15 August 2018

Tranlucent blue tang


via

A beach can be "groomed to death"


Removing trash is necessary, of course, but grooming a beach with industrial-level tools can remove the nutrients that support various lifeforms.  The sterile beach becomes a haven for human sunbathers, but is a literal desert, as explained by a longread at Hakai Magazine:
Santa Monica State Beach, considered by some as the birthplace of beach volleyball, ranks among the busiest in California. As many as 50,000 people flock to this stretch of coastline on a typical summer day, and, at its widest, the beach could potentially accommodate more than 30 volleyball courts. Visiting a freshly raked urban beach like this, few people realize that it can amass over 10,000 kilograms of trash during a busy summer week. After the Memorial Day holiday in May 2015, cleaning crews gathered 39,862 kilograms...

Just as humans may develop allergies from growing up germ-free, beaches are suffering from being too clean. Swept flat each day, the beach can become a biological desert, devoid of the rare plant and animal species that make the coastlines so special. Over two tonnes of decaying kelp get deposited on a kilometer of beach each day, a valuable resource for wildlife that is robbed by city cleanup crews on a daily basis.

Jenifer Dugan, a biologist with the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has found that beach hoppers, 14-legged “garbage” cleaners that thrive on wrack, have been disappearing from the coastline. “What habitat is disturbed as much as those beaches in Santa Monica?” she asks. “No agricultural practice disturbs the fields twice a day.”

On ungroomed beaches and other areas with little human impact, beach hoppers’ population can reach 100,000 individuals for every meter of beach. And on each meter of beach, they’ll devour 20 kilograms of wrack each month. “The kelp gets vaporized!” says Dugan, who has watched it happen. But when the beach hoppers, isopods, and other invertebrates that subsist on the wrack disappear, shorebirds also go hungry. That’s why barren beaches in California lose birds like killdeer and the endangered western snowy plover. Grooming can also destroy the eggs of the grunion, an unusual fish that lays its eggs in the sand at high tide.
 Wrack, related to wreck, archaic meaning "shipwreck", now used to refer to seaweek or pondweed.

The Law of Jante

I am unable to embed this very nice five-minute video -
https://www.bbc.com/ideas/videos/forget-hygge-the-laws-that-really-rule-in-scandina/p06gtkxt
- which I think is a better introduction to the subject matter than this rather dry text from Wikipedia:
Used generally in colloquial speech in the Nordic countries as a sociological term to describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that diminishes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while simultaneously denigrating those who try to stand out as individual achievers.

There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you're anyone special or that you're better than us.
 
The ten rules state:
  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Street map


At the entrance to a subdivision, apparently.

Image cropped for size from the original here.

The U.S. - Mexican border, 1848

"We often forget that the boundary between the United States and Mexico was not always where it is today. It used to be seven hundred miles farther north, following what is now the state line between Oregon and California and running east to Wyoming before zagging southeast to Louisiana. Originally home to the indigenous peoples of the region, much of this land was Spanish and then Mexican territory for centuries before becoming what we now think of as the American West.

Spanish colonists and missionaries settled here beginning in 1598. In 1821, Mexico won independence from Spain, and by the middle of the century, it was in some ways far more advanced than its neighbor to the northeast. It abolished slavery shortly after independence; black Mexicans soon gained prominent positions, and indigenous people were given the right to vote. All this came to an end in 1848, when the United States seized half of Mexico’s land and created the border that we know today."
More in the photoessay in the February 2018 issue of Harper's Magazine.

Five-minute history lesson for the day


Via Neatorama.

Human-induced global warning. 1912.

This article’s authenticity is supported by the fact it can be found in the digital archives of the National Library of New Zealand.

Further attesting to its authenticity (and perhaps its role as a bit of stock news used to fill space) is that an identical story had appeared in an Australian newspaper a month prior, in the 17 July 1912, issue of The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, as found in the digital archives of the National Library of Australia.

An even deeper dive reveals that the text of this news item has its origins in the March 1912 issue of Popular Mechanics, where it appeared as a caption in an article titled “Remarkable Weather of 1911: The Effect of the Combustion of Coal on the Climate — What Scientists Predict for the Future”:
More information at Snopes.

13 August 2018

Awesome lightning video

Photographer Dustin Farrell spent the summer of 2017 chasing storms while toting a 4K camera rig that takes 1000 frames per second of raw, uncompressed footage. (For comparison: most movies are shot at 24 frames per second.) After driving 20,000 miles over a 30-day period, he had recorded 10 terabytes of data, which he then whittled down to 3:18 of spectacular video.

What enabled his success was not just the ultrafast frame rate of modern cameras, but also the recording technology in which a camera constantly records, writes to RAM, then overwrites, and overwrites again…until a button is pressed to save the RAM contents.
With a tip of the cap to fellow blogger Fletcher DeLancey, who created Oregon Expat.  I will echo his advice: "Stop what you’re doing and watch this video. But watch it the right way: full screen, in a darkened room, and with a good sound system turned up."

