Month: December 2017


Daniel Burd

Daniel Burd was a Canadian High School student who in 2008 isolated two bacteria (Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas) that at the correct temperature ate almost half of a plastic sample within six weeks.

He won the first prize at the Canada Wide Science Fair and a $20,000 scholarship.

In an article in The Record (the article no longer there), Burd is quoted as saying:

The inputs are cheap, maintaining the required temperature takes little energy because microbes produce heat as they work, and the only outputs are water and tiny levels of carbon dioxide – each microbe produces only 0.01 per cent of its own infinitesimal weight in carbon dioxide.

I have googled repeatedly for Daniel Burd since then and haven’t found anything more.

Daniel Burd, where are you and what has become of your discovery?


What They Did With The World

They broke it
so that they did not care so much
when it was destroyed

Little by little
animal by animal
specie by specie
they killed it

Then like murderers
they hid the bodies
in a graveyard
made of the world


Hawaii Is The Latest

Hawaii is the latest in a series of island chains reaching back millions and millions of years.

The chain that is above the water now is like the latest pearl in a string that stretches back to the north-east of Russia near the Baring Straits.

As I understood it, a weak spot in the plates leads to an eruption that forms a set of islands, with the first of them being formed many millions of years ago.

Then the plate moved slowly to the south east, cutting off the source that fuelled the formation of the islands.

Over time those islands wore away until they were beneath the sea. Meanwhile, another island chain spurted out of the weak spot hundreds of miles further along the path which the plates were taking.

And now with sonic pinging, we can see the remains of these islands – bumps in the sea bed – stretching like a necklace many hundreds of miles across the Pacific – recording the passage of events that have happened over millions of years.


Malicious Cryptomining Means Counterfeit Currency

I was in a shop recently and the owner said that they will not take Scottish £20 notes because so many in circulation are forgeries. It’s not news; forging bank notes and coins has been going on for centuries. and you will know that when a forgery is detected, the note is confiscated and removed from circulation.

Whether most forged notes are captured and destroyed or whether there are a lot in circulation undetected, the governing principle is that the notes are detectable.

I mention this because there is at the moment a surge in the number of malicious WordPress plugins, Github code snippets, and other resources that are built to mine cryptocurrencies on someone else’s setup.

They are commandeering the CPU resources and electricity of the computers running sites that have unwittingly incorporated these assets.

It seems to me that mining in this way is unlike counterfeiting non-digital currency. The difference is that malicious crypto mining is like counterfeiting non-digital currency with the original plates.

That’s because there is no way to see where the mining took place. There is no ‘counterfeit’ in the old sense. There is just unauthorised, perfect reproduction.

So what value does the mined currency have?

What value ought it to have?


The problem with AI

Have you noticed how people keep talking at the problem of AI as the risk of AI entities thinking for themselves and acting against their human masters.

That may be a problem, but I see a much more obvious one.

Every despot stays in power only so long as he can command violence or the threat of violence.

Pushed too far there is always the risk that even the Imperial Guard will turn against the despot.

History teaches us that many tyrants are poor judges of when the tipping point is near.

But poor judges or not, tyrants are aware that there is a tipping point. Many will play with pushing things to the limit. But they are nonetheless aware the tide can turn against them.

And that knowledge curtails the worst excesses or ignoring it brings about revolution. Either way, behaviour is modified.

But take away the conscience from the Imperial Guard – replace it with robots – and there will be no end to tyranny.

Think Star Wars and Total Recall, not Blade Runner or I, Robot.