Paul Allen's Stratolaunch Finally Flies The World's Biggest Plane
"Stratolaunch, the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sent the world's biggest airplane into the air today for its first flight test," report GeekWire.
The twin-fuselage plane, which incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jumbo jets and has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a flight that lasted two and a half hours. For more than seven years, Stratolaunch has been working with Mojave-based Scaled Composites on the project, which aims to use the plane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets. The first flight test had been anticipated for months. "We finally did it," Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said today during a briefing.
Stratolaunch's plane, which has been nicknamed Roc after a giant mythical bird, took off at 6:58 a.m. PT and went through a series of in-flight maneuvers, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, steady heading side slips and simulated landing approach exercises. Stratolaunch said it reached a maximum speed of 189 mph and maximum altitude of 17,000 feet.... The plan ahead calls for further tests over the next 12 to 18 months, with the aim of getting the plane fully certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Stratolaunch has already struck a deal to use Northrop Grumman's Pegasus XL rocket to send payloads weighing as much as 816 pounds (370 kilograms) to low Earth orbit...
Stratolaunch's air-launch system is designed to carry multiple rockets up to an altitude of about 40,000 feet, and then drop them into the air to fire up their rocket engines. The advantage of such a system is that it can take off from any runway that's long enough to accommodate the plane, fly around bad weather if need be, and launch a satellite into any orbital inclination.
Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said their team had dedicated the flight to Paul Allen.
"[A]s the plane
lifted gracefully from the runway, I did whisper a 'thank you' to Paul for allowing me to be part of this remarkable achievement."
Is The Linux Desktop In Trouble?
"I believe that, as Microsoft keeps moving Windows
to a Desktop-as-a-Service model, Linux will be the last traditional PC desktop operating system standing," writes ZDNet contributing editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.
"But that doesn't mean I'm blind to its problems."
First, even Linus Torvalds is tired of the fragmentation in the Linux desktop. In a recent [December 2018] TFiR interview with Swapnil Bhartiya, Torvalds said, "Chromebooks and Android are the path toward the desktop." Why? Because we don't have a standardized Linux desktop. For example, better Linux desktops, such as Linux Mint, provide an easy way to install applications, but under the surface, there are half-a-dozen different ways to install programs. That makes life harder for developers. Torvalds wishes "we were better at having a standardized desktop that goes across the distributions."
Torvalds thinks there's been some progress. For software installation, he likes Flatpak. This software program, like its rival Snap, lets you install and maintain programs across different Linux distros. At the same time, this rivalry between Red Hat (which supports Flatpak) and Canonical (which backs Snap) bugs Torvalds. He's annoyed at how the "fragmentation of the different vendors have held the desktop back." None of the major Linux distributors -- Canonical, Red Hat, SUSE -- are really all that interested in supporting the Linux desktop. They all have them, but they're focused on servers, containers, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). That's, after all, is where the money is.
Linux desktop distros "tend to last for five or six years and then real life gets in the way of what's almost always a volunteer effort..." the article argues. "It is not easy building and supporting a Linux desktop. It comes with a lot of wear and tear on its developers with far too little reward."
His solution? Having a foundation create a common desktop for all Linux distros, so the Linux world could finally reap the benefits of standardization. "This would mean that many more Linux desktop developers could make a living from their work. That would improve the Linux desktop overall quality.
"It's a virtuous cycle, which would help everyone."
Top US Congressman Says Silicon Valley's Self-Regulating Days 'Probably Should Be' Over
On the technology podcast
Recode Decode, America's Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, said that Silicon Valley's self-regulating days "probably should be" over. Recode reports:
Pelosi said Silicon Valley is abusing the privilege of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says that internet companies are not responsible for what is posted on their platforms. "230 is a gift to them, and I don't think they are treating it with the respect that they should," she said. "And so I think that that could be a question mark and in jeopardy.... For the privilege of 230, there has to be a bigger sense of responsibility on it, and it is not out of the question that that could be removed."
