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Industry & Technology

Slack: Shares surge as messaging app joins the stock market

BBC Technology News - June 20, 2019 - 9:33pm
The messaging app firm sees its shares close 50% up as it becomes that latest tech start-up to go public.

Americans aren’t interested in the Moon and Mars—and that’s understandable

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 9:15pm

Enlarge / Mars or the Moon? It’s a debate that has bedeviled NASA for decades. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Nearly two years ago, Vice President Mike Pence made the administration's space policy official, saying NASA would re-focus its program around "establishing a renewed American presence on the Moon, a vital strategic goal." In December 2017, President Trump signed a space-policy document codifying this human-exploration plan.

Under this space-policy directive, a sustainable presence on the Moon would then become a stepping stone to destinations further out in space, such as Mars. The president recently made clear his preference for getting to Mars quickly, tweeting a few weeks ago: "For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon—we did that 50 years ago. They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars."

A new poll suggests this talk about sending humans back to the Moon or on to Mars is out of step with the views of most Americans. The survey of 1,137 US. adults by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research suggests only about one-in-four Americans believe sending humans to the Moon or Mars is "very" or "extremely" important.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Evil shapeshifters stalk by night in first trailer for AMC’s The Terror: Infamy

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 9:01pm

AMC's The Terror: Infamy is set in the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II.

Shape-shifting spirits terrorize a Southern California community of Japanese Americans in the first trailer for The Terror: Infamy, the second season of AMC's horror anthology series. And the hauntings are likely related to horrifying events in the Japanese internment camps of World War II.

(Some spoilers for season 1 below.)

The first season of The Terror was based on the eponymous 2007 novel by Dan Simmons that was a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John S. Franklin's doomed Arctic expedition to hunt for the Northwest Passage in 1846. His two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, became icebound in the Victoria Strait, and all 129 men ultimately died. Scientific studies of the evidence that survived showed that pneumonia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, or a zinc deficiency contributed to the high death toll, along with hypothermia and starvation. There were even hints of cannibalism in the form of cut marks on human bones. Simmons' telling added the threat of a mysterious monster (dubbed a Tuunbaq) stalking the men across the Arctic.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ajit Pai tries to kill San Francisco’s attempt to spur broadband competition

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 8:40pm

Enlarge / A Wi-Fi router. (credit: Getty Images | deepblue4you)

The Federal Communications Commission will vote next month on whether to preempt a San Francisco city ordinance that was designed to promote broadband competition in multi-unit buildings.

San Francisco's Article 52, approved in December 2016, lets Internet service providers use the existing wiring inside multi-unit residential and commercial properties even if the wiring is already used by another ISP that serves the building. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors and then-Mayor Ed Lee approved it in order to spur competition in multi-unit buildings where occupants often have only one option for Internet service.

The ordinance only applies when the inside wiring belongs to the property owner. Under the rule, property owners who have outfitted their buildings with Internet wiring cannot deny access to ISPs, making it harder for them to strike exclusive deals with Internet providers.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: A bunch of Logitech PC accessories are on sale today

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 7:00pm

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 Logitech mice, headsets, and other PC accessories, which Amazon is featuring as part of its one-day Gold Box sale.

The catch here is that most of the items on offer aren't the absolute newest model in Logitech's respective product lines. Instead of the wireless MX Master 2S mouse, for instance, the MX Master is discounted. Instead of the newer MX Ergo trackball mouse, you get the M570. We'd also caution against many of the gaming headsets included in the sale, as we've used other models that both sound better and are less bulky.

Still, much of what's available here is worth owning, particularly when the majority of it is at genuinely discounted prices. The G203 Prodigy, for instance, doesn't have as sensitive a sensor as a pricier gaming mouse, but for $20, it's comfortable, normal-looking (a compliment for gaming mice), and high-performing enough. The C615 webcam is good value for 1080p video at $26, while the aforementioned M570 is simple but still effective for those interested in trackball mice.

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Printing vaccines at the pharmacy or at home will be the way of the future

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 6:55pm

Enlarge / Artist's impression of a vaccine printer. (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

We're running a series of companion posts this week to accompany our special edition Ars Lunch Break podcast. This is the third of three guest posts centered around Rob Reid's TED talk from Tuesday. Today, microbiologist Andrew Hessel weighs in with his opinions and recommendations about the future of biomanufacturing.

The US government doesn’t skimp on bio-preparedness. Vaccines and other countermeasures are carefully developed in anticipation of disease outbreaks or bioterrorist attacks. The Strategic National Stockpile maintains a hefty inventory of medicines, supplies, and equipment, which can be shipped almost anywhere within 12 hours. In situations ranging from the 2001 anthrax attacks to 2016’s Zika scare, Americans have been lucky to have strong biodefenses.

