Tag Archives: The Apocalypticon

The Apocalypticon ~ Send in the clouds, people tracking, hacking, relentless robotisation, various dangers, some good news


Send in the clouds — Cloud change climate change: People  are freaking out about how climate change is finally coming for the clouds, and silvering clouds could help defeat climate change (but would that mean people would stop bothering trying to change their damaging ways?)
Climates of stupidity:  The US Senate has confirmed Andrew Wheeler, former coal industry lobbyist, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. This in a 52-47 vote primarily along party lines. Wheeler, also a former Republican Senate aide on environmental issues, has been acting administrator since July, when former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned amid a host of ethics controversies. [Now we get the ‘mental’ part in ‘Environmental’.]
Climate change skeptic added to White House staff — Happer is back in the White House, still fighting against what he considers unfounded claims that our globe is in danger. But this time, his cause is backed by the man in the Oval Office.
First time Cat 5 — Cyclone Wutip the first Category 5 storm of any kind ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere in February.
Drug-filled rivers — Medicines including antibiotics and epilepsy drugs are increasingly being found in the world’s rivers at concentrations that can damage ecosystems.
Government climate policy does work — Renewable energy use and reduced energy use overall have helped carbon emissions remain flat or below average as the global economy continued to grow over the years. But, as new research has found, government policy also appears to play a large role.
And for you, eating to save the planet — It’s also about what you don’t eat.

People, privacy, tracking — Canada tracking citizens: Police, social services, and health workers in Canada are using shared databases to track the behaviour of vulnerable people including minors and people experiencing homelessness. And there’s little oversight and often no consent.
China to track the way people walk — You can tell a lot of things from the way someone walks. Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Watrix says its softwares can identify a person from 50 metres away, even if they have covered their face or have their back to a camera.
Congresswoman destroys Equifax CEO over data breach — In a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) asked whether Equifax CEO Mark Begor would be willing to share his address, birth date, and Social Security number publicly at the hearing. Begor declined, citing the risk of “identity theft,” letting Porter criticise Equifax’s legal response to the 2017 security breach that exposed almost 150 million people’s data of that sort to an unknown intruder. [Hah hah, Begor.]
User passwords emailed in plain text — An anonymous independent security researcher noticed their power company’s website was offering to email – not reset! – lost account passwords to forgetful users. Startled, X fed the online form the utility account number and the last four phone number digits it was asking for. Sure enough, a few minutes later the account password, in plain text, was sitting in X’s inbox. In this day and age! The companies service 15 million clients …
PDFs not so secure — Academics from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany say they’ve managed to break the digital signing system and create fake signatures on 21 of 22 desktop PDF viewer apps and five out of seven online PDF digital signing services.
Privacy in theory and in practice — A new privacy survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that 81% of consumers say they’ve become more concerned about how companies use their data, while 87% think companies should be more heavily regulated on personal data management. So you’d think people would take actions in response to companies losing or misusing their data, but they’re not.
Have you heard the mantra ‘update your software to stay secure’? Many US cities are still running on 1980s software.

PepsiCo is ‘relentlessly’ automating — PepsiCo is spending $US2.5 billion ($3.5 billion) on a plan to restructure that involves laying off an untold number of its workers. Pepsi’s new CEO, Ramon Laguarta had said in an earnings call last week that Pepsi was already “relentlessly automating and merging the best of our optimised business models with the best new thinking and technologies”.

Starbucks might consider this, since robots don’t care about the music — You may not give a second thought to the tunes spinning on a constant loop at your favourite cafe or coffee shop, but one writer and podcaster who had to listen to repetitive music for years while working in bars and restaurants argues it’s a serious workers’ rights issue. Adam Johnson told The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti “I’m not suggesting that working at Applebee’s is the same as being at Guantanamo, but the principle’s the same.”
US companies installed more robots last year than ever before — Cheaper and more flexible machines put them within reach of businesses of all sizes and in more corners of the economy beyond their traditional foothold in car plants.
Those decent-paying oil jobs that help justify the industry? They’re getting automated, too.

Menagerie of dangers — Pedestrian deaths in the US reach 28-year high: the Governors Highway Safety Association has found the number of pedestrian deaths in the US has reached a 28-year high.
What happens to left over aid supplies? FEMA is planning to sell off hundreds of surplus trailer homes in Texas through a General Services Administration auction. [Ya know, coz they’ll never need those again!] But this does pose the question, what does happen to unused aid supplies?
Microsoft defends military work — Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is defending the company’s $479 million contract with the Pentagon to supply augmented reality headsets to the US military. [Ya know coz it makes money, basically.]
Drunk Russian captain sails massive ship into huge bridge — The ship hit the bridge and caused some damage to itself and the lower part of the bridge, though thankfully nobody was injured.

Good news? Despite the skeptics and powerful lobbying that seemed to all came from the same position of ‘what about the profits?!’, a new study found that the drinking habits of Berkeley residents got better and stayed better over the three years after a 2014 soft drink tax was passed.
And anger can be contagious, but you can stop the spread. For example, if you start to become happier with your life, a friend living close by has a 25% higher chance of becoming happy too. Yay!

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump’s attacks, hate groups heavily-armed Americans, hackers, blood, blockchain, no Huawei threat, sickness


Relentless attacks by Trump on FBI, and staggering Russian contacts — Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe condemned what he called the “relentless attack” that President Trump has waged against the FBI even as it continues scrutinising whether Americans in Trump’s campaign may have conspired with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election.
Trump wants to cancel Californian train — The Trump administration says it intends to cancel a $929 million federal grant for California’s high-speed rail project. The administration also wants to reclaim another $2.5 billion in federal funds already spent by California on the project. [Can’t think what they want that money for …]
US hate groups continue rise — For the fourth year in a row, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organisation that tracks hate groups, reports that hate and domestic extremism are rising in an unabated trend. The centre found a 30% increase in US hate groups over the past four years and a 7% increase in hate groups in 2018 alone, according to the centre’s annual Year in Hate and Extremism report.
A US Coast Guard lieutenant spent hours on end planning a wide-scale domestic terrorist attack — He even logged in at his work computer on the job at headquarters to study the manifestos and heinous paths of mass shooters, prosecutors say. He researched how to carry out sniper attacks, they contend, and whether rifle scopes were illegal. And all the while, investigators assert, he was amassing a cache of weapons as he ruminated about attacks on politicians and journalists.
Heavily-armed US mercenaries found in Haiti — We know their names, and where they were. But no one has given a public explanation for what five former elite US service members were doing in Haiti, and why they were driving without license plates, carrying an assortment of automatic rifles, drones and other gear.
Microsoft workers protest at having to build weapons —Microsoft workers are calling on the giant tech company to cancel its nearly $480 million US Army contract, saying the deal has “crossed the line” into weapons development by Microsoft for the first time. They say the use of the company’s HoloLens augmented reality technology under the contract “is designed to help people kill.”
Iranian and Chinese hackers step up attacks on the US — Businesses and government agencies in the United States have been targeted in aggressive attacks by Iranian and Chinese hackers who security experts believe have been energized by President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last year and his trade conflicts with China.
Rich people who want your blood —The Food and Drug Administration is officially not a fan of Elizabeth Báthory. On Tuesday, the agency sent out an advisory warning people to avoid clinics and companies that promise to rejuvenate health with infusions of blood plasma taken from young people. Among other things, they noted, there’s no proof these treatments do anything at all, let alone that they reverse the sands of time.

