Tag Archives: The Apocalypticon

The Apocalypticon ~ Fake news, tech calumny, cartel phones, radioactive, plastic not fantastic, China, climate change, filthiest animal

Fake news: it’s us! Over the last year, ‘fake news’ has gone from being a niche concern that charlatans exploited for profit, to a code red existential threat to the fabric of society … But our scientific understanding of how and why false stories spread is still limited. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab are diving in to correct that blind spot and for anyone looking to point a finger, Gizmodo has some bad news. It’s not all bots: ‘major Twitter influencers’ [perhaps they really should be called Twats] were more likely to share true stories.
Twitter has also suspended several popular accounts known for stealing tweets or mass-retweeting tweets into manufactured virality.
Meanwhile, Facebook subsidiary Instagram and its competitor Snapchat have both disabled GIF-embedding service Giphy after an extremely racist image began spreading via the platform.
Hacking Team’s developers are actively continuing the development of spyware, and Reddit says it has identified and removed hundreds of Russian propaganda accounts. [Or is that Reddit propaganda?]

Shadowy phones for drug cartel — For years, a slew of shadowy companies have sold so-called encrypted phones, custom BlackBerry or Android devices that sometimes have the camera and microphone removed and only send secure messages through private networks.
Now, the FBI has arrested the CEO of one of the most established companies, Phantom Secure, as part of a complex law enforcement operation, according to court records and sources familiar with the matter.

Radioactivity — Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation has released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation’s highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn’t fully work.
So what about bricks? A team of researchers at North Carolina State University thinks they have a simple way to detect the leftover radiation simply by taking a core of material out of a brick. Something like this could be important for things such as nuclear weapons inspections. [I can do that just from a place name: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl …]
So, how about ‘better’ nuclear plants? Scientists want to create miniature suns in power plants here on Earth. [Yeah, this idea doesn’t worry me at all.] MIT has announced it is working with a new private company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) to make nuclear fusion finally happen. CFS recently attracted a $US50 million ($64 million) investment from the Italian energy company Eni, which it will use to fund the development.

Plastic water bottles full of plastic-filled water — The bottled water industry is estimated to be worth nearly US$200 billion a year, surpassing sugary sodas as the most popular beverage in many countries. But its perceived image of cleanliness and purity is being challenged by a global investigation that found the water tested is often contaminated with tiny particles of plastic. [I’ve always found this so absurd for so many reasons: this just adds another. Water should always be heated and filtered through ground coffee for maximum safety.]

China wants to bar people with ‘bad social credit’ from trains and planes — People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. [This from a country dumb enough to willingly give its authoritarian leader even more power.]
The suspected Chinese cyber-espionage group dubbed TEMP.Periscope appeared to be seeking information that would benefit the Chinese government, said FireEye, a US-based provider network protection systems. The hackers have focused on US.maritime entities that were either linked to, or have clients operating in, the South China Sea.
But hey, at least the pollution has diminished. Over the past four years, pollution in China’s major cities has decreased by an average of 32%.
But be careful, the Chinese space station may still wipe out your city. [From Heavenly Palace to Earth-smashing malice.]
Is this why Frazzled Chump wants a Space Force? 

Half a degree more global warming could flood out 5 million more people — A new study finds that by 2150, the seemingly small difference between a global temperature increase of 1.5 and 2° Celsius would mean the permanent inundation of lands currently home to about 5 million people, including 60,000 who live on small island nations.
Extreme winter weather in the US has been linked to the warmer Arctic. Extreme winter weather is two-to-four times more likely in the eastern US when the Arctic is unusually warm.
In Florida, wildlife officials are smashing the skulls of iguanas. Over the past decade, the population of this invasive lizard has absolutely exploded. Native to Mexico and Central America, these herbivorous lizards were introduced to the state as pets, but they have since taken Florida by storm, munching on plants and flowers in gardens, and damaging footpaths and seawalls with their burrows. [So officials smash ’em.] The head-bashing technique falls within the bounds of Florida’s animal cruelty laws …
But, in ‘good’ news … Around 74,000 years ago, a massive caldera erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, triggering a prolonged and devastating volcanic winter. Scientists have speculated that the Toba eruption pruned back human populations to a considerable degree, but new research published today suggests at least one group of humans living in southern Africa not only managed to survive the event, they actually prospered.

