Apple M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Wear
Over the past week, some M1 Mac users have been reporting alarming SSD health readings, suggesting that these devices are
writing extraordinary amounts of data to their drives. From a report:
Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are said to be consuming as much as 10 to 13 percent of the maximum warrantable total bytes written (TBW) value of its SSD. Flash memory on solid-state drives, such as those used in Macs, can only be written to a certain number of times before they become unstable. Software ensures that load is spread evenly across the drive's memory cells, but there is a point when the drive has been written to so many times that it can no longer reliably hold data. So while SSD wear is normal, expected behavior, drives should not be exhausting their ability to hold data as quickly as some M1 Macs seem to be. One user showed that their M1 Mac had already consumed one percent of its SSD after just two months, while another M1 Mac with a 2TB SSD had already consumed three percent. The total data units written for these machines is running into many terabytes, when they would normally be expected to be considerably lower.
Flash Version Distributed in China After EOL is Installing Adware
Although the Flash Player app formally reached its end of life on December 31, 2020, Adobe has allowed a local Chinese company to
continue distributing Flash inside China, where the application still remains a large part of the local IT ecosystem and is broadly used across both the public and private sectors. From a report:
Currently, this Chinese version of the old Flash Player app is available only via flash.cn, a website managed by a company named Zhong Cheng Network, the only entity authorized by Adobe to distribute Flash inside China. But in a report published earlier this month, security firm Minerva Labs said its security products picked up multiple security alerts linked to this Chinese Flash Player version. During subsequent analysis, researchers found that the app was indeed installing a valid version of Flash but also downloading and running additional payloads. More precisely, the app was downloading and running nt.dll, a file that was loaded inside the FlashHelperService.exe process and which proceed to open a new browser window at regular intervals, showing various ad- and popup-heavy sites.
Software Bug Keeping Hundreds Of Inmates In Arizona Prisons Beyond Release Dates
According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software
cannot interpret current sentencing laws. From a report:
KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019. The Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed there is a problem with the software. As of 2019, the department had spent more than $24 million contracting with IT company Business & Decision, North America to build and maintain the software program, known as ACIS, that is used to manage the inmate population in state prisons. One of the software modules within ACIS, designed to calculate release dates for inmates, is presently unable to account for an amendment to state law that was passed in 2019.
Square Buys $170 Million Worth of Bitcoins
Square said today it has
purchased approximately 3,318 bitcoins at an aggregate purchase price of $170 million. From a statement:
Combined with Square's previous purchase of $50 million in bitcoin, this represents approximately five percent of Square's total cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities as of December 31, 2020.
Apple Has Bought Over 100 Companies Over the Past Six Years, Tim Cook Tells Investors
Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook fielded questions on mergers and acquisitions, the impact of Covid-19, and the company's supply chain during a virtual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. From a report:
Narrating a slide show, Cook summarized many of the company's new products and initiatives announced over the past year. He spoke about the latest iPhones and the growing potential of the Apple Watch, while noting that the AirPods Max headphones have quickly become "hugely popular" with users. He also discussed Apple's efforts to combat the pandemic, climate change, and the San Francisco Bay Area housing crisis. During a question and answer session, Cook said Apple is on track to meet its environment goals, including becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and transitioning its products to using recycled materials. He also reiterated Apple's recent privacy changes, including an imminent plan to limit ad targeting on its devices. Cook said the company bought almost 100 smaller companies over the past six years and makes a deal about every three to four weeks. Asked about gender pay equity, the CEO said Apple pays men and women equally across the world and has stopped asking applicants about their salary history to help ensure equity.
Vaccines Adapted for Variants Will Not Need Lengthy Testing, FDA Says
The Food and Drug Administration said this week that vaccine developers would
not need to conduct lengthy randomized controlled trials for vaccines that have been adapted to protect against concerning coronavirus variants. From a report:
The recommendations, which call for small trials more like those required for annual flu vaccines, would greatly accelerate the review process at a time when scientists are increasingly anxious about how the variants might slow or reverse progress made against the virus. The guidance was part of a slate of new documents the agency released on Monday, including others addressing how antibody treatments and diagnostic tests might need to be retooled to respond to the virus variants. Together, they amounted to the federal government's most detailed acknowledgment of the threat the variants pose to existing vaccines, treatments and tests for the coronavirus, and came weeks after the F.D.A.'s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said the agency was developing a plan.
