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Industry & Technology

The world’s fastest ant clocks record speed of 108 times its own body length

Ars Technica - 9 hours 5 min ago

Enlarge / A soldier Saharan silver ant (Cataglyphis bombycina) in the desert at Douz, Tunisia. (credit: Harald Wolf)

Saharan silver ants routinely brave the blazing-hot midday sun in the desert to forage for food. That's a time of day when sand temperatures can be as high as 140°F (60°C), and many insects perish under those conditions, making it prime foraging time. But it's also risky for the silver ants. Perhaps that's why they are also one of the fastest creatures on the planet, capable of covering their own body length 108 times in a single second, according to a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology. That's equivalent to a human being running roughly a nine-second mile.

Silver ants have a number of ways to deal with the harsh desert conditions. Their silver appearance, for instance, is due to small triangular hairs that help them regulate temperature. The ants also have strong navigational skills, often finding pockets of shade under small rocks or blades of grass. And they return regularly to their nests to cool off. Being able to move across the sand quickly is key to their survival—and anyone who has walked or run on a beach knows that the granular nature of sand can slow down movement and expend more energy than walking or running on, say, a dry salt pan.

Harald Wolf, a neurobiologist at the University of Ulm in Germany, noticed the presence of silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina) during a trip to the Tunisian desert to study one of its larger cousins, Cataglyphis fortis. He returned to the Tunisian town of Douz with his team in 2015 to study the creatures more closely.

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Ghost nets: Tackling a silent killer of the seas

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 14 min ago
Ghost nets kill huge numbers of marine animals every year, but new tech might help prevent that.

Banning out-of-hours email 'could harm employee wellbeing'

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 16 min ago
Stopping staff accessing email outside the office could leave some feeling stressed, research suggests.

Unpatched Linux bug may open devices to serious attacks over Wi-Fi

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 10:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Wi-Fi Alliance)

A potentially serious vulnerability in Linux may make it possible for nearby devices to use Wi-Fi signals to crash or fully compromise vulnerable machines, a security researcher said.

The flaw is located in the RTLWIFI driver, which is used to support Realtek Wi-Fi chips in Linux devices. The vulnerability triggers a buffer overflow in the Linux kernel when a machine with a Realtek Wi-Fi chip is within radio range of a malicious device. At a minimum, exploits would cause an operating-system crash and could possibly allow a hacker to gain complete control of the computer. The flaw dates back to version 3.10.1 of the Linux kernel released in 2013.

"The bug is serious," Nico Waisman, who is a principal security engineer at Github, told Ars. "It's a vulnerability that triggers an overflow remotely through Wi-Fi on the Linux kernel, as long as you're using the Realtek (RTLWIFI) driver."

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So long, supply drops: Call of Duty gets rid of randomized loot boxes

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 9:58pm

Enlarge / This image of a Call of Duty supply drop falling to the ground can also symbolize the entire concept floating up and out of our lives. (credit: Call of Duty)

In a major reversal for the franchise, Activision has announced that the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will not include a loot-box system. Specifically, the company says that "all functional content that has an impact on game balance, such as base weapons and attachments, can be unlocked simply by playing the game."

Loot boxes have been a staple of the Call of Duty franchise since 2014's Advanced Warfare, which included randomized "supply drops" of high-end gear that could be purchased with real money or in-game currency. More recently, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 introduced a loot-box system four months after its launch, a decision that led to a lot of money for the publisher and a lot of anger from franchise fans.

User interface elements from last month's Modern Warfare beta suggested Activision was planning to continue the tradition with a "Lootbox: Common Supply Drop" option in the upcoming game. But developer Infinity Ward took to Reddit earlier this week to offer some pushback on those reports, saying that "right now... we are definitely NOT working on any kind of supply drop or loot box system."

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Senators propose near-total ban on worker noncompete agreements

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 9:45pm

Enlarge / "We heard from people working at pizza parlors" being asked to sign noncompete agreements, a Massachusetts state legislator told Ars last year. (credit: Valentyn Semenov / EyeEm / Getty)

A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced legislation to drastically limit the use of noncompete agreements across the US economy.

"Noncompete agreements stifle wage growth, career advancement, innovation, and business creation," argued Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) in a Thursday press release. He said that the legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), would "empower our workers and entrepreneurs so they can freely apply their talents where their skills are in greatest demand."