Asked about Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's proposal to break up Amazon, Google, and Facebook, Pelosi said she had not studied it closely. Instead, she more cautiously suggested that some agglomerations of power may be worth breaking up. "I know there could be some clear lines that we see in our community, of companies that maybe could be easily broken up without having any impact, one on the other," she said. "I'm a big believer in the antitrust laws, I think that's very important for us to have them and to use them, and to subject those who should be subjected to it. "
Ecuador Jails Swedish Programmer Over Alleged Ties To WikiLeaks
An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian:
A judge in Ecuador has jailed a Swedish software developer whom authorities believe is a key member of WikiLeaks and close to Julian Assange, while prosecutors investigate charging him with hacking as part of an alleged plot to "destabilise" the country's government. Ola Bini, 36, was ordered to held in preventive detention on Saturday pending possible cyber-attack charges and his bank accounts were frozen. Prosecutors were examining dozens of hard drives and other material he had in his possession, according to local media reports...
On Thursday, Ecuador's interior minister, Maria Paula Romo, said they had identified a "key member of WikiLeaks" who was "close to Mr Julian Assange". Secret visitors' logs seen by the Guardian show that Bini was one of Assange's many visitors in Ecuador's embassy in Knightsbridge, west London.... Speaking to local media on Thursday, Romo said Ecuador was at risk of cyber attack, hinting Wikileaks could retaliate for the termination of Assange's asylum. She added the government did not want the country "to turn into an international [cyber] piracy centre"...
Last week, the government of president Lenin Moreno, 66, accused WikiLeaks of being involved in a campaign implicating Moreno and his family in corruption. Moreno, who has long expressed his unhappiness over Assange's asylum status, complained that "photos of my bedroom, what I eat and how my wife and daughters and friends dance" had been circulating on social media.
Ecuador Complains Julian Assange Was a Bad Housegust, Neglected His Pet Cat
The BBC reports that Ecuador's foreign minister Jose Valencia has been sharing complaints about Julian Assange's conduct during his stay in Ecuador's embassy -- for example, that Julian Assange "damaged the facilities by riding his skateboard and playing football, despite being told not to do so."
Cleaning staff, Mr Valencia said, had described "improper hygienic conduct" throughout Assange's stay, an issue that a lawyer had attributed to "stomach problems". One unnamed senior Ecuadorean official told AP news agency that other issues included "weeks without a shower" and a "dental problem born of poor hygiene". Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo then complained that Assange had been allowed to do things like "put faeces on the walls of the embassy and other behaviours of that nature...."
Assange's stay at the embassy cost Ecuador some $6.5m (£5m) from 2012 to 2018, Mr Valencia said.
NPR reports that Julian Assange's cat also "arguably played a small role in Ecuador's decision to end its asylum agreement," citing remarks from Ecuador President Lenin Moreno:
Moreno explained that Assange treated his hosts disrespectfully; late last year the embassy implemented a series of rules for Assange, including a requirement to be responsible for the "well-being, food, hygiene and proper care of your pet." If Assange didn't, the embassy threatened to put the cat in a shelter. In other words, it is likely that Assange didn't effectively clean up after his cat's own wiki-leaks...
The New Yorker reported in 2017 that Assange's interest in the cat was less as an animal lover and more as a master of his own brand. "Julian stared at the cat for about half an hour, trying to figure out how it could be useful, and then came up with this: Yeah, let's say it's from my children," the magazine quoted one of Assange's friends as saying. "For a time, he said it didn't have a name because there was a competition in Ecuador, with schoolchildren, on what to name him. Everything is P.R. -- everything."
Journalist James Ball, an early WikiLeaks employee (who left after three months) said Thursday on Twitter that he'd "
genuinely offered to adopt" the cat -- but it was "reportedly given to a shelter by the Ecuadorian embassy ages ago."
Assange's legal team, however, tweeted in November that Assange had been outraged by embassy threats to send the cat to the pound, and
asked his lawyers "to take his cat to safety. The cat is with Assange's family. They will be reunited in freedom."
Flat Earther Now Wants to Launch His Homemade Rocket Into Space
At a flat-earth conference in May, Mad Mike Hughes will announce details of "
an Antarctic expedition with the goal of reaching the edge of the world...to prove once and for all that this Earth is flat." But before that, he's heading for outer space.
