Explosion At Novosibirsk

An explosion, said to be of a gas cylinder, caused a fire at the Vektor research institute in Novosibirsk. The explosion took place on the fifth floor of a six-floor building, where a laboratory was being refurbished. This is a plausible explanation.

How worried should you be? If you live outside Novosibirsk, not very.

There are reports that all the glass in the building was broken, but I am beginning to doubt those reports, because I don’t see them in all the news articles. BBC has one of the more complete reports.

Vektor houses a collection of nasty viruses, including one of the two official samples of smallpox virus. I say “official” because every now and then overlooked samples show up. It’s also possible that as the Arctic warms up, the bodies of people who died from smallpox will become more accessible. But otherwise, smallpox is extinct in the wild.

The smallpox virus is probably stored in a cold room in the basement of the building. We’ve come to the time when the official samples should be destroyed. The other is at the CDC in Atlanta.

Is the Russian government telling the truth? Giving us the whole story? In 1979, the city of Sverdlovsk had a sudden epidemic of anthrax from a leak in a bioweapons production plant. The Soviet government pretended that this was from bad meat and kept it quiet, just as they did seven years later with the Chernobyl disaster. Putin seems to prefer handling accidents that way, having turned off international radiation monitors that might have told us something about the explosion at Nyonoksa in August.

If this is a coverup and viruses were released, people in Novosibirsk are the most at risk. Disease will show up fairly quickly, and people can be isolated and vaccinated. Russia does not want epidemics in its population. There is the small possibility that someone infected from Novosibirsk might travel internationally, but we know how to deal with these viruses, even Ebola now.

As to the question of whether all Russia’s explosions this summer are related, the answer is probably not, except for one possible connection. The Achinsk armory explosions are of a not uncommon type in Russia. Too many armories, too little safety, bored and uncaring security forces. The Nyonoksa and Novosibirsk explosions could be connected by pressure from above to get new weapons fielded rapidly. Pressure and haste in science tend to make things go wrong.

The Most Terrifying Technology

One of the problems with the Trump administration is that they are doing so many retrograde, horrible, awful things, that you can’t even keep up with chronicling them, let alone fighting them all. You have to pick your battles, and even then, the deck is so stacked against you that victories are few and far between and often pyrrhic. Because of this, you can’t even begin to think about dealing with the numerous future crises that are rolling down the road at an alarming rate. For example:

Now I have no idea how well thought out his policy is, or how practical, but one of the things that scares the hell out of me is the future of automation. In particular, automated trucking. I feel like I have mentioned this before, but I can’t remember when, but it is important to realize that trucking employs several million people, and there are an equal number of people whose livelihoods come from supporting the trucking industry. This data is from 2014, but that is pretty recent when it comes to data sets of this size:

Because I live in an area that is considered both the Ohio Valley and Appalachia, I am acutely aware of how the loss of a couple thousand mining and steel mill jobs every year has perverted our politics for the last two-three decades. Take that upheaval, and make it several orders of magnitude worse, and you get the idea how bad this is going to be. And we’re not even getting into the fact that trucking is a tough business as it is, with owner operators getting hosed every single day (the trucking industry as a whole did really well the past few years, but the drivers- not so much. Sound familiar?).

Again, this is the sort of thing that if we were a serious nation, we would be planning in advance how to deal with it, whether it be regulation, legislation banning and limiting it, etc. It’s going to be a major deal. The only serious conversations I have even seen about it are coming from the left, with discussions about a universal basic income (Give People Money by Annie Lowrey was a good read), and to his credit, Andrew Yang has talked about this (and also written a book).

Of course, half the people in the Democratic primary would probably scoff at this idea, but it really is not just backwards thinking socialism. It’s more forward thinking than people realize, because this stuff is really right around the corner.

Panopticon Creep: UK Edition

Once upon a time, London was the world’s most-surveilled city. This position has since been usurped by Chongqing, a city in the Sichuan province which boasts one hundred sixty-eight cameras per one thousand people. Perhaps upset over the loss of their title, Boris Johnson has decided it’s high time that the UK began compiling records of its citizens’ web traffic.

tl;dr: Here’s an executive summary based on my reading of the linked article.

  • Currently, the various parts of the government collect analytics on how people use their websites.
  • BoJo would like to combine all of this data, creating profiles of how each individual uses the whole government’s online offerings.
  • This is to be done ASAP and in secret. The rationale for this is mumble mumble Brexit.
  • This data will be “anonymized”, which is not particularly meaningful at this level of specificity. While an analyst armed with this database would not be able to find a person’s usage by searching for their name, the same analyst could easily derive a person’s name from their usage.

Drilling into some detail now:

Boris Johnson has secretly ordered the Cabinet Office to turn the government’s public internet service into a platform for “targeted and personalised information” to be gathered in the run-up to Brexit, BuzzFeed News has learned.

In a move that has alarmed Whitehall officials, the prime minister has instructed departments to share data they collect about usage of the GOV.UK portal so that it can feed into preparations for leaving the European Union at the end of next month.
Read more

Today’s Security FAIL

Iran had a missile blow up on the launch pad a couple of days ago, and the folks who do open-source intelligence (OSINT) have been looking at open-source overhead photos, trying to figure out what happened. I put in a guess or two.

This afternoon, a really great photo showed up in our Twitter streams. All those guesses and questions were answered. Caution for those holding clearances: The image may be classified. Read more

Jeffrey Epstein’s Harem Of Scientists

Jeffrey Epstein liked to believe he was a big thinker and collected scientists in much the way he collected young girls, although he seems not to have considered them quite as disposable. Some names are surfacing again and again – Stephen Pinker, Martin Nowak, Lawrence Krauss, and the whole MIT Media Lab. (With the exception of Ethan Zuckerman and Nathan Matias, who have quit the Media Lab because of Epstein’s funding.)

BuzzFeed has a list of scientists in Epstein’s collection – largely older white men (you are surprised?). I was not entirely surprised to see another theme that has always annoyed me.

I’ve always thought that bringing ideas together and thinking across disciplinary lines is important. It can make information more accessible to non-specialists and, in theory at least, promote new thinking and new solutions. So I’ve been attracted to attempts like the Edge website. I checked it out early on and was disappointed to see that the innovative thinkers featured were the same people who are known for being innovative thinkers but have never actually produced what I would consider innovative thoughts.

[It’s Edge.org. I’m not linking to it because Google says it may be hacked.]

Rather, they piddle around with what they consider to be Big Ideas, from which not much has flowed, other than praise from other certified innovative thinkers. A closed system.

IIRC, there was a provision at Edge to include some of the great unwashed, but the process looked like a lot more than I wanted to go through to join a group I was doubtful about.

And guess what! It was one of Jeffrey Epstein’s creations!

The BuzzFeed list is very much like that – I think that several of them were part of Edge.

The problem for those not properly certified is that this bunch clogs up the opinion pages and book publishers and, most importantly, soaks up funding. That was undoubtedly the reason some of the scientists clustered around Epstein – he gave them money.

It’s another argument for taxing the inordinately rich back down to extremely wealthy and using the taxes to support activities that benefit all of us and are shared through a formula that is more equitable than a pedophile’s ego.