Tag Archives: Trump

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.