‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss – The Washington Post

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

Source: ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss – The Washington Post

After Soyuz Failure, Space Is Now Weirdly Inaccessible to Astronauts

All crewed launches have been suspended by Russia’s space agency following yesterday’s Soyuz rocket failure. That’s a problem, because much of the world relies on Russian rockets to get both cargo and people into space. Consequently, we’re now facing the very real possibility of having an uncrewed International Space Station—something that hasn’t happened in nearly two decades.

Source: After Soyuz Failure, Space Is Now Weirdly Inaccessible to Astronauts

China Snuck Chips Into CIA, U.S. Military, Commercial Servers Leaving Them Open To Hacks: Report – The Drive

China seems willing to gamble its huge manufacturing industry in service to its spying. Why should foreign companies trust their manufacturing to China anymore? Regardless of the economic price China will pay for this, it can never be fully trusted again.

A new report is alleging the Chinese government directly interceded to insert small microchips into motherboards from a company called Supermicro, that are in use in servers everywhere from the adult film industry to U.S. military and U.S. Intelligence Community data centers, which make them vulnerable open them up to remote hacks. If the claims turn out to be true, it would be an intelligence operation of historic proportions that would have far-reaching and long-lasting ramifications.

On Oct. 4, 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek published its story, which is the culmination of years of investigative work and cites nearly 20 anonymous sources from both the U.S. government and private companies reportedly involved in the affair. The piece says that American authorities first became aware of the existence of the chips in 2015, that the classified probe is still ongoing, and that U.S. officials have identified an unspecified unit of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as being responsible for sneaking the malicious hardware into the servers.

Source: China Snuck Chips Into CIA, U.S. Military, Commercial Servers Leaving Them Open To Hacks: Report – The Drive

Jailbirds: Scooters and Sidewalks

Bird Scooter


As most residents are now aware, a few weeks ago the city of Raleigh become one of the few lucky (?) municipalities to get rentable electric scooters. These scooters (mostly of the Bird brand at this point) have been zipping merry residents from one end of town to the other for a small fee. While many are pleased that this new mobility choice has possibly decreased the number of car trips, others have pointed to the dockless nature of the scooters and how this inevitably leads to the scooters blocking sidewalks.

The City Council has not yet weighed in on the legality of scooters making their home on the sidewalks without having first been given official permission. Thus, they are operating in kind of a gray area. I decided to look into the Raleigh Municipal Code to see what laws we have on the books regarding sidewalks and motor vehicles.

It didn’t take long to find the relevant section in the Raleigh Municipal Code (and conveniently linked to from the links page of my EastRaleigh.Org website – I am awesome). Emphasis is mine:

Sec. 11-2171. – PARKING PROHIBITED IN CERTAIN PLACES.

(a) Obstructing traffic.

It shall be unlawful for any person to stop, stand or park any motor vehicle upon a street , or alley, in such manner or under such conditions as to obstruct the free movement of vehicular traffic, except that a driver may stop temporarily during the actual unloading of passengers or when necessary to obey traffic regulations or signs or signals, or signals of a police officer .

(b) Designated places.

No person shall stop, stand or park a motor vehicle (attended or unattended) except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control device in any of the following places:

(1) On a sidewalk, in the area between the roadway and the sidewalk, in the area between the right-of-way line and the roadway or in the median area of a divided roadway

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The peddlers of fear and outrage

Trash your TV

Two things took place during my hospital visits with my Dad this week. One was becoming captivated with an unlikely Trump voter. The other was gaining some insight into how he got that way.

I visited my Dad when the nightly news was on. Our local ABC affiliate, WTVD, was ticking through its top stories from around the country. Dad soon changed the channel and offhandedly stated his reasoning.

It was all about crime. Robberies, murders, carjackings, shootings. For some reason, our local affiliate thought it important to alarm us with news of misfortunes that took place hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of miles away, far from any possibility of them affecting us.

Why was the news doing this? Was it just laziness, being that chasing a cop or an ambulance is an easy way to a story? If there was airtime to fill, why weren’t there more local stories to fill it? Why fill viewers’ heads with stories that have no practical value?

Unless the point is to … stoke fear?

I’d been thinking lately that many Trump voters seem to be under some sort of spell. That’s one way I can account for the cognitive dissonance. Why do these folks seem so fearful all the time, thinking the boogeyman is at their door?

The answer was staring me in the face. It’s the television coverage.
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Is Silicon Valley done?

The headline is bombastic, of course, but there is a grain of truth to the idea that Silicon Valley is imploding. By this I don’t mean that business there is dying out; on the contrary business there is booming. The issue is these companies are victims of their own success, boosting Valley wealth so high that they’re pricing themselves out of their own backyards.

