Mass-Produced, Librem 5 Linux Smartphone Begins Shipping to Customers
This week Purism
began shipping its mass-produced Librem 5 phone to customers, according to announcement from the company:
The Librem 5 is a one-of-a-kind general-purpose computer in a phone form-factor that Purism has designed and built from scratch following a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over $2.2 million. Both the hardware and software design is focused on respecting the end user's freedom and giving them control over their privacy and security.
The Librem 5 doesn't run Android nor iOS but instead runs the same PureOS operating system as Purism's laptops and mini PC.
The Librem 5 has unique hardware features including a user-removable cellular modem, WiFi card, and battery. Like with Librem laptops, the Librem 5 also features external hardware kill switches that cut power to the cellular modem, WiFi/Bluetooth, and front and back cameras and microphone so that the user can control when these devices are in use. All hardware switches can also be triggered together to enable "lockdown mode" which also disables the GPS, accelerometer and all other sensors...
Another unique feature of the Librem 5 is convergence: the ability to connect the Librem 5 to a monitor or laptop dock and use it as a desktop computer running the same full-sized desktop applications as on Librem laptops. When in a phone form-factor, applications behave much like "responsive websites" and change their appearance for the smaller screen. This allows you to use the Librem 5 as a phone, a desktop, or a laptop with the same applications and same files.
Their announcement notes their work on software making desktop applications "adaptive" to phone form factors, adding "This suite of software has now become the most popular software stack to use on other handheld Linux hardware." And they close with an appreciative comment from Purism's founder and CEO Todd Weaver:
"Shipping the Librem 5 has been an immense multi-year developmental effort. It is the culmination of people's desire to see an alternative to Android and iOS and fund it, coupled with dedication from a team of experts addressing hardware, kernel, operating system, and applications that has turned a lofty near-impossible goal into reality. We have built a strong foundation and with the continued support of customers, the community, and developers, we will continue to deliver revolutionary products like the Librem 5 running PureOS."
How Powerful Forces Collaborated to Peddle Misinformation about the Origins of the Coronavirus
body of evidence" for scientists' belief that the coronavirus originated in an animal before making the leap to humans,
reports the New York Times. (
Alternate URL here.) They add that U.S. intelligence agencies also "have not found any proof" for a fringe theory it somehow leaked from a lab.
Yet as recently as September, a Hong Kong researcher was appearing on Fox News "making the unsubstantiated claim to millions that the coronavirus was a bio-weapon manufactured by China." The Times traces it to "a collaboration between two separate but increasingly allied groups that peddle misinformation: a small but active corner of the Chinese diaspora and the highly influential far right in the United States."
Each saw an opportunity in the pandemic to push its agenda. For the diaspora, Dr. Yan and her unfounded claims provided a cudgel for those intent on bringing down China's government. For American conservatives, they played to rising anti-Chinese sentiment and distracted from the Trump administration's bungled handling of the outbreak.
Both sides took advantage of the dearth of information coming out of China, where the government has refused to share samples of the virus and has resisted a transparent, independent investigation. Its initial cover-up of the outbreak has further fueled suspicion about the origins of the virus... Dr. Yan's trajectory was carefully crafted by Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese billionaire, and Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to Mr. Trump. They put Dr. Yan on a plane to the United States, gave her a place to stay, coached her on media appearances and helped her secure interviews with popular conservative television hosts like Tucker Carlson and Lou Dobbs, who have shows on Fox. They nurtured her seemingly deep belief that the virus was genetically engineered, uncritically embracing what she provided as proof...
The media outlets that cater to the Chinese diaspora — a jumble of independent websites, YouTube channels and Twitter accounts with anti-Beijing leanings — have formed a fast-growing echo chamber for misinformation. With few reliable Chinese-language news sources to fact-check them, rumors can quickly harden into a distorted reality. Increasingly, they are feeding and being fed by far-right American media...
The Chinese government often punishes critics by harassing their families. But when The Times reached Dr. Yan's mother on her cellphone in October, she said that she had never been arrested and was desperate to connect with her daughter, whom she had not spoken to in months. She declined to say more and asked not to be named, citing fears that Dr. Yan was being manipulated by her new allies. "They are blocking our daughter from talking to us," her mother said, referring to Mr. Guo and Mr. Wang.
