Here are the updates that didn’t make it in Apple’s livestream yesterday

Apple presents the new iPad Pro at its April 20, 2021 event.

Enlarge / Apple presents the new iPad Pro at its April 20, 2021 event. (credit: Apple)

Apple crammed quite a few announcements into a short, one-hour presentation yesterday: new iPad Pros, new iMacs, a new Apple TV 4K, and the long-rumored launch of AirTags, to name a few. But for everything Apple executives and product managers said onstage, there was something else that didn’t get mentioned (or got passed over quickly, perhaps).

Many of these smaller details were hidden on product, specs, or support pages after Apple updated its website with the event’s new products. This isn’t a comprehensive list of everything that changed on Apple’s website, but we’re picking some of the most interesting ones.

Let’s start with OS updates.

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Source: Ars Technica – Here are the updates that didn’t make it in Apple’s livestream yesterday

Trump EPA sidelined its own scientists when rewriting fuel economy rules

A man in a suit adjusts his spectacles.

Enlarge / Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (credit: Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images)

The Trump administration effectively muffled scientific staffers at the Environmental Protection Agency when it rewrote automobile pollution rules, the agency’s watchdog said.

When drafting fuel economy and greenhouse gas pollution rules for cars and light trucks, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided to cede various EPA duties to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in what is typically a collaborative process, the independent inspector general said in a report released yesterday. Though Pruitt signed the final report for the EPA, he allowed NHTSA staff to write a significant portion of the rule and to complete all modeling and analysis for both agencies.

The NHTSA’s modeling efforts did not use the EPA’s established tools that had been created to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions standards. Instead, the NHTSA hacked its own Corporate Average Fuel Economy models and sent EPA experts the results late in the process. “Technical personnel were unable to fully collaborate on rule development,” the report said.

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Source: Ars Technica – Trump EPA sidelined its own scientists when rewriting fuel economy rules

In new deal, Wisconsin slashes controversial Foxconn subsidies 30-fold

A man in a open-collar suit speaks into a microphone.

Enlarge / Foxconn chairman Young Liu speaks in Taipei on March 16, 2021. (credit: -Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The state of Wisconsin has negotiated a dramatically scaled-back deal with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn. The move, announced Tuesday by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, is a repudiation of a deal negotiated four years earlier by Evers’ Republican predecessor Scott Walker.

The original deal envisioned Foxconn spending as much as $10 billion to manufacture a state-of-the-art factory for manufacturing large liquid-crystal display panels. The deal was announced in 2017, and then-President Donald Trump traveled to Wisconsin for the 2018 groundbreaking, describing the new factory as “the eighth wonder of the world.” Foxconn was supposed to get $2.85 billion in state and local incentives under that original deal.

The deal may have been savvy politics for Foxconn in 2017. The company uses factories in other countries to assemble consumer electronics products for Apple and other American companies—products that are often then sent back to the United States for sale. So Trump’s protectionist inclinations seemed like a serious threat. Announcing plans to create of thousands of jobs in a key battleground state gave Trump something to boast about, and that may have helped Foxconn curry favor with the new administration.

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Source: Ars Technica – In new deal, Wisconsin slashes controversial Foxconn subsidies 30-fold

In epic hack, Signal developer turns the tables on forensics firm Cellebrite

In epic hack, Signal developer turns the tables on forensics firm Cellebrite

Enlarge (credit: Moxie Marlinspike/Signal)

For years, Israeli digital forensics firm Cellebrite has helped governments and police around the world break into confiscated mobile phones, mostly by exploiting vulnerabilities that went overlooked by device manufacturers. Now, Moxie Marlinspike—the brainchild behind the Signal messaging app—has turned the tables.

On Wednesday, Marlinspike published a post that reported vulnerabilities in Cellebrite software that allowed him to execute malicious code on the Windows computer used to analyze a device. The researcher and software engineer exploited the vulnerabilities by loading specially formatted files that can be embedded into any app installed on the device.

