Monday, 26 February 2018

Facebook Inc remains part of the problem


Tin-eared social media giant Facebook Inc demonstrates once again that it is part of the problem and not part of the solution, as it promotes toxic gun culture at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference and fails to come to grips with its part in spreading conspiracy theories and "fake news".

Gizmondo, 25 February 2018:

Facebook has pulled a demo of Oculus Rift's VR shooter Bullet Train from the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland amid concerns over gun violence, Variety reported earlier.

It doesn't appear to have been Bullet Train's violent content that prompted the withdrawal per se, but rather that CPAC draws lots of gun rights advocates right at the same time those same National Rifle Association types are drawing a massive wave of criticism in the wake of another school massacre in Parkland, Florida this month.

A number of companies have cut ties with the NRA, like software firm Symantec, which decided to pull discounts for the pro-gun group's members this week. A running New York Times tally of others to do so includes banks, airlines, automotive rentals and services, insurance companies, and a home security company.

As the Times noted on Friday, boycott campaigns tend to fade over time but this time the pressure has built quickly, buoyed by a number of Parkland survivors speaking out on social media and leaving some corporations with no middle ground to recede to.
demo clip of Bullet Train hosted on the Oculus Rift website shows that at least one level in the game involves the player fighting through waves of "resistance forces" in a fairly generic rail station setting. It does not appear to be particularly bloody, though video of CPAC attendees using the game's motion-tracking controls in a vague pantomime of actual shooting probably did not help, either.

In a statement to Variety, Facebook virtual reality VP Hugo Barra said:

There is a standard set of experiences included in the Oculus demos we feature at public events. A few of the action games can include violence. In light of the recent events in Florida and out of respect for the victims and their families, we have removed them from this demo. We regret that we failed to do so in the first place.

Yet the optics of the Oculus Rift demo are probably not the most important issue Facebook should be worried about right now.

Facebook itself has also come under fire for the rapid spread of conspiracy theories about the Parkland shooting, which as CNN noted migrate from internet underbellies like 4chan onto mainstream social media sites via "conservative pages, alt-right personalities, nationalist blogs and far-right pundits." Posts on Facebook promoting the idiotic smear that survivors speaking out against guns were "crisis actors," i.e. some hazily defined variety of professional propagandists paid off to promote gun control, went far and wide; the social media giant repeatedly declined to discuss how it was enforcing violations of its community guidelines against offenders when asked by CNN.

Per the New York Times, it is still really, really easy to find hundreds of posts claiming the shooting was part of a "deep state" black flag operation or the like using Facebook's built-in search option, which kind of calls into question the company's sincerity:

On Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, searches for the hashtag #crisisactor, which accused the Parkland survivors of being actors, turned up hundreds of posts perpetuating the falsehood (though some also criticised the conspiracy theory). Many of the posts had been tweaked ever so slightly -- for example, videos had been renamed #propaganda rather than #hoax -- to evade automated detection.

The spread of the theories on Facebook has also caused some in the tech media to question whether the long-maligned and ill-defined "trending" metric should be retired. Users who post conspiracy theories often rabidly engage with others promoting similar ideas, which in numerous instances means the posts are promoted right to the top of Facebook and other sites like YouTube.

Where have all the insects gone?



ABC News, 24 February 2018:

A global crash in insect populations has found its way to Australia, with entomologists across the country reporting lower than average numbers of wild insects.

University of Sydney entomologist Dr Cameron Webb said researchers around the world widely acknowledge that insect populations are in decline, but are at a loss to determine the cause.

"On one hand it might be the widespread use of insecticides, on the other hand it might be urbanisation and the fact that we're eliminating some of the plants where it's really critical that these insects complete their development," Dr Webb said.

"Add in to the mix climate change and sea level rise and it's incredibly difficult to predict exactly what it is."

Entomologist and owner of the Australian Insect Farm, near Innisfail in far north Queensland, Jack Hasenpusch is usually able to collect swarms of wild insects at this time of year.

"I've been wondering for the last few years why some of the insects have been dropping off and put it down to lack of rainfall," Mr Hasenpusch said.

"This year has really taken the cake with the lack of insects, it's left me dumbfounded, I can't figure out what's going on."

Mr Hasenpusch said entomologists he had spoken to from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and even as far away as New Caledonia and Italy all had similar stories.....

The Guardian, 19 October 2017:

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Just in case you think that Barnaby Joyce will only have his backbench salary to live on


Given soon to be former deputy-prime minister Barnaby Joyce has wrapped himself in a self-pitying cloak of undeserved victimhood, it may not be long before he is crying poor to whichever journalist will listen.

So just to remind everyone that the son raised by well-to-do "multi-millionaire" parents,who had him privately educated in his highschool years as a border at St. Ignatuis' College Riverview, is not without resources.

As of 1 January 2018 a federal MP's base salary stands at $203,030 per annum and, in addition to this salary Joyce as the Member for New England will receive an electoral allowance of est, $40,000 per month, along with a subsidised car, travel & accommodation allowance, free home phone as well as a daily allowance when in Canberra of $90 per day.

He also reportedly owns five rural investment land parcels in the Warrumbungle district totalling around 2,400ha and then there is the family.....


Aerchie Archive, undated 2016:

But the Joyce family's main property is Rutherglen, in Woolbrook, which sprawls across more than 1780ha north of Tamworth. No price was disclosed for that asset, which has been owned by the family for more than five decades.....

He attended St Ignatius’ College, Riverview in Sydney where he played Rugby, and the University of New England in Armidale, where he resided at St Albert’s College and graduated with a Bachelor of Financial Administration degree in 1989He attended St Ignatius’ College, Riverview in Sydney where he played Rugby, and the University of New England in Armidale, where he resided at St Albert’s College and graduated with a Bachelor of Financial Administration degree in 1989…..

The Australian, 12 March 2016:

Mr Joyce also enjoys considerable wealth, largely stemming from the Joyce family trust, which is controlled by his parents, Beryl and James Joyce.

The family owns more than 33,700ha of land in Enngonia, north of Burke, which was bought between 2000-04 for $1.7m, along with a two-bedroom holiday house valued at $400,000 in Mission Beach, between Townsville and Cairns….. [my yellow highlighting]

It is noted that in his declaration of member's interests in January 2018 Barnaby Joyce specifically stated he had no dependent children.


Saturday, 24 February 2018

A little bit of Saturday silliness



"Beware of the Dog" sign from the wonderful world of Google Search​