🌊🚯 An AI boat may finally solve our ocean pollution problem. Ex-CIA employee sentenced to 40 years for Vault 7 leak. Blogger unveils research misconduct at cancer institute.
Dear Bizarro Readers,
We hope this month’s edition finds you well. Our top stories this month are a mixture of innovation, cyber espionage, and scientific misconduct. Beyond that, we scoured the web to bring you plenty of other intriguing and bizarre (of course!) stories from the past month or so. There are a few pieces that we specifically chose to feature for our dev readers, but 95% of the content is accessible to all.
Here are the top stories:
🌊🚯 An AI Boat May Finally Solve Our Ocean Pollution Problem
🔒💻 Ex-CIA Employee Sentenced to 40 Years for Vault 7 Leak
🔬🚨 Blogger Unveils Research Misconduct at Cancer Institute
📰 From the Newsroom
Most of us have either witnessed ocean pollution firsthand, or we’ve seen online campaigns devoted to various aspects of helping with the issue. These have ranged from prevention (remember the movement to ban plastic straws?) to cleanup campaigns. Despite these noble efforts, it seems like the problem has continued to persist, but a recent development from a team of aspiring entrepreneurial do-gooders might finally be shifting the tide.
After visiting Bali and being inspired by the island's manual trash collection efforts, computer engineers Sidhant Gupta and Utkarsh Goel founded a startup devoted to automating the slow, manual process of collecting trash from water bodies.
They developed an initial prototype collection device while still in Bali. Upon returning to Hong Kong, they worked on several iterations of it before settling on the current version, dubbed “Clearbot Neo”.
Thanks to Microsoft Azure’s AI system, which powers the tech stack used by Clearbot Neo, it’s not only able to clear out trash while avoiding harm to marine life, but it also produces a data point for each and every piece of garbage collected — information that includes location, size, type, material and weight.
As of the time of this writing, the Clearbot Neo has been deployed exclusively in Hong Kong’s waters. However, several potential customers in other countries have contacted Gupta and Goel to express their interest in buying a model. The two young founders feel optimistic about the future prospects of their company and consequently, about about the future of our oceans.
In a landmark case that has stirred the waters of cybersecurity, espionage, and digital ethics, Joshua Schulte, a former CIA employee turned WikiLeaks source, has been handed a 40-year prison sentence by the US Southern District of New York. In addition, he will also be placed on lifetime supervision when he’s eventually released at the age of 75.
Schulte faced a myriad of charges, including espionage, computer hacking, and possession of child sexual abuse material, leading to a complex trial that unveiled a multifaceted portrait of his actions and intentions.
The “Vault 7” leak, attributed to Schulte, revealed classified CIA cyber-operations, shedding light on surveillance tactics and the use of forged digital certificates, marking one of the most significant breaches of classified information in US history.
Schulte had proven to be a polarizing figure throughout his trial and sentencing, with his defense suggesting his unpopularity at work made him an ideal fall guy. His post-arrest behavior, including controversial comparisons of his treatment to historical injustices, didn’t help him any.
Drawing parallels with Edward Snowden's revelations, Schulte's case underscores the complex dynamics between individual actions and their impact on national security. Both cases serve as critical touchstones in the discourse on the balance between the public's right to know and the imperative of safeguarding national interests.
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has long been looked upon as a beacon of hope in the fight against cancer. It’s also a revered Harvard Medical School affiliate. That glowing reputation is now being called into question by recent revelations from a blogger’s research and the resulting response from Dana-Farber itself.
Biologist and blogger, Sholto David, used AI tools to analyze a series of research papers published by Dana-Farber’s top scientists. What he found in the aftermath were problems ranging from minor oversights to grave concerns, including image duplications and manipulations.
In a damage-control response, Dr. Barrett Rollins, Dana-Farber's integrity research officer, has emphasized the institute's commitment to rectifying the identified errors, stating that the discrepancies do not necessarily indicate an intent to deceive.
Thus far, Sholto David’s allegations have led to Dana-Farber scientists requesting that six manuscripts be retracted, with an additional 31 manuscripts being in the process of correction, and one manuscript remaining under examination.
Beyond the immediate implications for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, this episode raises critical questions about the pressures within the academic and scientific communities that may inadvertently encourage questionable practices. If you recall, it was less than a year ago that former Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne resigned due to falsifying data in his research. As we reflect on the repeated calls to "trust the science" during the pandemic, these recent events (among others) highlight the fact that science, while helpful, should not be held up as some sort of infallible deity.
⛓️ Ten Must See Links of the Month
A recently published study reveals the discovery of a vast network of ancient cities in the Ecuadorean Amazon, challenging previous notions of the area and proving that the Amazon was once a bustling cosmopolitan area, akin to Ancient Rome.
A Chinese scholar has introduced the world's first AI child, Tong Tong, a virtual toddler designed to mimic human cognition and potentially advance the development of human-level artificial intelligence.
In case you’re still using them, last year more than two dozen scientists warned in a peer-reviewed journal that the widespread overuse of QACs in disinfectants and hand sanitizers that emerged during the pandemic is linked to health issues, antimicrobial resistance, and environmental harm.
