Tag Archives: Trump

The Apocalypticon ~ Capitalism over, data, disease, climate, guns, funs and hell


How many days do Americans waste commuting? Too many! (Red is the worst, at 56-77 days!)

Another week, another slew of terrors — Capitalism as we know it is over, or so suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. [Bull, you say? Maybe we’re just over capitalism.] Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. [I’m starting to wish I lived in uninteresting times.]
Just to get you in the mood: 9 movies about AI becoming self aware and killing us.

Talking about data — The voting records of some 14.8 million Texas residents were left exposed online and eventually got discovered by a data breach hunter in New Zealand. [Gotta love the ’net.]
MacAfee’s ‘unhackable’ storage was … hacked. Yep, computer programmer John McAfee released “the world’s first un-hackable storage for cryptocurrency & digital assets”, a US$120 device called the Bitfi wallet, that McAfee claimed contained no software or storage. McAfee was so sure of its security that it launched with a bug bounty inviting researchers to try and hack the wallet in return for a $250,000 award. Lo and behold, a researcher by the name of Andrew Tierney managed to hack the wallet, but … Bitfi declined to pay out!
Facebook and the Myanmar genocide — Facebook announced it has banned several members of the Myanmar military and organisations that were named by the United Nations as complicit in the genocide. Way too slowly to do any good, of course.
LinkedIn spying — The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down. [How will this look on your resumé?]
India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — And US tech companies are helping.
What’s Crap? Is OK, I will tell you: WhatsApp users on Android will be able to back up their messages to Google Drive for free and it won’t count towards Google Drive storage quotas … yay! But, as WhatsApp warns, those messages will no longer be protected by end-to-end encryption. Boo.
Trump spits Google dummy — President Trump says Google search results for ‘Trump News’ show only negative coverage about him. [Jeeze, can’t work out why … must be a plot.] A few hours later, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government. [Lol. Yeah, that’s exactly what Goebbels would have wanted.]

How many days do Americans waste commuting?  Educated Driver used Census Bureau data on average daily roundtrip commute times in hundreds of cities across the US to calculate how much time Americans spend traveling to and from work over the course of their lives, assuming a 45-year career working 250 days a year.
Speaking of Americans, who got Cohen’s $50-thou? Cohen seems to have been a very busy boy, with legal documents showing he made a $US50,000 ($68,560) payment to an unidentified “technology company during and in connection with the campaign.” The unknown payment suggests Cohen may have been doing more for Trump, and for the Trump campaign, than simply paying off people Trump had been bonking on the side.
Amid mounting acrimony with NATO, Russia’s military has announced plans to hold its “biggest exercises since 1981.” The country’s defence ministry says the massive exercise will involve some 300,000 Russian troops, more than 1000 aircraft plus the participation of some Chinese and Mongolian units.

On health — In a dangerous twist to Ebola, outbreaks are starting to crop up in distant areas. It could already be the worst outbreak to date.
Store-bought chicken could be causing UTIs — A new study published in mBio suggest urinary tract infections could be coming from Escherichia coli bacteria transmitted via poultry.
China withholds flu data — For over a year, the Chinese government has withheld lab samples of a rapidly evolving influenza virus from scientists in the United States. Specimens are needed to develop vaccines and treatments, according to federal health officials talking to The New York Times.
Pollution sapping our nutrients — According to new research, rising carbon dioxide levels will sap some of the nutrients from our crops and lead to dietary deficiencies in millions of humans. In 2014, field trials of common food crops including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans showed that as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, the levels of iron, zinc and protein decreased in the dietary staples by 3 to 17%. This could have a big impact in poorer nations.

Climate — We’re living in hell. The image above, created by NASA’s Earth Observatory, has red representing soot, purple showing dust, and blue for sea salt. Central Africa is awash in smoke from farmers clearing land for crops. And those little glowing specks across China, the eastern US, India and Europe are cities where air pollution from cars and buildings is strong enough to create a clear signal to satellites.
Air pollution is making us stupid — Air pollution causes a ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health. [Ah, weren’t we stupid to create air pollution in the first place?] High pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.
Japan to get a ‘most powerful’ storm — A dangerous super typhoon currently packing 274km/h winds could make landfall in Japan shortly. [Jebi nights.]
Sea level rise may seem like a far-off threat — But a growing number of new studies, including one out this week, shows that real estate markets have already started responding to increased flooding risks by reducing prices of vulnerable homes. [Aw, sucks to be you, right?]