An anonymous reader quotes PhillyVoice:
If you recognize the name Mad Mike Hughes, it's likely because he strapped himself into a rocket last March and traveled three-tenths of a mile into the heavens in the name of Flat Earth awareness. (See for yourself!) Well, nearly a year to the date after that momentous achievement, the limousine-driving daredevil and gubernatorial candidate has announced he's building upon the lessons learned last year and pushing the limits even further...
We caught up with him Thursday afternoon on the phone from California where he was "putting decals on the rocket right now!" Before any sort of Antarctica excursion, he's planning for a May 9 launch either in New Mexico "or the middle of the ocean if the government tries to stop me..." He hopes to reach the Kármán line, some 62.8 miles above Earth where space begins. "That way, we'll see what shape this rock really is," he said.
"More people will watch this than those who watched the fake moon landing. It will be an incredible, incredible event. People will see what I'm seeing for three hours up there and back and they'll be able to make up their own minds.... I'm the only guy capable of actually proving what shape this rock is, and that's by going up into space to do it."
The Science Channel is now filming Hughes' progress. (Here's a slick trailer for
an upcoming documentary called "Rocketman".)
And Hughes says he's also claimed the legal entities that famous people are operating under,
including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett, putting these powerful people in a precarious position because now "they can't even exist..."
"I have a lot of court cases going on."
Amazon and Google Fight Bill That Prohibits Secretly Recording You
An anonymous reader quotes Vice:
On Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act, a bill that would ban manufacturers of devices that can record audio from doing so remotely without disclosing it to the customer. But after lobbying from trade associations that represent the interests of Google, Amazon -- makers of the microphone-enabled Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, respectively -- and Microsoft, among other companies, the interests of big tech won out... In its current, neutered form, the bill provides exclusive authority to the Attorney General to enforce the Act, which means regular citizens won't be able to bring forward a case regarding tech giants recording them in their homes.
Ars Technica notes the move comes after Amazon admitted thousands of their employees listen to Alexa recordings -- "something
not mentioned in Echo's terms of service or FAQ pages."
Vice points out that sometimes those recordings are shared "even after users opt out of having their data used in the program."
George Lucas Actually Consulted For The Script Of 'Star War: Episode IX'
teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker has been viewed 13,665,350 times since its release Friday.
Collider reminds us that while George Lucas oversaw the original
Star Wars trilogy and worked on its prequel trilogy, the final three movies in the franchise had moved ahead without direct involvement from the 74-year-old director:
To recap, Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012, setting Kathleen Kennedy as the new head of Lucasfilm and handing over his treatments for Episode VII, Episode VIII, and Episode IX -- the final three films in his Skywalker saga. Kennedy and J.J. Abrams reportedly threw out much of what Lucas handed over (much to the Star Wars director's chagrin) in favor of charting their own path, and Lucas has been pretty mum on the new direction of Star Wars under Disney thus far -- save for high praise heaped on Rogue One and a visit to the set of Solo after Ron Howard took over the director's chair.
But it appears everything has come full circle, as Abrams revealed at Star Wars Celebration in an interview with IGN that when he signed on to direct Star Wars 9, he consulted Lucas before beginning work on the script. "This movie had a very, very specific challenge, which was to take eight films and give an ending to three trilogies, and so we had to look at, what is the bigger story? We had conversations amongst ourselves, we met with George Lucas before writing the script," Abrams revealed...
Having seen the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer, this makes sense. The film looks to be leaning heavily on the original trilogy given the inclusion of that medal, the Death Star, and of course the return of Emperor Palpatine. And given Abrams' comments here, it sounds like he was very strongly thinking about Star Wars 9 as a conclusion to the entire Star Wars saga.
After that conclusion, Disney CEO Bob Iger says, "There are movies in development, but we have not announced them. We will take a pause, some time, and reset because the Skywalker saga comes to an end with this ninth movie.
There will be other Stars Wars movies, but there will be a bit of a hiatus."
Is Microsoft Quietly Lobbying Against Right-To-Repair Legislation?