Huawei no threat to UK, Germany — Despite persistent US allegations of Chinese state spying, Britain said it is able to manage the security risks of using Huawei telecom equipments and has not seen any evidence of malicious activity by the company, a senior official said on Wednesday. Asked later whether Washington had presented Britain with any evidence to support its allegations, he told reporters: “I would be obliged to report if there was evidence of malevolence […] by Huawei. And we’re yet to have to do that. So I hope that covers it.” Germany has also found no evidence.
‘Unhackable Blockchain’ is getting hacked — Early last month, the security team at Coinbase noticed something strange going on in Ethereum Classic, one of the cryptocurrencies people can buy and sell using Coinbase’s popular exchange platform. Its blockchain, the history of all its transactions, was under attack. An attacker had somehow gained control of more than half of the network’s computing power and was using it to rewrite the transaction history.

Sickness — Hundreds have fallen ill in a US Salmonella outbreak tied to raw turkey, with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reporting more than 60 new cases in 24 states since its last report in December.
Philippine measles outbreak linked to anti-vexers — Thousands of people have been infected in a measles outbreak that has been linked to the deaths of 136 people, according to the Philippine health secretary. The Associated Press reported that most of those who died were young children, with roughly half between the ages of 1 and 4. The US Pacific Northwest is also facing an ongoing measles outbreak.

The Apocalypticon ~ That wall, idiots and sticks, measles, Spanish, 3D gun, data wars, threats to life, processed food, greener China


The wall, and blocks — Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, the president of the US can declare an emergency for just about anything. As President Trump has considered using that authority to circumvent Congress and build a wall along the Southern border, that near-unlimited presidential power has gotten a lot of attention. Lots of presidents have used emergency powers in the past for, you know, emergencies. Trump’s declaration is categorically different, since the president is using his power to fund a border wall far bigger and more expensive than Congress was willing to pay for. [This is what you get for giving a big idiot a big stick.]
More bricks in the wall — Two women who were detained and asked to show identification after speaking Spanish in a convenience store in Montana are suing US Customs and Border Protection, saying the CBP agent violated their constitutional rights when he detained them and asked to see their identification.  [This is what you get for giving a little idiot any kind of stick.]
Talking about idiots and sticks — Amid a measles outbreak in Washington state that officials have confirmed has spread to at least 51 people and suspect to have spread to over a dozen others, hundreds of people showed up to a rally on Friday to demand the right to keep exposing their kids to the possibility of contracting easily prevented, potentially fatal illnesses.
3D gun printer had a hit-list of lawmakers — A Dallas man was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday after the authorities caught him with a partially 3-D-printed rifle and what federal prosecutors described as a hit list of lawmakers in his backpack.
Fox News doesn’t want anti-Nazi content on its channel — Fox News has refused to air an ad for the short documentary film A Night at the Garden.
The 7-minute movie, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award, explores the terrifying day on February 20, 1939 when thousands of American Nazis held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. [That sick feeling when you see your grandfather giving a Sieg Heil … no, not me, I’m not American.]
Sexual assaults still rising at US military academies — Congress is keeping watch and the military has introduced prevention programs. Yet sexual assaults at military service academies keep rising. The leaders of those academies got an earful when they testified before a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Threats to life: US teens not sleeping or exercising — That is the unhealthy lifestyle of nearly all US high school students, new research finds.
Nanoparticals cause blood vessel leaks — A research group in Singapore has found that nanoparticles can cause blood vessels to become ‘leaky,’ which could help cancer spread in the body.
Yes, processed food shortens lives — A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine tracked diet and health over eight years in more than 44,000 French men and women. Their average age was 58 at the start. About 29% of their energy intake was ultraprocessed foods including instant noodles, soups, breakfast cereals, energy bars and drinks, chicken nuggets and many other ready-made meals and packaged snacks. They discovered an increase in early death.
Post-surgery more lethal than HIVm tuberculosis and malaria combined — About 4.2 million people worldwide die every year within 30 days of surgery. That’s more than from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Data wars — Older satnavs and such devices won’t be able to use America’s Global Positioning System properly after April 6 unless they’ve been suitably updated or designed to handle a looming epoch rollover.
Photo-sharing service 500px announced it was the victim of a hack back in July 2018 — Personal data was exposed for all the roughly 14.8 million accounts that existed at the time.
Swiss invites hackers to sort eVoting — The Swiss government is offering bug bounties of up to CHF 50,000 (around $50,000) to anyone who can expose vulnerabilities in its internet-based e-voting system in a test later this month.

In good news — India and China are actually managing to get [literally] greener. I know, surprising, right?

The Apocalypticon ~ New Cold War, data pain, the cold, rich kids, people run-out, Earth eating, British Co2


New Cold War! It’s official: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the US will withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, a landmark agreement first signed in 1987 that helped protect the world from nuclear war. [But hey, it’s going to make some very rich people very much richer. Yay for them.]
Russia’s defence minister has already ordered work to begin on new land-based intermediate range missiles, to be ready within two years.

NASA created a visualisation of the Polar Vortex

Talking about the cold — Rising temperatures in the Himalayas, home to most of the world’s tallest mountains, will melt at least one-third of the region’s glaciers by the end of the century (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) even if the world’s most ambitious climate change targets are met, according to a report. If those goals are not achieved, and global warming and greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates, the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100, according to the report.
Polar vortex — It was cold in the Continental US. Colder than Alaska, Mars (technically), and even parts of Antarctica, which isn’t so surprising because it’s presently summer in Antarctica, but sounds wild nonetheless.
A new gif by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the Aqua satellite offers a visual depiction of the dramatic and deadly cold snap, demonstrating temperatures plummeting to -40C.
Global warming could temporarily hit 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time between now and 2023, according to a long-term forecast by the British Met Office.

Painful data — If you’ve experienced terrible pain after negative experiences online, you’re not alone. New research from Microsoft suggests that such agony is widespread, with over a third of global internet users reporting “moderate or severe pain” from online experiences, including 5% of survey respondents who said they suffered “unbearable pain.”
Crypto-pain — Canadian crypto exchange QuadrigaCX says it cannot repay most of US$262 million in client holdings after its founder Gerald Cotten, the only person who knew the passwords to its “cold storage,” unexpectedly died in India in December 2018. [OK, I’m aware I shouldn’t find that funny.]
House Democrats tell Ajit Pai to stop screwing over the public — The US House Commerce Committee is “reassuming its traditional role of oversight to ensure the agency is acting in the best interest of the public and consistent with its legislative authority,” Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) said.
FBI wants your DNA — There are plenty of reasons to be wary of at-home DNA testing, particularly if you’re concerned about genetic privacy.
That’s especially true now that it’s come to light that FamilyTreeDNA, one of the largest private genetic testing companies, is cooperating with the FBI to give its agents access to its genealogy database.
German curbs Facebook — Facebook has been ordered to curb its data collection practices in Germany after a landmark ruling that the world’s largest social network abused its market dominance to gather information about users without their consent.
AI hears your anger in 1.2 seconds — MIT Media Lab spinoff Affectiva’s neural network, SoundNet, can classify anger from audio data in as little as 1.2 seconds regardless of the speaker’s language — just over the time it takes for humans to perceive anger.
Aussie cop used police databases for Tinder trawls — An ex-cop in Western Australia has been gaoled for six months for using police databases to snoop on the records of dozens of women he’d encountered on dating sites such as Tinder and PlentyOfFish.
Russian government accessing corporate data — A Dutch security researcher found credentials for the Russian government’s backdoor account for accessing servers of businesses operating in Russia.
Huawei admits security issues — In a remarkable piece of honest self assessment, Huawei has produced a letter to a UK House of Commons committee member in response to security concerns raised by the UK Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) in its annual report, a body that includes Huawei, UK operators and UK government officials.