For a bit of fun, what do you reckon is the filthiest animal? Gizmodo asked the experts. [Don’t worry, humans get a mention.]

(Image from Gizmodo)

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Say you wake up one morning, and 40% of people no longer exist. That’s the honeymoon vision of apocalypse, as ridiculous as that sounds … because it is ridiculous. If people didn’t just evaporate, which you have to admit is extremely unlikely under any imaginable apocalyptical scenario, the immediate problem is getting rid of the dead. There are 56 houses in my street. If there are three people in each, averaged out, that’s 168 people. At 40% mortality, that’s 67 bodies to cope with straight away …”


The Apocalypticon ~ Data miners, power, weather, IT creeps, bacteria, bullets

Big Data gets you … really — Facebook’s VPN Service Onavo Protect collects personal data, and does so even when it’s switched off! Security researcher Will Strafach took a look at Onavo Protect, the newly released VPN service from Facebook:
He found that Onavo Protect uses a Packet Tunnel Provider app extension to do this. [First, why would anyone trust a VPN service by Facebook, and secondly, is anyone surprised?] But YouTube is full of nazi propaganda, and arch data-miner Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analysing drone footage. [Yeah, now we all feel safer.]

Two million Americans lost power after ‘bomb cyclone’ — Tens of thousands of utility workers in the Northeast raced to restore power to more than 1.5 million homes and businesses just days after a powerful nor’easter caused flooding and wind damage from Virginia to Maine… Flood waters had receded in most areas, but the storm took out huge chunks out the coastline in Massachusetts and other states. [Trump will no doubt blame Mexicans, or Hilary.]

IT staff undercover: FBI recruiting at Best Buy — Questions were raised last year about whether FBI agents were actively recruiting technicians at Best Buy’s Geek Squad to search for illegal content on customer devices. According to newly released documents, however, prior reports only scratched the surface: Best Buy’s ties with the FBI appear more complex than once surmised.
On February 28, the Australian Federal Police paid the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Melbourne headquarters a visit after it was alleged the weather organisation’s “powerful computers” were being used for crypto-mining purposes. And want to know why everything gets hacked all the time? Staff shortages, apparently.
Sobbing Shkreli — Back in September, “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli said he wouldn’t spend a single day in prison. He was wrong. Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison on March 10th by US District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto at a hearing in Brooklyn. Shkreli was sobbing when he told the judge that he’s “not the same person [he] once was”. Right: it wasn’t a great sign for Shkreli when his own lawyer said in court that there were times he wanted to punch Shkreli in the face. [Like only at least two million other people.]

Ocean shite — It’s polluted, germ-filled sludge, not sharks, that will make going to the beach more dangerous than just staying home – at least according to a cleverly titled review published this week in the International Journal of Epidemiology. There is a significant increase in the risk of ear and gut ailments in those who are exposed to bathing waters. [Yes, avoid New Zealand’s ‘pristine’ beaches, that’s for sure. Hottest summer ever and no swimming!]
But hey, there can be a good side to poo — at least when it’s from penguins. After noticing telltale guano streaks on satellite imagery, an international team of researchers set out to count the number of penguins on Antarctica’s aptly named Danger Islands. They found a previously undetected supercolony of over 1.5 million Adélie penguins – a surprising result, given how poorly these aquatic birds are doing just 161km away.
And speaking of bacteria, our Superior Being Elon Musk might just mess up another panel thanks to bacteria he launched into space on his stupid vanity project. If his Tesla Roadster wasn’t sterilised before SpaceX launched it, scientists at Purdue said Musk’s car could turn harmful if it crashes into a planet like Mars.

Bullets are bad — really really bad. Trauma surgeons who have worked on injuries inflicted by military-style weapons want to call attention not to the exact model of the rifle, but the size and speed of the bullets they fire. To put it short: the resulting injuries are grotesque. But the White House is more concerned about video games. [Mind you, some of this is utterly revolting. on the good side, this is not reality, it just looks like it.]

