Welcome back to 5Things, the weekly newsletter where I talk about 5 things that caught my eye this week! This is the second edition, last week we talked about SpaceX and the GameStop saga. I hope to continue this for as long as I can we’ll see how long I can keep it up!
SpaceX and Jared Isaacman announced the Inspiration4 mission, SpaceX’s first flight of private citizens. Isaccman will fund the flight for himself and three other passengers. The exact timeline and destination of the mission are currently unknown. The remaining seats will be picked at random from people who donate $10 or more to St. Jude’s hospital.
This mission marks the first time private citizens will travel to space on a capsule manufactured by a private company. The Dragon 2 capsule developed by SpaceX was originally intended to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station as an entry in the Commercial Crew Program, the capsule was also developed with intensions of being used for commercial endeavors. While I personally won’t be entering, I am interested to see how this mission will play out!
Further Reading: SpaceX will launch billionaire Jared Isaacman on a private spaceflight this year – Space.com, SpaceX announces Inspiration4, all-civilian space mission in support of St Jude’s Hospital – NASASpaceFlight.com
2. Comcast’s heart grows one size bigger
Assumedly because of the pandemic, Comcast announced that they were expanding Xfinity data caps to more customers. Previously, customers in metropolitan areas were limited to using only 1.2 TB of data every month. If they used more, overages were added to their bill. Customers in rural areas were not subject to the same rules. I’m assuming that this is a result of increased usage on residential networks. However, I think Comcast could reach into their deep pockets instead of adding additional fees to the already sky-high bills of their customers.
Pennsylvania’s attorney general Josh Shapiro raised objections to the change, causing Comcast to delay the change until July. They apparently can wait a few more months to squeeze more money out of their customers.
Further Reading: Comcast is delaying its rollout of 1.2TB data caps that would have hit 12 states in March – The Verge, Comcast suspends Internet data limits, fees for Northeast customers – The Washington Post
3. TikTok comes to the big screen
The ultra-popular social media app TikTok is coming to the big screen! TikTok’s vertical-only videos are designed to be viewed on a phone, but can also be viewed on a tablet or through the TikTok web app. But now, for some reason that I have yet to figure out, TikTok is coming to smart TV’s. According to The Verge, TikTok is creating a smart TV app for the European market. Vertical videos on a horizontal TV. I can’t imagine that this will be a pleasant experience, so I suppose that maybe this is an experiment to see if users are interested. If this ever comes to the US, I would like to see how they make vertical videos on a horizontal TV works.
Further Reading: TikTok starts rolling out on Android TV – The Verge
4. Rocket go boom
On Tuesday, SpaceX launched Serial Number 9 of their Starship prototype. The second suborbital test of a Starship, many in the space community predicted that this would be a success. The flight of SN8 in early December ended with a large explosion after an issue with pressure in the fuel tanks. SN9 ended in much the same fashion, but this time because of an engine failure. SN10 is already on the launchpad (as seen above) and ready for its test flight. SpaceX must be very confident in both rockets: confident that SN9’s explosion didn’t damage SN10 and confident that no major changes will be needed to correct the issue SN9 experienced.
Many news outlets report that this was a failed, botched, or unsuccessful test flight. However, they are terribly mistaken. This flight was nothing but a test. Yes, the rocket was intended to land in one piece, but data from this launch should prevent the same issue from happening down the road. SpaceX anticipates failure, and is ready to make changes if necessary to the next rocket. While it may be easy to call this a failure, I think we should call it successful as it will push the Starship program further. (( I’m really passionate about the Starship program, maybe I’ll write a blog post on it in the future…))
Further Reading: Starship SN9 loses a Raptor during flip. RUD comes as future Starships line up – NASASpaceFlight
5. Update Chrome!
News broke Friday of a few major vulnerabilities in Google Chrome, the world’s most popular browser.
A very popular extension called The Great Suspender was found to be tracking users without their knowledge. As a user of this extension, I’m terrified. It’s possible that the extension could steal passwords and other sensitive data. Google removed the extension from the Chrome Web Store and all active Chrome installations. Apparently the extension was sold by the original developer and the new owners aren’t as trustworthy.
Second, a buffer overflow attack was discovered by a third party security firm. While details are sparse, we do know that the vulnerability was being exploited by a nation state. This exploit was being actively used in the wild, putting users at risk. Finally, it was discovered that Chrome’s sync feature could be used to bypass firewalls and allow malicious extensions to report to command and control servers. While this vulnerability was not as easy to implement, it is still kind of a big deal.
The major problem with Chrome having so many vulnerabilities is its reach. Chrome is the most popular browser on the market, but it is also the base of many other popular browsers. Microsoft Edge, Brave, Vivaldi, Opera, Avast/AVG Secure Browser are all based directly on Chrome. If Chrome is vulnerable, so are these (and more) third party browsers.
The moral of the story: UPDATE CHROME. NOW. You should update your browser often anyway, but especially when major vulnerabilities are announced. Gizmodo provides a great guide on how to do so.
Further Reading: Chrome users have faced 3 security concerns over the past 24 hours – Ars Technica, Google patches an actively exploited Chrome zero-day – ZDNet
BONUS: Why are email newsletters seeing a resurgence?
I’ve been wondering why email newsletters have seen a comeback in recent months. I thought that email had given way to social media, but apparently not. I have two potential theories. Because of the pandemic, we have all had more time to scroll through social media. One person can only handle so much Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Email newsletters are a very different form of entertainment- instead of reading whatever the algorithm decides, you can sign up for specific newsletters that provide news on a topic that you want to learn more about. Also, our increased time on social media has introduced more controversy in the form of comment sections. Email newsletters are one way with no discussion, mostly eliminating any controversy.
I’m convinced that email newsletters will see increased interest in the next year, but I’m not sure that it will stay permanently. Twitter just bought the Revue newsletter platform and Facebook is reportedly working on newsletter tools on its platform. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but I think this might be the year of the newsletter.
Thanks again for reading 5Things, let me know what you thought in the comment section below. Let me know if you like this format of if there is something else I should try!
Speaking of email newsletters…