Saturday, November 28, 2015


10 Theoretical Countries Of The Future
By Zachery Brasier,
Listverse, 28 November 2015.

Countries rise, and countries fall. Nobody assumes that the world map of the future will look like our modern map. Succession and unification movements exist all over the world, providing various possibilities for future countries.

10. Divided Belgium

Photo credit: Thylbert

When most people think of countries splitting up, they probably do not think of Belgium. However, Belgium is already divided between cultures, with French-speaking people in the southern Wallonia region and Flemish-speaking people in the northern Flanders region. In 1993, the Belgian government gave increased autonomy to the Flemish people. As their region became more autonomous, some Flemish politicians began to advocate splitting from Belgium and forming a new country.

The Flemish support independence for a variety of reasons. First, they fear that staying a part of Belgium will negatively affect their cultural heritage and identity. By forming a new country, the Flemish would be able to protect their unique heritage and language without worrying about cultural assimilation. Secondly, there is a big economic and governmental difference between Flanders and Wallonia. The French-speaking regions of Wallonia have moved in a more socialist direction while Flanders remains a market-based economy.

With the difference in ideologies, creating a functioning government is difficult. After the 2010 election, it took 18 months before the two regions began to work together. Tensions have increased due to Wallonia’s insistence on vetoing Flemish laws, which has led politicians to seriously consider a breakup.

Some are hoping for a referendum soon. Flanders can easily survive on its own, but the Wallonia economy might not hold up as an independent state. Other countries are attempting independence referenda, and it may be only a matter of time before a divided Belgium becomes a reality.

9. Alawite Nation


Syria is in the midst of a civil war against President Bashar al-Assad. Recently, Daesh (ISIS) made inroads into Syria, causing a refugee crisis that has only been worsened by the Paris attacks in November 2015.

Assad belongs to a historically oppressed minority Muslim group called Alawites, who differ in doctrine from the predominant Sunnis. Alawites account for only 12 percent of the Syrian population. But Assad is an Alawite, so they exert strong influence over the government, increasing the chance that the civil war may end in a divided Syria.

If the war continues, Assad may consider forming an independent Alawite state. When Syria was under French control around World War I, the Alawites convinced the French to give them autonomy. Eventually, the Alawites took control of Syria after the French occupation. But now that their mode of governing has started a civil war, the Alawites may look to become an independent state.

The theoretical Alawite state would border the Mediterranean Sea and is a possible plan B for the government if Assad falls. Alawites would have a pronounced tactical and military advantage over the rebels, including an air force that the rest of Syria could not match. These facts further support the feasibility of Alawite independence. There are also rumours that Russia supports an independent Alawite state.

8. Catalonia

Photo credit: Herminio Alcaraz

Catalonia is a region of Spain that has been given increased autonomy over the years, especially after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975. The Catalans are different from the Spaniards in that they speak a different language, have different cultural traditions, and have a history independent of Spain. Centred around the city of Barcelona, the Catalans have pushed hard for independence over the past few years.

The Catalan region of Spain is a powerhouse in the nation’s economy. Although it only accounts for 16 percent of the Spanish population, Catalonia contributes 19 percent of the Spanish GDP. The region also gives more money to Madrid in taxes than it gets back, with most Catalans believing that Spain underfunds their infrastructure compared to the rest of the country.

Arguments for Catalonian independence are strong. In October 2015, Catalonia elected representatives dedicated to putting their region on the path to independence. As Catalonia has one of the oldest parliaments in the world and Catalan is the ninth most spoken language in the European Union, the region already acts like a country.

The Spanish government will not let Catalonia break away, stating that they will use any political powers necessary to keep Spain together. To test the feasibility of breaking away from their mother country, secessionist leaders hope to hold a referendum soon that is modelled after Scotland’s referendum.

7. Ryukyu

Photo via Wikimedia

One of the main battlegrounds of World War II, Okinawa and its neighbouring islands were under Japanese control for most of the war until the US captured them in 1945. When the war ended, the native Ryukyuan people on Okinawa believed that the US would make the island chain an independent country. However, the islands reverted to Japanese control. From that point on, a small but adamant independence movement arose on the islands.

Ryukyuan separatists argue that their movement is in line with the Scottish referendum and the UN charter, which states that all people have the right to choose their own government. Resentment against the Tokyo government increased when the Japanese allowed the US to build a large military base on Okinawa without local approval.

