Internet Archive

Puerto Rican iPhone users given access to Loon balloons

Apple, AT&T, the FCC and Alphabet's X division have all put into motion efforts to give residents of Puerto Rico more cellular connectivity.

Apple has been working with AT&T to extend and activate cell service for users in Puerto Rico. To improve what is a terrible connectivity situation there, it’s going to enable a provisional band of LTE that has been recently approved, but not activated in the US and Puerto Rico, where it has not been licensed. This will allow iPhones to connect to Alphabet X's Project Loon balloons in the region, which were activated today.

This should allow users to send text messages and access some critical online services.

It's always a welcome change of pace to see companies like this working together to help people in need. Good work, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and AT&T.

Now there's a sentence you won't hear very often.

A eulogy for Eudora

Email is such a pain in the butt. We've been doing everything in our power to fight the influence it has on our lives, to minimize the spam, the marketing, the burden. That burden leads lots of folks to fruitlessly hunt for the perfect email client like I hunt for the perfect word processor. Others have followed the path of least resistance: Either Gmail or Outlook. But there was a time when we didn't feel this way, when getting email was actually exciting. The email client Eudora, named for Eudora Welty, was designed to capture this excitement - the idea that mailboxes were no longer tethered to physical space. But even as the die-hards held on, it couldn't. Tonight's Tedium ponders the demise of Eudora, and whether we lost something great.

I don't have a lot of experience with Eudora personally, but I know it had quite the enthusiastic and fervent fanbase back then.

China blocks WhatsApp, broadening online censorship

China has largely blocked the WhatsApp messaging app, the latest move by Beijing to step up surveillance ahead of a big Communist Party gathering next month.

The disabling in mainland China of the Facebook-owned app is a setback for the social media giant, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been pushing to re-enter the Chinese market, and has been studying the Chinese language intensively. WhatsApp was the last of Facebook products to still be available in mainland China; the company's main social media service has been blocked in China since 2009, and its Instagram image-sharing app is also unavailable.

WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, which the Chinese government (and western governments) don't like. Either WhatsApp would give China a backdoor, or China would block WhatsApp. This seems to indicate WhatsApp stuck to its encryption.

Let's see what happens to the other big western messaging service with end-to-end encryption still available in China: iMessage. We can safely assume that if iMessage isn't blocked soon, Apple caved, and gave China its backdoor.

Why PS4 downloads are so slow

Game downloads on PS4 have a reputation of being very slow, with many people reporting downloads being an order of magnitude faster on Steam or Xbox. This had long been on my list of things to look into, but at a pretty low priority. After all, the PS4 operating system is based on a reasonably modern FreeBSD (9.0), so there should not be any crippling issues in the TCP stack. The implication is that the problem is something boring, like an inadequately dimensioned CDN.

But then I heard that people were successfully using local HTTP proxies as a workaround. It should be pretty rare for that to actually help with download speeds, which made this sound like a much more interesting problem.

The detailed article contains tips to address the problem somewhat.

Smart lock vendor accidentally bricks customers’ locks

A perk of connected devices, or at least what gadget manufacturers will tell you, is they can receive over-the-air updates to keep your device current. Those updates don't always go as planned, however. In fact, they can go horribly wrong. Take a company called Lockstate, for example, which attempted to issue new software to its LS6i smart locks last week and ended up bricking devices. That isn't great.

I don't know what these people were expecting.

GoDaddy, Google blacklist Nazi website Daily Stormer

For years, the website Daily Stormer has promoted hatred against Jews, black people, LGBT people, and other minorities, making it one of the Internet's most infamous destinations. But on Sunday, editor Andrew Anglin outdid himself by publishing a vulgar, slut-shaming article about Heather Heyer, a woman who was killed when someone rammed a car into a crowd of anti-racism protestors in Charlottesville.

The article prompted a response from the site's domain registrar, GoDaddy. "We informed The Daily Stormer that they have 24 hours to move the domain to another provider, as they have violated our terms of service," GoDaddy wrote in a tweet late Sunday night.

On Monday, the Daily Stormer switched its registration to Google's domain service. Within hours, Google announced a cancellation of its own. "We are cancelling Daily Stormer’s registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service," the company wrote in an statement emailed to Ars.