On the lighter side — Police officers in Paraguay found that at least 42 of their battle rifles had been stolen from their armoury and replaced with toy replicas. It’s unclear if a flag with the word BANG! written on it popped out of the barrels.
Adopting Mediterranean diet in old age can prolong life, a new study suggests. The diet is typically said to be rich in fish, nuts, fresh vegetables, olive oil and fruit. [So that’s my secret?]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Water absorption by the human body happens pretty fast – within five minutes of entering your mouth, it’s starting to filter into your bloodstream, with peak absorption hitting at around 20 minutes – but water at body temperature is absorbed more slowly than cold water, in case you were wondering why we instinctively prefer cooler water when we’re thirsty. “

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The Apocalypticon ~ Facebook, Trump and our world of pain


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

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

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

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

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

The Apocalypticon ~ World, Trump, Russia, moles, gnats, Twitter, Facebook, mouths


Nuclear power plants in Europe have been forced to cut back electricity production because of warmer-than-usual seawater. Plants in Finland, Sweden and Germany have been affected by the heat wave that has broken records in Scandinavia and the British Isles and exacerbated deadly wildfires along the Mediterranean.
Common food additives could have ‘lifelong’ health consequences, a US paediatrician group has warned.
US fascist eyes Europe: Steve Bannon built his career on right-wing politics inside the United States but now he’s taking on a new frontier: the European Parliament. He’s optimistic about uniting Europe’s right wing across its national boundaries. [Sorry, is ‘fascist’ too strong? How about Nazi, then, Steve?]
The doom of the ancient Cambodian city of Koh Ker may have been the result of bad engineering – plus some bad karma, baby.

The US — House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday downplayed a threat by President Trump to revoke security clearances for a number intelligence officials who served under President Barack Obama as “trolling” and not a political act. [In this case, clearly, the trolling is a political act.]
Facial recognition technology made by Amazon, which is being used by some police departments and other organizations, incorrectly matched the lawmakers with people who had been arrested for a crime, the American Civil Liberties Union reported.
President Trump resumed acknowledging Russian election interference but said he fears that this year, it will benefit Democrats. [Right, because it’s clearly done wonders for them so far.]
Facebook is reportedly rolling out its ‘downvote’ button to a wider group of users in the United States. The feature began appearing on the service’s mobile app without a formal company announcement. The feature appears to currently be limited to public posts. Should your account be flagged for this week’s test, every comment in a thread will include a numeric value and small up- and down-arrows connected to that number. Other territories, particularly Australia and New Zealand, have seen wider downvote tests since April of this year. [That’s right, Facebook, get the users to do your work for you.]
And here’s new US hobby – destroying the lives of complete strangers. [Trump likes this one too, you know, putting those immigrant kids into cages.]
Gnats spreading disease — A disease spread by sandflies seen as an exotic nuisance in the US might not be solely a traveller’s disease after all. A new study suggests most American cases of leishmaniasis are actually spread by native bugs, not caught while travelling. And thanks to climate change, the parasitic illness may become even more common in the years to come.
Twitter shares fell 21% as the company reported that user growth had turned negative, even as its quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations. The decline was even greater than Facebook’s almost 19% plunge in shares after the social media giant reported disappointing results. [Oh. Gosh. Boohoo. Anyway, it’s something to share and tweet about …]

Russia — Russian hackers have broken into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by US utilities with relative easy by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies,” The Wall Street Journal has reported, citing officials at the Department of Homeland Security.
Maria Butina’s story may point to a Russian effort, years in the making, to give the Kremlin influence in the US by connecting with American gun enthusiasts and religious conservatives, an effort that’s had a ‘surprising degree of success’. [Hardly surprising. But no doubt Trump will try and shoot this theory down.]

And finally, some good news — scientists have figured out how our mouths heal so fast. [Although the voluntary 3-metre wounds sound a little harsh – that was three millimetres, I suspect, Gizmodo copy editor!]

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: “In the present day, we might consider ourselves rugged individualists but we have libraries at our disposal, and we use roads, social services and communications networks all built by combined effort for our mutual benefit.”

The Apocalypticon ~ Lady driver guns, Koreas, May Day, US & data, complaining plants, so do I


Life wasn’t easy for women in the early 20th century, as motorist Dorothy Levitt knew. That’s why she published The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Handbook for all Women who Motor or Who Want to Motor in 1909. It tells women how to take care of themselves and their cars, and reminds them to always carry a gun.