Rich kids in school cheating with their Apple Watches — There is one demographic that has embraced the Apple Watch with open arms: tech-savvy, upper middle-class teens and tweens. The Watch is a convenient workaround for classroom cell-phone bans; it can be used for everything from texting to cheating on tests. [That’s progress …]

Billions more people … or not — By 2050 there will be 9 billion carbon-burning, plastic-polluting, calorie-consuming people on the planet. By 2100, that number will balloon to 11 billion, pushing society into a Soylent Green scenario. Such dire population predictions aren’t the stuff of sci-fi; those numbers come from one of the most trusted world authorities, the United Nations. But what if they’re wrong? Not by a rounding error, either. By billions.
Eating like you’re going to save the Earth — That’s what Brian Kahn tried for Gizmodo. 
French government pays out to Holocaust survivors — Around three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust ended with the extermination of at least six million Jews, some survivors, as well as victims’ families and estates, are receiving reparations from France, in acknowledgment of the government’s role in deporting them to Nazi death camps via French trains.

Any good news? A little: the UK’s CO2 emissions peaked in the year 1973 and have declined by around 38% since 1990, faster than any other major developed country. 

The Apocalypticon ~ Around the world in hatey ways


Your world is going to shatter — So says Eric Hinton. But then, it always has and it always will. Trump shut down the US, and now there’s ‘untold morale problems’. This is what happens when giant ego strikes general workforce. The US may have added 304,000 jobs in January, but the shutdown boosted unemployment to 4%.
And people can’t afford to buy homes as their student dept is too high.
But hey, maybe a robot will call to ask how you’re doing?

The cold doesn’t help — Medical effects of extreme cold: why it hurts and how to stay safe. Meanwhile, it’s been toasty and humid in Auckland while Australia bakes under a record-breaking heat wave. [See-saw …]
Bangkok closing schools thanks to pollution — Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok has been dealing with shitty air quality all month, but now the incessant air pollution has forced the city to close schools for the rest of the week.

How about a war then? The US and Russia are stocking up on missiles and nukes for a different kind of war. [Coz you know, when you can’t govern, you’re messing up the planet but won’t admit it and there’s terrible pollution, why not go to war?]

Tech-wars — Yes, we have them too. A Russian government agency has reportedly been ‘strong-arming’ Apple.
A new website exposes the extent to which Apple cooperates with Chinese government internet censorship, blocking access to Western news sources, information about human rights and religious freedoms, and privacy-enhancing apps that would circumvent the country’s pervasive online surveillance regime. [To me, willingly colluding with a corrupt regime for profit is the same as being a corrupt regime.]
China’s so wonderful, right? A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for ‘subverting state power‘. [In other words, for criticising state power.]
Want to cut Microsoft out of your life? It’s probably no longer possible.
Billions of records getting passed around — When hackers breached companies like Dropbox and LinkedIn in recent years, stealing 71 and 117 million passwords, respectively, they at least had the decency to exploit those stolen credentials in secret, or sell them for thousands of dollars on the dark web. Now, it seems, someone has cobbled together those breached databases and many more into a gargantuan, unprecedented collection of 2.2 billion unique usernames and passwords, and is freely distributing them on hacker forums and torrents. [And you think governments won’t partake?]
Government hacks in Japan — The Japanese government has approved a law amendment that will allow government workers to hack into people’s Internet of Things devices as part of an unprecedented survey of insecure IoT devices. The survey will be carried out by employees of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Costly older Tinder daters —Tinder is supposed to dish out $US17.25 million ($24 million) worth of cash and in-app features to users over the age of 29 who were required to pay extra for their subscription services.

Want to eat better? It may be be better for the planet, but what will it do to you? Luckily, the simple answer is that a healthy pattern of eating is one that encompasses a broad array of foods. [Duh!]

And the good news? Give your anger a name and you may be able to tame it. And I like this story, too: researchers used a grainy photograph of a toppled train combined with an eyewitness account to analyse the deadly earthquake that struck San Francisco over 110 years ago.

The Apocalypticon ~ Doomsday Clock, angry religious left, less GOP women, Tech A-holes, China, surveillance, Earth, asteroids, pollution, climate change profits, skills not degrees


Close to midnight — Last year brought the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s famed Doomsday Clock as close as it’s ever been to midnight. This year’s update will test if you’re a glass half full or empty person: the clock is at the same daunting precipice it was last year thanks to the “two simultaneous existential threats” of climate change and nuclear war, as well as growing concern over efforts to debase truth and information warfare. [That’s three existential threats if you ask me. Also, if it actually strikes midnight, we presumably won’t be here to notice.]
Trump provokes religious left — Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organised a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda, a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights and racial justice. [Oh my God, the terrible threats of peace, love and understanding! What would Jesus do?]
Republicans, meanwhile, face a gender crisis — New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik is deeply worried about her party. “We are facing a crisis level of Republican women in Congress,” Stefanik said, noting there are only 13 Republican women in the US House, down from 23 last session. [Maybe GOP means ‘Guys of Power’?] “Women candidates typically come out of a cohort of college-educated women. And there are far fewer college educated women identifying as Republicans these days,” Christine Matthews, a GOP pollster, told NPR after the event. [Funny, that.]

But wait, we also have the Tech A-holes: Facebook and genocide — Facebook, a tech company the United Nations said has been literally complicit in genocide, has a new feature that’s being rolled out this week. And there’s a very good chance that it’s going to be abused, no matter what assurances the company provides. [I deleted mine. Couldn’t feel better.]
Facebook to amalgamate messaging apps — Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, plans to integrate the social network’s messaging services WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger to assert his control over the company’s sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandals. [Yeah, great …]
Google wants to limit the abilities of workers to organise — Google’s employees have captured international attention in recent months through high-profile protests of workplace policies. So Google has been quietly urging the US government to narrow legal protection for workers organising online.
Seriously, it’s time to take control of your online profile!
Meanwhile, US tech companies sell their surveillance services to dictators — The intermingling of privately sold technology and authoritarian regimes is hardly an outlier.

But none of that gets China off the hook — Is China really using Huawei to hack the world’s communications? UK Wired thinks it’s not that easy to tell.
Debtor proximity alerts — China is gearing up to launch a social credit system in 2020, giving all citizens an identity number that will be linked to a permanent record. Like a financial score, everything from paying back loans to behaviour on public transport will be included. One aspect of this social credit system is a new app in the northern province of Hebei that warns you when a debtor is close. [Find My Unfriends …]

The planet Earth — According to a survey of asteroid craters at least 10 kms (6.2 miles) wide, the number of asteroids slamming into Earth has nearly tripled since the dinosaurs first roamed.
CO2 will be going up even more — The level of climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is forecast to rise by a near-record amount in 2019, according to the British Met Office.
Not just plastic polluting the ocean: noise, too — That’s right: ship-mounted seismic guns firing at the ocean floor to find more oil.
Pofiting from climate change — Despite capitalism playing a huge role in the problem of climate change, companies remain committed to the system and are already planning on how to profit from our misery. [Honestly, read and weep! As a species, we really can be nauseating.]