Bodycams worn by police can be hacked

Josh Mitchell, a consultant at the security firm Nuix, analyzed five body camera models from five different companies: Vievu, Patrol Eyes, Fire Cam, Digital Ally, and CeeSc. The companies all market their devices to law enforcement groups around the US...

In all but the Digital Ally device, the vulnerabilities would allow an attacker to download footage off a camera, edit things out or potentially make more intricate modifications, and then re-upload it, leaving no indication of the change. Or an attacker could simply delete footage they don't want law enforcement to have...

Additionally, Mitchell says that some of the more sophisticated models, which contain radios for Bluetooth or cellular data connectivity, also have vulnerabilities that can be exploited to remotely stream live footage off the cameras, or to modify, add, and delete the footage stored on the devices...

Then, when the camera connects to a PC for syncing, it could deliver all sorts of malicious code: a Windows exploit that could ultimately allow an attacker to gain remote access to the police network, ransomware to spread across the network and lock everything down, a worm that infiltrates the department's evidence servers and deletes everything, or even cryptojacking software to mine cryptocurrency using police computing resources...

"These are full-feature computers walking around on your chest, and they have all of the issues that go along with that."
Via BoingBoing.

Behold a modern dairy farm


My grandparents, who had perhaps a dozen "milk cows" on their family farm, would have been awestruck to see the industrial-scale processes that are now involved.  Even my mother, who milked those cows and took the milk cans to the local creamery, would find it hard to believe.  The StarTribune offers some insight:
The milking carousel at the Louriston Dairy turns 22 hours a day and milks more cows in half an hour than most dairies do all day.

Cows step onto the slow-moving merry-go-round in single file. A worker sprays disinfectant on each cow’s udder, another wipes the teats clean with a paper towel, and another secures suction cups onto the teats for milking during a seven-minute trip around the room. Gleaming silver tanks in the next room fill with flash-cooled milk as 106 cows are milked at once.

The farm 18 miles west of Willmar is home to 9,500 cows, 40 times larger than the average U.S. dairy operation. It is part of a fast-growing network of giant farms built and run by Riverview LLP, a Morris, Minn.-based firm that is a game-changer for the Minnesota dairy industry. The company owns 92,000 milk cows — more than all the farmers in Illinois or Virginia — and 60,000 of them are in western Minnesota, where it has nine dairies and is building more...

For 30 years, farms in the Upper Midwest have gotten bigger and farmers who used to work a couple hundred acres now work a couple thousand. In that time, new methods of raising livestock emerged to take advantage of efficiencies of scale. Hogs, poultry and beef cattle disappeared from fields and were moved into massive barns.

This upsizing has come more slowly to dairy farming, but as the number of U.S. dairy farms shrinks, milk production continues to rise. Amid low milk prices and a trade war threatening exports, Riverview is placing massive bets: $50 million in construction and startup costs for each new dairy...
This is a complicated matter, which I don't have the expertise to discuss or critique.

The "potato paradox"

"You have 100 lb of potatoes, which are 99 percent water by weight. You let them dehydrate until they're 98 percent water. How much do they weigh now?

These are "mathematical" potatoes; you can substitute grapes or jellyfish or amoeba if you want something with a higher percentage of wet weight. 

But given the parameters of the question, what is the answer?

50 pounds.  This is a veridical paradox.

White supremacist "rally"


This weekend's "Unite the Right" rally in Washington, D.C.  Many of the people inside the police cordon are journalists.  The number of white nationalists was estimated to be a couple dozen.  The counterprotestors numbered in the thousands.

Photo (annotated for clarity) via.

11 August 2018

Two guys watching TV


44 years ago this week, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein watched Nixon resign.

Children can easily hack American election data

Bianca Lewis, 11, has many hobbies. She likes Barbie, video games, fencing, singing… and hacking the infrastructure behind the world’s most powerful democracy.

“I’m going to try and change the votes for Donald Trump,” she tells me. “I’m going to try to give him less votes. Maybe even delete him off of the whole thing.” 

Fortunately for the President, Bianca is attacking a replica website, not the real deal. She’s taking part in a competition organised by R00tz Asylum, a non-profit organisation that promotes “hacking for good”.

Its aim is to send out a dire warning: the voting systems that will be used across America for the mid-term vote in November are, in many cases, so insecure a young child can learn to hack them with just a few minute’s coaching...

Hacking the real websites would be illegal. So instead, Ms Sell’s team created 13 sites that mimicked the real websites, gaping vulnerabilities and all, for 13 so-called “battleground" states - parts of the country where the vote is expected to be tight.

Over the course of a day, 39 kids aged between 8 and 17 took the challenge - 35 of them succeeded in bypassing the trivial security. Pranks ensued...

While the hacks learnt here wouldn’t change actual vote counts - even if carried out for real - they could alter how the vote results were displayed on official websites. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the furore that would be caused were an official election website to declare the wrong candidate the winner.

The fallibility of these systems has been of concern since 2016’s presidential election, and in some cases well before that. Each state in the US is able to come up with its own system, and with budgets tight, many are relying on poorly secured databases and voting machines that run software that’s well over a decade old.
More information at the BBC.

Tetris block distribution


I always wondered about this.  Discussed at the Data Is Beautiful subreddit.
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