Koreas: Honeymoon Island’s dark and bloody past — Nearly 90 flights a day leave Seoul for Jeju, a semitropical island 60 miles off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. With citrus groves, dramatic black-rock beaches, and waterfalls spilling into the sea, Jeju has earned the nickname Honeymoon Island. But many vacationers today may not remember the time when it had a very different reputation.
On April 3, 1948, an uprising pitted Jeju islanders against police, the US military and the newly formed South Korean government. In the ensuing conflict, up to 30,000 civilians lost their lives, and those who survived were branded traitors and communists. Nearly 800 historical sites are related to that period. Most are unmarked, untended, and virtually unknown, but one of the most significant is right where thousands of visitors arrive on the island – a mass grave under a runway of Jeju International Airport.
Probing the bowels of what he believed to be North Korean hacking architecture, American cybersecurity researcher Darien Huss found an outlier: iPhone software. It appeared at first glance to be a fairly mundane program, a mobile device management (MDM) tool. Such apps are typically used for businesses to remotely monitor and control employees’ phones. But, according to Huss, it’s most likely one of, if not the only, example of North Korean spyware for Apple’s smartphone.
Satellite analysis shows North Korea’s 2017 nuclear test literally moved a mountain — By combining satellite radar with seismic data, an international team of researchers has reassessed the effects of North Korea’s most recent nuclear test at Mount Mantap, offering disturbing new estimates for the strength of the device used and its influence on the mountain itself. The device could have been 20 times more powerful than the US bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

China chose May Day to shame debtors — While labourers all over the world spent May Day marching in the streets and demonstrating for worker’s rights, China’s government spent the holiday shaming citizens with outstanding debts by plastering their faces and personal information on giant screens.

Trump, data and all that — Measuring climate-warming greenhouse gases is crucial, and challenging to measure. In recent years satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon. So, of course, President Donald Trump’s administration just killed the CMS. [There’s a good reason for this, actually: idiocy.]
It’s almost been a year since the White House held its last big tech summit. This week, it will reportedly host representatives from 38 of the biggest companies in the US to discuss the future of artificial intelligence and how the US government can help avoid disaster. [Good luck with that, as above, You just can’t reason with a powerful, egotistical idiot.]
3500 Russia-linked Facebook and Instagram ads released — Russian operatives used Facebook groups and targeted ads to influence the 2016 US election and sow discord in the United States. Facebook has declined to release the ads to the public, but now Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee have dropped a data dump of 3500 examples for your browsing pleasure. Be warned they come in a cumbersome PDF format and are split into batches that have to be opened one at a time.
Malicious Google apps get back in Play Store just be changing their names — Malicious Android apps that have been previously reported to Google are showing up again on company’s marquee Play Store with new names, security researchers are reporting. [Reeeal secure, there, Google. But don’t feel too good, Apple users – Signal’s”disappearing’ messages don’t actually evaporate on Macs.]

In slightly lighter news, plants ‘complain’ if neighbours get too close — Plants don’t like to be touched. For these immobile organisms, it means they’re likely growing too close to a neighbouring plant, and that their access to available sunlight is under threat. New research shows that touch-sensitive plants can communicate a warning message to their related neighbours, advising them to adjust their growth patterns accordingly.

And employers think over-50’s are ‘too old to learn new technology’. The good news is I know for a fact they are wrong.

Excerpt from my forthcoming book: The raw, vegan diet of the gorilla requires hours upon hours of eating plants to provide enough calories to support their mass. This can fill 80% of a 12-hour waking day … Humans, thanks to cooking, have many extra hours to devote to, building, helping one another and, let’s face it, chatting and socialising.

The Apocalypticon ~ around the world and (almost) back again


Around the world … A survey of satellite data published in the journal Cryosphere [links to a PDF] confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: ice loss from the critical region of Antarctica is happening at an increasingly fast pace.
Antarctica lost roughly 1929 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons) of ice in 2015, which amounts to an increase of roughly 36 gigatons per year every year since 2008. Nearly 90% of that increase in loss occurred in West Antarctica, “probably in response to ocean warming,” according to NASA.
Photos and video emerging from the Indonesian island of Sumatra are absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, no one has been hurt, but the smoke and ash bubbling from Mount Sinabung after an eruption on February 19th is like watching a mythical monster slowing taking over the sky (left).
High levels of microplastics have been found in Northwest Atlantic fish. A study, published in open-access journal Frontiers in Marine Science, found microplastics in the stomachs of nearly three out of every four mesopelagic fish caught in the Northwest Atlantic.
And in the US, where a deranged president is urging teachers to get armed and trained [oh yay, schoolyard firefights, they won’t be dangerous …], legislators declared porn is a health risk but assault weapons are fine.
But actually, America’s greatest vulnerability is its continued inability to acknowledge the extent of its adversaries’ capabilities when it comes to cyber threats, says Ian Bremmer, founder and president of leading political risk firm Eurasia Group.
The latest bug to hit Apple devices wrought havoc on the internet.The issue, which has become known as the Telugu bug, gave people the ability to crash a wide range of iPhone, Mac and iPad apps just by sending a single character from the third-most-spoken language in India. Apple patched the bug a few days later (so update your Apple devices!) because mean-spirited users took to using the Telugu symbol to “bomb” other peoples’ devices. By adding the symbol to a user’s Twitter name, you can crash the iOS Twitter app simply by liking someone’s tweet.