Noncompete agreements ban workers from performing similar work at competing firms for a limited period—often one or two years. These agreements have become widely used in recent decades—and not just for employees with sensitive business intelligence or client relationships.

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Physicists propose listening for dark matter with plasma-based “axion radio”

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 9:31pm

Enlarge / The Bullet Cluster is widely viewed as a clear demonstration of the existence of dark matter. (credit: APOD)

Dark matter is the mysterious substance that comprises about 23 percent of all the mass in our universe, but thus far it has eluded physicists' many attempts to directly detect it. Maybe instead of looking for a dark matter particle, they should be looking for something more akin to a wave—a hypothetical dark matter candidate known as an axion.

In that case, perhaps we should be "listening" for the dark matter. Physicists at Stockholm University and the Max Planck Institute of Physics have proposed a novel design for an "axion radio" that employs cold plasmas (gases or liquids of charged particles) to do just that in a recent paper in Physical Review Letters.

"Finding the axion is a bit like tuning a radio: you have to tune your antenna until you pick up the right frequency," said co-author Alexander Millar, a postdoc at Stockholm University. "Rather than music, experimentalists would be rewarded with 'hearing' the dark matter that the Earth is traveling through."

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Three phone services restored 'for majority'

BBC Technology News - October 17, 2019 - 9:01pm
Three says it is experiencing "technical difficulties with voice, text and data".

Juul halts sales of some flavors—but not the ones teens use most

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 8:54pm

Enlarge / Crème brulee getting torched. (credit: Getty | Anne Cusack)

Leading e-cigarette maker Juul on Thursday announced that it is immediately suspending the sale of some of its flavored products—Mango, Fruit, Creme (crème brulee), and Cucumber.

Notably, mint and menthol flavored products are not included in the pack of extinguished flavors.

The move is ostensibly to ease growing alarm over the spike of vaping among teens—who strongly prefer flavored products. About 25% of high school seniors reported recent e-cigarette use in a health survey this year, up from 11% in 2017. About 12% of students said this year that they used the products on a daily basis.

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Two papers that we’ve covered have been retracted—here’s why

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 8:40pm

Enlarge / Dikembe Mutombo rejects your flawed publication. (credit: DAVID MAXWELL / Getty Images)

Science is an activity performed by humans, so it's inevitable that some of the scientific papers we cover will end up being wrong. As we noted yesterday, the cause can range from factors completely outside of a researcher's control—like OS implementation oddities—to mistakes and errors or even intentional fraud. In some cases, the problems are minor or peripheral to the main conclusions of a study and can be handled with a correction. In others, the issues are fatal to the paper's conclusion. In these cases, the only option is to retract the paper.

When Ars discovers that a paper we've covered has been retracted, we make an effort to go back and provide a notice of it in our article. But until recently, we didn't have a formal policy regarding what that notice should look like, and we typically didn't publish anything new to indicate a retraction had occurred.

Having given it some thought, that practice seems insufficient. A failure to prominently correct the record makes it easier for people to hang on to a mistaken impression about our state of understanding. Perhaps more importantly, not reporting a retraction leaves people unaware of a key aspect of science's self-correcting nature and how retractions can sometimes actually advance our scientific understanding. This is definitely apparent in the contrast between two retractions that we'll revisit today.

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Privacy bill would give FTC actual authority, land lying executives in jail

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 8:27pm

Enlarge / Sen. Ron Wyden questions witnesses during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on social media influence in the 2016 US elections in Washington, DC, on Nov. 1, 2017. (credit: Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images )

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would like tech and data companies to mind their own business and get their noses out of yours. To that end, he has introduced a bill that would penalize them, potentially with jail time for executives, for not doing so.

The proposed bill (PDF), actually called the "Mind Your Own Business Act of 2019," is in many ways an updated version of a discussion draft Wyden published last November.

The draft does not name any company specifically, instead focusing on the general concepts of personal data and company responsibility. That said, Wyden did name names in a statement, and Facebook is clearly front and center on his radar.

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Facebook chief rules out banning political adverts

BBC Technology News - October 17, 2019 - 8:13pm
Mark Zuckerberg says he does not think it is right for a company to censor politicians or the news.

