by fearsome leaders or swept up by ideology was to demonstrate it. Which he did, in terrifyingly short order.
~ Which should really be no surprise now, right? And where are those students today?

Mother of All Bombs — The US military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on Afghanistan. Nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs, reports indicate that it killed 36 ISIS fighters with no civilian casualties. The military has now released actual footage of the strike.
~ And the real lesson is ‘Look out Russia and North Korea, because we can do all this damage even without nukes’. 

Spork hides knife — A ‘tactical spork’ designed for camping has a hidden knife that uses the spork handle as a sheath, for just US$7.
~ Grab some for the apocalypse. 

How to remain outraged without losing your mind — Yes, this is a real concern.

The Apocalypticon ~ AI no threat, FBI and Russia, GIF assault, tech Phishing scams, US Army laser, post-apocalyptic meds


AI no job threat — The president’s top economic advisor just said he had no worries about robots putting people out of work. “In terms of artificial intelligence taking over the jobs, I think we’re so far away from that that it’s not even on my radar screen,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told an audience in Washington. “I think it’s 50 or 100 more years.”
~ Did he also say “I are an idiot”? Good to see the President is surrounding himself which such stellar brains, right? 

The FBI has been investigating Trump’s Russian ties since July — Nine months since the earliest of those hacker intrusions into the Democrat National Committee came to light, the FBI has confirmed it’s been investigating possible connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Since July 2016.
~ No rush, then. 

Tweeted GIF ‘assault with a deadly weapon’ — A Texas grand jury charged a Maryland man with “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon” after authorities say he tweeted an animated flashing GIF designed to trigger Newsweek journalist Kurt Eichenwald’s epilepsy last year, “immediately” causing him to have a seizure.

 

Even tech nerds click on Phishing scams sometimes — The FBI suspects a phishing email is how the Russian hackers who were indicted this week got into Yahoo. Ditto for the breach of the Democratic National Committee, and the Sony Pictures hack. In fact, there’s currently a Gmail phishing scam going around that even super savvy techies are falling for.
You can increase your chances of avoiding phishing scams if you follow these three steps and, above all, remember that when it comes to your email you can’t really trust anything.

Only ending global warming will save the Great Barrier Reef — Research authored by 46 scientists and published in Nature raises serious questions about Australia’s long-term conservation plan for its famous reef, which invests heavily in lifting water quality but is silent on climate-change action.
“With rising temperatures due to global warming, it’s only a matter of time before we see more of these events. ”

US Army finally gets a laser — Lockheed is now preparing to ship a well-tested laser weapon system to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed’s powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air…
~ Makes us all feel safe, right? 

Post apocalyptic antimicrobial resistance — When the bacteria found on the walls of Lechuguilla were analyzed, many of the microbes were determined not only to have resistance to natural antibiotics like penicillin, but also to synthetic antibiotics that did not exist on earth until the second half of the twentieth century. As infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg put it in the New England Journal of Medicine, “These results underscore a critical reality: antibiotic resistance already exists, widely disseminated in nature, to drugs we have not yet invented.”
~ So that’s good news, for a change.