No company should do business with nazis and white supremacists - ever. Still waiting on the darling of the podcasting industry, SquareSpace, to stop doing business with nazis. We can't remove these sites - and its creators and their philosophy - from existence, but at least we can make life as difficult as possible for them.

And, since far too many people in the west do not understand free speech - kicking nazis out of your (virtual) store or house is free speech.

Adobe discontinues Flash

Today, Adobe announced that Flash will no longer be supported after 2020. Microsoft will phase out support for Flash in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer ahead of this date.

Flash led the way on the web for rich content, gaming, animations, and media of all kinds, and inspired many of the current web standards powering HTML5. Adobe has partnered with Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Apple, and many others, to ensure that the open web could meet and exceed the experiences that Flash has traditionally provided. HTML5 standards, implemented across all modern browsers, provide these capabilities with improved performance, battery life, and increased security. We look forward to continuing to work with Adobe and our industry partners on enriching the open web without the need for plug-ins.

We will phase out Flash from Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer, culminating in the removal of Flash from Windows entirely by the end of 2020.

Adobe's own announcement is coughing up HTTP 500 errors right now; hence the link to Microsoft's announcement. You can also read Apple's/WebKit's announcement, and the one from Chrome/Google.

The “Million Dollar Homepage” as a decaying digital artifact

But to what extent has this history been preserved? Does the Million Dollar Homepage represent a robust digital artifact 12 years after its creation, or has it fallen prey to the ephemerality common to internet content? Have the forces of link rot and administrative neglect rendered it a shell of its former self?

I remember this quite well - and I can't believe it's already been 12 years. As the article notes, it serves as a great preserved microcosm of that era's web - good and bad.

An interactive map of the Odyssey

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey are, in my humble view, two of the greatest works of art of all times. From a very young age, I started reading children-friendly versions of the two stories, and later, during ancient Greek class in high school, we translated parts of the original works. Personally, I prefer the Odyssey, but I guess the Iliad is probably the greater, more popular epic.

Thanks to the blessings of modern computing, the internet, and technology, we can now make beautiful interactive maps of stories, and I've been thoroughly enjoying The Odyssey Map today. I've seen such maps before, but not as smooth and nicely illustrated as this one.

Add it to the list of awesome historical maps, such as the amazing 200-year topographical history of The Netherlands, or the countless interactive maps of the Roman Empire.

The internet is fucked (again)

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is fond of saying that "the internet was not broken in 2015" when he argues for repeal of our nation's net neutrality rules. This is particularly funny to me, because in 2014 I literally wrote an article called "The internet is fucked".

Why was it fucked? Because the free and open internet was in danger of becoming tightly controlled by giant telecom corporations that were already doing things like blocking apps and services from phones and excusing their own services from data caps. Because the lack of competition in the internet access market let these companies act like predatory monopolies. And because our government lacked the will or clarity to just say what everyone already knows: internet access is a utility.

Most of these things are still true, even after the Obama-era FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler reclassified internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and imposed strict net neutrality rules on wired and wireless internet providers. And most of these things will get even worse when Pai pushes through his plan to rescind Title II and those rules, despite widespread public outcry.

Hey look, another case of corporations actively working to undermine society by bribing politicians with huge amounts of money that individuals would never (or only rarely) have access to. As long as politicians' power is derived not from the people, but from money, shit like this will continue to happen. Trying to stop Pai's obviously horrible and destructive anti-consumer plans is a noble goal, but these plans are only a symptom, not a cause. We're playing whack-a-mole, while they are playing Jenga.

These corporate criminals and their political lapdogs will keep throwing money at the wall until it breaks - and they have more money than we have bricks and mortar.

The early days of Ethernet

In light of yesterday's post, here's a short look at the early days of Ethernet.

Nowadays, we take Ethernet for granted. We plug a cable jack into the wall or a switch and we get the network. What's to think about?

It didn't start that way. In the 1960s and 1970s, networks were ad hoc hodgepodges of technologies with little rhyme and less reason. But then Robert "Bob" Metcalfe was asked to create a local-area network (LAN) for Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). His creation, Ethernet, changed everything.

