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Industry & Technology

Why is building so slow and expensive?

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 12:15am
Forward-thinking builders are looking at the ways technology can help the construction industry.

Stardock and Star Control creators settle lawsuits—with mead and honey

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 11:50pm

Enlarge / "HELLO HUMAN, Umgah Court sentences you to TEN MILLION YEARS OF HARD LABOR!... Oh, you settled? But... what Umgah supposed to do with three gavels if Umgah can't sentence anyone?!" (credit: Star Control / Aurich)

Stardock's Brad Wardell and original Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III announced over the weekend that all parties have reached an amicable settlement in the tangled web of lawsuits between them and Stardock, which stretch back almost two years.

(To very briefly recap, Stardock and Ford & Reiche were at legal odds over who owns the copyrights and trademarks for the Star Control series of games from the 1990s. To give any more details would require a massive amount of explanation and discussion—which we already wrote a couple of years ago with this story right here. If you aren't familiar with the disagreement—or if you want to refresh your memory—that piece will give you a good, solid grounding on the mess that got us to now.)

The settlement's details are public, and Ford & Reiche have a blog post on their site explaining things. In summary, though, the terms are simple and straightforward:

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Massive Ebola outbreak spreads across DRC border, infected 5-year-old in Uganda

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 10:15pm

Enlarge / Health workers carry a coffin containing a victim of Ebola virus on May 16, 2019, in Butembo, DRC, a city at the epicenter of the Ebola crisis. (credit: Getty | John Wessels)

Health officials in Uganda have confirmed the country’s first case of Ebola stemming from a massive outbreak that has been raging across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since August of 2018.

The World Health Organization reported Tuesday, June 11, that the case is in a 5-year-old boy from the DRC who traveled with his family into Uganda on June 9. The boy’s case was confirmed by the Uganda Virus Institute (UVRI), and he’s receiving care in the Ebola Treatment Unit in the western Ugandan town of Bwera, which sits at the border with DRC.

Health officials have feared the spread of the virus, which has festered in DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces for nearly a year. The provinces sit on the eastern side of the country, bordering South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda. As of June 9, the WHO reports 2,062 cases (1,968 confirmed and 94 probable), including 1,390 deaths (1,296 confirmed and 94 probable) in the outbreak. It is the second largest Ebola outbreak on record, surpassed only by the 2014 West African outbreak, which involved more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.

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Lap-dances, kick-backs, and debt: Infamous opioid maker files for bankruptcy

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 8:56pm

Enlarge / Insys Therapeutics founder John N. Kapoor leaves federal court in Boston on March 13, 2019. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

Opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections Monday, just days after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges and agreeing to pay $225 million to settle civil and criminal cases alleging it used kickbacks, bribes, and even a lap dance to sell its extremely potent painkiller.

Insys may be the first major opioid maker to go down in a deluge of lawsuits over the opioid epidemic—it faces more than 1,000 lawsuits from municipal governments. But the bankruptcy throws into question just how much the company will actually pay the federal government from the $225 million deal it made on June 5. Bankruptcy documents show that, as of March 31, Insys had just $175.1 million in assets and $262.5 million already in debt.

In an email to NPR, Insys CEO Andrew G. Long defended the bankruptcy decision, saying, "After conducting a thorough review of available strategic alternatives, we determined that a court-supervised sale process is the best course of action to maximize the value of our assets and address our legacy legal challenges in a fair and transparent manner."

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Volkswagen snubs self-driving startup Aurora, eyes Ford partnership

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 7:33pm

Enlarge / Ford CEO Jim Hackett, left, talks to Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess in January 2019. (credit: Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Aurora—a self-driving startup founded by former leaders of self-driving projects at Tesla, Uber, and Google's Waymo—aims to make its self-driving technology an industry standard by licensing it to multiple car companies.

The company has made impressive progress securing automotive partners. On Monday, Aurora announced that it had scored a new partnership with Fiat Chrysler to develop self-driving commercial vehicles. That was in addition to existing deals with Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Chinese electric carmaker Byton.

On Tuesday, however, the Financial Times reported a significant setback: Volkswagen was ending its deal with Aurora.

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E3: Nintendo's Legend of Zelda sequel confirmed

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 7:25pm
A follow-up to Breath of the Wild has been announced at the E3 gaming show in Los Angeles.

