Firefox releases Android app for its VPN serviceYou still need an invite to try it out, though

Mozilla, the organization behind the much-loved Firefox web browser, has experimented with creating a VPN service for some time. Unlike the VPNs packaged with browsers like Opera, Mozilla always intended for it to be a paid service, to avoid profiting off user data. While the VPN service is still in a closed beta, the Android app for it is now available.

The Play Store listing is light on details, but the official site for the Firefox Private Network has everything you need to know. The service is powered by Mullvad VPN, which claims to have a no-logging policy. Instead of more traditional protocols like OpenVPN or IPsec, Firefox Private Network utilizes the newer WireGuard standard, which is designed to offer faster speeds and improved encryption. Most VPN services don’t support WireGuard, so that’s likely the key advantage to Firefox’s service.

Firefox Private Network also boasts servers in over 30 countries and support for up to five simultaneous connections. The service currently costs $4.99/mo, though Firefox says this is “limited-time beta pricing.”

Firefox Private Network VPN
Developer: Mozilla
Price: Free

MIT Devises More Efficient Error Correction for Quantum Devices

Quantum Errors Diamond Crystal

A new study suggests a path to correcting the “jitters” in quantum devices, which may help make quantum computers and sensors more practical.

Labs around the world are racing to develop new computing and sensing devices that operate on the principles of quantum mechanics and could offer dramatic advantages over their classical counterparts. But these technologies still face several challenges, and one of the most significant is how to deal with “noise” — random fluctuations that can eradicate the data stored in such devices.

A new approach developed by researchers at MIT could provide a significant step forward in quantum error correction. The method involves fine-tuning the system to address the kinds of noise that are the most likely, rather than casting a broad net to try to catch all possible sources of disturbance.

The analysis is described in the journal Physical Review Letters, in a paper by MIT graduate student David Layden, postdoc Mo Chen, and professor of nuclear science and engineering Paola Cappellaro.

“The main issues we now face in developing quantum technologies are that current systems are small and noisy,” says Layden. Noise, meaning unwanted disturbance of any kind, is especially vexing because many quantum systems are inherently highly sensitive, a feature underlying some of their potential applications.

And there’s another issue, Layden says, which is that quantum systems are affected by any observation. So, while one can detect that a classical system is drifting and apply a correction to nudge it back, things are more complicated in the quantum world. “What’s really tricky about quantum systems is that when you look at them, you tend to collapse them,” he says.

Classical error correction schemes are based on redundancy. For example, in a communication system subject to noise, instead of sending a single bit (1 or 0), one might send three copies of each (111 or 000). Then, if the three bits don’t match, that shows there was an error. The more copies of each bit get sent, the more effective the error correction can be.

The same essential principle could be applied to adding redundancy in quantum bits, or “qubits.” But, Layden says, “If I want to have a high degree of protection, I need to devote a large part of my system to doing these sorts of checks. And this is a nonstarter right now because we have fairly small systems; we just don’t have the resources to do particularly useful quantum error correction in the usual way.” So instead, the researchers found a way to target the error correction very narrowly at the specific kinds of noise that were most prevalent.

The quantum system they’re working with consists of carbon nuclei near a particular kind of defect in a diamond crystal called a nitrogen vacancy center. These defects behave like single, isolated electrons, and their presence enables the control of the nearby carbon nuclei.

But the team found that the overwhelming majority of the noise affecting these nuclei came from one single source: random fluctuations in the nearby defects themselves. This noise source can be accurately modeled, and suppressing its effects could have a major impact, as other sources of noise are relatively insignificant.

“We actually understand quite well the main source of noise in these systems,” Layden says. “So we don’’ have to cast a wide net to catch every hypothetical type of noise.”

The team came up with a different error correction strategy, tailored to counter this particular, dominant source of noise. As Layden describes it, the noise comes from “this one central defect, or this one central ‘electron,’ which has a tendency to hop around at random. It jitters.”

That jitter, in turn, is felt by all those nearby nuclei, in a predictable way that can be corrected.

“The upshot of our approach is that we’re able to get a fixed level of protection using far fewer resources than would otherwise be needed,” he says. “We can use a much smaller system with this targeted approach.”