On a related note, in one of the recent Xerox Alto restoration videos, two of the people who worked on the invention of Ethernet, Dave Boggs and Ron Crane, helped out fixing the Alto Ethernet card - carrying some very old-fashioned Ethernet equipment and telling some great stories from the early '70s.

Sadly, Ron Crane passed away 19 June.

Switching to the Mutt email client

It was almost four years ago I switched from webmail to a customized email configuration based on Notmuch and Emacs. Notmuch served as both as a native back-end that provided indexing and tagging, as well as a front-end, written in Emacs Lisp. It dramatically improved my email experience, and I wished I had done it earlier. I've really enjoyed having so much direct control over my email.

However, I'm always fiddling with things - fiddling feels a lot more productive than it actually is - and last month I re-invented my email situation, this time switching to a combination of Mutt, Vim, mu, and tmux. The entirety of my email interface now resides inside a terminal, and I’m enjoying it even more. I feel I've "leveled up" again in my email habits.

I'm fairly sure a number of OSNews readers use similar setups.

Giving the behemoths a leg up on the little guy

Every year, the internet gets a little less fair. The corporations that run it get a little bigger, their power grows more concentrated, and a bit of their idealism gives way to ruthless pragmatism.

And if Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gets his way, the hegemons are likely to grow only larger and more powerful.

This column is nominally about network neutrality, the often sleep-inducing debate about the rules that broadband companies like Comcast and AT&T must follow when managing their networks. But really, this is a story about ballooning corporate power.

John Oliver has a great video about the fight for net neutrality in the United States, and set up a website that makes it easy to send comments to the FCC to compel them to maintain net neutrality.

A 1986 BBS has brought the old web back to life in 2017

Today, many can be forgiven for thinking that the digital communications revolution kicked off during the mid-1990s, when there was simply an explosion of media and consumer interest in the World Wide Web. Just a decade earlier, however, the future was now for the hundreds of thousands of users already using home computers to communicate with others over the telephone network. The online culture of the 1980s was defined by the pervasiveness of bulletin board systems (BBS), expensive telephone bills, and the dulcet tones of a 1200 baud connection (or 2400, if you were very lucky). While many Ars readers certainly recall bulletin board systems with pixelated reverence, just as many are likely left scratching their heads in confusion ("what exactly is a BBS, anyway?").

It's a good thing, then, that a dedicated number of vintage computing hobbyists are resurrecting these digital communities that were once thought lost to time. With some bulletin board systems being rebooted from long-forgotten floppy disks and with some still running on original 8-bit hardware, the current efforts of these seasoned sysops (that is, system administrators) provide a very literal glimpse into the state of online affairs from more than three decades ago. And while services such as the Internet Archive are an excellent resource for studying the growth of the World Wide Web as it's frozen in time, these hobbyists are opening portals today for modern users to go places that have been long forgotten.

I was too young to experience the BBS age - I'm from 1984 - so I always like to read up about it whenever I get the chance. This is an excellent article on the topic.

Inside the internet’s war on science

Fantastic article by Stephanie M. Lee:

Welcome to the vast universe of self-built social media empires devoted to spreading false, misleading, and polarizing science and health news - sometimes further and wider than the real information. Here, climate change is a government-sponsored hoax, fluoridated water is poisonous, cannabis can cure cancer, and airplanes are constantly spraying pesticides and biological waste into the air. Genetically modified food is destroying humanity and the planet. Vaccines are experimental, autism-causing injections forced on innocent babies. We can't trust anything that we eat, drink, breathe, or medicate with, nor rely on physicians and public health agencies to act in our best interests. Between the organic recipes and menacing stock images of syringes and pills, a clear theme emerges: Everything is rigged - by doctors, Big Pharma, Monsanto, the FDA - and the mainstream media isn’t telling us. (Also, there's usually a link to buy vitamins.) This messaging reflects a new, uniquely conspiratorial strain of libertarianism that hijacks deeply intimate issues - your body, your health, your children's health. It shares magnificently.