Microsoft "has been quietly lobbying against Right to Repair legislation, which would prevent Microsoft from penalizing customers when they open up their devices," claims MSPoweruser:
The state representative hedged that "I can't confirm or deny this, because I have not seen a smoking gun."
But he also told his interviewer that to paint a discouraging picture of the landscape after passage of the bill, "Microsoft was going around telling our members that
they wouldn't sell Surface Tablets in Washington any longer."
GNU GPLv3 At the Heart of the Black Hole Image
TFIR's report on the black hole image:
Free and Open Source software was at the heart of this image. The team used three different imaging software libraries to achieve the feat. Out of the three, two were fully open source libraries. The source code of the software is publicly available on GitHub.
Richard M Stallman, the founder of the GNU Project will be glad to see that both libraries (Sparselab and ehtim) are released under GNU GPL v3. Yes, you read it right – GNU GPL v3.
China's Largest Image Provider Suspends Site After Falsely Claiming Copyright On 'Black Hole' Photo
An anonymous reader quotes Reuters:
China's largest stock images provider, Visual China Group, shut its website and apologized on Friday after it falsely claimed copyright of images such as the first photo of a black hole and China's national flag. The company, which partners with U.S. photo agency Getty Images, said in a post on its official Weibo account the incident revealed its weak management and that it was cooperating with authorities investigating the matter. Shares in the company slumped by the maximum 10 percent allowed. The topic "Visual China apologises" was among the most-read items on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform on Friday, with over 250 million views...
The country's leaders have pledged to do more to protect intellectual property rights amid complaints by the United States and other key trading partners about the theft of such assets. Elliot Papageorgiou, the Shanghai-based head of the IP practice at law firm Clyde & Co., said Visual China's use of the black hole image was embarrassing due to the photo's high profile. "It comes at an inconvenient time because China is trying hard to get recognition for some positive steps it is taking to protect intellectual property," he said.
The company had claimed to have received authorization for using the photo -- though not for commercial purposes -- from the European Southern Observatory. But today the government-owned
China Daily newspaper notes that "The European Southern Observatory, responding to questions from the National Business Daily in an email, said Visual China
never contacted it for any purpose regarding the image. It said Visual China did not need to ask for authorization to reproduce the image provided the credit was clear and visible, but 'the behavior of using the so-called authorization as a copyright to sell the image in China and profit from it is illegal...'"
"The official accounts of many large companies, including Baidu, Phoenix News Media, major retailer Suning and Qihoo 360, an internet security company, also left comments about having found their logos on Visual China with a copyright claim."
New York City Orders Mandatory Measles Vaccinations in Brooklyn
"New York City officials on Tuesday declared a public health emergency and ordered mandatory measles vaccinations" in an area where most of the state's 285 measles cases have occurred. The Washington Post reports:
New York's mandatory vaccination order in four Brooklyn zip codes is by far the toughest action to date by state or local officials, as the disease's tally grows to 465 cases in 19 states. Officials there and elsewhere have sought to bar unvaccinated children from schools and other public places but have had limited success... The mandate orders all unvaccinated people in four zip codes to receive inoculations, including children as young as 6 months. Anyone who resists faces a misdemeanor charge and could be fined up to $1,000.
Long-time Slashdot reader
Major Blud shares a BBC report that under the order, "any person living in the affected areas who has not been vaccinated
must be immunised within 48 hours."
Are Phone-Addicted Drivers More Dangerous Than Drunk Drivers?
After crunching data on 4.5 billion miles of driving, road-safety analytics company Zendrive concludes there's a new threat which just last year claimed the lives of 6,227 pedestrians: drivers "under the influence of a smartphone."
The study points out that drunk driving fatalities peak after midnight, while distracted driving happens all day, conluding that distracted driving is now a bigger threat than drunk driving.
schwit1 shares this report from Axios:
"Phone addicts are the new drunk drivers," Zendrive concludes bluntly in its annual distracted driving study. The big picture: The continued increase in unsafe driving comes despite stricter laws in many states, as well as years of massive ad campaigns from groups ranging from cell phone carriers to orthopedic surgeons. "They hide in plain sight, blatantly staring at their phones while driving down the road," Zendrive says in the study.
