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Industry & Technology

Lawsuit: Verizon tempted customers with free Amazon Echos, failed to deliver

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 7:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | wdstock)

Pennsylvania's attorney general has sued Verizon, alleging that the company promised free Amazon Echo devices and Amazon Prime subscriptions to new customers but failed to deliver the items after customers enrolled in two-year contracts.

Verizon promised the incentives to customers who signed up for two-year FiOS deals between November 2018 and January 2019, the lawsuit said. Customers were given 60 days to claim their incentives, but certain customers were unable to do so because of a broken hyperlink, the complaint said.

"Verizon failed to provide certain consumers with their free Echo and/or Amazon Prime membership as promised and created an unreasonably burdensome process to claim the free Echo and/or Amazon Prime membership," the complaint alleges.

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“Catastrophic” hack on email provider destroys almost two decades of data

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 7:25pm

Enlarge / Toshiba MK1403MAV - broken glass platter (credit: Raimond Spekking)

Email provider VFEmail said it has suffered a catastrophic destruction of all of its servers by an unknown assailant who wiped out almost two decades' worth of data and backups in a matter of hours.

“Yes, @VFEmail is effectively gone,” VFEmail founder Rick Romero wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning after watching someone methodically reformat hard drives of the service he started in 2001. “It will likely not return. I never thought anyone would care about my labor of love so much that they'd want to completely and thoroughly destroy it.”

Yes, @VFEmail is effectively gone. It will likely not return.
I never thought anyone would care about my labor of love so much that they'd want to completely and thoroughly destroy it.

— Havokmon (@Havokmon) February 12, 2019

The ordeal started on Monday when he noticed all the servers for his service were down. A few hours later, VFEmail’s Twitter account reported the attacker “just formatted everything.” The account went on to report that VFEmail “caught the perp in the middle of formatting the backup server.”

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Since Trump tariffs, solar jobs have atrophied

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 6:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

This week, an advocacy group called The Solar Foundation released its ninth annual solar jobs report. In 2018 the industry contracted, shedding 8,000 solar jobs, or a loss of about 3.2 percent from 2017. The solar industry employed 242,343 people in 2018, the report said.

The solar industry is the largest renewable energy employer in the US and the second largest energy employer behind the oil and gas industry. Wind and coal trail far behind solar in terms of the number of people employed. (For comparison, coal mining lost 2,000 jobs between 2016 and 2017, although that industry employs only slightly more than 50,000 people.)

2018 marks the second year in a row that the solar industry has posted job losses. In 2017, The Solar Foundation's report showed that employment contracted by 3.8 percent. The foundation only counts solar jobs where at least 50 percent of a person's time is dedicated to solar energy.

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Video: To make 1997’s Blade Runner, Westwood first had to create the universe

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 5:06pm

Shot by Sean Dacanay and edited by Justin Wolfson. VFX by John Cappello. Click here for transcript. And if you want a close-up peek at the awesome Ladd-style logo Aurich cooked up for this video, you can get that right here.

Welcome back to "War Stories," an ongoing video series where we get game designers to open up about development challenges that almost—but not quite—derailed their games. In this edition, we focus on a genre particularly near and dear to my dead, black Gen-X heart: the adventure game.

And not just any adventure game—we were lucky enough to be able to sit down with Louis Castle, co-founder of legendary game developer Westwood Studios. Castle's hands were on some of the most famous titles of the 1990s, including Dune II, the Legend of Kyrandia series, and, most famously, the Command & Conquer franchise. But as wonderful as those games are—and as many hours as I spent lost in the woods of Kyrandia as a teenager—none of those mean as much to me as Westwood's 1997 cinematic adventure game, Blade Runner.

You know the score, pal

Adventure games were one of the two ur-genres of true computer games (with the other being the arcade-style shooter), and as a child of the '80s, adventure games were what got me into gaming. The genre reached its peak in the early to mid 1990s, with some of the best-remembered LucasArts and Sierra titles making their appearance thereabouts. But by the end of the decade the wheels had come off the cart, and it was clear that the genre was being eclipsed by the rise of the first-person shooter.

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MPs immerse themselves in VR questions

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 4:52pm
MPs open inquiry into immersive technology such as VR and AR.

For Valentine’s Day, Ars writers describe the tech they cherish the most

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 3:35pm


Valentine's Day and consumer technology don't exactly go hand in hand. Every couple is different, but if you're getting a loved one a gift for the holiday, it should come from the heart. A new smartphone or portable hard drive is nice, but it doesn't always scream "romance."