Is there any good news? A little. According to the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, it’s important that tech companies focus on hiring people with valuable skills, not just people with college degrees. [And guess what? They’ll have way less debt, so may be generally less anxious.]

The Apocalypticon ~ This is America, Around the World in awful ways, bullying, Trump, France, Saudi, Germany, Poland, China, World Bank, Russian Orthodox, robots, data, Facebook, digital hoarding


Bullying and the Trump Effect — Francis Huang of the University of Missouri and Dewey Cornell of the University of Virginia used data from a school climate survey taken by over 150,000 students across Virginia. They looked at student responses to questions about bullying and teasing from 2015 and 2017. The researcher found higher rates of bullying and certain types of teasing in areas where voters favoured Trump.
As federal workers miss their first pay-checks since the partial government shutdown began three weeks ago thanks to Trump’s attempt to ‘govern by tantrum’, frustration, anxiety and anger are rising. As the shutdown continues, it is going to have impacts in the billions of dollars.
Older Americans are disproportionately more likely to share fake news on Facebook, according to a new analysis by researchers at New York and Princeton Universities.
Cancer in America has been beaten back over the 25 years ending 2016, with death rates plummeting, particularly when it comes to the four most common types of the dreaded affliction. If you’re rich.
Too much cheese — The US has a 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus. The glut is the largest in US history: there is enough cheese sitting in cold storage to wrap around the US Capitol building. [Which currently sounds like a more productive move than what’s going on within the capitol.]

Around the world in awful ways — Last week, public figures in Germany experienced the “biggest data dump” in the country’s history. Following a remarkably swift investigation, authorities say they have obtained a confession from the person responsible. Quieting fears that the doxxing attack against hundreds of politicians was state-sponsored: it appears the culprit is a 20-year-old high school student.
French Yellow Vests take out speed cameras — Members of the “yellow vests” protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France’s entire speed camera network. The wilful damage is a threat to road safety, of course. The protest movement began over fuel tax increases, and saw motorists block roads and motorway toll booths, but some elements may be linked to right-wing groups.
A Huawei executive has been arrested in Poland on charges of spying for China, Poland’s counterintelligence service has reported.[To misquote Roger Daltry, ‘Huawei, who who, who who?’ The Poles really wanna know.] Meanwhile, the Chinese tech giant has been linked to Syria and Iran.
Saudi Arabia will now notify women by text if they have been divorced. Women in Saudi Arabia, who have long been subjected to a litany of misogynistic restrictions on their behaviour including totalitarian male guardianship laws, will soon receive text messages to inform them of changes to their marital status as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ‘reforms’ of the country’s monarchic government.
World Bank says robots aren’t taking your jobs. Yet. The World Bank has released its annual World Development Report, and the headline news this go round, as relayed by Bloomberg and others, is basically that Robots Aren’t Killing Jobs. Of course, the World Bank isn’t terribly concerned with the quality of jobs, just that they are there.
Cuban ‘sonic weapon’ turned out to be pretty innocent — Since 2017, the baffling case of US diplomatic staff in Cuba and elsewhere who developed symptoms resembling brain trauma after allegedly hearing strange noises (sometimes called Havana syndrome) have spawned plenty of theories of varying plausibility. But it was most likely to be, by jumpy, just crickets! [But hey, at least they got to exercise their paranoia.]
China is letting more than 2000 ethnic Kazakhs drop their Chinese citizenship and leave the country, according to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry. [I guess the alternative is to be persecuted like the Uigurs. Hm, Kazakhstan looks great!]
Russian Orthodox patriarch declares data is the Antichrist —The devil is in the downloads, says Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill warned that smart devices like cell phones and social networks could enable the rise of Satan’s chosen and the rule of darkness until the end times. [I thought the Antichrist was just logic, myself.]

Hey, we’ve reached data — Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Elections, has been fined £15,000 (roughly US$$19,000) in a UK court after pleading guilty to failing to comply with an enforcement notice issued by the national data protection watchdog.
NSA to release reverse engineering tool for free — The US National Security Agency will release a free reverse engineering tool at the upcoming RSA security conference. GHIDRA is a disassembler, a piece of software that breaks down executable files into assembly code that can then be analysed by humans. [Let the wild ruckus begin.]
Samsung users perturbed they can’t delete Facebook — Nick Winke, a photographer in the Pacific northwest, was perusing internet forums when he came across a complaint that alarmed him: On certain Samsung Electronics Co. smartphones, users aren’t allowed to delete the Facebook app. Winke bought his Samsung Galaxy S8, an Android-based device that comes with Facebook’s social network already installed when it was introduced in 2017. He found only an option to ‘disable’ rather than delete.
Digital hoarding is as bad for you as physical hoarding — Emerging research on digital hoarding (a reluctance to get rid of the digital clutter we accumulate through our work and personal lives) suggests it can make us feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as physical clutter. [I’m ruthless with my data, and happy for it … of course, it’s all backed up. But I also keep my computer desktop clear and only two screens of apps on iPad and iPhone.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Swinging right, fake internet, greedy YouTube stars, Maryland plumbing bug, sea ice, broke plastic, broke US


The world keeps swinging right — And the last time this happened, Labour came into power in New Zealand. Then World War Two broke out, thanks to all the right wingers out there just dying to have a go at each other. Brazil just got its wannabe dictator, Bolzano, who even had the machismo to do a nazi salute from his motorcade. His inauguration was attended by the right wing leaders of Hungary and Israel. [Oh, how the world has changed?]
Speaking of right-wing regimes, China is losing track of its CRISPR -edited patients — Gene therapies are very much at their preliminary stages of development, so it would make sense to keep tabs on patients whose DNA has been modified via the innovative CRISPR technique. For some scientists in China, however, this is apparently not a priority.
Odd, coz the Chinese seem hell-bent on tracking everyone else.

Fake internet — In late November 2018, the US Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered… Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites…. [B]ots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.”
In Germany, identity theft — An enormous leak of personal information belonging to artists, media figures, and politicians in Germany included Chancellor Angela Merkel. The hack is being called the “biggest data dump” in German history and appears to contain a treasure trove of information that could be used for identity theft.
Dead to us — The Ars Technica 2019 Deathwatch includes the very troubled Essential phone, but even Soundcloud, Faraday Futures and Facebook makes the list.
Really? A series of auctions revealed that Facebook users value the company’s service so highly that it would take on average more than US$1000 to convince them to deactivate their accounts for a year, according to a recent paper published in PLOS One. [Hah, I just deleted my account and feel a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, all for free.]
Girls may be freed more — According to a new study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, the link between social media use and depressive symptoms in 14-year-olds may be much stronger for girls than boys. The study showed a 50% increase in depressive symptoms among girls versus 35% among boys.
Wealthy YouTube stars hawking shady Polish gambling — Untold riches are promised on Mystery Brand, a website that sells prize-filled “mystery boxes.” If you buy one of the digital boxes, some of which cost hundreds of dollars, you might only get a fidget spinner – or you might get a luxury sports car.  Or at least that’s what some top YouTubers have been telling their young fans about the gambling site. [Coz hey, you can never be too greedy.]

