Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled


The Arecibo telescope’s long and productive life has come to an end. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today it will decommission the iconic radio telescope in Puerto Rico following two cable breaks in recent months that have brought the structure to near collapse. The 57-year-old observatory, a survivor of numerous hurricanes and earthquakes, is now in such a fragile state that attempting repairs would put staff and workers in danger. “This decision was not an easy one to make,” Sean Jones, NSF’s assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences, said at a news briefing today. “We understand how much Arecibo means to [the research] community and to Puerto Rico.”

Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s astronomy division, said at the briefing the agency wants to preserve other instruments at the site, as well as the visitor and outreach center. But they are under threat if the telescope structure collapses. That would bring the 900-ton instrument platform, suspended 137 meters above the 305-meter-wide dish, crashing down. Flailing cables could damage other buildings on the site, as could the three support towers if they fell, too. “There is a serious risk of an unexpected and uncontrolled collapse,” Gaume said. “A controlled decommissioning gives us the opportunity to preserve valuable assets that the observatory has.”

Over the next few weeks, engineering firms will develop a plan for a controlled dismantling. It may involve releasing the platform from its cables explosively and letting it fall.

A true end of a era, given the iconic status on the structure.

Google Pay relaunches as a full fledged banking experience with an assist from India


The new version of the app will have three new tabs: “Pay,” which includes peer-to-peer payments as well as your transaction history using tap-to-pay; “Explore,” which will be a place where Google will offer deals and discounts; and finally, “Insights,” which will allow you to connect your bank accounts to get a searchable overview of your finances.

You will even be given the option to allow Google Pay to crawl your Gmail inbox and your Google Photos account to look for receipts. Google will use OCR technology to auto-scan them and integrate them into your finance tracking.

In 2021, Google will partner with some banks to directly offer fully online checking and savings accounts inside Google Pay — a service Google is calling “Plex.”

So Google's going All In on banking again. I'll won't use any of these advanced features but this is interesting to see how this plays out. By the way, this app is based on Tez which Indian users had this for months.

Amazon has officially entered the pharmacy business


Amazon has been quietly building out its pharmacy offering for several years after ramping up internal discussions in 2017 and acquiring PillPack in 2018. The pharmacy space is notoriously complex and competitive in the U.S., and Amazon Pharmacy is built in part on PillPack’s infrastructure, including its pharmacy software, fulfillment centers and relationships with health plans.

Amazon Pharmacy, announced Tuesday, is the company’s biggest push yet into $300 billion market, and threatens the dominance of traditional pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, as well as other large retailers that offer pharmacy services, including Walmart.

This has to terrify other pharmacies big and small. Watch as they eventually take a huge chunk out of the market and this is why we need to seriously consider breaking them up.

Update after Apple's response



There's a update on Apple's response to this:

They use deliberately confusing language here to lead you into conflating Gatekeeper with Notarization, so that you will believe that the connections are currently encrypted, while not lying. The Gatekeeper OCSP checks described in this post (“Gatekeeper performs online checks”) are not encrypted. (The notarization ones, which aren’t relevant here, are.)

Apple’s spin doctors are among the best in the world, and my hat’s off to them.

It sucks that they’ve let the NSA, CIA, your ISP, et al slurp up this unencrypted pattern-of-life data off the wire for the last 2+ years, and they’re still going to transmit the data (encrypted) to Apple in real-time, on by default every single mac, but at least the 0.01% of mac users who know about it now can turn it off, so Apple will only get a real-time log of what apps you open, when, and where for the other 99.99% of mac users. Cool.

This is, sadly, about as close as you can possibly get to a “we fucked up” from Apple PR: they’re deleting their IP logs, encrypting their shit, and letting you turn it off. This is great, but they have remained totally silent on the fact that their OS apps will still bypass your firewall and leak your IP and location past your VPN on Big Sur and how they’re still not fixing the key escrow backdoor in iMessage’s encryption so Apple sysadmins and the FBI can keep seeing your nudes and texts in iMessage.

Yeah, after reading this, this is a non-apology from Apple. They're still silent on the firewall/VPN issue and they'll continue to log every app you run by default.


Yesterday's OCSP service-related issues highlighted the fact that macOS sends a hash of every app that users run along with the users' IP, unencrypted, to Apple


It turns out that in the current version of the macOS, the OS sends to Apple a hash (unique identifier) of each and every program you run, when you run it. Lots of people didn’t realize this, because it’s silent and invisible and it fails instantly and gracefully when you’re offline, but today the server got really slow and it didn’t hit the fail-fast code path, and everyone’s apps failed to open if they were connected to the internet.

This means that Apple knows when you’re at home. When you’re at work. What apps you open there, and how often. They know when you open Premiere over at a friend’s house on their Wi-Fi, and they know when you open Tor Browser in a hotel on a trip to another city.

patrickwardle lets us know that trustd, the daemon responsible for these requests, is in the new ContentFilterExclusionList in macOS 11, which means it can’t be blocked by any user-controlled firewall or VPN. In his screenshot, it also shows that CommCenter (used for making phone calls from your Mac) and Maps will also leak past your firewall/VPN, potentially compromising your voice traffic and future/planned location information.