Dealmaster: Pre-order a Pixel 4 and get a $100 gift card

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 6:51pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a pre-order deal for Google's Pixel 4 smartphones, which were formally unveiled earlier this week. Various retailers—including Best Buy, Amazon, and Google's online store—are currently bundling a $100 gift card with pre-orders of the new devices at their standard MSRPs. The 5.7-inch Pixel 4 starts at $799 for a 64GB model, while the 6.3-inch Pixel 4 XL starts at $899. All of these gift cards are specific to a given retailer, so if you plan to take advantage of the deal, be sure to pick the store you're most likely to use again.

The Dealmaster wants to be clear here: you should only take advantage of this offer if you're already dead set on upgrading to a Pixel 4 at launch. If you're still on the fence, you may be better off waiting to see if Google drops the price of its new phones for the holidays; last year, for instance, Google cut the price of an unlocked Pixel 3 by $150 for Black Friday, less than two months after the phone first hit shelves. There's no guarantee that will happen again—or that the Pixel 4 will not launch with niggling bugs the way the Pixel 3 did out of the gate—but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it. It's also worth reiterating that this is a pre-order deal: while the Pixel 4's 90Hz display and camera upgrades look promising and its guaranteed software upgrades are great, there are still questions we won't be able to answer until we finish fully reviewing the phones.

That said, if you're sold on getting a new Google phone right away—the Pixel line does have a history of great cameras, after all—we think this deal is worth highlighting for those who would rather not tie themselves to a mobile carrier or "bill credits" discounts that won't fully pay off for several months. Just be aware of the context. And if you don't need a new phone, we also have a ton of video game deals, a rare Nintendo Switch discount, and more. Have a look below.

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After flooding US with opioids, industry giants offer $50 billion settlement

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 6:41pm

Enlarge / Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hold signs while protesting during the McKesson Corp. annual meeting at the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce in Irving, Texas, US, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Three of the nation’s largest drug distributors plus two big-name drug makers have reportedly offered a deal worth nearly $50 billion to settle more than two thousand opioid-crisis lawsuits, consolidated in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. The first trial for the cases is scheduled to begin opening statements Monday.

The deal includes around $22 billion in cash, plus drugs and services valued at around $28 billion, according to sources familiar with the negotiations who spoke with Reuters.

Specifically, drug distributors McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp, and Cardinal Health offered $18 billion in cash. Drug maker Johnson & Johnson offered another $4 billion. And finally, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries offered to give away addiction medications and related services in a 10-year program that it estimated has a total value of $28 billion.

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Yahoo is deleting all content ever posted to Yahoo Groups

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 5:41pm

Enlarge / The Yahoo Groups home page. (credit: Yahoo)

Yahoo Groups is shutting down after more than 18 years, and the Verizon-owned company is deleting all content from the site in mid-December.

"Yahoo has made the decision to no longer allow users to upload content to the Yahoo Groups site," the company said in a notice to users. "Beginning October 28, you won't be able to upload any more content to the site, and as of December 14 all previously posted content on the site will be permanently removed. You'll have until that date to save anything you've uploaded."

The notice links to one Yahoo webpage that provides instructions for downloading photos and files from groups that you belong to before the cutoff date, but the process sounds laborious, as it requires clicking on each photo or file you want to download. The shutdown notice also links to a page that provides instructions for requesting a download of all your Yahoo data. This page notes that "It can take up to 30 days for the request to finish processing and the download to become available."

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Anyone can fingerprint unlock a Galaxy S10—just grab a clear phone case

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 5:24pm

Samsung is once again in hot water for a shoddy biometrics implementation. This time the culprit is the Galaxy S10 and its ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint reader, which apparently can be unlocked by anyone as long as there is a screen protector or some other piece of transparent plastic between a finger and the sensor.

British tabloid newspaper The Sun originally reported the news, saying a British woman discovered she could unlock her husband's phone just by adding "a £2.70 screen protector bought on eBay." After reporting the issue to Samsung, the couple says Samsung "admitted it looked like a security breach," and a spokesperson told The Sun, “We’re investigating this internally. We recommend all customers to use Samsung authorised accessories, specifically designed for Samsung products.”

Days later when the BBC picked up the story and contacted Samsung again, the company said it is "aware of the case of S10's malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch."