The work so far is theoretical, and the team is actively working on a lab demonstration of this principle in action. If it works as expected, this could make up an important component of future quantum-based technologies of various kinds, the researchers say, including quantum computers that could potentially solve previously unsolvable problems, or quantum communications systems that could be immune to snooping, or highly sensitive sensor systems.

“This is a component that could be used in a number of ways,” Layden says. “It’s as though we’re developing a key part of an engine. We’re still a ways from building a full car, but we’ve made progress on a critical part.”

“Quantum error correction is the next challenge for the field,” says Alexandre Blais, a professor of physics at the University of Sherbrooke, in Canada, who was not associated with this work. “The complexity of current quantum error correcting codes is, however, daunting as they require a very large number of qubits to robustly encode quantum information.”

Blais adds, “We have now come to realize that exploiting our understanding of the devices in which quantum error correction is to be implemented can be very advantageous. This work makes an important contribution in this direction by showing that a common type of error can be corrected for in a much more efficient manner than expected. For quantum computers to become practical we need more ideas like this.​”

Reference: “Efficient Quantum Error Correction of Dephasing Induced by a Common Fluctuator” by David Layden, Mo Chen (陈墨) and Paola Cappellaro, 17 January 2020, Physical Review Letters.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.020504

The research was supported by the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

Scientists Built a Genius Device That Generates Electricity ‘Out of Thin Air’

18 FEB 2020

They found it buried in the muddy shores of the Potomac River more than three decades ago: a strange “sediment organism” that could do things nobody had ever seen before in bacteria.

This unusual microbe, belonging to the Geobacter genus, was first noted for its ability to produce magnetite in the absence of oxygen, but with time scientists found it could make other things too, like bacterial nanowires that conduct electricity.

For years, researchers have been trying to figure out ways to usefully exploit that natural gift, and they might have just hit pay-dirt with a device they’re calling the Air-gen. According to the team, their device can create electricity out of… well, almost nothing.

“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says electrical engineer Jun Yao from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.”

The claim may sound like an overstatement, but a new study by Yao and his team describes how the air-powered generator can indeed create electricity with nothing but the presence of air around it. It’s all thanks to the electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by Geobacter (G. sulfurreducens, in this instance).

The Air-gen consists of a thin film of the protein nanowires measuring just 7 micrometres thick, positioned between two electrodes, but also exposed to the air.

Because of that exposure, the nanowire film is able to adsorb water vapour that exists in the atmosphere, enabling the device to generate a continuous electrical current conducted between the two electrodes.

The team says the charge is likely created by a moisture gradient that creates a diffusion of protons in the nanowire material.

“This charge diffusion is expected to induce a counterbalancing electrical field or potential analogous to the resting membrane potential in biological systems,” the authors explain in their study.

“A maintained moisture gradient, which is fundamentally different to anything seen in previous systems, explains the continuous voltage output from our nanowire device.”

The discovery was made almost by accident, when Yao noticed devices he was experimenting with were conducting electricity seemingly all by themselves.

“I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current,” Yao says.

“I found that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water, producing a voltage gradient across the device.”

Previous research has demonstrated hydrovoltaic power generation using other kinds of nanomaterials – such as graphene – but those attempts have largely produced only short bursts of electricity, lasting perhaps only seconds.

By contrast, the Air-gen produces a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts, with a current density of about 17 microamperes per square centimetre. That’s not much energy, but the team says that connecting multiple devices could generate enough power to charge small devices like smartphones and other personal electronics – all with no waste, and using nothing but ambient humidity (even in regions as dry as the Sahara Desert).

“The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems,” Yao says, explaining that future efforts could use the technology to power homes via nanowire incorporated into wall paint.

“Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production.”

If there is a hold-up to realising this seemingly incredible potential, it’s the limited amount of nanowire G. sulfurreducens produces.

Related research by one of the team – microbiologist Derek Lovley, who first identified Geobacter microbes back in the 1980s – could have a fix for that: genetically engineering other bugs, like E. coli, to perform the same trick in massive supplies.

“We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory,” Lovley says.

“With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications.”

The findings are reported in Nature.