US report finds sky is the limit for geothermal energy beneath us

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 7:04pm

Enlarge / Sonoma Power Plant at The Geysers in California. (credit: Geothermal Resources Council/flickr)

With all attention focused on the plummeting prices and soaring popularity of solar and wind, geothermal energy is probably under-appreciated. Sure, you might think, it’s great where you can get it—in, say, Iceland or the Geysers area of California—but those are exceptions, right? Not entirely. Geothermal power sources come in many forms, and they're typically much more subtle than steam shooting out of the ground. In reality, geothermal energy could be a big player in our future mix.

That is made clear by the US Department of Energy’s recently released “GeoVision” report. The report follows similar evaluations of wind, solar, and hydropower energy and leans on information from national labs and other science agencies. It summarizes what we know about the physical resources in the US and also examines the factors that have been limiting geothermal’s deployment. Overall, the report shows that we could do a whole lot more with geothermal energy—both for generating electricity and for heating and cooling—than we currently do.

Heat and power

The highest temperatures are found out West, but these aren't the only places where geothermal techniques can be applied. (credit: DOE)

There are opportunities to more than double the amount of electricity generated at conventional types of hydrothermal sites, where wells can easily tap into hot water underground. That's economical on the current grid. But the biggest growth potential, according to the report, is in so-called “enhanced geothermal systems.” These involve areas where the temperatures are hot but the bedrock lacks enough fractures and pathways for hot water to circulate freely—or simply lacks the water entirely.

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T-Mobile/Sprint merger faces big test as nine states sue to block it

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 6:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Nine states and the District of Columbia today filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile and Sprint in an attempt to stop the wireless carriers from merging.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and California AG Xavier Becerra are leading the way, with co-plaintiffs from Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

"When it comes to corporate power, bigger isn't always better," James said in an announcement of the lawsuit. "The T-Mobile and Sprint merger would not only cause irreparable harm to mobile subscribers nationwide by cutting access to affordable, reliable wireless service for millions of Americans, but would particularly affect lower-income and minority communities here in New York and in urban areas across the country. That's why we are going to court to stop this merger and protect our consumers, because this is exactly the sort of consumer-harming, job-killing megamerger our antitrust laws were designed to prevent."

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Dealmaster: A bunch of Amazon Kindle, Fire, and Echo devices are discounted today

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 6:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a sweeping set of discounts on Amazon-made devices, including various Echo speakers, Fire tablets, Fire TV media streamers, and Kindle e-readers.

Most of the deals are what we typically see when Amazon runs these periodic sales events, but they're still largely good prices for what you're getting. Highlights include a $30 discount on the latest Kindle Paperwhite, $20 off the Fire HD 8 tablet, and $10 off the 4K- and HDR-ready Fire TV 4K streamer. If you're onboard with the Echo, the latest full-size model is currently at an all-time low, and there are various deals on Amazon-owned Eero routers and Ring home security cameras as well.

The elephant in the room here—besides the fact that Amazon is an increasingly powerful behemoth that may soon face elevated antitrust scrutiny—is that the company's Prime Day sales event is likely just a month or so away. Exactly when it will occur is still unclear, but it's almost certain to bring heavy price cuts to everything in this current Father's Day sale. If you have Prime, or if you have a free trial to use on Prime Day itself, it might be best to hold off. But if not, or if you just can't wait, these are mostly good prices and mostly useful gadgets.

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Auction of Concorde nose cone to take place in Northamptonshire

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 6:21pm
The cone, currently in the USA, is expected to sell for £200,000 at auction.

Researchers use Rowhammer bit flips to steal 2048-bit crypto key

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / A DDR3 DIMM with error-correcting code from Samsung. ECC is no longer an absolute defense against Rowhammer attacks. (credit: Samsung)

The Rowhammer exploit that lets unprivileged attackers corrupt or change data stored in vulnerable memory chips has evolved over the past four years to take on a range of malicious capabilities, including elevating system rights and breaking out of security sandboxes, rooting Android phones, and taking control of supposedly impregnable virtual machines. Now, researchers are unveiling a new attack that uses Rowhammer to extract cryptographic keys or other secrets stored in vulnerable DRAM modules.

Like the previous Rowhammer-based attacks, the new data-pilfering RAMBleed technique exploits the ever-shrinking dimensions of DRAM chips that store data a computer needs to carry out various tasks. Rowhammer attacks work by rapidly accessing—or hammering—physical rows inside vulnerable chips in ways that cause bits in neighboring rows to flip, meaning 1s turn to 0s and vice versa. The attacks work because as capacitors become closer together, they more quickly leak the electrical charges that store the bits. At one time, these bit flips were little more than an exotic crashing phenomenon that was known to be triggered only by cosmic rays. But when induced with surgical precision, as researchers have demonstrated over the past four years, Rowhammer can have potentially serious effects on the security of the devices that use the vulnerable chips.