The Apocalypticon ~ China bans N, Apple, right smell, measles, thawing, net neutrality, Democrat rebuttal, aliens and flowers

Chia bans ‘n’ [see my little joke there? I meant’t ChiNa’ … LOLs or what?]. It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet, but for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping’s bid to set himself up as ruler for life [from now on, shouldn’t he be known as ‘Xi Ji_pi_g’?]. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing’s controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China’s president. And before you can say ‘1984‘ (by that master of prescience George Orwell), that and Animal Farm have been banned too. [All I can exclaim is ‘You Nnnnnnitwits!]
In other worrisome Oriental moves, Apple has moved its Chinese encryption keys to China, worrying privacy advocates. [Coz, you know, authoritarianism, privacy and all that].
But hey, Apple is also doing shit things in the West! A file that Apple updated on its website last month provides the first acknowledgment that it’s relying on Google’s public cloud for data storage for its iCloud services. You know, Apple the Great Protector of Privacy is housing its data with supposed ‘enemy’ Google – which makes most of its money from selling people’s private information.

Dictators stink. Really. A new study published in Royal Society Open Science suggests that one seemingly unrelated behavioural quirk might have played a small role in people voting for authoritarian figures like Trump, or ‘voting’ for Xi Jipig, for that matter: an abject hatred of body odour. [Conversely, now you can presumably smell a right-winger coming: they’l be liberally soused in deodorant.] The more disgusted you feel about things, the more likely you tend to be conservative [Trump uses the word ‘disgusted’ really really often, although not as often as he uses the word ‘really’]. This adds in to the fear-response research that predicts voting patterns.

North Korea didn’t do it, Russia did — Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea according to US intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a ‘false-flag’ operation [or, as I prefer, an ‘evil conniving move’].

Aussie takes measles to New York City — Measles has just visited the Big Apple, and public health officials are warning the city’s small unvaccinated population to be on guard. An Australian tourist was confirmed to be carrying the viral disease days into their trip. [I made up a new word for this but didn’t use it. I was going to write ‘Aussie Measelates New York’. Yeah, don’t thank me, it’s cool.]

Thee-thaw — Camp Century, under the thick ice of Greenland, was always an audacious scheme. Just 1287 kms (800 miles) from the North Pole, the US military built a hidden base of ice tunnels, imagined as an extensive network of railway tracks, stretching over 4000 kms (2500 miles), that would keep 600 nuclear missiles buried under the ice. Construction began in 1959, under cover of a scientific research project, and soon a small installation, powered by a nuclear reactor, nested in the ice sheet. Except the ice is thawing … the now-melting ice sheet threatens to mobilize the dangerous pollutants left behind.
And Norway is spending millions to keep its ‘ice vault’ cool. Even though it’s located in the Arctic Circle, Svalbard’s temperature is expected to increase from an average -5.9C to 3.3C, and rainfall is expected to increase by 40%, by the year 2100. Ironically, the facility designed to safeguard seeds in the event of climate change is being threatened … by climate change.

Net neutrality — I don’t really get it, not because I’ve tried, unfortunately, but because I haven’t. Anyway, now there’s a guide for simpletons like me. And while we’re at it, those of you [like me] who follow America under Trump like a slo-motion train wreck you can’t take your eyes away from, there’s also an article about what to take away from the Democrats’ rebuttal memo.

And the good news … if aliens come, try offering them a bunch of flowers. Awww. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apocalypticon ~ Space bling, Spectre, climate denial, CIA exploit, Alzheimer sugar, Trump in sights

New Zealand disco ball in space is bad for science — When NZ-based Rocket Lab launched a 91cm-wide mirror ball into orbit. Called Humanity Star, it’s supposed to remind us that we’re all puny specks of dust living in the terrifying vastness of the Universe. Some astronomers have spoken out about the stunt, claiming the sparkly object will interfere with their work – one even compared the abusiveness of the act to sticking “a big flashing strobe-light on a polar bear”.
~ The bigger problem is the precedent this otherwise useless satellite creates. Basically, Rocket Lab spent a fortune to launch a useless bit of bling into orbit. 

Hardwired meltdown — Linux progenitor Linus Torvalds has already shared his feelings regarding the bungles of Spectre and Meltdown. They weren’t happy ones. Now that patches are available, Torvalds is even less impressed, describing Intel’s effort as “complete and utter garbage“. Torvalds stated that “the whole hardware interface is literally mis-designed by morons” and the way Intel has approached the problem “implies [it] will never fix [the interface].

White House seeks 72% cut to clean energy research — The Trump administration has made it very clear that it is pro fossil fuels and has little interest in pushing programs the promote renewable energy. The Washington Post has reported that the president’s proposed 2019 budget slashes funds for Energy Department programs focused on energy efficiency.
~ When an ostrich buries its head in the sand, you’re basically presented with its arse. 