Virtually no limits

“There are virtually no limits on the code that can be executed,” Marlinspike wrote.

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Source: Ars Technica – In epic hack, Signal developer turns the tables on forensics firm Cellebrite

New data is evidence of process that powers exploding stars

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Source: Ars Technica – New data is evidence of process that powers exploding stars

More than one scribe wrote the text of a Dead Sea Scroll, handwriting shows

Photographic reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved of the biblical scrolls found at Qumran. It contains the entire Book of Isaiah in Hebrew, apart from some small damaged parts.

Enlarge / Photographic reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved of the biblical scrolls found at Qumran. It contains the entire Book of Isaiah in Hebrew, apart from some small damaged parts. (credit: Public domain)

Most of the scribes who copied the text contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls were anonymous, as they neglected to sign their work. That has made it challenging for scholars to determine whether a given manuscript should be attributed to a single scribe or more than one, based on unique elements in their writing styles (a study called paleography). Now, a new handwriting analysis of the Great Isaiah Scroll, applying the tools of artificial intelligence, has revealed that the text was likely written by two scribes, mirroring one another’s writing style, according to a new paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.

As we’ve reported previously, these ancient Hebrew texts—roughly 900 full and partial scrolls in all, stored in clay jars—were first discovered scattered in various caves near what was once the settlement of Qumran, just north of the Dead Sea, by Bedouin shepherds in 1946-1947. (Apparently, a shepherd threw a rock while searching for a lost member of his flock and accidentally shattered one of the clay jars, leading to the discovery.) Qumran was destroyed by the Romans, circa 73 CE, and historians believe the scrolls were hidden in the caves by a sect called the Essenes to protect them from being destroyed. The natural limestone and conditions within the caves helped preserve the scrolls for millennia; they date back to between the third century BCE and the first century CE.

Several of the parchments have been carbon dated, and synchrotron radiation—among other techniques—has been used to shed light on the properties of the ink used for the text. Most recently, in 2018, an Israeli scientist named Oren Ableman used an infrared microscope attached to a computer to identify and decipher Dead Sea Scroll fragments stored in a cigar box since the 1950s.

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Source: Ars Technica – More than one scribe wrote the text of a Dead Sea Scroll, handwriting shows

They hacked McDonald’s ice cream machines—and started a cold war

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Source: Ars Technica – They hacked McDonald’s ice cream machines—and started a cold war

Everything we know about the $59,990 electric Cadillac Lyriq

On Wednesday, Cadillac formally revealed the production version of its next SUV. Called the Lyriq, when it goes on sale next year starting at $59,990, it will join the Hummer EV as part of General Motors’ third wave of electric vehicles (after Chevrolet’s experiments with the EV1 and Bolt EV).

If you think this vehicle looks familiar, you’re right—in August 2020, Cadillac presented a show-car version of the Lyriq, and the production version has changed very little. But, at the time, Cadillac wasn’t ready to talk technical specs. Now it is.

Propulsion to the rear wheels is provided by one of GM’s Ultium Drive motors that will appear in more than 20 new EVs in the coming few years. That electric motor endows the Lyriq with 225 kW (340 hp) and 440 Nm (325 lb-ft), which should mean the 2,545 kg (5,610 lb) SUV will be appropriately quick as opposed to face-meltingly fast.

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Source: Ars Technica – Everything we know about the ,990 electric Cadillac Lyriq

SpaceX says OneWeb spread false story of “near-miss” satellite collision

A stack of 60 Starlink satellites being launched into space, with Earth in the background.

Enlarge / A stack of 60 Starlink satellites launched in 2019. (credit: SpaceX / Flickr)

SpaceX has accused satellite-broadband rival OneWeb of spreading a false story claiming that the companies’ satellites nearly crashed into each other.