Emerging risks of AI — A new report authored by over two-dozen experts on the implications of emerging technologies is sounding the alarm bells on the ways artificial intelligence could enable new forms of cybercrime, physical attacks, and political disruption over the next five to ten years.

Bonkers clock — Depending on the day, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is either the richest or second richest human on Earth. And while he’s trying to figure out how to use some of that money philanthropically, he announced construction has begun on the giant clock in the middle of nowhere that he put up $US42 million to build. The 10,000 Year Clock is intended as a symbolic reminder that we should consider the long-term impact of our actions.
~ Or he could spend that money on actually helping people … twat

Finally, some goodish news: more than 50% of Australia’s coal fleet will be over 40 years old by 2030, and the Australian electricity grid, along with these ageing fossil fuelled power stations, are increasingly vulnerable to worsening extreme weather events.
To reach zero carbon pollution well before 2050 in order to effectively tackle climate change, Australia needs to increase reliance on renewable energy. The good news is that Australia could reach 50% renewables by 2030 even without significant new energy storage.

The Apocalypticon ~ Fury and ‘frankly power’, Satan’s heat, Russian NSA hacks, Lesser Cocking, Silicon wasters, victimising women, Thiel spies, life-saving Apple, airline hate


Trump offers North Korea fire and fury. [Oh, you thought I was joking with this blog?] The oh-so-really-really eloquent one said “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” said Trump. “They will be met with fire, fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with the fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. Thank you.”
[I bet Trump was a real a-hole even at kindergarten.] One has to wonder, when will we finally die out? Futurists, anthropologists, science fiction authors and others have been asked this question by Gizmodo.

Meanwhile, North Korea has secret plans to attack Guam. We know this, because North Korea stated “The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA [Korean People’s Army] will cross the sky above Shimani, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures of Japan,” the statement said. “They will fly for 3356.7 km for 1065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40km away from Guam.” [Oh my God, how will we work out what North Korea is planning? Fiendish!!]

Meanwhile, Europe is already suffering the heat of Satan. At least two people have died over the course of the heat wave, which caused temperatures to spike as high as 44°C (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in southern Spain and 40°C in the French Riviera. Temperatures were forecast as high as slightly over 42°C in mainland Greece. It’s almost enough to make one wonder if this heat wave could be correlated with all those other heat waves across the world, or the inexplicable trend of the planet breaking global heat records on a regular basis. [Nope, You’re just being silly, Gizmodo.]
Talking about Satan … Monsanto has been editing its own ‘independent’ product reports.

But wait! A global investment firm has also warned of an almost unheard-of phenomenon called Global Climate Change. A leading British global investment firm has a warning for its clients: if we keep consuming oil and gas at current rates, our planet is on course to experience a rise in global average temperatures of nearly 8°C (14°F) by the end of the century. This would make Earth basically uninhabitable for humans. [Whereas I thought investment firms were uninhabitable by humans. You see? Delusion is hardly exclusive.] And hey, now there’s a game for that. [This will be As Much Fun as TV3’s The Project.]

Russian hotel hackers use NSA tool — A Russian espionage campaign has used Wi-Fi networks to spy on high-value hotel guests [that’s me safe then], and recently started using a leaked NSA hacking tool to upgrade their attacks. But maybe it’s not the Russians we should be fearing so much, at least with election fraud?

AI and Lesser Cocking Vestibulaton … Artificial intelligence networks have already come to the rescue of craft brewers, metal bands and guinea pig owners who are looking for wacky new names. Now, digital consultant Dan Hon wants to use those same neural networks to help Britain come up with even more amusing place names. This from the country that’s already come up with locales such as Papplewick, Blubberhouses and Picklescott and which called a river The Piddle. [I’m still reeling from the ‘Buttcombe Ale’ I spotted on tap in a Birmingham pub a few years back.]

