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Industry & Technology

The long-awaited upgrade to the US weather forecast model is here

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 8:00pm

Enlarge / Forecast output from the new version of the model, which goes into service today. (credit: NOAA)

Weather forecasters need a ton of knowledge and a fair bit of experience with local weather patterns to do their job well. They also need a good forecast model. These computer models take in measurements from weather stations on the ground, satellites in orbit, and balloons in between and then simulate the physics of weather forward in time a few days.

For the first time in about 40 years, the guts of the US model got swapped out for something new today. The upgrade brings us a new “Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere” (or FV3) dynamical core, which simulates the basic atmospheric physics at the heart of this endeavor, a change that has been in the works for a while.

The new core had its origins in simulating atmospheric chemistry but ended up being adapted into other models. A few years ago, it was selected to replace the old core in the US Global Forecast System model. And for more than a year now, the new version of the model has been running in parallel so its results could be compared to the operational model.

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Huawei cancels MateBook laptop launch because of US export ban

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 7:17pm

Enlarge / The Huawei Matebook 13, which was released in January 2019. (credit: Valentina Palladino )

Huawei was planning to announce a new MateBook laptop this week, but an executive confirmed that the company cancelled the launch because of US sanctions against the Chinese company. It's not clear when—or whether—the laptop will be released.

The US has banned sales of technology to Huawei, which uses Intel chips and the Windows operating system in its MateBook PCs. Huawei "planned to unveil the new Windows laptop at the CES Asia 2019 trade show in Shanghai this week" but "indefinitely postponed" the launch because of the US export ban, The Information reported yesterday.

Huawei consumer division CEO Richard Yu subsequently confirmed the cancellation to CNBC. "We cannot supply the PC," Yu said, calling it "unfortunate," according to CNBC.

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Pokemon Sword and Shield: Hands-on with Dynamax power

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 7:07pm
Chris Fox tests how the new Dynamax power to make the pet monsters huge affects gameplay.

I’ll be passing on Google’s new 2fa for logins on iPhones and iPads. Here’s why

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 6:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Google is expanding its new Android-based two-factor authentication (2fa) to people logging in to Google and Google Cloud services on iPhones and iPads. While Google deserves props for trying to make stronger authentication available to more users, I’ll be avoiding it in favor of 2fa methods Google has had in place for years. I’ll explain why later. First, here’s some background.

Google first announced Android’s built-in security key in April, when it went into beta, and again in May, when it became generally available. The idea is to make devices running Android 7 and up users’ primary 2fa device. When someone enters a valid password into a Google account, the phone displays a message alerting the account owner. Users then tap a "yes" button if the login is legitimate. If it's an unauthorized attempt, the user can block the login from going through.

The system aims to tighten account security in a meaningful way. One of the key causes of account breaches is passwords that are compromised in phishing attacks or other types of data thefts. Google has been a leader when it comes to two-factor protections that by definition require something in addition to a password for someone to gain access to an account.

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Russians send Soviet car model into stratosphere

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 5:24pm
Russian scientists send a large-scale model of a Soviet-era car into the stratosphere.

Researchers discover “Fishwrap” influence campaign recycling old terror news

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / Old news, new fish. (credit: Rick Barrentine/Getty Images)

Researchers at Recorded Future have uncovered what appears to be a new, growing social media-based influence operation involving more than 215 social media accounts. While relatively small in comparison to influence and disinformation operations run by the Russia-affiliated Internet Research Agency (IRA), the campaign is notable because of its systematic method of recycling images and reports from past terrorist attacks and other events and presenting them as breaking news—an approach that prompted researchers to call the campaign "Fishwrap."

The campaign was identified by researchers applying Recorded Future's "Snowball" algorithm, a machine-learning-based analytics system that groups social media accounts as related if they:

  • Post the same URLs and hashtags, especially within a short period of time
  • Use the same URL shorteners
  • Have similar "temporal behavior," posting during similar times—either over the course of their activity, or over the course of a day or week
  • Start operating shortly after another account posting similar content ceases its activity
  • Have similar account names, "as defined by the editing distance between their names," as Recorded Future's Staffan Truvé explained.