Apple is rumored to be inking a real-estate deal in Cary. San Francisco-based Slack is opening a Denver office. Word from folks I know who are working in Bay-area companies tell me there is a push for these companies to expand in other cities because the talent competition on their home turf is intense. I keep reading stories about people escaping from Silicon Valley and these stories seem to keep coming.

Amazon may be Seattle-based but it’s in the same boat with its search for a secondary headquarters. The ever-rising prices in Seattle have made it more attractive for Amazon to invest away from its birthplace.

Of course, it could all be a blip, or nothing at all, but lately there seem to be lots of reasons why not being in the Valley is a competitive advantage.

Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index – Digiconomist

According to these numbers, a single Bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of electricity as thirty-one U.S. households use in one day. Insanity.

Bitcoin electricty consumption

The continuous block mining cycle incentivizes people all over the world to mine Bitcoin. As mining can provide a solid stream of revenue, people are very willing to run power-hungry machines to get a piece of it. Over the years this has caused the total energy consumption of the Bitcoin network to grow to epic proportions, as the price of the currency reached new highs. The entire Bitcoin network now consumes more energy than a number of countries, based on a report published by the International Energy Agency. If Bitcoin was a country, it would rank as shown below.

Source: Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index – Digiconomist

Google AI Blog: Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone

Google’s AI has gotten so good, it’s scary.

A long-standing goal of human-computer interaction has been to enable people to have a natural conversation with computers, as they would with each other. In recent years, we have witnessed a revolution in the ability of computers to understand and to generate natural speech, especially with the application of deep neural networks (e.g., Google voice search, WaveNet). Still, even with today’s state of the art systems, it is often frustrating having to talk to stilted computerized voices that don’t understand natural language. In particular, automated phone systems are still struggling to recognize simple words and commands. They don’t engage in a conversation flow and force the caller to adjust to the system instead of the system adjusting to the caller. Today we announce Google Duplex, a new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out “real world” tasks over the phone. The technology is directed towards completing specific tasks, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. For such tasks, the system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine.

Source: Google AI Blog: Google Duplex: An AI System for Accomplishing Real-World Tasks Over the Phone

Goldman asks: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’

When I first confronted my GERD stomach issues a few decades ago I had a choice: I could simply take an antacid pill each day for life or I could get surgery to fix it. The pill would’ve been easy, painless, and relatively inexpensive but I chose the surgery simply because I didn’t want to be dependent on Big Pharma.

This Golden Sachs analyst’s remarkable candor shows, in a nutshell, what’s wrong with a capitalistic health care system. What’s good for the patient is not always good for the investor. In fact, pretty frequently it’s not.

If you had any illusions about the true motivation of the medical industry you should now know the truth.

Wall Street greed is often why we can’t have nice things.

Goldman Sachs analysts attempted to address a touchy subject for biotech companies, especially those involved in the pioneering “gene therapy” treatment: cures could be bad for business in the long run.

“Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” analysts ask in an April 10 report entitled “The Genome Revolution.”

“The potential to deliver ‘one shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically-engineered cell therapy and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,” analyst Salveen Richter wrote in the note to clients Tuesday. “While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”

Source: Goldman asks: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’

Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72 – Las Vegas Review-Journal

North Carolina native, talk show pioneer, and fellow explorer Art Bell has passed away, or as we in the amateur radio field say, W6OBB is now a “silent key.”

I started listening to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast show back around 1995. Much of what I heard was off-the-wall nonsense but some of it was truly amazing. Life-changing amazing, in fact.

He was always a gentleman on the airwaves, no matter whom was his guest. In the depths of those dark nights you always felt like you had a friend out there, somewhere in the desert of Nevada.

Thanks for all the stimulating conversation and for shining a light on some of the most interesting topics imaginable.

He was awake when most of the country was asleep, cultivating a loyal following while sharing his fascination with the unexplained on his nighttime paranormal-themed show.

For the better part of two decades, longtime late-night radio personality Art Bell was his own producer, engineer and host of his show, “Coast to Coast AM.” He later launched his own satellite radio program from his Pahrump home after retiring from full-time hosting duties in 2003.

On the airwaves, Bell captivated listeners with his fascination for the unexplained, such as UFOs, alien abductions and crop circles. He died Friday at his home at the age of 72.

“As he begins his journey on the ‘other side,’ we take solace in the hope that he is now finding out all of the answers to the mysteries he pursued for so many nights with all of us,” Coast to Coast said in a statement Saturday.

Source: Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72 – Las Vegas Review-Journal