In the 1970s, Ryukyuan independence movements involved violent uprisings. But this time, the Ryukyuan people prefer a diplomatic solution to their perceived underrepresentation in the Japanese government. By being more outspoken about independence options, the separatists are slowly building support among the people. It will be a while before Ryukyu has the chance to become an independent country, but recent referendum movements show that it is not impossible.

6. Independent Judea

Photo credit: Shavitco

Judea was an ancient country that formed when Israel broke into two countries during biblical times. When the southern portion fell to invaders, Judea survived until the Babylonians conquered the land in 600 BC. While the historical Judea is well-known, a new state of Judea may also form in modern times. Right-wing Israeli rabbis are calling for the creation of the new state as an outcome of the Palestinian conflict. The formation of Judea does not seem likely, but it is one of the possibilities for the future of Israel.

In 1989, right-wing rabbis also threatened a secession if Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The rabbis intended to gather as many followers as possible and forcibly retake Gaza as a new state. Although that didn’t occur in 1989, the idea reappeared in 2007.

That year, Israel was contemplating a unilateral withdrawal. The right-wing rabbis stated that if Israel was ever to pull out of Gaza, they would secede. Although the new nation never formed, a secessionist state of Judea is a constant threat from hard-line rabbis as Israel contemplates its long-term Palestinian strategy.

5. Balkanized United States

Photo via Wikimedia

When the Soviet Union broke up, the term “balkanization” was coined to describe the small nations left over in the Balkan region. In modern speculative literature and political science, the term describes a large nation that splits into smaller constituent parts. A classic victim of the trope is the US. While it may seem like science fiction, a balkanized US is not as unlikely as it sounds.

For the past few years, the US has debated the limitations of governmental power, with many conservative politicians fighting against what they consider to be Washington overreach. In response, some political scientists have stated that the US has simply become too big and should break into smaller countries. As crazy as that might sound, the US is already divided along racial and economic lines. Besides nationality, the different regions do not really have much in common with each other.

A balkanized US could be created in many ways, either by peaceful disintegration or violent civil war. Various groups have already started calling for the breakup of the US. The most popularly known are Texas conservatives, who have long discussed the possibility of breaking away and returning to independent status.

Less well-known is the Vermont secessionist movement called the Second Vermont Republic. The Alaska secessionist party is the third largest in the state, and small groups of Christians have threatened to break away from the US to set up a country more in line with their reading of the Bible.

4. East Turkestan

Photo credit: Tarkan

The Xinjiang province is an area of east China that has a Muslim population. For centuries, the people in this region governed themselves, but they are now under Chinese control. Although the province is called self-governing, the native Uighur people are concerned that their needs are not being represented by the Chinese government. To protect their heritage, language, and form of government, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is pushing for independence from China.

Chinese government officials strictly control Islamic observance in Xinjiang. They only allow worshipers to use state-approved Qurans and restrict the wearing of traditional Muslim clothing. This has heightened the ethnic violence in the region, causing hundreds of deaths in the past few years. An attack even occurred in Tiananmen Square.

In response to these attacks, Chinese officials have cracked down on the separatists. With many of them escaping into Pakistan, ETIM has been linked to Islamic terrorist groups. This prompted the US government to add ETIM to the list of possible terrorist organizations.

The Chinese government continues to fight against ETIM separatists, refusing to recognize them as an independent country. However, with more Islamic separatist movements springing up throughout Asia and an increased desire for democracy in China, ETIM has a more realistic chance of success.

3. European Federation

With the European Union acting like a large government, many European political philosophers and statesmen have discussed the possibility of becoming a single country called the “United States of Europe” or the “European Federation.” The EU already has the characteristics of a federation in its laws, single currency, and economic system.

One of the leaders of the unification movement is Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium. Verhofstadt advocates turning the eurozone into a single country to make it easier to create laws and stabilize the economy. Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Commission, wants to model the new country after the American bicameral system to offer another beacon of freedom to the world.

2. Khalistan

Photo credit: J. Patrick Fischer

The Sikhs are a religious minority in India that historically resided in the Punjab region. In the late 20th century, the region experienced a movement to create a separate country known as Khalistan that would be ruled by Sikhs. Although this did not occur, there are still talks about an independent Sikh country, implying that the movement is not totally dead.

The desire for an independent state began as early as 1947, with Sikh separatists engaging in violent uprisings in Punjab from the 1970s through the 1990s. The uprisings became especially pronounced when the separatists were believed to have received aid from the US, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom.

Some Punjab Sikhs engaged in insurgent violence against the Indian government, including terrorist attacks and an airline hijacking in 1981. This forced the Indian military to respond with intense counterinsurgency operations which ended with alleged human rights abuses.