Twitter's Launch of Fleets: Lag, Some Crashes, Bugs, Skepticism and Cat Pics
on Twitter's rocky rollout of "fleets" which disappear after 24 hours:
In a blog post, Twitter said global tests of the feature indicated the tool helped people feel more comfortable joining public conversations on the service. "Those new to Twitter found Fleets to be an easier way to share what's on their mind," the company said. "Because they disappear from view after a day, Fleets helped people feel more comfortable sharing personal and casual thoughts, opinions and feelings."
And, apparently, sharing cat content. "Don't really care for fleets," one wrote, "but the fact that 90% of the ones I've seen so far have cats in them brings me joy...."
The feature's debut Tuesday brought its share of complaints about the product, with some people saying the Fleets froze, lagged or made their Twitter crash. "We're aware of some issues people may be having and are working to fix them," a Twitter spokesperson said.
"Earlier this week, Twitter officially rolled out Fleets, a new feature that — ahem — takes inspiration from Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories,"
writes Android Central, "and boy do people have opinions on it."
should warm up to the feature eventually, experts tell NBC News:
[A]lthough users lambasted Fleets...those same users began to use the function almost immediately.
While there are valid critiques of Fleets and how they could be used in regard to misinformation and harassment, experts say the users' first reaction will typically be to resist changes to a site or app that they've grown accustomed to, even though they typically adopt the change as the preferred version of the platform later on.
Yet by the weekend Twitter was already acknowledging its first major bug with fleets, exploitable "through a technical workaround where some Fleets media URLs
may be accessible after 24 hours," according to The Verge:
The "workaround" referenced appears to be a developer app that could scrape fleets from public accounts via Twitter's API. The Twitter API doesn't return URLs for fleets that are older than 24 hours, according to the company, and once the fix is rolled out, even if someone has a URL for active fleet, it won't work after the expiration point.
The Verge also points out that "while fleets are only visible on users' timelines for 24 hours, Twitter stores fleets on its back end for up to 30 days, longer for fleets that violate its rules and may require enforcement action, the company says."
The Audacious Plan to Launch a Solar-Powered Rocket Into Interstellar Space
Ars Technica glimpsed a possible future at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory: a solar simulator "that can shine with the intensity of 20 Suns..."
They think it could be the key to interstellar exploration."
"It's really easy for someone to dismiss the idea and say, 'On the back of an envelope, it looks great, but if you actually build it, you're never going to get those theoretical numbers,'" says Benkoski, a materials scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory and the leader of the team working on a solar thermal propulsion system. "What this is showing is that solar thermal propulsion is not just a fantasy. It could actually work."
In 2019, NASA tapped the Applied Physics Laboratory to study concepts for a dedicated interstellar mission. At the end of next year, the team will submit its research to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Heliophysics decadal survey, which determines Sun-related science priorities for the next 10 years... In mid-November, [APL's] Interstellar Probe researchers met online for a weeklong conference to share updates as the study enters its final year. At the conference, teams from APL and NASA shared the results of their work on solar thermal propulsion, which they believe is the fastest way to get a probe into interstellar space.
The idea is to power a rocket engine with heat from the Sun, rather than combustion. According to Benkoski's calculations, this engine would be around three times more efficient than the best conventional chemical engines available today. "From a physics standpoint, it's hard for me to imagine anything that's going to beat solar thermal propulsion in terms of efficiency," says Benkoski. "But can you keep it from exploding...?" If the interstellar probe makes a close pass by the Sun and pushes hydrogen into its shield's vasculature, the hydrogen will expand and explode from a nozzle at the end of the pipe. The heat shield will generate thrust. It's simple in theory but incredibly hard in practice.
A solar thermal rocket is only effective if it can pull off an Oberth maneuver, an orbital-mechanics hack that turns the Sun into a giant slingshot. The Sun's gravity acts like a force multiplier that dramatically increases the craft's speed if a spacecraft fires its engines as it loops around the star... The big takeaway from his research, says Dean Cheikh, a materials technologist at NASAâ(TM)s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is there's a lot of testing that needs to be done on heat shield materials before a solar thermal rocket is sent around the Sun. But it's not a deal-breaker. "Additive manufacturing is a key component of this, and we couldn't do that 20 years ago. Now I can 3D-print metal in the lab."