Yikes!!! Have you read this, be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. Makes me lucky that I still have Sierra installed on the Mac that I don't use regularly. This is what Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow warned us about so many years (and decades in Stallman's part) ago and now it's Apple's turn.

Python creator Guido van Rossum joins Microsoft


Guido van Rossum, the creator of the Python programming language, today announced that he has unretired and joined Microsoft’s Developer Division.

Van Rossum, who was last employed by Dropbox, retired last October after six and a half years at the company. Clearly, that retirement wasn’t meant to last. At Microsoft, van Rossum says, he’ll work to “make using Python better for sure (and not just on Windows).”

A Microsoft spokesperson told us that the company also doesn’t have any additional details to share but confirmed that van Rossum has indeed joined Microsoft. “We’re excited to have him as part of the Developer Division. Microsoft is committed to contributing to and growing with the Python community, and Guido’s on-boarding is a reflection of that commitment,” the spokesperson said.

We may have to hate Python now now that its creator has joined the dark side.

Google will end its free unlimited Photos storage on June 1, 2021, imposing a 15GB cap, but photos and documents uploaded before then will not count against cap


After five years of offering unlimited free photo backups at “high quality,” Google Photos will start charging for storage once more than 15 gigs on the account have been used. The change will happen on June 1st, 2021, and it comes with other Google Drive policy changes like counting Google Workspace documents and spreadsheets against the same cap. Google is also introducing a new policy of deleting data from inactive accounts that haven’t been logged in to for at least two years.

Do me a favor and just rely on local storage instead. Get a external hard drive and go from there. Makes me sad that considering so many other services now no longer exist thanks to Google such as Everpix, Loom, Ever, Picturelife, Color, Carousel etc. I've been doing local backups for years now and glad I did.

Ink-Stained Wretches: The Battle for the Soul of Digital Freedom Taking Place Inside Your Printer


Printers are grifter magnets, and the whole industry has been fighting a cold war with its customers since the first clever entrepreneur got the idea of refilling a cartridge and settling for mere astronomical profits, thus undercutting the manufacturers' truly galactic margins. This prompted an arms race in which the printer manufacturers devote ever more ingenuity to locking third-party refills, chips, and cartridges out of printers, despite the fact that no customer has ever asked for this.

In March 2016, HP inkjet owners received a "security update available" message on their printers' screens. When they tapped the button to install this update, their printers exhibited the normal security update behavior: a progress bar, a reboot, and then nothing. But this "security update" was actually a ticking bomb: a countdown timer that waited for five months before it went off in September 2016, activating a hidden feature that could detect and reject all third-party ink cartridges.

HP had designed this malicious update so that infected printers would be asymptomatic for months, until after parents had bought their back-to-school supplies. The delay ensured that warnings about the "security update" came too late for HP printer owners, who had by then installed the update themselves.

HP's latest gambit challenges the basis of private property itself: a bold scheme! With the HP Instant Ink program, printer owners no longer own their ink cartridges or the ink in them. Instead, HP's customers have to pay a recurring monthly fee based on the number of pages they anticipate printing from month to month; HP mails subscribers cartridges with enough ink to cover their anticipated needs. If you exceed your estimated page-count, HP bills you for every page (if you choose not to pay, your printer refuses to print, even if there's ink in the cartridges).

As Cory Doctorow explains, printer manufacturers -- led by the once-honorable (but no longer) HP -- are proving that when the product you bought contains software that can be updated, the "seller" still owns the product.

Don't buy a HP printer of course and get a laser printer (preferably older) instead.

Sony confirms PS5 won't support SSD storage expansion at launch, despite the presence of a dedicated internal slot, says it “is reserved for a future update”


While the PS5 features a dedicated internal slot that can theoretically fit standard stick-shaped M.2 SSDs and an easy way to access it, the slot will apparently be disabled out of the box. “[T]his is reserved for a future update,” Sony tells The Verge.

What’s the holdup? As Cerny explained, not all M.2 SSDs are fast enough to keep up with the PS5, thin enough to fit into the SSD bay, or compatible with Sony’s I/O controller — and Sony promised to do compatibility testing late this year to make sure.

Makes me glad I'm not getting any next-gen console until 2021 at the earliest given that they're just glorified beta stages at launch.

Movie industry trying to blame VPNs, Tor, and piracy for the direct threat to legitimate streaming services


While many of the concerns and complaints are not new, there are a few that stand out, starting with the MPA’s concern about ‘circumvention services’ such as VPNs and the Tor Network, which can be used by ‘geolocation pirates’.

For example, if Netflix is not available in country X, people could use a VPN to make it appear they come from country Y, where the service is legally available. This is a problem, MPA notes, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“Circumvention services, such as VPNs, DNS masks or Tor networks, are widely available in the UAE and are used to access and stream content from Internet-based TV and Video-On-Demand services that legitimately operate in different territories, but have not been licensed for the UAE.

“This poses a direct threat to legitimate platforms which are currently offering the same content in the UAE,” MPA adds.

This is what happens when you turn something good into Cable TV in another name. Back then there used to be just 4-5 streaming options. Now it's about 30+ and it's getting out of hand.