The movement faded away for a variety of reasons, mainly the demographics of the Punjab region and strict Indian counterinsurgency. However, the unrest continues, with some Sikh religious leaders continuing to push for independence. Pro-Khalistan organizations exist throughout the world, most of them advocating peaceful secession. On November 10, 2015, prominent Sikh leaders published a resolution for an independent state, showing that the idea has not completely died.

1. Bougainville

Photo credit: Electionworld

Bougainville is a region of Papua New Guinea (PNG) that fought for independence in a bloody civil war between 1988–1998. The conflict ended with nearly 20,000 people dead. Although the PNG forces put down the insurrection, the PNG government did allow the region to become autonomous to quiet the violent uprisings. However, Bougainville residents retain the hope of becoming completely independent.

Earlier this year, the people of Bougainville voted to decide which government officials would lead the country to independence. Although the PNG government seems to be playing ball with the independence movement this time, they are still closely monitoring the situation.

Oddly, they have not allowed government officials from Australia to observe the elections, although Australia has been involved with PNG politics since the war. Even with the restrictions, the Australian government has maintained a visible interest in Bougainville development. Independence leaders are planning a referendum sometime between 2015 and 2020.

Top image: Catalan independence protest on 11 September 2012. Credit: Kippelboy/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


8 Green innovations at Greenbuild 2015
By Lucy Wang,
Inhabitat, 23 November 2015.

The world’s largest green building event kicked off with a bang last week at the heart of our nation’s capital. While Greenbuild always features plenty of education sessions, talks, and tours, our favourite event will always be the trade show expo that, as always, was brimming with the newest innovations in sustainable design. We set off to explore the very best the trade show had to offer, from the world’s first Cradle to Cradle-certified solar panels to a net-zero energy daylight harvesting system. Keep reading to see our favourite picks for sustainable innovations from Greenbuild 2015.

1. Onyx Solar - Photovoltaic Glass

Image credit: Onyx Solar

Solar panels for buildings are no longer restricted to rooftop systems. Onyx Solar developed innovative “building integrated photovoltaic solutions” that make it possible for rain screens, skylights, and even pavers to generate solar energy. With a payback time of less than one year, their photovoltaic glass produces electricity while providing thermal and acoustical insulation. Our favourite of the Onyx Solar products were the transparent and walkable photovoltaic floors [pictured above], which can be constructed in a variety of colours and lit from below.

2. GlasPro Bird-friendly Glass

Image credit: GlasPro

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) estimates that up to a billion birds die due to glass collisions every year in the United States. Fortunately, companies like GlasPro have created a bird-friendly glass specially coated with UV liquid, making the glass visible to birds, which can see ultraviolet light, but invisible to the human eye. We were particularly impressed by how GlasPro’s product is completely clear, unlike other bird-friendly glass alternatives that have thin but visible lines scoring the glass.

3. All-Purpose Eco-friendly Coating by Marine Armor Defense

Image credit: MAD Products

Marine Armor Defense (or MAD Products) developed an amazing all-purpose coating that can make virtually any surface waterproof, flame-resistant, acid-resistant, and rust preventative. The IMO-certified eco-friendly coating is water-based and comes in a liquid form that can be painted or spray-painted. When dried, the highly reflective UV stable material has a 1500-psi tensile strength and can withstand the full freeze and thaw cycle. The product, which can withstand 200-mile-per-hour winds, will soon be used to paint the roofs of housing in Haiti as part of a humanitarian project.

4. The Original Rainwater Pillow


Winner of the USGBC’s 2014 Best Product for Water Efficiency, the Original Rainwater Pillow has been a staple of Greenbuild’s Expos for years. The innovative rainwater and stormwater harvesting system is horizontal, meaning it can be easily tucked away in unused spaces, such as beneath decks, and customized to a variety of sizes. The collected rainwater can be used for irrigation or hooked up to a secondary water treatment and filtration system that will clean the water to a drinking level standard found to be most often cleaner than any other water source.

5. SunPower Solar Panels

Image credit: SunPower

SunPower is the world’s first and only company to receive Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification for their solar panels. This means that their C2C-certified E-Series and X-Series solar panels were created from materials safe for humans and the environment, manufactured using renewable energy and water-efficient technologies, and can be recycled at the end of the solar panels’ life. This is a huge feat given that one of the biggest criticisms against solar panels are the often environmentally toxic materials and processes used in manufacturing.

