The PicoBrew Pico: Getting closer to a counter-top beer-making machine

I’m in my mother’s kitchen in Los Angeles drinking a beer with my sister on a hot spring afternoon. The beer is a bready, hoppy IPA without any overwhelming flavors that would make you think too hard. The alcohol content is acceptable. The brew is properly carbonated and doesn’t taste flat. This beer isn’t going to win any awards, but I could serve it to friends and family without having to apologize for it. In short, it’s easy drinking, something you can have a conversation over.

The beer, however, came from a beer-making machine on my countertop, which was why the overwhelming averageness of the brew instead felt amazing. Maybe that’s a low bar to clear in order to merit applause, but given my past experience with the PicoBrew Zymatic, it felt appropriate.

In 2015, I reviewed the Zymatic, a large machine that was supposed to help brewers cook up their wort automatically—but the fermentation process was largely left in the hands of the Zymatic owner. I produced two below-average beers, perhaps owing to the heatwave I was brewing in at the time (the temperatures surely killed off some yeast). But another part of the problem with the Zymatic was that it combined a machine-driven brewing process with the traditionally hands-on fermentation, bottling, and carbonating processes. It was hardly the “set-it-and-forget-it” appliance that I expected.

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GOP lawmaker who helped kill ISP privacy rules proposes new privacy rules

Seven weeks after Congress voted to prevent implementation of new ISP privacy rules, a lawmaker who helped lead that effort has proposed legislation that would impose similar rules in a new form.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the House version of legislation that ultimately killed those privacy rules in March. But now she’s back with a new bill (full text) that requires broadband providers and websites to obtain users’ opt-in consent before using or sharing Web browsing history, application usage history, and other sensitive data like the content of communications and financial and health information.

There’s one big caveat: Blackburn’s bill would prevent individual states and municipalities from imposing laws that are stricter than the proposed federal standard.

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BostonGlobe.com disables articles when your browser’s in private mode

The Boston Globe website is closing off a hole in its paywall by preventing visitors who aren’t logged in from reading articles in a browser’s private mode.

“You’re using a browser set to private or incognito mode” is the message given to BostonGlobe.com visitors who click on articles in private mode. “To continue reading articles in this mode, please log in to your Globe account.” People who aren’t already Globe subscribers are urged to subscribe.

Like other news sites, the Globe limits the number of articles people can read without a subscription. Until the recent change, Globe website visitors could read more articles for free by switching to private or incognito mode. (You can still get a new supply of free articles by clearing the Globe‘s cookies from your browser.)

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A Trump FCC advisor’s proposal for bringing free Internet to poor people

When Donald Trump won the presidency, his early decisions made it clear that the Federal Communications Commission would become much less strict in regulating Internet service providers. The FCC transition team he formed to chart a new course for the agency was primarily composed of people who oppose net neutrality rules and want ISPs to face fewer regulations in general. After the transition advisors finished their analysis and made recommendations, Trump named Republican Ajit Pai the new chairman, and Pai has since gotten to work reversing the net neutrality rules and other decisions made by his Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler.

One of the most immediate changes was that the FCC leadership now fully supports zero-rating, the practice in which ISPs exempt some websites and online services from data caps, often in exchange for payment from the websites. Zero-rating is controversial in the US and abroad, with many consumer advocates and regulators saying it violates the net neutrality principle that all online content should be treated equally by network providers.

But some zero-rating proponents believe it can serve a noble purpose—bringing Internet access to poor people who otherwise would not be online. That’s the view of Roslyn Layton, who served on Trump’s FCC transition team, does telecom research at Aalborg University in Denmark, and works as a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

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Where a solar roof works and where it doesn’t

Last week, Tesla and Tesla’s newly-purchased solar-panel company SolarCity announced that they’d be taking pre-orders at $1,000 a pop for installations of their new solar roof product. The solar roof is made up of tiles—some that produce solar power and some inert—that look just like regular roof tiles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the solar roof late last year, just before investors were about to vote on whether the electric-car company should buy SolarCity. At the reveal, Musk told the crowd that “the goal is to have a roof that’s less than the installed cost of a roof plus electricity.” Later, in a conversation with reporters, Musk said “It’s not gonna make sense for somebody to replace a brand-new roof with a solar roof.”

But after that announcement, the CEO got bolder with his claims on the cost of his company’s roof, saying at a shareholder meeting that “It’s looking quite promising that a solar roof actually [costs] less than normal roof before you even take the value of electricity into account.”

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Journalist allegedly “manhandled by FCC guards” for asking questions

Federal Communications Commission officials said they apologized to a journalist today after the reporter accused FCC guards of “manhandling” him for trying to ask questions after a press conference ended.

CQ Roll Call reporter John Donnelly, who is chairman of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team and president of the Military Reporters & Editors association, “said he ran afoul of plainclothes security personnel at the FCC when he tried to ask commissioners questions when they were not in front of the podium at a scheduled press conference,” The National Press Club reported.

“When Donnelly strolled in an unthreatening way toward FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned Donnelly against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O’Rielly had passed,” the report said. “O’Rielly witnessed this and continued walking.”

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Net neutrality going down in flames as FCC votes to kill Title II rules

The US Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 today to start the process of eliminating net neutrality rules and the classification of home and mobile Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes eliminating the Title II classification and seeks comment on what, if anything, should replace the current net neutrality rules. But Chairman Ajit Pai is making no promises about reinstating the two-year-old net neutrality rules that forbid ISPs from blocking or throttling lawful Internet content or prioritizing content in exchange for payment. Pai’s proposal argues that throttling websites and applications might somehow help Internet users.

The FCC plans to take comments on its plan until August 16 (the docket is available here) and then make a final decision sometime after that.

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Mercedes-Benz Energy pairs with solar company to sell batteries, rooftop panels

Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler is evidently planning for a future where luxury cars refuel in their own garages. The German automaker is announcing a partnership with Vivint, an American solar panel installer, to sell residential solar panels with modular, stationary storage batteries.

The venture is a product of Mercedes-Benz Energy, a new subsidiary created in 2016 to move into the residential energy storage market. The company builds 2.5kWh lithium-ion batteries in Germany, which can be interconnected to create a system as large as 20kWh.

Mandi West, a spokesperson for Vivint, said the price of the system would vary. “A fully installed 2.5kWh battery system, when paired with a solar energy system will cost about $5,000,” she said. But a 20kWh system will only cost about $13,000 fully installed. “Some installations may cost more or less depending on customer needs/special requests,” West added.

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