Influence operations typically try to shape the world view of a target audience in order to create social and political divisions; undermine the authority and credibility of political leaders; and generate fear, uncertainty, and doubt about their institutions. They can take the form of actual news stories planted through leaks, faked documents, or cooperative "experts" (as the Soviet Union did in spreading disinformation about the US military creating AIDS). But the low cost and easy targeting provided by social media has made it much easier to spread stories (even faked ones) to create an even larger effect—as demonstrated by the use of Cambridge Analytica's data to target individuals for political campaigns, and the IRA's "Project Lakhta," among others. Since 2016, Twitter has identified multiple apparent state-funded or state-influenced social media influence campaigns out of Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and Bangladesh.

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Google’s Pixel 4 rumored to support air gesture system

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 4:45pm

Enlarge / Project Soli in action.

We're at least four months out from the typical Google Pixel smartphone unveiling, but that isn't stopping the rumor mill from churning. There are already a pair of reports pointing toward a Project Soli-based gesture system being in development for the Pixel 4.

First, a refresher on what the heck Project Soli is. The project has been in development for years inside Google's ATAP group, with the first public showing happening all the way back in 2015. Soli aims to embed a tiny radar system into a chip that can be used to detect hand motion above a device. Google demoed gestures like moving the thumb and index finger together for a virtual button press or rubbing the two fingers together to scroll or turn a dial. It has always seemed like something that would be a good fit for a smartwatch, where the tiny touchscreens and UIs limit how much can be done on with smartphone-style input.

Like many ATAP projects, Soli kept a low profile for years, and you would have been forgiven for assuming it was dead—until the project surprisingly gained FCC approval this January.

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5G sign-ups outpace 4G's launch in South Korea

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 4:20pm
More than one million people have a 5G subscription, despite the lack of a "killer app".

Scientists found these old photographs contain metallic nanoparticles

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 4:04pm

Enlarge / The earliest reliably dated photograph of people, taken by Louis Daguerre one spring morning in 1838. (credit: Public domain)

Daguerreotypes are one of the earliest forms of photography, producing images on silver plates that look subtly different, depending on viewing angle. For instance they can appear positive or negative, or the colors can shift from bluish to brownish-red tones. Now an interdisciplinary team of scientists has discovered that these unusual optical effects are due to the presence of metallic nanoparticles in the plates. They described their findings in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-author Alejandro Manjavacas—now at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque—was a postdoc at Rice University, which boasts one of the top nanophotonics research groups in the US. That's where he met his co-author, Andrea Schlather, who ended up in the scientific research department at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The Met has a valuable collection of daguerreotypes, and her new colleagues were keen to find better methods for preserving these valuable artifacts.

Schlather contacted Manjavacas and suggested this might be a great place to apply their combined expertise in nanoplasmonics—a field dedicated to detailing how nanoparticles interact with light. Think of it this way: light is an optical oscillation made up of photons. Sound is a mechanical oscillation made up of quasiparticles known as phonons. And plasma (ionized gas, the fourth fundamental state of matter) oscillations consist of plasmons. Surface plasmons play a critical role in determining the optical properties of metals in particular.

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Google Stadia in 4K might push you past your home-Internet data cap

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 3:31pm

Enlarge / A Google Stadia controller and a Google Chromecast Ultra. (credit: Google)

Google Stadia will bring 4K game streaming to customers in November, but the new service could be costly for users who face home-Internet data caps and want to play games at the highest possible settings.

Google says you'll need 35Mbps to play at maximum settings—that's 4K resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), and 60 frames per second (fps) with 5.1 surround sound. As PC Gamer noted last week, that adds up to 15.75GB per hour, which would use up an entire 1TB monthly data allotment in 65 hours of game time.

Stadia will work at lower resolutions, with Google recommending 20Mbps for 1080p/60fps with 5.1 surround sound, and 10Mbps for 720p/60fps with stereo sound. That's 9GB and 4.5GB per hour, respectively, potentially using up a 1TB data cap in 114 or 228 hours.