Coasters are millionaire Silicon Valleyites who do virtually [get it?] nothing for loads of money. Yes it’s a thing. Aspirational?

And while we’re talking about rich a-holes, Peter Thiel, who recently got special citizenship in that citadel of freedom, New Zealand, on the special circumstances that he was a rich a-hole, apparently [this is always guaranteed to super-impress National politicians] has been selling Palantir data storage, analysis, and collaboration software to police departments throughout the US. Most of Palintir’s business, though, is with the military. [Doesn’t that just make you feel all safe and snuggly? And yes, LoTR fans, you’re right about the implications of the system’s name.]

An image site victimises countless women, and almost nothing can be done about it. No, this isn’t fake news, unfortunately, being spread by ‘social’ bots.

Apple refuses to enable tech that would ‘save lives’ — Apple is still ignoring requests to enable a feature called Advanced Mobile Location (AML) in iOS. Enabling AML would give emergency services extremely accurate locations of emergency calls made from iPhones, dramatically decreasing response time. Google’s successful implementation of AML for Android is ‘already saving lives’. [And also, of course, enable you to be tracked with pinpoint accuracy by Agents of Despond like Peter Thiel.]

And you know I always like to end on a positive note: there’s a new way to tell airlines you hate them. Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting. Hawaiian Holdings’s Hawaiian Airlines is adding the feature while JetBlue Airways took a stake in a software startup that will allow its call centre staff to start texting customers in the coming months. And they’re inviting you to ask questions, and maybe even complain. [Maybe?!]

The Apocalypticon ~ Annihilation, Black Death, fake journalists, arseholes, Trump (of course), and more abominable news for the world’s end


The Era of Biological Annihilation — From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a “global epidemic” and part of the “ongoing sixth mass extinction” caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena. Dr. Ceballos emphasized that he and his co-authors, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, both professors at Stanford University, are not alarmists, but are using scientific data to back up their assertions that significant population decline and possible mass extinction of species all over the world may be imminent, and that both have been underestimated by many other scientists.

The Black Death and the environment — From 1347 to 1351, a nightmare disease ravaged Europe, afflicting victims with putrid black boils, fevers, vomiting, and in short order, death. Daily life ground to a halt as the Black Death spread along medieval trade routes, claiming an estimated 20 million lives with ruthless efficiency. Now, a team of researchers is asserting that the plague had an unexpected impact: it cleared the air of a toxic pollutant for the first time in over a thousand years.
~ I am not quite sympathising with the cost/benefit of this. 

Super accurate lip-synching could really fake the news well — Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method that uses machine learning to study the facial movements of Obama and then render real-looking lip movement for any piece of audio. That means they can make videos of Obama saying pretty much anything they want, in whatever setting they want. The effect works especially well when they use random audio of Obama’s voice — say, an old recording of Obama as a law student — and make it look like Obama said these things yesterday.
~ One can only ask ‘why the hell did they develop this?’

But hey, don’t worry, as Google is funding rob-journalists — Robots will help a national news agency to create up to 30,000 local news stories a month, with the help of human journalists and funded by a Google grant. The Press Association has won a €706,000 ($800,779 or £621,000) grant to run a news service with computers writing localised news stories. The national news agency, which supplies copy to news outlets in the UK and Ireland, has teamed up with data-driven news start-up Urbs Media for the project, which aims to create “a stream of compelling local stories for hundreds of media outlets”… [Gah! And remember when robots were supposed to help us, not us help them?]
But it’s all OK, as just to level the playing field, Russia’s in that game too.  And if Trump’s data team did help Russians, Facebook may have the answer. And the creator of Nest home automation products wakes up in cold sweats wondering what then hell he’s unleashed on the world.

The internet is full of arseholes — That’s right, a nationally-representative US study on online harassment released by Pew Research today confirms what most of us already know: The internet is absolutely chock full of abusive dickheads. [And here I was beginning to worry.] So 41% of adults said they have experienced harassment online, and 66% said they’ve seen it happen to others.

Free speech advocates suing Trump for banning Twitterers — President Trump’s irate and irrational tweets have already landed him in trouble, and will, no doubt, continue to be an issue as he pushes for approval of his controversial travel ban before the Supreme Court. Now, free speech advocates are suing Trump not just for what he’s saying on the platform, but for what he’s preventing his constituents from saying to him. Meanwhile, his son has clearly shown intent to get dirt on Clinton from Russian sources (and this story is still growing), and here’s a guide to Russia’s infrastructure hacking teams.