For the tech-obsessed robots at Ars Technica, though, good gear will always win out against fickle concepts like "human emotions." So instead of posting a more conventional gift guide, I decided to celebrate this Valentine's Day in a more Arsian manner: by asking my colleagues to point their hearts not toward other people but toward the tech in their lives that they appreciate the most.

Here are a few things we love.

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DJI makes drone safety improvements

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 3:10pm
The geo-fencing technology that means drones cannot fly near airports is improved.

Military to audit decision to certify the Falcon Heavy rocket

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 3:05pm

Enlarge / A view of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Monday, from one-quarter of a mile away. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars Technica)

In a memorandum released Monday night, the US Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General informed Air Force leadership that it will evaluate the military's certification of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy for national security missions.

"We plan to begin the subject evaluation in February 2019," the memorandum states. "Our objective is to determine whether the US Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles."

The memorandum does not explain why the inspector general believes such an evaluation is necessary. Signed by Deputy Inspector General Michael Roark, the memorandum only states that the evaluation will take place at the Space and Missile Systems Center, which is headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. This is just a few miles from SpaceX's headquarters in neighboring Hawthorne.

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Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: GPS pioneers lauded

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 3:00pm
Four Americans are celebrated for their roles in developing the sat-nav Global Positioning System.

Advanced driver assists come to the world of big-rig class 8 trucks

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 2:45pm

LAS VEGAS—For obvious reasons, the automotive coverage at Ars often focuses on ADAS—advanced driver assistance systems. From convenience features like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping to more safety-oriented features like blind spot monitoring or automatic emergency braking, ADAS are becoming more common in new vehicles—usually with brand-specific and potentially confusing names. When the features are implemented well, they can be incredibly useful; I've found that rear cross-traffic alerts regularly come in handy when reversing out of a space in a crowded parking lot. Which is why I was very surprised to find out that these kinds of systems are only now just being rolled out to the biggest, heaviest vehicles on our roads: class 8 semi-trailer trucks.

As we've remarked (or complained about) on more than one occasion, the annual CES trade show in January has effectively turned into an auto show, with OEMs and their suppliers demoing their latest tech advances. And Daimler's truck brand, Freightliner, is part of that crowd. In 2015, it used the Hoover Dam to show off an autonomous truck concept, and this year it returned with the production version. Called "Detroit Assist 5.0," it features many of the same assists you might find in a current Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicle: adaptive cruise control down to zero mph, lane-keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking, and even blind spot monitoring that keeps a virtual eye on the passenger-side length of the trailer as well.

Although Volvo (for instance) has offered automatic emergency braking on its biggest trucks for some years now, Daimler says that the model year 2020 Freightliner Cascadia is the first US class 8 truck to offer a full ADAS suite and is first to market with trailer-length blind spot monitoring and lane keeping.

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Amazon acquires Eero, maker of mesh Wi-Fi routers

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 1:22pm

Enlarge / A trio of Eero devices. (credit: Eero)

Amazon has announced that it will acquire Eero, one of the biggest players in the networking hardware space known for its easy-to-set-up mesh Wi-Fi solutions.

Bay Area-based Eero, named after Finnish industrial designer Eero Saarinen, has been in operation since early 2015. It has already shipped several products. Neither Amazon nor Eero revealed how much money the tech giant paid in the acquisition, but Eero had raised $90 million in venture capital since its founding.

In case there was any doubt that the acquisition is part of a larger smart home strategy, a quote in Amazon's press release from SVP of Amazon Devices and Services Dave Limp named that as a reason right off the bat:

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Facebook and Google news should be regulated, Cairncross Review says

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 12:36pm
The landmark review also recommended the BBC should do more to share its technical and digital expertise.

Electric car batteries might be worth recycling, but bus batteries aren’t yet

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / A used lithium-ion electric vehicle battery sits at the 4R Energy Corporation Namie factory in Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Monday, Mar. 26, 2018. (credit: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that there will be 559 million electric vehicles on the road by 2040. But electric vehicles don't last forever. And their batteries are not always filled with the kinds of materials you would want leaching into the environment if they're disposed of haphazardly. Policy makers and researchers have started considering how to deal with end-of-life on electric batteries, and recycling is often considered as an option.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University published a paper in Nature Sustainability this week that looks at the emissions and economic costs associated with recycling automotive batteries. They specifically addressed batteries with three types of cathode chemistry: nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA), and iron phosphate (LFP). The first two cathode chemistries are common in passenger vehicles, and LFP is common in buses (bus maker BYD uses LFP batteries, for example).

Since the packaging of batteries is important to the recycling method, cylindrical batteries (the types of cells that Tesla makes) are compared to pouch cell batteries in the analysis.