Learn More

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    Y Gen et al., International Journal of Gynecologic Cancer, 2019
  2. Determining value of Coordinated Registry Networks (CRNs): a case of transcatheter valve therapies
    Gregory Pappas et al., BMJ Surgery, Interventions, & Health Technologies, 2019


Join us on Wednesday, February 19 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source Neuroscience Hardware Hack Chat with Dr. Alexxai Kravitz and Dr. Mark Laubach!

There was a time when our planet still held mysteries, and pith-helmeted or fur-wrapped explorers could sally forth and boldly explore strange places for what they were convinced was the first time. But with every mountain climbed, every depth plunged, and every desert crossed, fewer and fewer places remained to be explored, until today there’s really nothing left to discover.

Unless, of course, you look inward to the most wonderfully complex structure ever found: the brain. In humans, the 86 billion neurons contained within our skulls make trillions of connections with each other, weaving the unfathomably intricate pattern of electrochemical circuits that make you, you. Wonders abound there, and anyone seeing something new in the space between our ears really is laying eyes on it for the first time.

But the brain is a difficult place to explore, and specialized tools are needed to learn its secrets. Lex Kravitz, from Washington University, and Mark Laubach, from American University, are neuroscientists who’ve learned that sometimes you have to invent the tools of the trade on the fly. While exploring topics as wide-ranging as obesity, addiction, executive control, and decision making, they’ve come up with everything from simple jigs for brain sectioning to full feeding systems for rodent cages. They incorporate microcontrollers, IoT, and tons of 3D-printing to build what they need to get the job done, and they share these designs on OpenBehavior, a collaborative space for the open-source neuroscience community.

Join us for the Open-Source Neuroscience Hardware Hack Chat this week where we’ll discuss the exploration of the real final frontier, and find out what it takes to invent the tools before you get to use them.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 19 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Python, microservices, and more tech trends for 2020, according to O’Reilly

Interest in Kubernetes is increasing, and DevOps is losing steam, based on O’Reilly survey findings.

Tech education firm O’Reilly has released its annual study of how students used its platform in the past year, and its findings deserve attention from tech decision makers. The report, which combines both usage and search data from O’Reilly’s online learning platform, paints an excellent picture of what’s trending in the tech world. By looking at what those in the trenches of development and engineering are spending time on, leaders can get an idea of what to expect in the year to come.

O’Reilly said it found five trends in its data that tech leaders should be aware of as 2020 unfolds.

1: Python is the most popular programming language

A full 10% of all use of O’Reilly’s online training is spent on Python, making it far and away the most popular programming language—and item—in O’Reilly’s library.

SEE: Python programming language: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The reason for Python’s popularity isn’t because of its perfection as a programming language, but rather because of its importance in machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and data analysis.

As long as AI, ML, and analytics keep trending up, Python will probably do so as well. Tech leaders in those fields should be sure they have skilled Python coders on hand.

2:  Software architecture, infrastructure, and operations are undergoing rapid change

O’Reilly found that the way people are learning about, and searching for, architecture, infrastructure, and operations content has shifted in a big way, and the reason is simple: The cloud.

SEE: Cheat sheet: The most important cloud advances of the decade (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

“Cloud native design is a new way of thinking about software and architecture,” O’Reilly said in the report. People are now searching for cloud architecture elements like microservices and containers—Kubernetes in particular saw a huge increase in the past two years.

DevOps is on the decline, and O’Reilly finds that it may be because DevOps isn’t scaling as well as it should in many cases. Along with scaling issues, DevOps may not be producing the full-stack developers that it relies on.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Full Stack Developer (TechRepublic Premium) 

3: Is interest in AI declining?

AI and ML grew at half the rate they did in 2018, which may seem like a loss of interest, but O’Reilly said that’s actually not the case at all. There have been drops in fields related to ML and AI in 2019, specifically data management and data engineering, but where are those learners going?

“The strength of ML/AI might be less evident in data-specific topics than in other topic areas, such as programming languages, where growing Python usage is—to a large degree—being driven by that language’s usefulness for and applicability to ML.”

SEE: Special report: Managing AI and ML in the enterprise (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

4: The cloud’s importance remains clear

Growth in cloud learning continued, albeit at a slower rate. That’s not to say the cloud is getting boring: “This slowdown suggests that cloud as a category has achieved such a large share that (mathematically) any additional growth must occur at a slower rate,” the report said.