Around the world — Plumbing bug in Maryland: In 2016, a mysterious illness spread inside the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center, the U.S. government’s most prominent research hospital, in Bethesda, Maryland. Patients were somehow being sickened by an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that practically never causes disease in humans. Two years later, a new study seems to finally have confirmed where this bug likely came from: the hospital’s own plumbing.
Antarctic sea ice slump has scientists confused — What’s happening to Arctic sea ice is pretty straightforward: Earth is getting warmer, and everything’s melting. But on the other side [my] of the planet, things are more complicated, as evidenced by the latest Antarctic sea ice slump that has scientists scratching their heads. [Gosh, and I thought ‘global warming meant, you know, global warming.]
Effort to snare gyre plastic broke — Invented by Boyan Slat at just 17, the barrier has so far done some of what it was designed to accomplish. It travels with wind and wave propulsion, like a U-shaped Pac-Man hungry for plastic. It orients itself in the wind then catches and concentrates plastic, sort of. But as Slat, now 24, recently discovered with the beta tester for his design, plastic occasionally drifts out of its U-shaped funnel. The other issue with the beta tester, called System 001, is that last week, an 18-metre (60-foot) end section broke off. [And what’s the bet it’s mostly made of plastic.]
Hey, how about not adding cancer causing chemicals to bacon? The reputation of the meat industry will sink to that of big tobacco unless it removes cancer-causing chemicals from processed products such as bacon and ham, a coalition of experts and politicians in UK warned. [Then do we get to call that industry ‘Big Pig’?]
Americans are cycling less — Nationally, the percentage of people who say they use a bike to get to work fell by 3.2% from 2016 to 2017, to an average of 836,569 commuters, according to the bureau’s latest American Community Survey, which regularly asks a group of Americans about their habits. That’s down from a high of 904,463 in 2014, when it peaked after four straight years of increases…

And hey, we forgot Trump. But how could we? Along with garbage piling up at National Parks and federal workers furloughed, the government shutdown is also slowing down businesses that rely on federal workers during the day, like the restaurants and cafes where they eat lunch. [Shouldn’t we let Americans eat again?]

The Apocalypticon ~ World fear, climate of fear, data wars, quaking and shaking, magic soil


At year’s end, global health numbers offer reason for both hope and despair — There is one strong positive note: an overriding public health finding is that people are living longer.
But then there are the million-plus cases of cholera in Yemen — deemed “a hideous milestone for the 21st century” by the International Committee of the Red Cross. And there’s lots more to mourn. For example, 8.6 million people died from no, or poor, health care.
Japan is withdrawing from an international group that bans commercial whaling — Japan will resume commercial hunts for the first time in 30 years next July. Japan will leave the International Whaling Commission, which put a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s.
More US law enforcement officers were shot and killed in the line of duty in 2018 than last year. This fact drove a 12% overall increase in the number of officers who died on the job, according to preliminary data from The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
12 sickened by stem cell treatments — A recent report from the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) underscores the health risks stem cell procedures can have. An outbreak linked to stem cell injections contaminated with bacteria sickened at least 12 people this year.
Higher education is supposed to be the ticket to employment — But in some US Bay Area counties, workers with high school diploma have lower unemployment rates than those with bachelor’s degrees or higher.
Bottled water slakes thirst, creates massive problems — A consumer backlash against disposable plastic plus new government mandates and bans in places such as zoos and department stores have the world’s biggest bottled-water makers scrambling to find alternatives. [Finally!]
2018 was the year robots started to take over service jobs — “We face the prospect of major upheaval in the last dependable pool of jobs we’ve got.”

Data wars — Zuckerberg claims ‘we’ve changed’. In his year-end post, Zuckerberg was optimistic, if a little defensive. He ticked off changes the company’s made – or, as he put it, “We’ve fundamentally altered our DNA” – to focus more on handling the bad stuff that happens on Facebook. [To which I respond ‘bullshit!’ I am about to purge Facebook and Instagram fundamentally from all my systems.]
This follows the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill, the massive hack affecting 29 million people, the bombshell report from The New York Times questioning both Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg’s leadership … in just a short couple of years, Zuckerberg has gone from possible presidential contender to a parody on SNL. [Also, why wasn’t the ‘DNA altered’ after Cambridge?]
The New York Times has already questioned this so-called’DNA altering’. Apparently, Facebook has a serious content moderation problem.
Google caves to Turkish pressure, condemns a culture to oblivion — Google has removed a map outlining the geographical extent of the Greater Kurdistan after the Turkish state asked it to do so, a simple inquiry on the Internet giant’s search engine from Wednesday on can show. “Unavailable. This map is no longer available due to a violation of our Terms of Service and/or policies,” a note on the page that the map was previously on read. Google did not provide further details on how the Kurdistan map violated its rules. [Yeah, you suck too, Google.]
LinkedIn too — Co-founder Reid Hoffman has a lot to apologise for, but now he’s specifically saying he’s sorry for funding a political experiment gone horribly awry.
The New York Times revealed that a research group with ties to the Democrat Party ran an experimental campaign using social media tactics inspired by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Chinese hackers target cutting-edge US firms — A Justice Department poster shows two Chinese citizens suspected of carrying out an extensive hacking campaign directed at dozens of US tech companies. US law enforcement says such cases are on the rise as China seeks to become a world leader in advanced technologies by 2025.
To understand China’s espionage goals, US officials say, just look at the ambitious aims the country set out in the plan ‘Made in China 2025.’

People start to mobilise for climate action — More than 1.8 million people worldwide have signed a petition from environmental groups to sue the French government for failing to take sufficient action on the matter. These groups, which include Greenpeace France and Oxfam France, are calling it the case of the century.
In 2017, France consumed 4.5% more fossil fuels than the scheduled target the French government had set out when it launched its energy transition act in 2015 to prevent further global warming.
Sea turtles turning female — A new study shows that climate change may cause most sea turtles to be born female. The future of sea turtles depends on the coexistence of dudes and gals, so this is not cool at all.
Under Trump, more protections removed — In another proposed reversal of an Obama-era standard, the Environmental Protection Agency Friday said limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants is not cost-effective and should not be considered “appropriate and necessary.”
US drought map — Crippling drought this year has caused more than $1 billion in damage in the US. Anyone affected by the drought or trying to manage it has turned to a once-obscure map that has become key to understanding what’s happening: the US Drought Monitor.
Londoners confronted with melting Greenland ice — Any Londoners walking past their city’s famous Tate Modern art gallery this month found it difficult not to stop and stare at a new addition to its courtyard: huge chunks of melting ice, harvested from the shores of Greenland.
Between 2011 and 2014, Greenland lost a trillion tons of ice. In July 2012, almost the entire surface of the ice sheet was melting, an event that was simultaneously unprecedented in the satellite era and a bellwether for what appears to be the new normal.

Quaking, erupting and shaking — An overnight earthquake, triggered by Italy’s Mount Etna eruption two days before, caused injuries and damage in Eastern Sicily. The volcano has been spewing ash and lava has flowed down its slopes since it began erupting on Christmas Eve.
The entire southwest flank of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatau volcano is missing The erupting volcano triggered a massive landslide on December 22nd which, in turn, generated a tsunami that killed over 420 people.