In reality, “[t]he probability of collision never exceeded the threshold for a [collision-avoidance] maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver had been conducted,” SpaceX told the Federal Communications Commission in an ex parte filing. The filing describes a meeting that SpaceX and OneWeb representatives had with FCC staff yesterday in which SpaceX said it “corrected the record regarding recent press reports regarding physical coordination between SpaceX and OneWeb.”

The meeting came one day after The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say.” The Journal article described OneWeb’s allegations as follows:

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Source: Ars Technica – SpaceX says OneWeb spread false story of “near-miss” satellite collision

Bill Nelson backs NASA decision on lunar lander in confirmation hearing

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Source: Ars Technica – Bill Nelson backs NASA decision on lunar lander in confirmation hearing

PS4 owners lament the shutdown of beloved “Communities” social network

Don't cry for me, I'm already dead...

Enlarge / Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead…

In the world of social media, new networks are constantly popping into existence and then fading away when they fail to become the next Facebook (or Twitter, or TikTok, etc.). Still, last week’s shutdown of the PS4’s Communities features (and the lack of a suitable replacement on the PS5) has left many PlayStation fans bitter about the death of a vibrant space they used to connect with fellow gamers.

For those who never had a chance to join a PS4 Community, the groups served as a kind of player-created and moderated message board system, accessible directly via the PS4’s system menu (and through the PlayStation Mobile app, before that connection was shut off last year). Members could share text messages, screenshots, wallpapers, and more on a shared “Community Wall” or form parties to chat and play multiplayer titles together with other online members.

Specific PS4 Communities could form around a single game or series, a geographic area, a cultural grouping, or just shared general interests (“Smoke&Play” and “Vaping Gamers” were popular Communities at one point).

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Source: Ars Technica – PS4 owners lament the shutdown of beloved “Communities” social network

Samsung starts official smartphone upcycling program

Samsung on Wednesday kicked off something genuinely innovative in the smartphone market: an official consumer upcycling program. Samsung’s “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” initiative was announced at CES 2021, and today it enters a “beta” release. The program allows users to transform old phones into smart home devices that work through Samsung’s SmartThings app, which has two new modes: a sound sensor and a light sensor.

Samsung says the sound sensor mode will “accurately distinguish sounds in everyday surroundings, and users can choose to save certain sound recordings. For example, if the device detects sounds such as a baby crying, dog barking, cat meowing, or a knock, it will send an alert directly to the user’s smartphone, and the user can listen to the recorded sound.” Samsung says the mode is meant to act as a baby monitor or pet care solution.

The Light Sensor mode simply turns your phone into a light sensor, allowing it to detect levels of sunlight or room light and trigger your smart home to do something in response. If you want to use this mode while on battery power, Samsung says it has “equipped the Galaxy Upcycling at Home upgrade with battery optimization solutions to minimize battery usage.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Samsung starts official smartphone upcycling program

2021’s World Car of the Year goes to the electric Volkswagen ID.4

The real measure of success for Volkswagen’s embrace of electric vehicles (EV) post-dieselgate will be how many the company can sell each year. But on Tuesday, VW’s job might have gotten a little easier. That’s because the new ID.4 crossover just won this year’s World Car of the Year award, beating two other finalists, the adorable Honda E and the new Toyota Yaris. Fear not, E-fans: the diminutive electric hatchback won the World Urban Car category. Previous years’ winners have included the Kia Telluride and the Jaguar I-Pace.

I expected the Honda E to win World Car Design of the Year; as one of the 93 jurors around the world, I gave it high marks because just look at it. But more of my fellow jurors picked the chunky Land Rover Defender for that honor, and the Land Rover also beat the Mazda MX-30 in the process.

The World Luxury Car award went to the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, perhaps no surprise considering the other two finalists were the Defender and the Polestar 2. The Polestar is a fine EV with some very nifty tech, but it’s no match for the bombastic Benz.

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Source: Ars Technica – 2021’s World Car of the Year goes to the electric Volkswagen ID.4

Sony takes aim at Xbox Game Pass with PlayStation Plus Video Pass

As the battle of subscription gaming services heats up, Sony appears poised to offer a new perk to PlayStation console owners: Sony movies with your Sony games.