In 2019, O’Reilly did see changes in the interest in microservices and Kubernetes.

Current trends in cloud that O’Reilly said this data shows are a loss of distinction between the public and private cloud and the growing importance of microservices as an essential component of cloud-native design.

5: Security, security, security

“If the sustained growth in security usage on O’Reilly is a reliable indicator, it’s possible that security may, finally, be getting the attention it deserves in an increasingly digital world,” the report said.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Security architect (TechRepublic Premium)

Security usage grew significantly in 2019, according to O’Reilly. A lot of people have taken the entry-level Security+ certification test, suggesting non-security specialists are cross training or adding security to their knowledge base.

It’s worth hoping that the growth in security usage is a sign of the growing importance of cybersecurity, but O’Reilly isn’t necessarily taking the sustained increase as a guarantee of change. Instead, it said, this could be an indicator of cyclical security spending after a series of large-profile hacks and breaches.

Firefox 73.0.1 will be released later today

Mozilla plans to release Firefox 73.0.1 to the Stable channel later today. The new version is a bug fix release that fixes several issues in Firefox including crashes on some Linux and Windows machines.

The release is already available on third-party websites and Mozilla servers, but it is advised to wait with the upgrade until the official release announcements.

Firefox users may then select Menu > Help > About Firefox to check for the update to have it downloaded and installed.

Firefox 73.0.1

firefox 73.0.1

Firefox 73.0.1 fixes crashes in Windows and Linux instances of the web browser. Windows users started to report issues after upgrading to new versions of the Firefox web browser last month (in Nightly). Firefox would open but would not navigate to any URL or open any internal pages (about:config or about:addons).

Analysis showed that certain third-party applications, specifically programs by G Data and 0Patch, caused the issue on Windows systems Firefox was run on.

The engineer who has been assigned to fix the issue discovered that the programs were injecting dlls into the browser process which caused the issue.

Ok, I confirmed this issue with G DATA Internet Security 2020 for Windows. Looks like they inject C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\G Data\AVKProxy\ExploitProtection64.dll into the browser process, which modifies ntdll’s export table. With the fix for bug 1608645, detouring ntdll’s functions fail when modification is detected, resulting in no content processes. Let’s find out how we can be compatible with the variation of export table tampering such as 0Patch and G Data..

The new Firefox version addresses another issue on Windows systems. The bug report on Bugzilla reveals that Firefox would not work anymore when the browser was launched in Windows 7 Compatibility Mode or when custom anti-exploit settings are used. The symptoms are identical to those of the issue mentioned above; Firefox becomes unable to load any URL.

Firefox 73.0.1 fixes crashes on Linux devices that occurred when playing encrypted content. A user reported the bug seven days ago after noticing that the attempt to play music on Tidal would throws a “plugin crashed” notification in Firefox.

The two remaining issues fix connection problems to the RBC bank website, which resulted in a blank page for some users who logged into the site, and Firefox unexpectedly exiting when leaving Print Preview mode.

Now You: did you run into any of these issues?

Firefox 73.0.1 will be released later today
Article Name
Firefox 73.0.1 will be released later today
Mozilla plans to release Firefox 73.0.1 to the Stable channel later today to fix several crash issues and other issues in the Stable version of Firefox.
Martin Brinkmann
Ghacks Technology News


  1. Addy T. said on February 18, 2020 at 8:32 am


    No, I had no issues, and I was surprised to learn about them. I have, however, tested Edge Chromium (Win7) after this site reported on it, and ran into messy issues which made me to like Firefox even more.

    I used Chrome years ago. I used an extension called Chrono Download Manager which was quite useful. Chrome’s and Edge’s default way to display downloads is plain nasty (fat bar at the bottom that has to be clicked away). So when I got Edge I went to the store looking for that extension.

    It was gone.

    My first thought that it was/had become spyware. I looked it up, and apparently it was removed because it has a sniffer that allows downloading from YouTube.

    So I downloaded the extension package from a 3rd-party site. When I dragged and dropped it in Edge, it refused to install it (a Microsoft product enforcing Google censorship!), and then it deleted the file.

    That’s no joke.

    I tried it several times because I could not believe it. It deleted a file that I owned, without a warning.