Sigh. Is there any good news? This is promising: Scientists in China have developed modified clay to prevent dangerous algal blooms, a boon for Chile’s aquaculture industry. Algal blooms can take a severe toll on the health of marine organisms as their sudden rapid growth can deplete oxygen and nutrients in water bodies. If left unchecked, the vast amounts of algae can cause water to become discoloured, resulting in what is known as a ‘red tide.’

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate terror, data, lies, rats, Cohen


The most terrifying climate disasters Of 2018 — 2018 has been the year when climate change’s influence on our weather crystallised further. The flames showed up in our proverbial (and in some cases, literal) backyard. And the planet, our home, will go up in smoke if we don’t act soon.
Second hottest Arctic — According to a new report released by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Arctic had its second-hottest year on record in 2018. Arctic air temperatures over the past five years exceeded all previous records since 1900.
Life is changing in the Arctic — Utqiaġvik is warming, along with the rest of the Arctic, about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, sits right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean at the very top of Alaska. It’s the northernmost town in the United States, and home to about 4400. The coastline here used to be edged with sea ice for nearly the whole year. But that period is getting shorter and shorter, and as a result Utqiaġvik locals are dealing with coastal erosion and are changing how they hunt in the fall.
Rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history — It wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet, scientists have found. The mass extinction, known as the “great dying”, occurred around 252m years ago.

Quakes and tsunamis — US quake: A magnitude 4.4 earthquake struck at around 4:14am near Decatur, Tennessee on December 12th. That’s about 150 miles southeast of Nashville. But Tennessee residents weren’t the only ones to feel the temblor: over 7700 people reported experiencing it from Kentucky and northern Alabama to the western Carolinas, and even in Atlanta.
Japan’s plans for a 30-metre (100-foot) tsunami — It will shake houses and tall buildings, and unleash a 30-metre tsunami on one of the most densely populated and industrialised coastlines in the world. It could kill and injure a million people. And it will almost certainly come in the next few decades. Now, the Japanese government is making plans to evacuate millions of people in anticipation of what could be one of the worst natural disasters in history: the Nankai Trough megaquake. [Good name for a band, though!] Clearly, we need to step up our geoengineering
But we may run out of the materials we need — Plenty of high-tech electronic components, like solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and complex circuits require specific rare metals. These can include magnetic neodymium, electronic indium, and silver, along with lesser-known metals like praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. These metals are mined in large quantities in countries around the world, and they make their way into the supply chains of all sorts of electronics and renewables companies. But there may not be enough to combat climate change.

Data wars — Facebook admits bug may have briefly exposed photos of 6.8 million app users: Between September 13th and 25th, a bug temporarily exposed more photos than intended to third-party apps that use Facebook logins, the social network acknowledged in December.
So are you ready to ditch ’em? Here’s a reflection on a month without Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, plus a how-to guide if you want to quit the biggest companies in tech.
Chinese hackers are breaching Navy contractors to steal targets include everything from ship-maintenance data to missile plans, triggering a top-to-bottom review of cyber vulnerabilities, WSJ reported, citing officials and experts.
Floating IT hacks — IT systems on boats aren’t as air-gapped as people think. They are falling victims to all sorts of cyber-security incidents, such as ransomware, worms, viruses, and other malware usually carried on board via USB sticks. These cyber-security incidents have only been recently revealed as past examples of what could go wrong, in a new cyber-security guideline released by 21 international shipping associations and industry groups. In one of the many incidents, a new-build dry bulk ship was delayed from sailing for several days because its ECDIS was infected by a virus.
Android facial recognition fooled by fake heads — Forbes magazine tested four of the most popular handsets running Google’s operating systems and Apple’s iPhone to see how easy it’d be to break into them with a 3D-printed head. All the Android handsets opened with the fake (but Apple’s phone was impenetrable).
Talking about fake heads … Michael Cohen on Trump — Michael Cohen, President Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer, says his former boss knew it was wrong to order hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who say they had affairs with Trump – but he directed Cohen to do it anyway to help his election chances. Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow

Talking about rats — Washington, DC, has a serious rat problem on its hands. But this has little to do with the shady goings-on at some of the highest levels of government. The Associated Press has reported that the DC region is facing a serious problem with Rattus Norvegicus, or the brown rat, an infestation that’s being exacerbated by a population spike thanks to milder winters.

Any good news? A little: a coalition of environmental groups who monitor divestment released a report at the Poland climate talks showing that the number of groups pulling their money out of fossil fuels had reached 1000. Together, these groups manage nearly $11 trillion worth of funds.

The Apocalypticon ~ Trump, Faceplant, Climactic, Hope


Trump’s golf club employed illegals — The Trump Organization employed undocumented immigrants at one of its New Jersey golf clubs, according to a lawyer representing one former and one current employee. [Honestly, is anyone surprised at new hypocrisies to do with the Donald?] Two women, for example, worked in close proximity to Trump both before and after he was elected president.
Flynn trumpets on Trump — Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has provided “substantial” aid in the Russia investigation and beyond [my italics]. And that merits a judge’s consideration at Flynn’s sentencing this month, prosecutors said in court papers.
Only in America? Hundreds of military service members reportedly got caught up in a sextortion scam run by prison inmates using mobile phones, according to a release issued on Wednesday by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Faceplant — While we’re in the US, Facebook employees have been using burner phones to talk about Facebook: Facebook’s reputation has only continued to get more sullied in recent weeks, and it’s taking a toll on employees. Things over at the old FB are getting grim, with people now using untraceable ‘burner phones’ to talk about the company. And not even to reporters, just to other employees, according to one former employee. Another described the current scene as a ‘bunker mentality’ after nearly two years of continuous bad press. [You know, like this.]
Sandberg sure as hell knew exactly what Facebook was doing in regards to Soros —
Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was directly involved in the company’s decision to seek information on billionaire philanthropist and vocal Facebook critic George Soros, the New York Times has reported. Citing people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to avoid retaliation [you see why Facebook employees might want burner phones?], the Times reported that Sandberg specifically requested information [my italics] on Soros’ financial interests. [It’s always a bad sign when news outlets start selecting the Grinch photos.]
Facial recognition has to be regulated to protect the public, says AI report — The research institute AI Now has identified facial recognition as a key challenge for society and policymakers – but is it too late? It might mean you can unlock your phone with a smile, but it also means that governments and big corporations have been given a powerful new surveillance tool.