Memory vs. Disk vs. CPU: How 35 Years Has Changed the Trade-Offs
Long-time Slashdot reader
00_NOP is a software engineer (with a PhD in real-time computing) re-visits a historic research paper on the financial trade-offs between disk space (then costing about $20,000 per kilobyte) and (volatile) memory (costing about $5 per kilobyte):
Thirty-five years ago that report for Tandem computers concluded that the cost balance between memory, disk and CPU on big iron favoured holding items in memory if they were needed every five minutes and using five bytes to save one instruction.
Update the analysis for today and what do you see?
Well my estimate is that we should aim to hold items that we have to access 10 times a second.
And needless to say, some techniques for saving data space are more efficient than they were 35 years ago, their article points out.
"The cost of an instruction per second and the cost of a byte of memory are approximately equivalent — that's tipped the balance somewhat towards data compression (eg., perhaps through using bit flags in a byte instead of a number of booleans for instance), though not by a huge amount."
To Explain Away Dark Matter, Gravity Would Have To Be Really Weird
To discard the theory of dark matter, "
you'll need to replace it with something even more bizarre: a force of gravity that, at some distances, pulls massive objects together and, at other distances, pushes them apart." That's how
Science magazine describes a new study, adding that "The analysis underscores how hard it is to explain away dark matter" — even though "after decades of trying, physicists
haven't spotted particles of dark matter floating around."
[T]o do away with dark matter, theorists would also need explain away its effects on much larger, cosmological scales. And that is much harder, argues Kris Pardo, a cosmologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and David Spergel, a cosmologist at Princeton University. To make their case, they compare the distribution of ordinary matter in the early universe as revealed by measurements of the afterglow of the big bang — the cosmic microwave background (CMB) — with the distribution of the galaxies today....
Pardo and Spergel derived a mathematical function that describes how gravity would have had to work to get from the distribution of ordinary matter revealed by the CMB to the current distribution of the galaxies. They found something striking: That function must swing between positive and negative values, meaning gravity would be attractive at some length scales and repulsive at others, Pardo and Spergel report this week in Physical Review Letters. "And that's superweird," Pardo says...
In a paper posted in June to the preprint server arXiv, theoretical cosmologists Constantinos Skordis and Tom Zlosnik of the Czech Academy of Sciences present a dark matter-less theory of modified gravity they say jibes with CMB data. To do that, researchers add to a theory like general relativity an additional, tunable field called a scalar field. It has energy, and through Einstein's equivalence of mass and energy, it can behave like a form of mass. Set things up just right and at large spatial scales, the scalar field interacts only with itself and acts like dark matter...
Skordis's and Zlosnik's paper is "very exciting," Pardo says. But he notes that in some sense it merely replaces one mysterious thing — dark matter — with another — a carefully tuned scalar field. Given the complications, Pardo says, "dark matter is kind of the easier explanation."
Is Bitcoin's Growth Driven By Speculative Investors?
"Bitcoin is now trading near $18,000, up almost 100% in six months," notes Bloomberg columnist Lionel Laurent, "and it's flirting with an all-time high reached in 2017 (which, given it was followed by an ugly crash, faithful Bitcoiners would rather forget)..." .
But what exacty does that mean? He challenges the notion that Bitcoin is the new wealth-protecting investment like gold, asking "is this really being driven by people seeking protection from a more uncertain world...?"
If anything, Bitcoin looks much more like the stock market on steroids than it does a digital version of gold, which has barely budged since the end of October as confidence about a Covid cure has gradually improved. You can see why hedge fund skeptics like Ray Dalio are dubious of Bitcoin's charms. The cryptocurrency's recent above-average correlation with equities is fine when everything's going up, but not in times of stress: In mid-March, for example, a flight to safety triggered by Covid cut Bitcoin's price in half. A recent Kansas City Fed study comparing bonds, gold and Bitcoin between 1995 and Feb. 2020 found Treasuries behaved "consistently" as a safe haven, gold "occasionally" and Bitcoin "never."