But as anti-vaccine hysteria allows measles to regain long-lost beachheads, we’re reminded that human folly is a dynamic element of the disease landscape. Meanwhile, the number of human actors and actions in a position to stir the pot is set to explode. Tremendous improvements in core bioengineering technologies are tearing down the technical and economic barriers that once prevented the development of "designer" viruses and bacteria. Those entrusted with our defense will inevitably face an even more chaotic battlefield than exists today.

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28 years later, a no-disc version of the Sega CD finally exists—and it works

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 6:40pm

It's a great time to play old video games on modern TVs. Fan-favorite companies are taking emulation seriously with products like the NES Classic and the upcoming Sega Genesis Mini, while enthusiasts are filling in the gaps to either upgrade original consoles' connectors or rebuild them as "hardware-emulated" FPGA systems.

This week, however, we saw arguably the first big product to fill in one major underserved niche: the early '90s CD add-on adapter. Specifically, the Sega CD has received new life in the form of the MegaSD. This combination flash drive and FPGA board plugs into original Genesis and Mega Drive consoles (and the newer Analogue Mega Sg). It replicates the original Sega CD's functions without requiring a laser-driven disc drive while also remaining compatible with that add-on's peculiar system-communication style.

I was originally hesitant to write up the MegaSD's announcement—especially since it comes from relatively unknown flash card manufacturer TerraOnion as opposed to Sega, and it costs a whopping €232 (roughly $261 USD). But my tune changed upon seeing its first hands-on review from YouTube channel RetroRGB (embedded at the end of this article). In short: It appears to work exactly as advertised, complete with reduced CD-based loading times, identical gameplay, nearly identical CD-based audio, and some other nice-to-have features.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

EA: Loot boxes actually “surprise mechanics” that are “ethical and fun”

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 5:24pm

Enlarge / If this image seems irrelevant to the story, may I suggest you need to catch up on your "Spaceship Surprise" viewing. (credit: YouTube / Sesame Street)

Representatives from EA and Epic Games spoke in front of a UK parliamentary panel Wednesday (transcript). They were there to defend the game industry against charges of addictive game mechanics and encouragement of gambling via loot boxes. But at least one of those representatives took issue with the basic premise that randomized item purchases should be labeled as "loot boxes" in the first place.

"That is what we look at as 'surprise mechanics,'" EA Legal and Government Affairs VP Kerry Hopkins told the panel when asked about the ethics of loot boxes. "It is important to look at this. If you go to—I don’t know what your version of Target is—a store that sells a lot of toys and you do a search for surprise toys, you will find that this is something people enjoy. They enjoy surprises. It is something that has been part of toys for years, whether it is Kinder eggs or Hatchimals or LOL Surprise!"

As implemented in a game like FIFA, Hopkins went on to argue that these surprise mechanics are "quite ethical and fun [and] enjoyable to people... We think it is like many other products that people enjoy in a very healthy way. They like the element of surprise.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break: There’s hope, and we’ll all be fine… probably

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / This robot doesn't want to murder you or give you weaponized SARSbola! It just wants to vaccinate you! (Probably!) (credit: Donald Iain Smith / Getty)

Today we’re presenting the fourth and final installment of my conversation with Naval Ravikant about existential risks. This interview first appeared in March as two back-to-back episodes of the After On Podcast (which features fifty unhurried conversations with world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists). Ravikant is one of tech’s most successful angel investors and the founder of multiple startups—including seed-stage investment platform AngelList. Please check out parts one, two, and three of this conversation if you missed them. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript—both of which are below.

The theme of today’s installment: there’s hope. Yes, really! If there’s one thing that any religious, national, or political mindset should agree on, it’s that we don't want some maniac wiping us all out. This creates an extreme good-guy-to-bad-guy ratio, which itself could be decisive—even if lone destructive actors become massively empowered.

Click here for a transcript and click here for an MP3 direct download.

Ravikant and I devote this part of our conversation to sketching the outlines of a global “immune system,” which could help fend off countless synbio threats. Some may dismiss this idea as the ranting of two hopeless optimists (although parts 1-3 tend to rebut this). The good news is that I’ve run variations of our arguments by some of the top minds in synthetic biology, and so far, they’ve passed muster.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

One legacy of Carl Sagan may take flight next week—a working solar sail

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 2:40pm

Enlarge / Artist's concept of LightSail 2 above Earth. (credit: Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society)

As early as next Monday night, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will launch a cluster of 24 satellites for the US Air Force. Known as the Space Test Program-2 mission, the rocket will deposit its payloads into three different orbits. Perhaps the most intriguing satellite will be dropped off at the second stop—a circular orbit 720km above the Earth's surface. This is the Planetary Society's LightSail 2 spacecraft.