And it's a growing problem. Over just the past year, Zendrive, which analyzes driver behavior for fleets and insurers, said the number of hardcore phone addicts doubled, now accounting for one in 12 drivers. If the current trend continues, that number will be one in five by 2022.
The report concludes drivers
are 10 percent more distracted this year than last -- and that phone addicts have their eyes
off the road for 28% of their drive. Yet when asked to describe their driving, 93% of phone addicts said they believed they were "safe" -- or "extremely safe" -- drivers.
One even insisted that they never texted while driving, "but I like to FaceTime my friends while driving since it makes time go by faster."
Hackers Publish Personal Data On Thousands of US Police Officers, Federal Agents
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch:
A hacker group has breached several FBI-affiliated websites and uploaded their contents to the web, including dozens of files containing the personal information of thousands of federal agents and law enforcement officers, TechCrunch has learned. The hackers breached three sites associated with the FBI National Academy Association, a coalition of different chapters across the U.S. promoting federal and law enforcement leadership and training located at the FBI training academy in Quantico, VA. The hackers exploited flaws on at least three of the organization's chapter websites -- which we're not naming -- and downloaded the contents of each web server. The hackers then put the data up for download on their own website, which we're also not naming nor linking to given the sensitivity of the data. The spreadsheets contained about 4,000 unique records after duplicates were removed, including member names, a mix of personal and government email addresses, job titles, phone numbers and their postal addresses. The FBINAA could not be reached for comment outside of business hours. If we hear back, we'll update. "We hacked more than 1,000 sites," said the hacker. "Now we are structuring all the data, and soon they will be sold. I think something else will publish from the list of hacked government sites." When asked if they were worried that the files they put up for download would put federal agents and law enforcement at risk, the hacker said: "Probably, yes." The hacker claimed to have "over a million data" [sic] on employees across several U.S. federal agencies and public service organizations.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings To Depart Facebook Board of Directors
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings
will not be nominated for re-election at the company's 2019 annual stockholders meetings, Facebook said on Friday. CNBC reports:
Hastings has served on the board of the social media company since 2011. The company said it will also not be re-nominating Erskine Bowles the president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, and it will instead nominate Peggy Alford, PayPal senior vice president of core markets. The addition of Alford, an African-American woman, comes as Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies strive for the inclusion of more women and minorities in their boards and throughout their workforces.
Hastings departure had been talked about for some time due to Facebook's growing interest in video services, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin. In 2017, Facebook launched Watch, its video streaming service, and last year, the company released IGTV, its Instagram video streaming app. Hastings' departure comes about three years after he got into a tussle with fellow board member Peter Thiel over their political leanings. In an August 2016 email, Hastings told Thiel that he planned to dock his performance review over his endorsement of then Republican Presidential-nominee Donald Trump, according to a New York Times report.
Baby With DNA From Three People Born In Greece
A baby with DNA from three people
has been born in Greece following a controversial fertility treatment. "The doctors behind the treatment, from Greece and Spain, say it marks a historic advance -- it is the first time an in vitro fertilization (IVF) technique involving DNA from three people has been used with the aim of addressing fertility problems," reports The Guardian. From the report:
The experimental IVF treatment, known as mitochondrial donation, involves using an egg from the mother, sperm from the father and another egg from a female donor. The vast majority of a person's genes -- about 99.8% -- are found on the 23 pairs of chromosomes that sit inside the nucleus in each cell in the body, and in the IVF procedure this DNA comes from the two parents. However, a tiny proportion of genetic material also resides in a cell's mitochondria, small structures that act as the cell's batteries and float around freely in the cell body. In mitochondrial donation, the mother's mitochondria are removed from her egg and replaced by a donor's.
The treatment was originally developed as a treatment that could prevent women with debilitating or even fatal mitochondrial diseases from passing them on to their children. The doctors behind the latest treatment claim that mitochondria also play a role in successful pregnancy and suggest that the technique could be applied more broadly as a fertility treatment. The 32-year old woman in the latest case had previously undergone four unsuccessful rounds of IVF.