    I’m not totally clueless, so I immediately enabled developer mode, unpacked the extension and installed it the way you have to do it in such cases.

    Since then, I cannot open Edge without a warning that an extension was installed in developer mode, despite I have disabled that mode again. I have to close the message before the remaining extension symbols are loaded. Or I have to use DownThemAll as my normal download tool, which still means that I’m not allowed to use the browser in the way I want, for no particular reason. (DTA on Edge also doesn’t seem to remove completed dowloads, even after a restart.)

    We had that mess with the disabled Firefox extensions last year. That was a disgrace, but it was due to human error. Edge, perhaps all browsers based on Chrome’s engine, harasses me by design. To cap it all off, it’s done because a Google ban on YouTube downloads (a multi-billion dollar company protecting its financial interests and control over content in a dumb, useless way). And anyway, if you use such a browser, you seem to depend on Goggle’s store, which is not merely curated by them but also frequently pinged by your extensions.

    I have expressed some negative opinions about Mozilla, and supported criticism of them, but this is unacceptable.

    In addition, using other browsers has shown me how much better Firefox’s user interface is, with easy access to your history (yes without typing guesswork in the address bar), a convenient way to display and manage downloads, and a lot of configuration options (used Edge flags, didn’t help me). I will not quit this browser to load pages 100 milliseconds faster (I notice speed differences only on a few selected sites; pre-Quantum Firefox was significantly worse).

    Perhaps there are hidden options to handle these annoyances, and I do not know them. I try to be fair. I try other browsers. I don’t want to depend on Firefox. I just never get anything that’s actually better working for me. (Can be different for others — but personally, I still have to recommend Firefox.)

Solar Technology Breakthrough: World Record Quantum Dot Solar Cell Efficiency

Quantum Dot Solar Cells

The development of next-generation solar power technology that has potential to be used as a flexible ‘skin’ over hard surfaces has moved a step closer, thanks to a significant breakthrough at The University of Queensland.

UQ researchers set a world record for the conversion of solar energy to electricity via the use of tiny nanoparticles called ‘quantum dots’, which pass electrons between one another and generate electrical current when exposed to solar energy in a solar cell device.

The development represents a significant step towards making the technology commercially-viable and supporting global renewable energy targets.

Professor Lianzhou Wang, who led the breakthrough, said conventional solar technologies used rigid, expensive materials. “The new class of quantum dots the University has developed are flexible and printable,” he said. “This opens up a huge range of potential applications, including the possibility to use it as a transparent skin to power cars, planes, homes, and wearable technology.

Lianzhou Wang Quantum Dot Solar Cells

“Eventually it could play a major part in meeting the United Nations’ goal to increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.”

Professor Wang’s team set the world record for quantum dot solar cell efficiency by developing a unique surface engineering strategy.

Overcoming previous challenges around the fact that the surface of quantum dots tend to be rough and unstable – making them less efficient at converting solar into electrical current.

“This new generation of quantum dots is compatible with more affordable and large-scale printable technologies,” Professor Wang said. “The near 25 percent improvement in efficiency we have achieved over the previous world record is important. It is effectively the difference between quantum dot solar cell technology being an exciting ‘prospect’ and being commercially viable.”

The University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj AC extended his congratulations to the UQ team.

“The world needs to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and this requires us to invest much more in research to improve existing energy-generation technologies and develop entirely new ones,” Professor Høj said.

“Harnessing the power of fundamental technological and scientific research is a big part of this process – and that’s what we’re focused on at UQ.”

Reference: “Ligand-assisted cation-exchange engineering for high-efficiency colloidal Cs1xFAxPbI3 quantum dot solar cells with reduced phase segregation” by Mengmeng Hao, Yang Bai, Stefan Zeiske, Long Ren, Junxian Liu, Yongbo Yuan, Nasim Zarrabi, Ningyan Cheng, Mehri Ghasemi, Peng Chen, Miaoqiang Lyu, Dongxu He, Jung-Ho Yun, Yi Du, Yun Wang, Shanshan Ding, Ardalan Armin, Paul Meredith, Gang Liu, Hui-Ming Cheng and Lianzhou Wang, 20 January 2020, Nature Energy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0535-7

The work was funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Programs in collaboration with a number of colleagues both in Australia and overseas.