After a week in space, allowing the satellites deposited in this orbit to drift apart, LightSail 2 will eject from its carrying case into open space. About the size of a loaf of bread, the 5kg satellite will eventually unfurl into a solar sail 4 meters long by 5.6 meters tall. The Mylar material composing the sail is just 4.5 microns thick, or about one-tenth as thick as a human hair.

This experiment, which will attempt to harness the momentum of photons and "sail" through space, is the culmination of decades of work by The Planetary Society. "This goes back to the very beginning, to Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Lou Friedman," the organization's chief executive, Bill Nye, told Ars in an interview. "We are carrying on a legacy that has been with us since the founders. It’s just an intriguing technology because it lowers the cost of going all over the place in the Solar System."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The trick to saving human factory jobs might be teaming up with the machines

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / "Oh brave new industry, that has such bots in't!" (credit: Javier Pierini / Getty)

The Matrix. Skynet. Roy Batty. Anyone who has watched a science-fiction movie has seen a scenario where factions of humans and machines find themselves locked in mortal combat.

Here in 2019, though, we're doing what we can to disrupt that vision and steer the course away from human-machine antagonism and more toward cooperation. Instead of robot servants plotting to overthrow their meatbag masters, we're trying to use machines to augment human skills and strengths—especially in the context of manufacturing, which is the place where we're most likely to see robots. The rapid push to update manufacturing methods to more smartly integrate human with machine isn't necessarily as big a deal as the original Industrial Revolution, but it is a big enough deal that analysts have coined a snappy phrase for what we're going through: "Industry 4.0."

Sometimes the man-machine enhancements are physical, and sometimes they’re mental. Sometimes it's a Venn diagram that includes both aspects, as a skilled human worker collaborates with robotics and AI to complete a task.

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Hackers, farmers, and doctors unite! Support for Right to Repair laws slowly grows

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / Manufacturers would prefer it if iFixit guides (like the one pictured on a Motorola Xoom from 2011) didn't exist. (credit: iFixit)

Kelsea Weber is apologetic for being hard to get ahold of. “We were all busy tearing down the iPhone XS,” she says.

A few minutes’ conversation with Kelsea is enough to convince you that she would be taking apart brand new Apple gear no matter what, but she does it professionally. Weber works for iFixit.com, a website you may have heard of once or twice. It provides repair videos, manuals, and tool kits to more than a hundred million visitors a year.

Or, to put it bluntly: iFixit.com is essentially a clearinghouse for information that some of the big names in consumer electronics would just as soon keep to themselves.

Read 57 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Waymo forges self-driving alliance with Renault and Nissan

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 12:26pm

Enlarge / Waymo CEO John Krafcik in 2017. (credit: Misha Friedman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Waymo announced early Thursday morning that it was forming a self-driving alliance with Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi—a trio of car companies that already have strong financial ties to one another. Under the deal, the companies will "explore driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries in France and Japan." Renault is based in France while Nissan and Mitsubishi are Japanese companies.

The deal solves a couple of problems for Waymo.

Over the last three years, major car companies have been forging strong alliances with leading self-driving technology companies. GM bought self-driving startup Cruise, then accepted a major Cruise investment from Honda. Ford invested $1 billion in self-driving startup Argo AI and is reportedly negotiating to sell an Argo stake to Volkswagen. Toyota invested in Uber's self-driving project. Last week, Hyundai announced it was investing in self-driving startup Aurora.

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Government error delays online pornography age-check scheme

BBC Technology News - June 20, 2019 - 12:12pm
A scheme hoping to stop under-18s stumbling across adult content was due to come into force in July.

Loot boxes aren't gambling, says EA

BBC Technology News - June 20, 2019 - 12:02pm
A spokesperson for the company says the system is "quite ethical" and something gamers enjoy.

Interview: Baldur’s Gate 3’s creators talk D&D, turn-based RPGs, and dreams coming true

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / There aren't any screenshots of the game yet, so this screengrab from the website will have to do. (credit: Larian Studios)

LOS ANGELES—Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios and Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast didn't show any gameplay from the newly announced Baldur's Gate 3 at E3 in Los Angeles last week—but they were eager to talk about the long-anticipated project in sit-down interviews.

Ars spoke with Larian Studios Co-founder and Game Director Swen Vincke and Dungeons & Dragons franchise Creative Director Mike Mearls at a hotel near the convention center. We gabbed about how the game came to be, what it's like revisiting the D&D license, and more.