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Chrome rolls out new protections preventing password and data theft

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Google is temporarily increasing the rewards it pays for hacks that exploit holes in a beefed-up security protection that debuted in desktop versions of Chrome last month. Chrome for Android, meanwhile, is receiving a slimmed-down version of the same protection.

For a limited time, Google will boost its normal bounty amounts for exploits that allow one site the browser is interacting with to steal passwords or other sensitive data from another accessed site. Google is also broadening its vulnerability reward program to include bugs in Blink—the core software that Chrome uses to render HTML and other resources—that allow similar types of cross-site data thefts.

Fortress of solitude

The changes come a month after the release of Chrome 77, which quietly strengthened an existing protection known as site isolation. Google developers first added site isolation in July 2018 in a highly ambitious engineering feat that required major architectural changes to the way the browser worked under the hood.

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Google Pixel 4 Face Unlock works if eyes are shut

BBC Technology News - October 17, 2019 - 4:35pm
Google confirms its new security system may unlock a person's device even if their eyes are shut.

Acer Swift 3 review: Better as a budget device than as a mid-range laptop

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 4:22pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The Acer Swift 3 laptop is not a flagship, but its lack of anything strange, striking, or gimmicky may work in its favor. While the Swift 3 starts at $479, most of its configurations (including our review unit) cost between $699 and $999. That puts it in line with the entry-level models of the HP Envy and Dell's Inspiron 13 7000 series, and it makes it digestible for most consumers' wallets.

The tech industry places a lot of value on flagship devices, but those high-end devices aren't always what consumers are looking for—or what they're willing to pay for. Some may also come to realize that they don't need a flagship device if they can get exactly what they need in a more affordable, less flashy machine. The Acer Swift 3 is one of those laptops, and I tested it for a few days to see how well it could stand up against its mid-tier competition.

Look and feel Specs at a glance: Acer Swift 3 Worst Best As reviewed Screen 14-inch FHD (1920×1080) IPS non-touch OS Windows 10 Home, 64 bit CPU Intel Core i3-8130U Intel Core i7-8565U Intel Core i7-8550U RAM 4GB LPDDR3 8GB LPDDR3 8GB LPDDR3 HDD 128GB PCIe SSD 256GB PCIe SSD 512GB PCIe SSD GPU Intel UHD 620 Graphics Nvidia GeForce MX150 (2GB) Intel UHD 620 Graphics Networking Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0 Ports 2 x USB-A, 1 x USB-C, 1 x microSD card slot, 1 x HDMI, 1 x headphone jack, 1 x DC power Size 12.16×8.43×0.63 inches (310×214×16 mm) Weight 2.87 pounds Battery 4-cell (3220 mAh) Warranty 1 year Price $479 $999 $899 Other perks Fingerprint sensor Acer Swift 3 $836.87 from Amazon (Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Acer usually keeps it simple when designing laptops, and it continued that trend with the Swift 3. The aluminum chassis is unmarred by grooves, metallic accents, or anything that would make it stick out among the crowd of silver laptops that inevitably congregate in most meeting rooms. At 2.87 pounds and .63-inches thick, the Swift 3 also doesn't try to be as light or thin as possible—just thin enough to tote around with you wherever you go.

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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order hands-on: Tried, true, and tough

Ars Technica - October 17, 2019 - 4:00pm

It has been far too long since Star Wars fans got a true, triple-A, single-player campaign experience. With exclusive access to the Star Wars license, publisher EA and its stable of studios have largely been content to release multiplayer games-as-a-service like Battlefront or, well, multiplayer games-as-a-service for mobile like Galaxy of Heroes. Given that the appeal of Star Wars is in the stories, places, and characters for most people, I've long found that a bit tragic.

But enter Respawn Entertainment, the original developer behind the Call of Duty franchise. The previously shooter-focused studio is coming hot off the big commercial success of free-to-play battle royale Apex Legends, as well as Titanfall 2, which many critics (myself included) deemed one of the greatest single-player shooters of all time, even though it didn't achieve widespread popularity or especially strong sales numbers.

Respawn has been working on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a third-person action-adventure game in which players play as a young Jedi attempting to rebuild the Jedi Order after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Respawn, EA, and Disney held a press preview event this week at which I played the game for almost three hours, and I'm here to share some impressions.

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