A new study has highlighted the widespread gender and racial harassment of women of colour working in astronomy and planetary science — This harassment is now at levels unseen by any other gender or racial group in the field.
40% say they feel unsafe in their workplace because of harassment targeted at their gender, and 28% feel unsafe because of harassment targeted at their race, and this 100% needs to change. And just in case you thought artificial intelligence might fix this, it appears artificial intelligence has race and gender biases too. MIT Technology Review reports that the initiative is the latest to illustrate general concern that the increasing reliance on algorithms to make decisions in the areas of hiring, criminal justice, and financial services will reinforce racial and gender biases. A computer program used by jurisdictions to help with paroling prisoners that ProPublica found would go easy on white offenders while being unduly harsh to black ones. [All this makes me so unglad to be human. Thanks, ‘progress’.]

But at least it’s getting warmer … oh, wait! A 2200 square-mile, trillion metric-ton section of the Larsen C ice shelf has ‘calved’ off, a team of researchers at Swansea University’s Project MIDAS has reported, citing imaging from NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument. That’s the size of Delaware. Scientists have tracked the crack for more than a decade and they warned in June that the section was “hanging by a thread.” Its break, from Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf, changes the border shape of the peninsula forever even though the remaining ice shelf will continue to grow. And at least this calving won’t raise current sea levels. And the colder winters come from warming, weirdly. And the heatwaves ground planes.
And the Greenland ice sheet is vast, majestic, pristine….and peppered with bacteria that seem equipped to survive in industrial waste, according to a new study. Which really makes you question the whole the pristine bit, now, doesn’t it?

Contractor stuck in ATM passes terrible notes — A contractor (whose name has not been released) was fixing a lock in a room connected to a Bank of America ATM when, suddenly, he trapped himself in. Having left his phone in the car, he was unable to call for help. So, with an impending Castaway situation at hand, the man had to get creative — or else. One of the notes read. “I’m stuck in here and I don’t have my phone. Please call my boss…” Apparently, several customers thought the scribbled messages were pranks and ignored them until finally one patron got sufficiently spooked.

Human nature, huh? An umbrella-sharing startup in China lost nearly all its 300,000 umbrellas in a few weeks. Shenzhen-based Sharing E Umbrella was launched with a 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) investment with a concept similar to those that bike-sharing startups have used to (mostly) great success.

Finally, some good-ish news: research suggests people who drink coffee have a lower risk of dying from a host of causes, including heart disease, stroke and liver disease. “The connection, revealed in two large studies, was found to hold regardless of whether the coffee was caffeinated or not, with the higher among those who drank more cups of coffee a day,” reports The Guardian. [So, that coffee you drink to stay up and agonise about the end of the world might save your life. Yay.]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apocalypticon ~ NZ penguins, more Trump idiocy, seed vault floods, dumping Google, passwords, Dark Age medical


Our Yellow Eyed Penguin is perilously close to extinction — The adorable New Zealand bird, which even graces the currency, is dangerously close to extinction going by at least at one well-monitored mainland breeding ground.
And it’s (probably) all our fault. Meanwhile, Trump plans to increase defence funding while slashing the Environmental Protection Agency budget while wars are killing hardly any Americans while environmental problems kill 200,000 a year

According to Politico, Trump’s staff regularly prints articles from the internet and hands them to the president. Sometimes, they hand him internet hoaxes they believe are real, which explains so much.
~ Well it doesn’t, because what kind of idiot operates like this? Oh, wait. Guess what?

The info Trump gleefully handed over to the Russians was classified even higher than ‘Top Secret’. According to the Washington Post, the information Trump shared with the Russians is what’s called Code Word classified, which is higher than the classification known as Top Secret. Meanwhile, Gizmodo tested Trump’s Florida security and found it eminently hackable.

Norwegian seed vault floods — Trump, of course, denies that climate is changing. Designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever, the Global Seed Vault, which recently took a new tranche of NZ plant species, is buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle. But it has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. And scientists (what do they know?) have worked out tat 10-to-20 centimeter (four-to-eight inch) jump in the global ocean watermark by 2050, which is considered a conservative forecast, would double flood risk in high-latitude regions.

Dumping Google — Google trades your data, that’s what’s made it rich, which is why I’m no fan of Android smartphones or even Gmail accounts, for that matter. If you’ve had enough of Google meddling in your affairs, here’s how to make sure it’s a clean and uncomplicated break.