Here's some background: Baldur's Gate 3 is being developed by Larian Studios, the Belgian game studio behind the recent Kickstarter successes Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin 2. Both of those games took on the Baldur's Gate formula with a heavy emphasis on emulating table-top role-playing freedom with Ultima-style systems-based game design.

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Digging into the new features in OpenZFS post-Linux migration

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / There have been some big developments for ZFS in the past several weeks. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

ZFS on Linux 0.8 (ZoL) brought tons of new features and performance improvements when it was released on May 23. They came after Delphix announced that it was migrating its own product to Linux back in March 2018. We'll go over some of the most exciting May features (like ZFS native encryption) here today.

For the full list—including both new features and performance improvements not covered here—you can visit the ZoL 0.8.0 release on Github. (Note that ZoL 0.8.1 was released last week, but since ZFS on Linux follows semantic versioning, it's a bugfix release only.)

Unfortunately for Ubuntu fans, these new features won't show up in Canonical's repositories for quite some time—October 2019's forthcoming interim release, Eoan Ermine, is still showing 0.7.12 in its repos. We can hope that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (which has yet to be named) will incorporate the 0.8.x branch, but there's no official word so far; if you're running Ubuntu 18.04 (or later) and absolutely cannot wait, the widely-used Jonathon F PPA has 0.8.1 available. Debian has 0.8.0 in its experimental repo, Arch Linux has 0.8.1 in its zfs-dkms AUR package, and Gentoo has 0.8.1 in testing at sys-fs/zfs. Users of other Linux distributions can find instructions for building packages directly from master at https://zfsonlinux.org/.

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Nation-sponsored hackers likely carried out hostile takeover of rival group’s servers

Ars Technica - June 20, 2019 - 11:00am

Enlarge

If nation-sponsored hacking was baseball, the Russian-speaking group called Turla would not just be a Major League team—it would be a perennial playoff contender. Researchers from multiple security firms largely agree that Turla was behind breaches of the US Department of Defense in 2008, and more recently the German Foreign Office and France’s military. The group has also been known for unleashing stealthy Linux malware and using satellite-based Internet links to maintain the stealth of its operations.

Now, researchers with security firm Symantec have uncovered evidence of Turla doing something that would be a first for any nation-sponsored hacking group. Turla, Symantec believes, conducted a hostile takeover of an attack platform belonging to a competing hacking group called OilRig, which researchers at FireEye and other firms have linked to the Iranian government. Symantec suspects Turla then used the hijacked network to attack a Middle Eastern government OilRig had already penetrated. Not only would the breach of OilRig be an unprecedented hacking coup, it would also promise to make the already formidable job of attribution—the term given by researchers for using forensic evidence found in malware and servers to pin a hack on a specific group or nation—considerably harder.

A murkier world

“The fact that we’ve seen one advanced group taking over the infrastructure of another nation-backed group changes a lot of policy discussions that are going on, because it complicates attribution,” Jonathan Wrolstad, principal cyber intelligence analyst in Symantec’s Managed Adversary and Threat Intelligence group, told Ars. “This does make us live in the world now that’s a bit murkier.”

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Trump administration finalizes replacement for Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 11:10pm

Enlarge / A truck loaded with coal is viewed at the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, which is operated by Alpha Coal, on Monday May 08, 2017, in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the "Affordable Clean Energy" rule, known as ACE, to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, or CPP.

The ACE rule was proposed last summer, and after going through the procedural steps required to enact the rule, Administrator Wheeler finally signed it today, along with an official repeal of the CPP. Details regarding the final rules have been submitted to the Federal Register, one of the last steps to making federal rules official in the US.

Obama's CPP attempted to set federal power plant emissions limits by state. Under the CPP, states would have had an incentive to push the most-polluting power plants (in most cases, coal plants) offline sooner. But coal interests and several states and utilities challenged this rule in court. Eventually, the Supreme Court stayed the rule, so it was never actually implemented.

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Starry aims to bring its $50, 200Mbps broadband to 25 more US states

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 8:23pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Starry, a wireless home Internet provider, says it has acquired enough spectrum to offer service to 40 million households in more than 25 US states.

Starry's network already passes more than 1.5 million households in Boston, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, New York City, and Denver. Its first launch was in Boston in 2016. The company sells 200Mbps Internet service for $50 a month, but it doesn't reveal how many subscribers it has.

To expand its network, Starry spent $48.5 million on spectrum licenses in the Federal Communications Commission's recent 24GHz auction, as we previously reported. Yesterday, a Starry announcement provided more details on how the new spectrum holdings will be used to expand the network.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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