6. Net-zero Unity Home

Image credit: Unity Homes

This year’s Greenbuild show home was the stunning net-zero Unity Home, a solar-powered prefab assembled in just three days. Filled with eco-friendly and Cradle-to-Cradle certified products from floor to ceiling, the modern LEED v4 Platinum-seeking home combines high quality prefab construction with state-of-the-art products. Unity Homes’ incredible and beautiful prefab construction is paving the way towards affordable, smarter, and more sustainable housing.

7. KOHLER Clarity

Image credit: KOHLER

The darling of KOHLER’s booth at Greenbuild 2015 was KOHLER Clarity, a ceramic water filtration system that eliminates over 99 percent of contaminants and costs less than a penny per person per day to operate. The sleek but simple design was developed in collaboration with World Vision, iDE, Water Mission, and others to bring safe and reliable drinking water to developing nations around the world. Field testing has already begun in November in India and Africa. The water system can filter up to 40 litres of water per day.

8. Replex Net-Zero Daylight Harvesting System

Image credit: Replex Plastics

Tubular daylighting devices have been around for decades, but Replex Plastics created one of the most forward-thinking net-zero energy daylight harvesting systems we’ve ever seen. Their high-efficiency sky dome funnels natural light into the building during the day, without allowing solar heat gain, and is paired with LEDs that auto-dim or brighten in response to daylight sensors. The LEDs are powered with rooftop photovoltaic arrays that are sized using an algorithm that looks at daylight resource data for the building’s location.

Top image: GreenBuild net-zero Unity Home rendering. Credit: Unity Homes.

[Source: Inhabitat. Edited. Images added.]


7 Alarming Ways Hackers Can Screw with Your Smartphone
By Joel Lee,
Make Use Of, 27 November 2015.

For a lot of us, “compromised smartphone security” is basically synonymous with “time to run another malware scan,” and as such, we view security threats more as inconveniences rather than the dangers they really are.

Maybe the problem is that we aren’t fully aware of what hackers can really do with our smartphones. It’s one thing to learn about common smartphone security risks, but if that knowledge stays abstract, it does you no good.

So to get you thinking the right way, here are some real examples in which your smartphone can be hacked and used against you, and I promise you’ll start thinking of smartphone security as an everyday necessity rather than just for the paranoid.

1. Remotely Control Your Device

Image credit: Tim Malabuyo/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Not long ago, a researcher discovered a zero-day exploit in the (at the time) latest version of Chrome for Android - an exploit that granted the hacker full access to the smartphone’s root operating system and worked on every version of Android.

It has already been reported to Google (and yes, the researcher picked up a large security bounty payout for it) so it should be patched soon enough, but this just goes to show how much control a hacker can get. Full root access!

What’s most interesting is that this particular exploit didn’t come from a app-related malware infection. It was simply an overlooked vulnerability in the JavaScript V8 engine that Chrome uses. So no matter what you think you know about smartphone security, surprises are always waiting around the corner.

2. Remotely Eavesdrop on Calls

Image credit: Janitors/Wikimedia Commons

Around the same time that the above-mentioned Chrome exploit was publicized, another vulnerability came to light - but this particular issue only affected Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, and Note 4 devices. Still, lots of people use those phones, so millions were affected.

Long story short, by using a man-in-the-middle attack, hackers were able to connect the device to fake cellular base stations and thus intercept incoming and outgoing voice calls. After intercepting, hackers could potentially listen to, and even record, said calls.

The setup of the exploit is a bit too complicated for any regular hacker working on his own to set up, but the scary thing is that there’d be no way for the end user to know that something is amiss.

3. Spy on Your Every Move

Image credit: Anthony Starks/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Back in 2011 when the iPhone 4 was the phone to own, a computer scientist from Georgia Tech experimented with the built-in accelerometer and found that he could read computer keystrokes from nothing more than desk vibrations. In fact, his accuracy was just over 80 percent.

This particular issue is easily circumvented - all you have to do is keep your phone off your computer desk - but it goes to show how clever and innovative hackers can be.

Another example is PlaceRaider, which was a military app that secretly took snapshots of your surrounding (using the smartphone’s camera) and could use those images to rebuild your environment in virtual 3D.

How could this be abused? Imagine if a hacker managed to upload this kind of malware onto your phone, used it to replicate your home, and used that as a way to spot valuable objects worth stealing? But of course the real creepy factor here is the invasion of privacy.

4. Break Into Your Home

Image credit: Lockitron via YouTube

Speaking of home robberies, there are more angles to consider when thinking about the safety of your home in relation to your smartphone - especially if you’re invested in smart home products or the Internet of Things at home.