Group fights having to hand over passwords — The human rights group Cage is preparing to mount a legal challenge to UK anti-terrorism legislation over a refusal to hand over mobile and laptop passwords to border control officials at air terminals, ports and international rail stations… This even happens at Auckland airport, btw, with Homeland Security officers taking aside passengers ‘at random’ from flights heading to, or even transiting, the States.
And then … 560 million passwords have been discovered on an online database.

Medicine heading for the Dark Ages — Without real action of the over-prescribing of antibiotics, we’re heading for new medical Dark Ages.

The Apocalypticon ~ crowd killdozer, poison back, prep for space war, online self-defence, volcano no longer dormant


Crowd control ‘killdozer’ — Slovenian company Bozena has created an all-new RIOT system, a crowd-control killdozer for all your protest-suppressing needs. The vehicle’s shield has launching ports designed for guns or other projectile launchers and the trailer is capable of displacing the water/foam or its mixtures (available additives: pepper or painting substances) under the high pressure into the distance of several dozen meters. Yay.

Chumpian overturns pesticide ban  — Government scientists at the EPA concluded that a pesticide sprayed on crops was toxic. A few months later, Scott Pruitt comes into the agency as Trump’s appointee, looks at the agency’s petition to ban the substance, and denies it. He decided that, although the substance is proven to be poisonous, he’d rather keep spraying crops with it.
America, America …

The US ‘should’ prepare for a space war — Coz, well, why the hell not? Recently, two US military officials said that America should be getting ready for a war in space. Their advice was seemingly bolstered by a Hill article penned by two US national security experts this week, which reminded Americans that North Korea could in theory use a satellite weapon to send an electromagnetic pulse over the United States, triggering widespread blackouts and ultimately, societal collapse.
~ Should we be giving them credit for imagination?

Feeling assailed? You can defend yourself online — Congress has just dismantled a set of Obama-era internet privacy rules. In effect, the Republicans just gave big telecom companies unfettered access to people’s browsing history and will even let ISPs sell that data for profit. Here’s how to keep your data from snooping ISPs, and how not to protect your privacy online.

Volcano erupts after centuries of dormancy — Just in case this has all been too cheerful for all you Aucklanders, who famously live in a city dotted with dozens of inactive volcanoes, one in Russia just erupted after at least 250 years of not doing anything. Sorry.

The Apocalypticon ~ Nuclear GIFs, leaker spills, subverting the wall, Twitter swastika hacks, protection and ‘flipping’ states



Trump said he wants a new nuclear arms race —
 And with more nuclear weapons in the world, there’s bound to be an accident sooner or later. At least that’s what the experts keep telling us. And when we inevitably descend into nuclear war, you don’t want to be caught without the proper GIFs. But don’t worry, Gizmodo has got you covered.

Leaker spills on Trump and Obama — John Kiriakou has beef with President Trump, and with former President Obama as well. So how does the intelligence community’s current predicament, from the Vault 7 dump to WikiLeaks generally to their fraught relationship with President Trump, look to a guy like Kiriakou? Basically, a mess. One that could nudge the Trump administration’s “deep state” paranoias closer to reality.

Subverting the Mexican border wall — In his forthcoming book, Borderwall as Architecture (US$30) Rael explores how architects can undermine the wall not just structurally, but conceptually. Today, the wall symbolizes xenophobia and fear. Designs that promote social, economic, and ecological development on both sides of the border could rewrite that narrative. “We can smuggle in design,” he says.

Twitter accounts hacked to spew Swastikas — A swath of Twitter accounts with large followings, including Duke University, BBC North America, Forbes, and Amnesty International, tweeted out the same message, in Turkish, that included a swastika and hashtags that translate to ‘Nazi Germany, Nazi Holland.’ Twitter said “We quickly located the source which was limited to a third party app. We removed its permissions immediately. No additional accounts are impacted,” a spokesperson for the social media company said in a statement.

It’s a scary fact of digital life that there are a lot of ways your PC can be exposed — Maybe you’ve been hacked by a state agent, or cracked by weird Nazi trolls. Fortunately you’re not powerless, and there are lots of ways to fight back. You don’t need to be a hacker, cracker, or computer savant to protect your laptop.

But there’s hope: a startup in the US has already affected change in areas deemed ‘flippable‘ from Republican to Democrat. And you may not really need security on your devices anymore if you follow this other guide.

The Apocalypticon ~ Standing up to Trump, hiding and how, Counter Abuse, mass spying, Twitter twits


Trump and the rise of bigots all over the world has led to so much doom news in tech circles, I thought I’d collate it sometimes … enjoy! Or at least shudder.