A new side channel

RAMBleed takes Rowhammer in a new direction. Rather than using bit flips to alter sensitive data, the new technique exploits the hardware bug to extract sensitive data stored in memory regions that are off-limits to attackers. The attacks require only that the exploit hammers memory locations the exploit code already has permission to access. What's more, the data extraction can work even when DRAM protected by error correcting code detects and reverses a malicious bit flip.

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Switch Zelda sequel, Animal Crossing headline Nintendo’s E3 event

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 5:56pm

LOS ANGELES—Nintendo announced during a Nintendo Direct presentation Tuesday morning that a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is now in development. No release date or target window was announced.

A short teaser trailer for the game showed Zelda and Link exploring a dark cave together, lit only by torchlight, in an art style that seemed extremely similar to the Breath of the Wild engine. That suggests the possibility of a two-player mode for the upcoming sequel, though Nintendo offered absolutely nothing in the way of gameplay details. The teaser also included a zombie-style creature that turned his head with a violent cracking sound, seemingly in response to their presence.

Nintendo also announced a slight delay for its previously announced Animal Crossing game, now titled New Horizons and targeting a March 20, 2020 launch. A short trailer showed a camping theme for the game, with your tent-residing villager building fires on the beach, fishing, hanging laundry out to dry, and rolling up snowballs in the winter months. Tom Nook is also there to demand an egregious payment for your stay and help you craft items at a workbench as well. Shots of multiple villagers running around the same campsite also suggest that multiplayer gameplay will be supported.

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MI5's use of personal data was 'unlawful', says watchdog

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 5:42pm
The high court hears large amounts of data belonging to "innocent citizens" was held unlawfully.

Feds lose control of thousands of traveler photos in data breach

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 5:08pm

Enlarge / Border crossing. (credit: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Hackers have stolen thousands of photos of travelers and their license plates from a subcontractor of Customs and Border Protection, the agency announced on Monday. A source told the Washington Post that the data was collected at a particular port of entry on the Canadian border.

CBP declined to identify the subcontractor, but the agency sent the Washington Post a document with the title "CBP Perceptics Public Statement." Perceptics sells license plate reader technology, and the Register reported last month that the company's network had been hacked.

CBP says it learned of the breach on May 31, and the organization stated that its own network was not compromised. The agency says that the subcontractor violated agency policies when it copied the photos to its own network, making them more vulnerable to hacking.

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After 8Chan-gate, THQN unveils stirring anti-Nazi game set in 1930s Germany

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 5:00pm

SANTA MONICA—If you'd asked me ahead of E3 2019 which publisher I expected to surprise me the most this year, I wouldn't have answered "THQ Nordic." Austrian publisher Nordic changed its name in 2016 after acquiring a significant slate of defunct THQ assets, and the company has since been soldiering forward with remasters and re-releases of familiar franchises.

While this year's showing isn't up to the likes of more established publishers, their E3 2019 slate isn't so bad—especially thanks to one what-the-heck game from an entirely new IP.

This year sees the company land with a few more remasters, particularly from the Destroy All Humans! and Spongebob Squarepants game series. But the company's really impressive E3 2019 material comes in the form of three brand-new games playable on the show floor. Two of these are sequels: Darksiders Genesis, a two-player, top-down twist on the adventure series, and Desperados III, a return to a nearly forgotten cowboy-stealth series from the mid-'00s.

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Samsung is bringing the $350 Galaxy A50 to the US

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 4:30pm

Samsung's flagship smartphone lineup comes to basically every carrier and every country on Earth, but the company is much more selective when it comes to cheaper devices. Today Samsung announced that its midrange smartphone lineup will be coming to the US this summer, starting with the $349.99 Samsung Galaxy A50. The A50 was originally announced in February and is just now making its way to the US.

You won't find Samsung's trademark "hole punch" camera cutout from the Galaxy S10 here; the company is instead going with a teardrop notch for the 25MP front camera, which makes the A50 look a lot like the OnePlus 6T. It's certainly not as distinctive as cutting a hole in the display, but it is more space efficient, allowing the A50 front camera to fit inside the normal Android status bar. The Galaxy S10 front camera is so deep into the display that it requires a double-height status bar to surround it.

On the back is a triple-camera setup, featuring a 25MP main camera, an 8MP wide-angle lens, and a 5MP depth sensor. There's no rear fingerprint reader because the Galaxy A50 features an in-display fingerprint reader, which is quickly becoming the norm for Android smartphones. While the S10 has an ultrasonic fingerprint reader, this device has an optical reader, just like a OnePlus phone.