A logo for a new service, dubbed PlayStation Plus Video Pass, is live on Sony’s PlayStation.com servers as of this writing, and it was part of a Polish-language PlayStation promotion spotted by Video Games Chronicle before being taken down. The page in question suggested a two-day test run for this new service, available exclusively to subscribers of Sony’s paid PlayStation Plus service, on April 21-22.

While the description of the service was vague, merely mentioning PS Plus Video Pass and a date range, an attached image clarified what PlayStation console owners should expect: three recent films released by Sony Pictures Entertainment (Venom, Bloodshot, and Zombieland: Double Tap). PS Plus Video Pass thus might revolve around films from Sony-owned companies like Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures—but whether additional studios might participate, and exactly how films would be doled out to paying customers, remains unclear.

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Source: Ars Technica – Sony takes aim at Xbox Game Pass with PlayStation Plus Video Pass

Brace yourselves. Facebook has a new mega-leak on its hands

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Source: Ars Technica – Brace yourselves. Facebook has a new mega-leak on its hands

Pause of J&J vaccine was the right call, say 88% of polled Americans

LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS - APRIL 15: General exterior view of the head office of Janssen pharmaceutical company on April 15, 2021 in Leiden, Netherlands.

Enlarge / LEIDEN, NETHERLANDS – APRIL 15: General exterior view of the head office of Janssen pharmaceutical company on April 15, 2021 in Leiden, Netherlands. (credit: Getty | BSR Agency)

About 88 percent of Americans support the pause of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, and the pause did not increase vaccine hesitancy, according to fresh data from the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus poll.

The finding is likely to hearten public health experts, who have faced criticism and concern that the pause could erode confidence in vaccine safety and fortify already high-levels of vaccine hesitancy in the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Food and Drug Administration, recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 13 after linking the one-dose vaccine to six cases of a rare blood-clotting condition, one of which was fatal. The six cases occurred among more than 6.8 million people given the vaccine, suggesting that if the blood clots are, in fact, a side effect of the vaccine, they are an extremely rare side effect.

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Source: Ars Technica – Pause of J&J vaccine was the right call, say 88% of polled Americans

Everybody hates “FLoC,” Google’s tracking plan for Chrome ads

Vivaldi's graphic on FLoC.

Enlarge / Vivaldi’s graphic on FLoC. (credit: Vivaldi)

Google wants to kill third-party tracking cookies used for ads in Chrome with the “Chrome Privacy Sandbox.” Since Google is also the world’s largest ad company, though, it’s not killing tracking cookies without putting something else in its place. Google’s replacement plan is to have Chrome locally build an ad interest profile for you, via a system called “FLoC” (Federated Learning of Cohorts). Rather than having advertisers collect your browsing history to build an individual profile of you on their servers, Google wants to keep that data local, and have the browser to serve a list of your interests to advertisers whenever they ask via an API, so that you’ll still get relevant ads. Google argues that conscripting the browser for ad interest tracking is a win for privacy, since it keeps your exact browsing history local and only serves up anonymized interest lists. Google does not have many other companies in its corner, though.

One of the first to come out against Google’s plan was the EFF, which in March wrote a blog post called, “Google’s FLoC is a Terrible Idea.” The EFF seems to be against user tracking for ads entirely, saying Google’s framing of the issue “is based on a false premise that we have to choose between “old tracking” and “new tracking.”

“It’s not either-or,” the EFF writes. “Instead of re-inventing the tracking wheel, we should imagine a better world without the myriad problems of targeted ads.” The EFF worries that FLoC won’t stop advertisers from personally identifying people and that the API will serve up full profile data on first contact with a site, saving tracking companies from having to do the work of building a profile themselves over time. It also argues that “the machinery of targeted advertising has frequently been used for exploitation, discrimination, and harm.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Everybody hates “FLoC,” Google’s tracking plan for Chrome ads

Grab a pair of recommended Anker noise-canceling headphones for $68

Grab a pair of recommended Anker noise-canceling headphones for $68

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today’s Dealmaster is headlined by a nice discount on Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30: the wireless noise-canceling headphones are currently down to $68 at Amazon. That’s $12 off the pair’s usual going rate online and less than $5 above the lowest price we’ve tracked to date.