Behind the talk of digital gold is the reality of an erratic, still-speculative asset with the potential for big price swings...
While digital payment firms such as PayPal Holdings Inc. and Square Inc. have launched Bitcoin applications, this price jump is not about people buying cappuccinos. Data from Chainalysis estimates merchants made up only about 1% of crypto activity in North America between mid-2019 and mid-2020, while exchanges accounted for almost 90%... Crypto is still a heady bet on life-changing wealth, not a disruptor of how normal people use money.
US Postal Service Announces a Nationwide Digital 'Operation Santa'
For 108 years Americans have helped their postal service perform "Operation Santa." But
this year's program will be fully digital and nationwide, reports CNN:
The program allows children and families to write letters to Santa, which will then be processed and shared online beginning on December 4 at USPSOperationSanta.com. Once the letters are live, anyone in the U.S. can go online and adopt a letter, and help make a child or family's holiday wishes come true. Companies also can help adopt letters as teams.
While anyone and everyone can write a letter, the program was started to help families and kids in need, said Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). "The program has always been about providing holiday gifts for families who may not have the means to provide for anything more than basic everyday needs," Frum told CNN in email. Over the last 108 years, the USPS has received hundreds of thousands of letters as part of the "Operation Santa" program, Frum said. Last year alone, more than 11,000 packages were sent to people who wrote to Santa and had their letters adopted. USPS first launched an online pilot of USPS Operation Santa in 2017 in New York City, Frum said. It expanded to seven cities online in 2018, and 17 cities in 2019. The success of the digitization of the program helped pave the way for this year's expansion.
The decision to go fully digital comes as coronavirus cases continue to surge nationwide, leaving the nation to grapple with the consequences, including the economic impact.
US Congress Passes an IoT Security Bill 'That Doesn't Totally Suck'
Shotgun (Slashdot reader #30,919) shared these thoughts from The Register:
Every now and again the U.S. Congress manages to do its job and yesterday was one of those days: the Senate passed a new IoT cybersecurity piece of legislation that the House also approved, and it will now move to the President's desk.
As we noted back in March when the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act was introduced, the law bill is actually pretty good: it asks America's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to come up with guidelines for Internet-of-Things devices and would require any federal agency to only buy products from companies that met the new rules. It gives a minimum list of considerations to be covered: secure code, identity management, patching and configuration management. It also requires the General Services Administration — the arm of the federal government that sources products and comms for federal agencies — to come up with guidelines that would require each agency to report and publish details of security vulnerabilities, and how they resolved them, and coordinate with other agencies.
Industry has also got behind the effort — Symantec, Mozilla, BSA The Software Alliance (which includes Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Cloudflare, the CTIA and others) — and Congress has managed to keep its fingers out of things it knows nothing about by leaving the production of standards with the experts, using federal procurement to create a de facto industry standard.
Though it will still be legal sell insecure IoT devices, "for those looking for good, secure products, there will be a baseline standard across the industry..." the article concludes.
"[T]his is an essential first step to getting secure IoT in place."
Elon Musk Claims Full Recovery From Covid-19, Analyst Upgrades Tesla's Stock Forecast
Charlotte Web quote
Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that he has "fully" recovered from his bout with a mild fever or cold about a week after he took to Twitter to say he tested positive for coronavirus... [T]his week, Musk took a more reliable PCR test that he said showed "unequivocal" evidence that he had Covid...
On Wednesday, Morgan Stanley raised Tesla to overweight for the first time in more than three years, predicting that the electric carmaker is on the verge of a "profound model shift" from selling cars to generating high-margin software and services revenue. "To only value Tesla on car sales alone ignores the multiple businesses embedded within the company," Adam Jones said in a research note to clients as he upgraded the shares from equal-weight and raised his price target by 50% to $540 from $360, suggesting 22% additional upside for the stock.
The analyst believes Tesla's electric vehicle business is
Tesla's "entry ticket" for "unlocking much larger" potential markets, according to an earlier article in
To better gauge Tesla's future earnings potential, Jones said his team was now including software/connected vehicle services revenue in their earnings and valuation forecasts. With the total number of Tesla's out in the world expected to reach 2.1 million next year, "a more in-depth understanding of the revenue streams derived from each car is warranted right now," he wrote.