Climactic — massive decline of monarchs: Far fewer of the butterflies were heading south this year, and those that have arrived did so a month late, according to Xerces, a non-profit conservation group for invertebrates. One researcher said it was the fewest monarch butterflies in central California in 46 years. Surveyors at 97 sites found only 20,456 monarchs compared to 148,000 at the same sites last year, an 86% decline.
Shocking human-wrought changes to Earth — It’s one thing to know this in the abstract, and another to see global changes laid out in detail, as they are in comprehensive new maps published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. Developed by geoscientist Tomasz Stepinski and his team at the University of Cincinnati’s Space Informatics Lab (SPI), the intricate visualisations reveal that 22% of Earth’s total landmass was altered between 1992 and 2015, mostly by humans.
Decline in maple syrup — Sugar maple trees need snow to stay warm and grow. Each winter, a deep blanket of snow covers about 65% of northeastern sugar maples. Without this insulating snow, the soil freezes deeper and longer, damaging the trees’ shallow roots. So as climate change reduces the amount of deep snow. a new study says this spells trouble for the trees.
Greenland may one day be a green land — Rising sea levels could become overwhelming sooner than previously believed, according to the authors of the most comprehensive study yet of the accelerating ice melt in Greenland.
Vanishing coaster settlements — Del Mar is a picturesque Southern Californian place; its name means “of the sea,” in Spanish. That’s becoming increasingly true: Del Mar is one of countless coastal communities in California and across the US that is seeing the impacts of climate change and preparing for worse to come.
But we still need to burn coal … right? More than 40% of the world’s coal plants are operating at a loss due to high fuel costs and that proportion could to rise to nearly 75% by 2040, a report by environmental think-tank Carbon Tracker showed on Friday.
Last week, at least 8000 barrels of crude oil gushed into the northern Amazon rainforest in Peru — This created one of the worst spills the region has seen in years. State oil company Petroperú is blaming a local indigenous community for sabotaging a pipeline and triggering the spill, but the leader of Peru’s Wampis Nation, whose members make up that community, denies the accusations.

Hope? Aston Martin announced it’s starting a Heritage EV program where owners of classic Aston Martins can have their cars converted to an all-electric powertrain: The British automaker said it is starting this program so that classic cars don’t get banned from cities that are moving to shun internal combustion engines in favour of boosting air quality for residents. [Yeah, you really want to look after those rich people … the innocent victims in all this … but is there another alternative?]
Free public transport — Luxembourg City, the capital of the small Grand Duchy, suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in the world. Luxembourg has increasingly shown a progressive attitude to transport. This summer, the government brought in free transport for every child and young person under the age of 20. Secondary school students can use free shuttles between their institution and their home. Commuters need only pay €2 (£1.78) for up to two hours of travel, which in a country of just 2590sq km covers almost all journeys.
But from the start of 2020 all tickets will be abolished, saving on the collection of fares and the policing of ticket purchases. [While getting loads of cars off the roads.]

The Apocalypticon ~ Climate change, China, Russia, US, around the world


Climate — Trump’s attempt to bury major climate change report on Thanksgiving backfired. By releasing the report on a very slow news day, the White House might have inadvertently made it easier for publications to feature its dire conclusions – including hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses and thousands of additional deaths by century’s end – prominently. Of course, President Donald Trump rejected a central conclusion of a dire report on the economic costs of climate change released by his own administration. [If only he could figure out how to make money out of climate change – then he’d back it 110%.]
Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has hit its highest rate in a decade — About 7900 sq km (3050 sq miles) of the world’s largest rainforest was destroyed between August 2017 and July 2018 – an area roughly five times the size of London. [But hey, at least Brazil has a racist homophobic climate-change denier as president now.]
Insects dying at an alarming rate — Bees are actually dying at an alarming rate, but not only that, all insects are dying, plus the birds, plants and just about everything that relies on insects has seen their populations decrease by as much as 75% over the past 30 years.
Sea turtles washing up — The shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts have seen a spike in the number of debilitated and dead sea turtles, with nearly 600 animals washing up so far this year, according to wildlife officials; 340 turtles were found alive and 244 dead.
145 pilot whales stranded in New Zealand — Over the weekend a hiker was tramping across Stewart Island, a remote locale in New Zealand’s far southern regions, when the crest of a hill brought an unsettling vista into view: scores of dead pilot whales washed ashore on the beach. [I still think we should change their name – piloting seems to be the least successful thing they do – although they’re probably full of plastic or something.]

China — China’s cars talk to Chinese government. When Shan Junhua bought his white Tesla Model X, he knew it was a fast, beautiful car. What he didn’t know is that Tesla constantly sends information about the precise location of his car to the Chinese government. China has called upon all electric vehicle manufacturers in China to make the same kind of reports. [Want to sell to China? Suck up to Big Brother Xi Jinping, then.]
Another day, another high-profile incarceration — Lu Guang, an award-winning Chinese photographer and New York resident, has gone missing while visiting China, his wife says. Lu went missing after he was invited to a photography event in the heavily controlled region of Xinjiang.
Apple has removed 718 apps from the Chinese App Store in the last few days — The iPhone maker swept the apps out because their developers pushed updates without its permission.  Apple warned developers against updating iOS apps without its permission in early 2017. The banned apps included Sogou’s search engine and maps, online retailer Pinduodo and car sharing service Togo Car.

Russia —Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels near Crimea is an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory,” says US Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, calling it “another reckless Russian escalation” in a deadly and years-long conflict. [Where angels fear to tread, fools Russian.]
Ukraine bans Russian men — Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko then barred Russian men of military age from entering the country, saying the order was needed to prevent an infiltration in what appeared to be an allusion to Moscow’s 2014 takeover of Crimea from Ukraine.
Russia send missiles — Russia is sending new S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to its installations in Crimea. The move came days after Russian warships seized several Ukrainian naval vessels, adding to tensions with neighbouring Ukraine over the land Russia seized in 2014.

US — Trump planned lavish gift for Putin: President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.
General Motors, Sears and Toys R Us Layoffs across America highlight a shredding financial safety net — Real retirement security has not been a big enough part of the conversation on either side of the political spectrum.
Marriott’s Starwood Hotels has confirmed its hotel guest database of about 500 million customers was stolen in a data breach — The hotel and resorts giant said in a statement filed with US regulators that the “unauthorized access” to its guest database was detected on or before September 10 — but may date back as far as 2014.
US life expectancy has dropped — Life expectancy for Americans fell again last year, despite growing recognition of the problems driving the decline and federal and local funds invested in stemming them.
US millennials are poorer — Since millennials first started entering the workforce, their spending habits have been blamed for killing off industries ranging from casual restaurant dining to starter houses. However, a new study by the Federal Reserve suggests it might be less about how they are spending their money and more about not having any to spend. [The gig economy is the beginning of the end for human workers.]
Democrats want more info on Amazon facial recognition — A group of Democratic lawmakers are demanding more answers from Amazon about its contracts to provide law enforcement agencies with facial recognition technology.
Microsoft to power US army — Microsoft has secured a US$662 million-plus contract with the US Army for Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) prototypes, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, expanding its relationship with the military and beating out a slew of other companies competing for the contract. [We are about to enter live battle zone. Please do not restart your computer: critical Security Update will now install …]