Trump tweeted that Swedes were being massacred ...
Trump tweeted that Swedes were being massacred …

Scientists are standing up to Trump because they’ve always stood up to bullshit — There’s a pervasive idea that science is somehow exempt from the ugly political world in which the rest of us wallow. But even a perfunctory look at the history of American science shows that this hasn’t always been the case, and the circumstances that pushed scientists into the public sphere in the past aren’t that different from those scientists are facing today.

Hiding from the law is pretty much impossible — A new TV series has got people talking about the incredible depth of surveillance now available to law enforcers – and, presumably, to clever hackers.

How to delete your online presence — This may be a great time to completely eradicate yourself from social media. All of these online services let you scrub out your accounts if you want a cleaner, leaner life online. Even better, plenty of them let you export your data for safekeeping before you do. So you can always remember that time The Rock answered your desperate tweets or your roommate plastered your Facebook wall with photos of your dog.
Here’s how you can delete, and back up, accounts from most major social media services.

Google offshoot Jigsaw and Google’s Counter Abuse Technology Team — This group recently publicly released code for anti-harassment tools that have been honed for more than a year so they can hopefully be implemented around the web. Military bases could use smart city technology to improve their safety and security. And former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter gave WIRED a glimpse of the future of warfare.

Mass surveillance isn’t working — The track record of the collection programs Edward Snowden revealed provides little evidence that massive surveillance will help us identify future terrorist attacks or mitigate these new risks. American spies’ allegiance to massive surveillance is based on faith, not track record. The Boston Marathon bombing in April of 2013 illustrates how broad proactive surveillance is no panacea against attacks. The NSA was conducting its massive spying at the time, and the attacks happened anyway.

Trump hate tweets — The US ‘president’ sank Boeing shares with a single tweet and dissed Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s brand, inspiring a Nordstrom boycott. Cozy up too closely to the commander-in-chief, on the other hand, and you might find your company facing a stinging backlash from the majority of Americans who oppose him (just ask Uber CEO Travis Kalanick).
And just in case you didn’t think all this Twitter crap was really crazy

Tuesday Talk ~ doom and undoom


(Image from Business Insider)
(Image from Business Insider 2012)

Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, reckons ‘the age of Apple’ is over. But I don’t think there ever was an age of Apple, apart from for Apple fans. I mean, if you’re happy with Android, you will look back on the smartphone era as your Android era.
There were ages. There was the age of the PC, and that of the desktop publishing revolution, the time of the digital music player, and that of the smartphone then the tablet, sure. Apple was at the forefront of all of these, but never exclusively ruled any to greater and lesser extents. Apple at first didn’t have the marketing or financial muscle to rule its markets, and then only ever became an effective player in them, even when it was largely responsible for entire categories coming to public attention in the first place. Actually, the only category I can think of that Apple did almost exclusively dominate from beginning to end was the iPod, since no other music player came even close to surpassing it in use, sales or public perception.
As a man of experience, Thiel should know that making any kind of sweeping pronouncements is not worthy. But hey, Thiel works for that inconceivable blow-hard Donald Trump as his ‘Silicon Valley evangelist’. You really can’t expect much considered comment, or even intelligence (beyond finely-honed and single-minded opportunism) from such a figure. Unless you are a fan of the greedy, of course.

Apple has always been about making unapproachable technology approachable. Back in the day, what was holding up PC adoption was the amount of training and knowledge required to make a computer do … anything. Apple fundamentally changed that with the introduction of the Mac’s Graphic User Interface, or GUI, which made the interface and operation of personal computers conceivable for almost any user. This approach has been the real bedrock of Apple ever since, and remains so, which is why longer-term Apple users roll their eyes when people speculate about what the next major technological revolution from Apple will be.
They’re missing the point – better to focus on what’s difficult about technology that Apple decides to make usable.

Even so, Apple has been beavering away. Can you think of ten new Apple technologies Apple introduced in 2016? Nor can I, but there were at least ten significant ones. Ceramics, machine learning, differential privacy … all these things will come into play more and more as Apple evolves its personal computing platforms. Remember, Apple plays a long game, not a short one – Steve Jobs envisaged the iPhone 25 years before it was possible to create it. That’s the real reason Apple is still here, and still very powerful.

But this does all bring to mind Apple’s profit margins. They’re unacceptably high, in this day and age. iPhone sales have been static for a while, and iPad declining. Why? I really think price: once you can get something almost as good for a third the price, ‘almost as good’ becomes pretty compelling.
Most people will deal with a reboot, crash and slowness once in a while for an extra $700 in their back pockets.