"The emergence of the virus variants raises new concerns about the performance of these products," Dr. Woodcock said in a statement Monday. "We want the American public to know that we are using every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts." Most of the vaccine manufacturers with authorized vaccines or candidates in late-stage trials have already announced plans to adjust their products to address the vaccine variants. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines use mRNA technology that the companies have said can be used to alter the existing vaccines within six weeks, although testing and manufacturing would take longer. Moderna has already begun developing a new version of its vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against a virus variant that originated in South Africa, known as B.1.351, which seems to dampen the effectiveness of the existing vaccines. A fast-spreading coronavirus variant first observed in Britain has also gained a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines. That variant with the mutation was found in the United States last week.
Google's Password Checkup Feature Coming To Android
Android users can now
take advantage of the Password Checkup feature that Google first introduced in its Chrome web browser in late 2019, the OS maker announced today. From a report:
On Android, the Password Checkup feature is now part of the "Autofill with Google" mechanism, which the OS uses to select text from a cache and fill in forms. The idea is that the Password Checkup feature will take passwords stored in the Android OS password manager and check them against a database containing billions of records from public data breaches and see if the password has been previously leaked online. If it has, a warning is shown to the user.
Samsung Now Updates Android For Longer than Google Does
Samsung is upping the ante on Android updates and
offering four years of security updates on many of its Android devices. The company's full update package is now three years of major OS updates and four years of security updates, besting even what Google offers on the Pixel line. From a report:
In the announcement, Samsung says, "Over the past decade, Samsung has made significant progress in streamlining and speeding up its regular security updates. Samsung worked closely with its OS and chipset partners, as well as over 200 carriers around the world, to ensure that billions of Galaxy devices receive timely security patches." Samsung has experimented with bringing four years of updates to its own Exynos SoC devices, but now it looks like the company is getting Qualcomm models on board as well. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily monthly security updates. Samsung says it's delivering four years of "monthly or quarterly" updates, depending on the age of the device. Samsung's current security bulletin page has the Galaxy S9 (2018) on the monthly update plan, while the Galaxy S8 is on the quarterly plan. So it sounds like three years of monthly security updates and one more year of quarterly updates.
PlayStation CEO Says PS5 Will Get Its Own VR Headset
The PlayStation 5 will
have its own virtual reality headset, however, consumers may face ongoing difficulties obtaining a PS5 console given a supply chain shortfall. From a report:
Ryan revealed both developments in a Monday interview with The Washington Post. Ryan said developments kits for the PS5-specific VR headset will be sent out soon, though the company isn't ready to talk about the device's horsepower or specs. He did say the next headset will be considerably less cumbersome, as opposed to the current PSVR setup that requires wires running through a PlayStation 4, the TV and a separate black box called the PSVR processor. "Generational leaps allows you to sweep up the advances in technology that have taken place," Ryan said. "Given this was our first foray into virtual reality, it gives us a chance to apply lessons learned. One of the very vivid illustrations of that is that we will be moving to a very easy single-cord setup."
The next version of PlayStation VR will also borrow from its groundbreaking DualSense controllers, which debuted with the PS5 and provide super specific haptic feedback from the game to the palms of a player's hands. "One of the innovations we're excited about is our new VR controller, which will incorporate some of the key features found in the DualSense wireless controller, along with a focus on great ergonomics," Senior Vice President, Platform Planning & Management Hideaki Nishino wrote in a post on PlayStation's website Tuesday. There's no set launch date for the new VR device, according to Ryan. In an October 2020 interview with The Post, Ryan said while Sony was still very much interested in VR, any more news about the company's VR investments may not come in 2021.
Firefox's Total Cookie Protection Aims To Stop Tracking Between Multiple Sites
As part of its war on web tracking, Mozilla is adding a new tool to Firefox aimed at
stopping cookies from keeping tabs on you across multiple sites. From a report:
The "Total Cookie Protection" feature is included in the web browser's latest release -- alongside multiple picture-in-picture views -- and essentially works by keeping cookies isolated between each site you visit. Or, in Mozilla's words: "By creating a separate cookie jar for every website." Firefox's new feature pares with last month's network partitioning tool, which works by splitting the Firefox browser cache on a per-website basis to prevent tracking across the web, itself targeted at blocking more stubborn "supercookies." According to Mozilla, these types of cookies are more difficult to delete and block as they are stored in obscure parts of the browser, including in Flash storage, ETags, and HSTS flags. Both tools are available as part of Firefox's enhanced tracking protection suite in "strict mode" on desktop and Android.