To be fair, smart home automation isn’t inherently insecure. With the right precautions, you can have a smart home that’s properly protected and impervious to most common threats. Don’t let the potential for hacking deter you from exploring the possibilities of a smart home.

But that being said, just as any Internet-connected device can be compromised, so too can smart home products - and your smartphone is the weakest link.

For example, if you have a smart home security system that’s controlled by your smartphone, imagine what could happen if a hacker gained remote control access to your device. They might be able to unlock doors, disable cameras, or worse.

5. Extort You For Money

Image credit: Ervins Strauhmanis/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

In 2013, a new kind of malware hit the Web. Essentially, this malicious scam would lock down your computer and force you to pay a fee to regain control of your system. It’s called ransomware and is one of the worst kinds of malware out there.

In 2014, ransomware hit Android in the form of an FBI warning that accused you of breaking the law (such as claiming you had child pornography on your device) and demanded a fine to avoid jail. As you might expect, plenty of people paid the fine out of sheer surprise and fear.

Removing ransomware is possible but also a pain. The key is to be wary of what ransomware looks like so you can identify it and keep yourself protected from it.

6. Steal Your Identity

Image credit: Vodafone Medien/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.

2014 was a bad year for customer data security. Companies like Target, AT&T, and eBay all suffered data breaches, resulting in a lot of stolen identities. And though it would be nice to say that these incidents are ramping down, that would just be a bold-faced lie.

The truth is, smartphones can lead to identity theft in a lot of ways these days, and one of the bigger risks lies in NFC technology (also called “bumping”). Essentially, hackers can bump your device without you realizing it, and by doing so, they can intercept sensitive data.

Worried that your identity might’ve been stolen? Stay up to date with these warning signs of digital identity theft and respond accordingly if you notice anything off or suspicious.

7. Use Your Device to Attack Others

Image credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Sometimes hackers don’t really want the data on your device - instead, they just want to use your device as a minion for their own nefarious purposes. With the right malware installed, your smartphone could turn into a zombie.

In 2012, the NotCompatible Trojan for Android turned all infected devices into one massive botnet, making it easy for hackers to use those devices in sending out all kinds of spam. But in 2014, it evolved and became a little scarier with the potential to launch targeted attacks and bring down networks.

This kind of attack is called a distributed denial-of-service attack and botnets are famous for it. Your smartphone could be a zombie and you might not even realize it.

Smartphone Security Threats Are Real

Obviously, these exploits and vulnerabilities are way more than simple inconveniences. If something like these happens to you, it can be quite serious. That’s why it’s so important to stay vigilant and learn how to protect yourself.

At the very least, you should change your bad security habits right away - nothing will improve your safety more than that - but you should also internalize these common smartphone security mistakes.

Top image credit: Chs87/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Make Use Of. Edited. Images added.]

Friday, November 27, 2015


Week’s Best Space Pictures: Galaxies Smirk and Volcanoes Make Waves
By Michael Greshko,
National Geographic News, 27 November 2015.

Feed your need for heavenly views of the universe with our pick of the most awe-inspiring space pictures. This week, volcanoes leave rippled clouds in their wake, galaxies warp light into a grin, and one of Ceres’ largest craters gets a close-up.

1. Making Waves


Mountain-wave clouds flow to the northeast over the southern Indian Ocean’s Prince Edward Islands. The islands’ volcanic peaks create ripples in the air and clouds, much like a boat in water.

2. Galactic Grin


The smiling Cheshire Cat group of galaxies glows with X-rays (purple). The Cheshire Cat’s “grin” is light from other galaxies warped by its mass, mostly dark matter. A new study says its “eyes” will collide in less than a billion years.

3. Snow-Covered Mitten


On November 22, NASA’s Aqua satellite snapped a photo of snow blanketing the U.S. Midwest, including much of southern Michigan.

4. The Scars of Youth


The oddly named galaxy 2MASX J16270254+4328340 formed from two colliding galaxies, which jettisoned trails of stars that look like mist. The galaxy’s turbulent youth essentially used up its star-making gases, leaving it sterile.

5. Flood in the Sand


Flood waters seep north of the Tigris River and the town of Wāsit, Iraq. Torrential rains in late October brought severe flooding to Iraq, Iran, and other parts of the Middle East. Close to 84,000 people have been displaced.

6. Bruised and Bubbling


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft snaps a photo of Urvara, a crater on the dwarf planet Ceres that spans 170 kilometres (106 miles). A new model of Ceres suggests that its interior could contain pockets of ammonia-rich brines that spurt as ice volcanoes.

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Some links added.]