A world of pain — UK deals ‘extraordinary rebuke’ to Facebook: The British Parliament has seized internal Facebook documents in “an extraordinary attempt to hold the US social media giant to account” after being repeatedly spurned in their attempts to have the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify about its data privacy practices. The internal Facebook documents in question could shed light on management’s approach to data privacy issues around the same time it was dealing with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Intimate killings of women — Last year, 50,000 women worldwide were killed by intimate partners or family members. That translates to 1.3 deaths per 100,000 women, according to a global study on gender-related killing of women and girls released this month by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Australian firms can sack employees refusing scans — Businesses using fingerprint scanners to monitor their workforce can legally sack employees who refuse to hand over biometric information on privacy grounds, the Australian Fair Work Commission has ruled. [Advance Australia F____]
Online help can read what you type — Next time you’re chatting with a customer service agent online, be warned that the person on the other side of your conversation might see what you’re typing in real time.
Japan has restarted 5 nuclear power reactors in 2018 — As part of Japan’s long-term energy policy, issued in April 2014, the central government called for the nuclear share of total electricity generation to reach 20%–22% by 2030, which would require 25 to 30 reactors to be in operation by then. In 2017, four operating nuclear reactors provided 3% of Japan’s total electricity generation. [They’re on shaky ground.]
Giant viruses —In an oversized US outdoor research laboratory, scientists have made an unexpected discovery, finding 16 rare ‘giant’ viruses that are completely new to science.
Super smart computer viruses — The cybersecurity threats of deep learning and neural networks are emerging. We’re just beginning to catch glimpses of a future in which cybercriminals trick neural networks into making fatal mistakes and use deep learning to hide their malware and find their target among millions of users.
Time capsules that may survive apocalypse — Most of ’em get soggy and ruined, but there are ways

Excerpt from my forthcoming book — It’s kinda on hold as I work on another book, sorry! But I will get back to it after Christmas.

The Apocalypticon ~ Diseases, fragility of China, spawned in the USA, around the world, and some good news


One of the strangest things that can sicken us is a rogue misfolded protein that destroys the brain — But Prion is even scarier than we knew. Researchers were able to find the prions responsible for sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (sCJD), the most common prion disease in people, seeded everywhere in the eyes of 11 patients affected by it.
Rat hepatitis in humans — A 70-year-old Hong Kong woman has contracted the rat-specific version of Hepatitis E, signifying only the second time the disease has been documented in humans. Health officials in China are now scrambling to understand the implications of this disturbing new development.
Don’t eat the Romaine! The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out an unusually strong statement telling Americans to toss any romaine lettuce in any form: whole, chopped, pre-bagged into Caesar salads, combined into spring mix, and so on. The warning covered not just homes but retailers and restaurants, and came with a recommendation to empty any fridge where romaine has been stored, and wash it out with soap and warm water.

Marxists now being persecuted in China — Young people who belong to Marxist groups have recently become the unlikely targets of a state crackdown due to their zeal to help educate and mobilise China’s working class to fight for their rights. [OMG that’s so crazy!]
“As Communists, we should incorporate Marxist classics and principles into our lifestyle and treat Marxism as a spiritual pursuit,” President Xi Jinping said at an event celebrating the bicentennial of Marx’s birth in May … But in August, police arrested more than 50 student activists, many of them members of college Marxist groups.
China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality —  Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalised ratings for each resident.
Former FBI guy advocates retaliatory cyber attacks against China — Louis Freeh, who ran the FBI for almost eight years until 2001, said the threat of criminal charges or jail time would do little to prevent state-sponsored hackers from continuing to steal valuable intellectual property. He reckons targeted cyber attacks and a strong deterrence capability are the most effective way of preventing China and other countries continuing to steal Australian commercial secrets.
The US government is reportedly trying to persuade its foreign allies’ wireless and internet providers to avoid Huawei equipment — Officials have spoken to their counterparts and telecom bosses in Germany, Italy, Japan and other friendly countries where the Chinese company’s equipment is already in use.

Spawned in the USA — James Comey, the former head of the FBI who was fired by President Trump, says he will push back on a subpoena to appear in a closed-door session before the House Judiciary Committee unless he is allowed to testify publicly. “I’m still happy to sit in the light and answer all questions,” Comey tweeted. “But I will resist a ‘closed door’ thing because I’ve seen enough of their selective leaking and distortion.”
Americans blame social networks — A new survey from Axios finds that a majority of Americans don’t think social networks are good for the world. [But hey, Facebook delivered the really really best president ever!]
Creepy Facebook patent — A recently published Facebook patent application imagines an unnerving way to use your data. The company filed for a patent that explores piecing together information about a user’s entire household based on the pictures they upload, presumably for targeted advertising. And yes, Instagram photos were also cited in the filing. [I stopped using Instagram  a few weeks back, no regrets.]
US Ground Zero for climate change — The northernmost city in the US continues to be ground zero for the impacts of climate change. As sunlight fades from the Arctic, sea ice began to form this week around Utqiaġvik, an Iñupiat whaling community located on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. And that’s not right, as the sea should have been covered in ice weeks ago.
Climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the US, according to a Federal report — and the country is poised to suffer massive damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue, according to the most comprehensive federal climate report to date. [Oh, wait, Trump can’t here is he still has his head in the sand.]
An emerging, deeply weird conspiracy theory for the Californian fires — This holds that those fires aren’t caused by wind patterns, brutally dry conditions, the worsening effects of climate change, or possible downed power lines, but by a sinister scheme directed by nefarious elements within the government. [Of course! Except the ‘nefarious element’ is the government, starting at the top.]
Rains coming to damp the fires … and may cause another disaster — In what may be the first bit of good news in a while for Northern California, rain could be on the way by the end of this week. It could put the kibosh on the Camp Fire, ending one chapter of the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history.
Unfortunately it won’t be all good news as the rain could trigger mudslides, hamper search and rescue operations, and make the lives of thousands who are homeless miserable.

Around the world — Of course, Trump famously said the Calfornian fires were caused by not raking between trees. So Finns have been making fun of him ever since.
Russian hackers exploit deadly plane crash to go phishing — Security firm Palo Alto Networks has issued a new warning about phishing attacks linked to APT 28, the elite Russian hacking group tied to the 2016 election interference in the United States. The document, sent to myriad targets in North America, Europe, as well as a former Soviet state, was designed to capture the attention of those interested in the Lion Air 737 MAX airline crash in late October, which killed all 189 aboard.
North Korean state media announced the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, recently oversaw tests of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon.” The new report is extremely light on details, but it’s a reminder that very little has actually changed in the US-North Korea relationship since US president Donald Trump took power. Both countries have nuclear weapons and both are on a hair trigger as they develop new capabilities. [Or have they just figured out how to make rifles out of plastic?]
Sperm whale dies full of plastic cups — A dead whale floated ashore in eastern Indonesia with its stomach full of plastic junk, including 115 plastic cups and two pairs of flip-flops. World Wildlife Fund researchers found roughly 6kg of plastic in the 9.45m long sperm whale, reports the Associated Press. [Presumably the two people wearing the flip-flops didn’t make it.]
Dutch government finds Microsoft collected telemetry data — Microsoft has been accused of breaking EU’s GDPR law by harvesting information through Office 365 and sending it to US servers. The discovery was made by the Dutch government.

And in good news … A US federal judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit against neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer alleging it led a “terror campaign” against a Jewish real estate agent, Tanya Gersh, and the Southern Poverty Law Center tells the New York Times it expects the civil case to now proceed to a trial.
The lawsuit accuses the Daily Stormer and its founder, racist troll Andrew Anglin, of mounting a coordinated harassment campaign against Gersh that eventually resulted in her family receiving over 700 messages including death threats and references to the Holocaust.
And my favourite: Siri pulls up image of an actual dick when asked about Trump — The apparent glitch was reported on Thursday by the Verge, which noted that the error may be the result of some turkey day trickster either editing Trump’s Wikipedia page or attempting to game an algorithm associated with the image Siri pulls up automatically.