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Ligue du LOL: Secret group of French journalists targeted women

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 11:24am
Media execs at several major outlets used anonymous accounts to harass women writers and activists.

Not even the bathtub is safe in new trailer for The Curse of La Llorona

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 4:00am

A ghostly presence targets two young children in new trailer for New Line Cinema’s The Curse of La Llorona.

Fresh off the blockbuster success of Aquaman, Director James Wan has produced an upcoming film that returns to his horror roots. And judging by the latest trailer, The Curse of La Llorona will offer chills aplenty in the same spirit as his Conjuring and Insidious franchises.

The titular ghost La Llorona (which translates as "The Weeping Woman") is based on Latin American folklore; there are many variants, but the film seems to be based on the Mexican version. A beautiful young woman named Maria marries into a wealthy family, and because her new in-laws disapprove of the match, the newlyweds build a home in her rural village. She bears her man two sons, but he eventually abandons her for a younger woman. A distraught Maria drowns the boys in a blind rage and then drowns herself.

For this crime, she is barred from the afterlife. She is condemned to spend eternity looking for her lost sons, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. Her constant weeping is why she is called La Llorona, and legend has it that, if you hear her wailing, you will have bad fortune and possibly die. La Llorona also kidnaps children wandering alone at night, mistaking them for her dead sons, and she is said to drown those children, too, all while begging for forgiveness.

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Ordnance Survey to launch mapping drone

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 2:46am
The mapping organisation's craft will collect images and data for businesses and organisations to use.

Stranger Things franchise is getting spin-off prequel novel about Jim Hopper

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 2:30am

Enlarge / We'll finally get the backstory of everyone's favorite small-town sheriff, Jim Hopper, in second spinoff novel. (credit: Netflix)

We've still got several months of waiting for the debut of season 3 of Stranger Things. Fans hungry for the backstory to the various residents of Hawkins, Indiana, can play the mobile game. Or they might try one of the prequel novels published by Del Rey Books that delves into the pasts of some of the peripheral characters.

Suspicious Minds, published earlier this month, tells the story of Eleven's mother, Terry Ives, and how she got involved with MKUltra. A second prequel novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town, will arrive June 4 and focuses on police Chief Jim Hopper's early years in New York City as a homicide detective. And yes, both are considered "canon," for fans who are purists.

(Minor spoilers for the first two seasons of Stranger Things below.)

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Would you be happy to see your doctor online?

BBC Technology News - February 12, 2019 - 1:20am
Video consultations are saving doctors time and money, but are they good for patients, too?

Microsoft teases next-gen HoloLens ahead of February 24 reveal

Ars Technica - February 12, 2019 - 1:03am

New HoloLens teaser

Microsoft is expected to reveal a new version of its HoloLens headset at Mobile World Congress later this month. The company has an event scheduled for February 24, and that date is being promoted in the rather mysterious video published by HoloLens' creator Alex Kipman.

The planned 2019 release of the next-generation headset was leaked last year. Codenamed Sydney, the new model is expected to be lighter, more comfortable, and sport a better display. The sensors are updated (likely to something close to the Project Kinect for Azure standalone sensor), and Microsoft has confirmed that it will include an updated Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) with AI acceleration capabilities. The processor is believed to be a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850, replacing the Intel Atom of the first-generation unit.

This comes as Microsoft has sold out of original HoloLens units. Neither the developer kit nor the commercial version is available to buy.

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Hackers keep trying to get malicious Windows file onto MacOS

Ars Technica - February 11, 2019 - 11:59pm

Enlarge (credit: Christiaan Colen / Flickr)

Malware pushers are experimenting with a novel way to infect Mac users that runs executable files that normally execute only on Windows computers.

The files and folders found inside a DMG file that promised to install Little Snitch. (credit: Trend Micro)

Researchers from antivirus provider Trend Micro made that discovery after analyzing an app available on a Torrent site that promised to install Little Snitch, a firewall application for macOS. Stashed inside the DMG file was an EXE file that delivered a hidden payload. The researchers suspect the routine is designed to bypass Gatekeeper, a security feature built into macOS that requires apps to be code-signed before they can be installed. EXE files don’t undergo this verification, because Gatekeeper only inspects native macOS files.

“We suspect that this specific malware can be used as an evasion technique for other attack or infection attempts to bypass some built-in safeguards such as digital certification checks, since it is an unsupported binary executable in Mac systems by design,” Trend Micro researchers Don Ladores and Luis Magisa wrote. “We think that the cybercriminals are still studying the development and opportunities from this malware bundled in apps and available in torrent sites, and therefore we will continue investigating how cybercriminals can use this information and routine.”

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