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Huawei cancels laptop launch because of US trade blacklist

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 2:34pm
The firm said it was unable to manufacture a planned laptop because the US had put it on a blacklist.

Chernobyl selfies lead to warning from show's writer

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 12:48pm
Craig Mazin, who wrote the hit show Chernobyl, tells fans to be "respectful" when visiting the site.

Ofcom gives 'provisional' approval to BBC iPlayer changes

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 12:13pm
The media regulator gives "provisional" approval to plans to allow shows to be available for longer.

Konami announces plug-and-play TurboGrafx-16 Mini

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 12:06pm

Konami may well have earned the "most surprising announcement of E3" trophy with Tuesday night's unexpected reveal of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini (known as the PC Engine Mini in Japan and the PC Engine Core Grafx Mini in Europe).

Price and release date were not announced, but Konami did reveal six games for the US and European editions of the plug-and-play HDMI system, with more to be announced in the future:

  • R-Type
  • New Adventure Island
  • Ninja Spirit
  • Ys Book I & II
  • Dungeon Explorer
  • Alien Crush

The Japanese edition has a somewhat distinct list of announced games thus far, including well-remembered classics like Super Star Soldier, PC Kid (a.k.a. Bonk's Adventure), and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (later ported to the SNES as Dracula X). Versions of these games may be coming for other regions, but they have yet to be announced. Japan and Europe also get a different design for the system's case itself, modeled after the squarish PC Engine, while US customers will get the larger, rectangular TurboGrafx design.

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Next-gen games may not need new console

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 11:46am
How internet-streamed video games could benefit players and disrupt the industry.

Facebook lets deepfake Zuckerberg video stay on Instagram

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 11:27am
The social network says it will not remove a fake video of its founder created with AI software.

Devolver Digital: 'We think E3 is a special form of torture'

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 7:42am
Devolver Digital hold an alternative event in the car park to showcase how they think gaming events should be run.

Uber takes its flying taxi ambitions to Australia

BBC Technology News - June 12, 2019 - 4:48am
Melbourne will become a pilot city for Uber's air taxi service, with test flights due to begin in 2020.

Apple’s iCloud has been a poor experience in Windows, but a new update seeks to fix that

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 2:12am

Apple has released a new version of iCloud for Windows 10 in the Microsoft Store, according to a recent blog post by Microsoft and a handful of Apple customer support documents. The new version claims to be a major improvement, with more robust features and more reliable syncing—the latter of those has been a common complaint for users of Apple's previous version.

Features listed by Microsoft include:

  • Access your iCloud Drive files directly from File Explorer without using up space on your PC
  • Choose the files and folders you want to keep on your PC
  • Safely store all your files in iCloud Drive and access them from your iOS device, Mac, and on
  • Share any file right from File Explorer and easily collaborate with others—edits will be synced across your devices

Interestingly, Microsoft says the new iCloud app is "powered by the same Windows technology that also powers OneDrive's Files On-Demand feature"—an unexpected technical and corporate partnership. But it shouldn't be too surprising at this point; despite the storied history and rivalries of the 1980s and '90s (as well as competition in areas like, yes, cloud services), Microsoft and Apple have largely played together nicely in recent years.

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Super Mario Maker 2’s online mode will get a “friends” patch after launch [Updated]

Ars Technica - June 12, 2019 - 2:00am

Update, June 11: Shortly after Nintendo's E3 2019 "Direct" video presentation on Tuesday, the game maker hosted a "Treehouse" panel on YouTube with updates about previously announced Nintendo Switch games. One of those updates confirmed some good news for hopeful Super Mario Maker 2 owners: its online matchmaking service will indeed receive "friends-only" modes after all.

When discussing upcoming support for the June 28 game, producer Takashi Tezuka said through a translator, "A new update will let people play with your friends online." The game will not ship with this feature in June, and no date was attached to this eventual update. But we're glad to see the company publicly reverse course and reach feature parity with other first-party Nintendo Switch Online games.

Original report:

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