Google is officially retiring the cache link feature from its search results - including the search operator “cache:”. The company’s stated rationale for the decision is improvements in web page reliability, but that explanation has been met with some pushback by longtime fans of the feature.
Speaking of changes at Google, get ready to bid adieu to Bard - only the name though. The AI chatbot is still very much going to be around, but Google is discontinuing the "Bard" branding and renaming it as "Gemini."
Just when you thought that we knew everything there is to know about the human body, scientists have discovered strange entities called "obelisks" in our guts and mouths. Thus far, their function remains a mystery.
Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel is funding a new version of the Olympics called the “Enhanced Games.” As you might’ve guessed by the name, the event is going to allow athletes to compete while openly using steroids and / or other performance enhancing drugs.
📽️🎞️ Adam Bryant was a journalist at the New York Times for almost 18 years. During that time, he interviewed over 1,000 CEOs and discovered that each one had three key skills that keep their companies, their employees, and themselves, afloat.
If you've recently decided to dive into the wonderful world of WordPress or even if you’ve been using it for a while but want to brush up on your skills, then you’re going to want to check out these eight resources for WordPress training.
CSS guru, Adam Argyle, has put together a helpful article for front-end developers about mastering five key CSS snippets. It’s a follow up piece to a similar (also useful) post he published last year.
🎤 It’s How They Said It
“I run a sandwich shop. There's no way I could make a living if I had to pay for all my ingredients. The cost of cheese alone would put me out of business.”
– Twitter / X user Craig Cowling, in a sarcastic dig at OpenAI’s plea to be exempted from copyright laws
🧮 The Numbers Game
~3,992,222 websites are created every day, 2,772 websites are created every minute, and 46 websites are created every second. That means, depending on how fast you read, that anywhere from 184 to 276 websites were created from the start of you reading that previous sentence to you finishing this one.
$1,520,000,000,000 USD is the aggregate value of the ten most valuable brands in the world. The staggering value of that number hits a lot harder when it’s completely written out in its full decimal glory. $1.52 trillion just doesn’t have quite the same umph to it.
47.5 feet (14.478 meters) long, 16.5 feet (5.029 meters) high, and 13 feet (3.962 meters) wide is the size of a giant lion sculpture, which currently holds the Guinness World Record for the world's largest redwood sculpture. It took 20 people more than three years to carve it out from a single tree trunk.
⚒️ Tools and Resources
This month we have one resource for the dev readers, and one for the more general public to have a little fun with.
The AHA Stack: This framework combines Astro, htmx, and Alpine.js to deliver modern web applications by sending HTML over the wire, a method that challenges the traditional SPA (Single Page Application) approach by offering a simpler and more efficient workflow.
Google’s AI Test Kitchen: It’s a bit of a misnomer to refer to this one as a single tool because it’s actually three tools in one: ImageFX, MusicFX, and TextFX. You can probably figure out what each tool does based on the name.
Ever wondered what a cat would look like as a renaissance vampire king? ImageFX will generate it. Or maybe you're curious what an instrumental for an underwater cyber pizza party might sound like. MusicFX will generate it. You get the idea.
Before you get super excited to use it though, there's a caveat: as cool as it is, AI Test Kitchen is currently only open to folks in the US, Kenya, New Zealand, and Australia. So, if you're in one of these places (or you have a VPN), then you're in luck!
🖼️ Image of The Month
What you see above is a screenshot of the homepage for a company called Interlune. In fact, it’s not only the homepage, it’s the entire website. There’s nothing else to be seen.
Okay, sure, there are plenty of simple, one page websites on the internet, so perhaps that’s not so bizarre.
But how many of those have raised $15.5 million in new funding on top of an initial $1.85 million received in 2022, with another $2 million just around the corner? That’s a lot of behind-the-scenes interest for a company that has a total of three sentences on their website - one of which is “we look forward to hearing from you.”
Despite its seemingly mysterious nature, there is some information available about Interlune, thanks to a little sleuthing by the good folks over at TechCrunch and GeekWire.
💬 Word of The Month
“Mudita” (मुदिता): This dharmic concept captures the essence of finding joy in the happiness and achievements of others. It can be applied to open-source technology, where developers and contributors work not for personal gain but to advance the collective knowledge and capabilities of the community.
The spirit of mudita is woven into the very fabric of this ecosystem, as each contribution — be it a line of code, a bug fix, or a new feature — fuels both the project's growth and also the collective joy and satisfaction of its user community.
It reinforces the idea that in helping others, we also find our own happiness and fulfillment.
📰 Bizarro Job of The Month
This month’s bizarro job comes to us by way of a global NGO called APOPO.
What does APOPO do?
The short version is that they train rats to save lives. That’s right, rats. More specifically, the African giant pouched rat (Cricetomys ansorgei). This particular species was chosen due to its long lifespan and adaptation to harsh conditions in certain parts of Africa, which is primarily where APOPO does its work.
The job itself is to be a rat trainer / handler.
All new trainers get an extensive three month practical training and also go through refresher and ongoing trainings annually. APOPO has a careers page, which doesn’t have a specific rat trainer opening as of the time of this writing, but they do have other jobs, and also an open applications page where you can apply to work with them in any capacity that’s applicable to their mission. If you happen to live in one of the countries where they operate, then you can use that application and apply to be a rat handler.
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