How Canadians Derailed a Train in 1998 and Drove It to City Hall for Power After a Brutal Ice Storm
writing at The Drive:
Over the week spanning Jan. 4-10, 1998, a trio of massive ice storms wracked the northeastern United States and parts of Canada. Knocking over transmission towers, the storms deprived up to 1.35 million people of electricity, in some cases for weeks (sound familiar?). Rather than leave town, though, one Canadian mayor stepped up to bring in the biggest mobile power generators they could get their hands on: Diesel-electric freight train locomotives. This unusual solution to a power problem unfolded in Boucherville, a Montreal suburb just northeast of famed Formula 1 racetrack Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Having reportedly heard of locomotives being used to generate electricity during another emergency years prior, Boucherville's Mayor Francine Gadbois asked the Canadian National Railway to lend the city a couple of units. CN obliged, sending over two Montreal Locomotive Works M-420s per the 1998 issue of Trains, as recounted by members of its forum.
Both locomotives were powered by Alco 251C prime movers; 131.4-liter, single-turbo diesel V12s making some 1,950 horsepower according to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Rather than power the wheels through hydraulic or mechanical transmissions, these massive motors turned traction generators that could send juice to motors connected to the wheels. In a pinch, however, that power can be routed outside the locomotive for whatever purpose one desires, like keeping municipal buildings operating in times of crisis. And that's exactly what these locomotives did for Boucherville. According to yet another account from a train forum, officials craned M-240 number 3502 off the line down the street from city hall before moving it some 1,000 feet down the street, carving deep ruts in the asphalt. Once at its destination and hooked in, its V12 had to be run at a specific, constant rpm' to generate AC current at 60 hertz, the frequency used by most North American utilities.
FCC Proposes Rules for Emergency Broadband Program To Keep Struggling Families Online
The FCC has taken a major step toward offering financial support for people struggling to pay broadband bills during the pandemic. If approved, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program could
provide $50 per month to millions of households, and more in tribal lands. From a report:
The EBBP was created in the budget passed by Congress earlier this year, which earmarked $3.2 billion to offset the cost of broadband in households already struggling to make ends meet. "From work to healthcare to education, this crisis has made it clear that without an internet connection too many households are locked out of modern life," said acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. "It's more apparent than ever that broadband is no longer nice-to-have. It's need-to-have. But too many of us are struggling to afford this critical service."
The general shape of the EBBP was already known, but since Congress first proposed it last year it has been up to the FCC to decide what it would actually look like. The rules for the program Rosenworcel circulated at the agency today are an important step in taking it from idea to reality. The important bit is spelling out exactly who qualifies for the benefit -- to wit, anyone who:
1. Qualifies for the FCC's existing Lifeline connectivity subsidy program
2. Receives free and reduce-price school lunch or breakfast benefits
3. Received a Pell Grant
4. Meets other eligibility requirements for internet providers' existing low-income or pandemic-related programs
5. "Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020"
Google Finally Adds iOS Privacy Labels To Gmail
quietly added App Privacy labels to its Gmail app, marking the first of its major apps to receive the privacy details aside from YouTube. From a report:
Though App Privacy information has been added to Gmail, Google has done so server side and has yet to issue an update to the Gmail app. It has been two months since the Gmail app last saw an update. Earlier in February, the Gmail app was displaying warnings about the app being out of date as it has been so long since new security features were added, but Google eliminated that messaging without pushing an update to the app. Apple has been enforcing App Privacy labels since December, and Google has been slow to support the feature. Google said in early January that it would add privacy data to its app catalog "this week or next week," but by January 20, most apps still had not been updated with the App Privacy. Google has since been adding App Privacy labels to apps like YouTube and some of its smaller apps, but of major apps like Google Search, Google Photos, and Google Maps, Gmail is the first to get the new labeling.
Facebook Strikes Last-Minute Deal With Australia Around News Content
Facebook on Monday said it had
struck a deal with Australian lawmakers to pay local publishers for their news content, after the government finally agreed to change some of the terms within its new media code. From a report:
The agreement ends Facebook's temporary ban on sharing news links on its platform in the country. Data showed that the link-sharing ban caused news traffic to plummet in the region. It also ends Facebook's global ban on users' sharing links to Australian news publishers. Facebook's decision to stop link-sharing was made in response to a new law that would have forced Google and Facebook to pay Australian news publishers for content, including headlines and links, with terms set by a third party, if they weren't able to come up with payout agreements with local publishers themselves. Google struck last-minute payout deals with big Australian publishers last week so that it wouldn't have to skirt the law and pull Google Search from the country. Facebook did not. The law was intended to benefit publishers, but the impact of Facebook's link ban showed the power the tech giants have over publishers, who lost a large volume of traffic during the confrontation.