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Electric car charging in America just got a little bit easier

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 3:23pm

Enlarge / An Electrify America charging station. (credit: Electrify America)

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record (or perhaps a looped .mp3 file, since this is 2019), infrastructure matters when it comes to getting people to switch to an electric vehicle. The best electric vehicle in the world is still just a paperweight on wheels if you can't recharge it before you get to your destination, after all. It's something that Tesla has excelled at with its Supercharger network, both in geographical coverage and also ease of use.

Life with an EV from any other OEM is a bit more complicated when it comes to public chargers. There may be many more CCS and CHAdeMO DC fast-charging locations in the US than Tesla Supercharger stations (according to data from the US Department of Energy) but they're split across multiple different service providers. That usually means signing up for multiple accounts and carrying multiple RFID fobs, particularly if you're trying to drive long distance.

But on Tuesday, things got a little easier. ChargePoint and Electrify America, two of the leading US EV charging networks, just announced a roaming partnership. Starting later this year, if you're a ChargePoint member, you can use that account to charge at Electrify America chargers, and vice versa.

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Why do bats have such bizarrely long lifespans?

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 2:31pm

Enlarge (credit: Ohio Department of Health)

In mammals, there's a relatively simple relationship among metabolism, body mass, and lifespan. For the most part, as the size of the mammal goes up, its metabolism slows down and its longevity increases. There are exceptions, and we are one of them. We're much longer lived than other mammals with a similar body mass. Bears, which tend to weigh quite a bit more than us, rarely live past 30.

But a new paper about longevity includes a remarkable statistic: "Nineteen species of mammals live longer than humans, given their body size, of which 18 are bats." What is it about bats that's so exceptional? A new study takes a careful look at bat aging and finds, at a time when most species are shutting down genes that help keep cells and tissues healthy, bats are cranking them up.


To an extent, bats have an advantage, in that flight selects for minimizing body weight. But even by that standard, some bat species are extraordinarily long-lived. The Irish-French team behind the new study notes that a species called Brandt's bat weighs only about seven grams, yet lives for over 40 years in the wild. There have been some hints as to how they manage this exceptional aging. For example, bats maintain the ends of their chromosomes, preventing cells from slipping into senescence, yet they do this while managing to keep cells from growing out of control and turning cancerous.

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Where will the world’s first autonomous rocket factory be built? Mississippi

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / An artist's concept of what the interior of Relativity Space's Mississippi rocket factory may look like in a few years. (credit: Relativity Space)

Relativity Space has signed an agreement with NASA to convert a large industrial building in southern Mississippi into what may become the world's first autonomous rocket factory. The factory is conveniently located just two miles from where Relativity plans to test engines and stages for its Terran 1 rocket.

Building 9101 at Stennis Space Center encompasses 220,000 square feet of factory facilities, which is greater than the combined area of three American football fields. NASA inherited the space from the US military about 20 years ago but has not used it. The property also includes multiple bridge cranes, which is useful for moving large aerospace parts around, and an 80-foot-high bay for the vertical integration of rockets.

"This building will be a long-term enabler of our vision," said Jordan Noone, co-founder and chief technology officer for Relativity. Based in Los Angeles, the company aspires to use 3D printing, machine learning, and automated technologies to build rockets at a lower cost in days or weeks instead of years.

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It watches you drive: Subaru Forester review

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 1:20pm

When it comes to cars, there are two types of people: those who pledge their eternal love for Subaru, and everyone else. When I'm testing a Subaru, I get more questions and comments from friends and acquaintances than just about anything else I drive. And that was the case for Subaru's most popular model, the Forester.

Redesigned for 2019, the Forester comes standard with EyeSight, Subaru's suite of driver-assist technology. New to the Forester—and available only with the Touring model—is DriverFocus. Designed to fight distracted driving, DriverFocus uses the facial-recognition tech that has also found its way into smartphones. It can store profiles for up to five drivers and provides visual and auditory feedback if the system detects you're not paying attention to the road.

Look and feel

Sitting smack dab between the sub-compact Crosstrek and the sort-of-mid-size Outback, the Forester starts at $24,295 for the base model and comes in Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring trim. The last is the most expensive, with an MSRP of $34,295. All five editions get the same 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive, EyeSight, and Subaru's above-average dual-screen StarLink infotainment system. A panoramic moonroof is standard on all models other than the base.

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