Indeed, gone are the days when these types of stories would struggle for traction in a media landscape dominated by a few television networks, newspapers, and radio stations. Now anyone on Facebook can take their snake oil straight to the masses - and their message is reverberating in the highest levels of government. Vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who says he's in touch with Trump about a "vaccine safety commission" recently announced a $100,000 "challenge" to prove their safety. Andrew Wakefield, who helped start the anti-vaccine movement with a fraudulent 1998 study that linked vaccines to autism, showed up at an inaugural ball. The president has called climate change a "hoax" and appointed a skeptic to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pseudoscience is closer than ever to the mainstream.

Clearly, not vaccinating your children is child abuse and should be treated as such; not only does it endanger the lives of your own children, but also the lives of other children who may rely on herd immunity because they can't take vaccinations for proper medical reasons. The fact that these child abusers are this close to the president of the United States and the US government should send chills down the spine of every responsible parent.

The war on science is in full swing, and they've already won the White House and US Congress. The amount of damage that can be - and is being - done is staggering.

FCC rolls back net neutrality ISP transparency rules

The Republican-controlled FCC on Thursday suspended the net neutrality transparency requirements for broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers. Critics called the decision anticonsumer.

The transparency rule, waived for five years in a 2-1 party-line vote Thursday, requires broadband providers to explain to customers their pricing models and fees as well as their network management practices and the impact on broadband service.

The commission had previously exempted ISPs with fewer than 100,000 subscribers, but Thursday's decision expands the number of ISPs not required to inform customers. Only about 20 U.S. ISPs have more than 250,000 subscribers.

What could possibly go wrong?

The five-year waiver may be moot, however. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Republicans in Congress are considering ways to scrap a large chunk of the net neutrality regulations approved by the agency just two years ago.

Is it just me, or is the undoing of the opposing party's policies every 4-8 years a really terrible way to run a country?

It’s a weird time to be in charge of Sweden’s Twitter account

When Max Karlsson found out that he was going to be in charge of Sweden's official Twitter account this week, he was looking forward to sharing some of his photography, or riffing about music and technology - nothing too different from how hundreds of others have used the handle since Sweden opened it up to ordinary users in 2011.

"My thought was to speak about the interests and values that I have," Karlsson, 22, said in a phone interview Monday evening. "And then Trump hit."

I find it fascinating that the official Twitter account for Sweden changes hands every week between Swedish citizens. In this particular case, it gives an ordinary Swede the opportunity to use facts to dispel a bunch of nonsense from the most powerful man in the world, who is apparently incapable of separating fact from Fox News-infused fiction.

“A great disturbance in the force…”

The news is that after 15 years the IMDb is closing down its message boards, but the story is their creation in the first place: a tale of Apache, mod_perl, PostgreSQL, C, and XEMacs, all served up on a BeOS bun in a Bristol-area cafeteria; of missed deadlines, missed opportunities and misplaced innocence given the scale of comments, comment spam and trolling up to that point. Brought to you by Colin M. Strickland, a developer whose CV has long read "you can blame me for the message boards" (and yes, he does go by the initials cms).

Internet shutdown hits businesses in Cameroon

Business owners in the town of Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region of Cameroon say they are struggling to operate following an internet shutdown that began on January 17. Internet users here say that they can no longer communicate or access information, particularly on social media. Many internet cafes, micro finance institutions and money transfer agencies have had to shutdown.

"When things like this happen and they just ban the internet which is the source of my livelihood. I just feel like maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I should just leave the country like my friends and never return again. And I personally feel bad that that would be unpatriotic on my part but you know, we have to do what we have to do sometimes. And now I don’t even know if the Internet will be returned. I don't know when it will be returned," said IT entrepreneur, Churchill Mambe.

It's remarkable how important the internet has become, especially in developing countries.

Has the internet killed curly quotes?

The trouble with being a former typesetter is that every day online is a new adventure in torture. Take the shape of quotation marks. These humble symbols are a dagger in my eye when a straight, or typewriter-style, pair appears in the midst of what is often otherwise typographic beauty. It's a small, infuriating difference: "this" versus “this.”

I'll stop replacing curly quotes with straight quotes on OSNews the day the tech industry gives me back my Dutch quotation marks („Like so”, he said) and adds multilingual support to Google Now and Siri and so on (which right now require a full wipe to change languages, making them useless for hundreds of millions of people who live bilingual lives).

Yes, I can be petty.