Major report nixes negative emission tech anyway — Senior scientists from across Europe have evaluated the potential contribution of negative emission technologies (NETs) to allow humanity to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets of avoiding dangerous climate change. They find that NETs have “limited realistic potential” to halt increases [PDF] in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the scale envisioned in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios. None of the NETs have the potential to deliver carbon removals at the gigaton (Gt) scale and at the rate of deployment envisaged by the IPCC, including reforestation, afforestation, carbon-friendly agriculture, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs), enhanced weathering, ocean fertilisation, or direct air capture and carbon storage.

A 15-year-old convinced Verizon he was the head of the CIA — A British teenager managed to obtain access to sensitive US plans about intelligence operations in different Middle East countries by acting as former CIA Director John Brennan, a court heard on Friday. Kane Gamble, now 18, researched Brennan and used the information he gathered to speak to an internet company and persuade call handlers to give him access to the spy chief’s email inbox in 2015. He pretended to be both a Verizon employee and Brennan to access Brennan’s internet account.
~ This is not hacking so much as exploiting gullibility. 

More evidence of a strange link between sugar and Alzheimers — People with high blood sugar stand to experience worse long-term cognitive decline than their healthy peers, even if they’re not technically type 2 diabetic, new research suggests. The findings are not the first linking diabetes with impaired cognitive functions, but they’re some of the clearest yet showing blood sugar isn’t just a marker of our dietary health: it’s also a telling predictor of how our brains may cope as we get older.

Trump claims memo vindicates him but it doesn’t, and Mueller has made more progress than most think — In a tweet over the weekend that the controversial Nunes memo “totally vindicates” him. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if anything, the Mueller investigation appears to have been picking up steam in the past three weeks – and homing in on a series of targets.
~ This is, therefore, in the ‘good news’ category. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Doomsday clock, sensorium, tech, Earth, aliens,

It’s two minutes to midnight. And that’s really bad news if you’re a fan of planet Earth. The so-called Doomsday Clock, a symbol of how close the world is to total annihilation, has been moved 30 seconds closer to midnight.
The last time it was at two minutes to midnight was when the United States and the Soviet Union both conducted hydrogen bomb tests way back in 1953. [Can’t think why …. sh, don’t say ‘Trump’, Damn, it!]
Speaking of, then, why aren’t there more smart Americans? Americans are wondering, having just, presumably, caught up with the rest of the world. To emphasise the point, perhaps, the US has dropped out of the top 10 in the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index for the first time in the six years the gauge has been compiled. The Governor of Hawaii didn’t correct that false missile alert sooner because … he didn’t know his Twitter password.
President Trump took to Twitter [its brevity matches his attention span] to announce he has signed a six-year renewal of a powerful government surveillance tool. Worried? Of course not. The US National Security Agency maintains a page on its website that outlines its mission statement. Earlier this month, the agency made a discreet change: it removed ‘honesty’ as its top priority. [That, combined with the current President, is the slippery slope that leads to Fascism, folks.]

How’re your sensors? Watch out for transduction attacks, which spoof data by exploiting the physics of sensors. Seriously, it’s a thing. Or might be soon, anyway.
While we’re talking about tech, YouTube was recently caught displaying ads that covertly leach off visitors’ CPUs and electricity to generate digital currency on behalf of anonymous attackers.
Using machine learning and AI to swap celebrities’ faces onto porn performers’, resulting in fake celebrity porn seamless enough to be mistaken for the real thing. Early victims include Daisy Ridley, Gal Gadot, Scarlett Johansson and Taylor Swift. [So can they swap Keannu Reeves’ face with that of an actor?]
Facebook said it could offer no assurance that social media was on balance good for democracy. [And we can all remember when it was good for democracy? But hey, it still makes a sh_t-ton of money, so it doesn’t matter.]