Experimental Antibody Treatment for Covid-19 Patients Wins 'Emergency Approval' in America
America's Food and Drug Administration
granted emergency authorization Saturday to an experimental antibody treatment (for people already experiencing Covid-19), reports the Washington Post:
The drug, made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, is designed to prevent infected people from developing severe illness. Instead of waiting for the body to develop its own protective immune response, the drug imitates the body's natural defenses. It is the second drug of this type — called a monoclonal antibody — to be cleared for treating covid-19. The FDA authorized Eli Lilly & Co.'s drug on Nov. 9.
Regeneron's drug is a cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies, called casirivimab and imdevimab. The FDA said in authorizing the cocktail that it may be effective in treating mild to moderate covid-19 in adults and children 12 or older, and is indicated for those at high risk of developing severe illness. Doctors hope the drugs will keep those patients from being hospitalized... Regeneron executives said on the company's earnings call in early November that they project having enough doses for 80,000 patients by the end of November, and 300,000 total doses by the end of January...
In a clinical trial, the Regeneron drug reduced hospitalizations or emergency room visits when given to people at high risk of developing severe disease. It was also shown to reduce the amount of virus in people's bodies... The safety and effectiveness of the drug will continue to be studied. It is not authorized for use in hospitalized patients... In a study published Oct. 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers said the Lilly cocktail lowered the risk of follow-up medical visits and reduced levels of virus in people with mild to moderate symptoms of covid-19.
The progress on monoclonal antibodies comes as pharmaceutical and biotech companies are racing to produce coronavirus vaccines... The antibody treatments can play an important role in making the disease less dangerous.
'Ubuntu Web Remix' Distro Offers Firefox-Based Chrome OS Alternative
Rudra Saraswat is the creator of the
Ubuntu Unity distro (which uses the Unity interface in place of Ubuntu's GNOME shell).
But this week they
released Ubuntu Web Remix, "a privacy-focused, open source alternative to Google Chrome OS/Chromium OS" using Firefox instead of Google Chrome/Chromium. Liliputing reports:
If the name didn't give it away, this operating system is based on Ubuntu, but it's designed to offer a Chrome OS-like experience thanks to a simplified user interface and a set of pre-installed apps including the Firefox web browser, some web apps from /e/, and Anbox, a tool that allows you to run Android apps in Linux...
You don't get the long battery life, cloud backup, and many other features that make Chromebooks different from other laptops (especially other cheap laptops). But if you're looking for a simple, web-centric operating system that isn't made by a corporate giant? Then I guess it's nice to have the option.
Rudra Saraswat writes:
An easy web-app (wapp) format has been created to package web-apps for the desktop. You can now create your own web apps using web technologies, package them for the desktop and install them easily.
An experimental wapp store can be found at store.ubuntuweb.co, for distributing web apps. Developers and packagers can do pull requests at gitlab.com/ubuntu-web/ubuntu-web.gitlab.io to contribute wapps.
Are There Active Volcanoes on Mars?
Mars is a dead planet — "Or is it?" asks the New York Times:
Previous research has hinted at volcanic eruptions on Mars 2.5 million years ago. But a new paper suggests an eruption occurred as recently as 53,000 years ago in a region called Cerberus Fossae, which would be the youngest known volcanic eruption on Mars. That drives home the prospect that beneath its rusty surface pocked with gigantic volcanoes that have gone silent, some volcanism still erupts to the surface at rare intervals. "If this deposit is of volcanic origin then the Cerberus Fossae region may not be extinct and Mars may still be volcanically active today," scientists at the University of Arizona and Smithsonian Institution, write in their paper — which was posted online ahead of peer review and has been submitted to the journal Icarus...
If it holds up to scrutiny, the discovery would have large implications for Mars. In geological terms, 53,000 years is the blink of an eye, suggesting Mars might well still be volcanically active now. It could also have big implications for the search for life on Mars. Such volcanic activity could melt subsurface ice, providing a potential habitable environment for living things.
"To have life, you need energy, carbon, water and nutrients," said Steven Anderson, an earth sciences professor at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, who was not involved in the paper. "And a volcanic system provides all of those."