Random weirdness for the week of April 24, 2018


Can you identify the location in Svalbard where this filming project is taking place (hint: think about how you’re accentuating the question before answering)?

Put more precisely, this is a yes/no question rather than an open-ended one about a specific place. Which means the answer, of course, is “no” – so take another moment to guess what it might be before our “reveal.” It’s from a relatively balmy corner of South Bristol, where ice and snow are indeed a strange sight on the 13ºC day we’re writing this, where the final season of the Scandi-noir series “Fortitude” has been filming since the beginning of the year. The normally sealed-off 50,000-square-foot space at Bottle Yard studios was opened to some film students and a few other visitors this week, where remarks about things like the “on-set environment” meant something entirely different than when the cast and crew spent three weeks in -15ºC temps for three weeks in Longyearbyen. Besides the scenes with fake snow and frosted glass shot on set, all of the indoor scenes for this season are being shot there. As for folks wondering what this building might be a replica of, it’s across the street from a similar but darker brown building whose windows are completely boarded over…how many of those can there possible be here (again, maybe that question doesn’t mean what you think it means)?…


Character counts: Is finding the hidden message in these 34,854 punctuation symbols your idea of good time? It likely depends on whether this tip from a Reddit user makes sense: “There’s a lot of code that looks similar, if not identical, that might make a little more sense if entered into a REPL. The output, if any, might be useful later.” Screenshot from website by Reaktor.

Speaking of dark storylines: Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to hack into a secure Svalbard facility to save mankind “before the inconvenient truth hits.” And while the string of punctuation symbols in the picture to the right: (which stretches to 34,854 total characters) is the “easy” first challenge, we’re guessing even a digital dolt can guess which crypt needs cracking to stave off doomsday. OK, that last word was a (pardon the morbid humor) a dead giveaway but, yup, yet another apocalyptic adventure involving the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is out there (as in, way out there). At first glance, the “Break Into The Vault” looks like a cool cranial challenge with a chilling homepage image under an ominous “Say Goodbye To The Dark” header. Click the “begin” button and you’re presented with the plot (“The vault stores humanity’s last hope: seeds. Nutrition for the survivors. Beneath rock and ice, copies of every crop variety from gene banks all over the world await an environmental crisis. Your job is to break in and gear up before the inconvenient truth hits.”). At the bottom of the screen are three “clearance level” areas – tunnel, main chamber and vault – you need passwords for. But this where the fun ends for anyone who doesn’t know that 10+10=100 (that’s the binary equivalent of 2+2=4). The code is the picture is what you see if you add the word under “Clearance Level 1” to the URL (svalbard.reaktor.com/tunnel). The other two levels also bring up (much shorter) screens of code and, while the “vault” code actually invokes something related to the facility (a seed sample rejected due to a DNA flaw), good luck figuring out how that translates into a password. Normally we do don’t do spoilers, but (warning) we’re doing so in the next few sentences since the end result of figuring out the three passwords is a real letdown. You simply get a splash screen with the message “Congratulations – you made it into the vault! Having cleared all the challenges, you’ve proven your worth in the face of an apocalypse. We tip our woollen hats to you.” Oh and there’s an optional form to fill out: “If you’d like Reaktor to contact you as we search for new polar bear helpers, you can leave your contact information here.” Um, wait…a polar bear helper at a programming company? As in they’re hiring polar bears, or is somehow protecting the creatures or protecting people from attack by clever coding? Now that’s a real head-scratcher…

Speaking of inconvenient truths, our favorite (and the world’s favorite) climate change denialist, Dr. Susan Crockford of Polar Bear Science, is back with yet another column that – as we and other media have noted – is likely to be repeated by every denialist website on our warming planet. Appearing first on wattsupwiththat.com (claim: “The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change), Crockford’s article headlined  “Study: Less Svalbard polar bear habitat during the early Holocene than now” has a somewhat surprising twist: it isn’t a total crock, so to speak. Her conclusion is “Svalbard in the western Barents Sea has recently had less sea ice extent than it had in the 1980s, especially in the west and north, but this is not unprecedented… Barents Sea polar bears almost certainly survived those previous low-ice periods, as they are doing today, by staying close to the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the eastern half of the region where sea ice is more persistent.” She’s essentially repeating the findings of a recent paper by actual scientists and she’s not actually refuting the common belief among climate scientists that the record shrinkage of the sea ice is significantly impairing the ability of polar bears to hunt in many areas. And of course her article totally ignores the differences between previous periods of warming and the unprecedented man-made factors causing the current one. Still, Crawford avoids the snark often voiced at so-called “climate alarmists,” although some of the commenters naturally provide full comic value: “Everyone seems to miss the simple fact that it is much easier for the Polar bears to catch the seals on land rather than have to go miles out on the ice for lunch….. less ice is actually their preference…only people seem to assume that less ice = less polar = less polar bears,” a respondent identifying him(?)self as Doug MacKenzie wrote.