Breaking up is hard to do — If you want to get an idea of how quickly sentiment has shifted against US tech giants, check out NYU professor Scott Galloway: “After spending the majority of the last two years of my life really trying to understand them and the relationship of the ecosystem, I’ve become 100% convinced that it’s time to break these companies up.” It’s an audacious claim from anyone, even more startling coming from someone who has been such a close and bullish observer of these tech giants. Yet for Galloway, it is clear that the four companies have simply become too big, and too powerful. [The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse indeed.]
And Kim Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing site Megaupload, is suing the New Zealand government for billions of dollars in damages over his arrest in 2012. The internet entrepreneur is fighting extradition to the US to stand trial for copyright infringement and fraud. Dotcom says an invalid arrest warrant negated all charges against him. [John Key, you’re the one who should be fronting for this.]

(Image from Which)

Life on Earth and all that — Yes we could cool the Earth artificially, but we really really shouldn’t. When we see a large cat capturing its prey on the African savannah, we’re literally watching millions of years of evolution in action. This could disappear almost overnight in the ‘cooling the Earth artificially’ scenario. But Australian birds of prey have been spreading bush fires. Seems crazy, but apparently not.
In New Zealand, ‘gene drive’ may be used to wipe out imported predators[Surely, that means people?] But genetically-targeted poison might be the easier option.
Plastic is still a huge problem, but we don’t seem to be taking it seriously yet. A new study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries (Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar) are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral. And where it clings, it sickens or kills.

But hey, people don’t just ignore the Earth’s feelings — Remember those World War II shipwrecks that mysteriously vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea? When they were found to be missing in 2016, it was heavily suspected that illegal salvagers exploded the ships and then looted them for metal. According to new reports, those metal scavengers also brought up substantial remains of Dutch and British sailors – and then unceremoniously dumped them into mass graves.

I found an alien! (Is this the right number?) Faced with some six-eyed slime-being rooting through your trash, or a spacecraft idling above your backyard, who exactly would you think to call? And what would whoever you called do, when you called them?

Finally, some good news — Scientists have been investigating the impact of violent video games on behavior for more than two decades, and the results are still being debated. In a 2015 resolution on games, the American Psychological Association reported that multiple studies found a link between violent game exposure and aggressive behavior, though critics at the time questioned the findings. Now, a new study published by researchers at the University of York in the journal Computers in Human Behavior further challenges the connection.
{Hoorah! Once more into the breech, then …]

The Apocalypticon ~ ‘Free’ speech, robots, ‘smart leaders’

How free is that speech? For most of modern history, the easiest way to block the spread of an idea was to keep it from being mechanically disseminated. Shutter the news­paper, pressure the broad­cast chief, install an official censor at the publishing house. Or, if push came to shove, a loaded gun at an announcer’s head. Now we’re in the Golden Age of free speech – and twitter bots and fake news. Here are six tales of modern censorship for you.
And Snap, an instant messaging service, had a simple message to its employees: leak information and you could be sued or even jailed. The chief lawyer and general counsel of Snapchat’s parent company, Michael O’Sullivan, sent a threatening memo to all employees last week. [OK, who leaked the memo?]. Sure, whose even heard of Snap? Apple isn’t allowing a new app developed by a university professor that detects when your internet is being throttled by ISPs from being listed on the app store. The company claimed the app contained “objectionable content” and “has no direct benefits to the user!” [From ‘Way to go, Apple!’ to ‘You have a way to go, Apple.] Eventually, though, it was allowed.

Robotic progress and fears — An interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the US Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and who has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War).
Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, “a cloud of air and ground robotic systems”). But he also argues that “In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don’t know.”
Our greatest fear these days may be the singularity: when the abilities of AI and robots surpass those of humans, growing so advanced that civilization is forced to reboot as humanity spirals into existential dread. Or worse, the machines turn us into batteries, à la The Matrix. But perhaps we should instead consider the dangers of the Multiplicity.

Smart leaders smart — Intelligence makes for better leaders, from undergraduates to executives to presidents, according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. [I’m more afraid of idiots who think they are smart. You know, like really, really smart.]
And how ‘smart’ is this? In September 2017, Mark Zuckerberg quietly bought a 106.68m ‘exploration yacht’ for $US150 million. However, a Zuckerberg spokesperson has soundly denied the Facebook CEO bought the ship. It’s potentially a giant escape yacht’. The massive ship “can sail halfway around the world without refuelling and is designed to endure the toughest weather conditions” – making it the perfect vessel to wait out an impending apocalypse that only the billionaire creator of Facebook knows about. [Well, Zuck, you’ve got to get to that yacht first.]
But wait … dirt might save us. And California is going to close its last nuclear power plant.

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!]

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.]