We highlighted a similar deal earlier in the year and continue to find the Soundcore Life Q30 to be an impressive value. While the Q30 can’t match the build quality or raw noise-canceling strength of a more expensive pair from Sony or Bose, the Q30 provides a cushy and comfortable design, excellent battery life of around 40 hours, USB-C charging, multi-device connectivity, and physical controls. Its sound is deeply heavy on the bass by default and absolutely not for audio purists, but the signature can be tweaked and customized through its companion app. And while its active noise cancellation is far from the strongest we’ve seen, it’s still capable enough for tuning out everyday sounds, especially given its price.

If you’re not in need of a new pair of headphones, though, our deals roundup also has offers on Fitbit activity trackers, indoor security cameras, the latest Call of Duty game, top-notch wireless mice for both gaming and office work, and much more. You can have a look at the full list below.

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Source: Ars Technica – Grab a pair of recommended Anker noise-canceling headphones for

Hackers are exploiting a Pulse Secure 0-day to breach orgs around the world

Gloved hands manipulate a laptop with a skull and crossbones on the display.

Enlarge (credit: CHUYN / Getty Images)

Hackers backed by nation-states are exploiting critical vulnerabilities in the Pulse Secure VPN to bypass two-factor authentication protections and gain stealthy access to networks belonging to a raft of organizations in the US Defense industry and elsewhere, researchers said.

At least one of the security flaws is a zero-day, meaning it was unknown to Pulse Secure developers and most of the research world when hackers began actively exploiting it, security firm Mandiant said in a blog post published Tuesday. Besides CVE-2021-22893, as the zero-day is tracked, multiple hacking groups—and at least one that likely works on behalf of the Chinese government—are also exploiting several Pulse Secure vulnerabilities fixed in 2019 and 2020.

Under siege

“Mandiant is currently tracking 12 malware families associated with the exploitation of Pulse Secure VPN devices,” researchers Dan Perez, Sarah Jones, Greg Wood, and Stephen Eckels wrote. “These families are related to the circumvention of authentication and backdoor access to these devices, but they are not necessarily related to each other and have been observed in separate investigations. It is likely that multiple actors are responsible for the creation and deployment of these various code families.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Hackers are exploiting a Pulse Secure 0-day to breach orgs around the world

In evolving to infect mink, SARS-CoV-2’s risk for humans changes

Computer generated graphical representation of the coronavirus.

Enlarge / The coronavirus spike protein that mediates coronavirus entry into host cell. (credit: Design Cells / Getty Images)

We’ve always needed to limit the total SARS-CoV-2 infections for reasons beyond the immediate risk they pose to the infected. Each new infected individual is a chance for the virus to evolve in a way that makes it more dangerous—more infective or more lethal. This is true even when an individual has a completely symptom-free infection. The more the virus replicates, the more mutations it will experience and the greater chance that something threatening will evolve.

One of the disturbing discoveries of the past year has been that it’s not just the human population we have to worry about. SARS-CoV-2 has been found in a number of species, notably cats and mink, that we spend a lot of time around. It has even spread from there to the wild mink population, and the virus has jumped back and forth between humans and farmed mink. These animal reservoirs provide added opportunities for COVID to evolve in ways that make it more dangerous to us—perhaps via mutations that allow it to adapt to the new species.

A group of German researchers has now tested some of the mutations that have appeared in viruses circulating in mink populations, and the news is mixed. One specific mutation makes the virus somewhat less infectious to humans but reduces the probability that antibodies raised against the virus will recognize it.

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Source: Ars Technica – In evolving to infect mink, SARS-CoV-2’s risk for humans changes