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Mapping Notre Dame’s unique sound will be a boon to reconstruction efforts

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 1:16pm

Enlarge / Protective tarps displayed on the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, two weeks after a fire devastated it. (credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

When the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire last month, people found some hope in the news that scientist Andrew Tallon had used laser scanning to create precisely detailed maps of the interior and exterior of the cathedral—an invaluable aid as Paris rebuilds this landmark structure.

The acoustics of the cathedral—how it sounds—are also part of its cultural heritage, and given the ephemeral nature of sound, acoustical characteristics can be far trickier to preserve or reproduce. Fortunately, a group of French acousticians made detailed measurements of Notre Dame's "soundscape" over the last few years, along with two other cathedrals. That data will now be instrumental in helping architects factor acoustics into their reconstruction plans.

Dialing in the reverb

"We have a snapshot of the acoustics from two years ago and a computer model that can reproduce that," said Brian FG Katz, research director of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Sorbonne University in Paris, who worked in tandem with Tallon's laser scanning project. "The idea is if they want to, for example, change the materials, we can tell them what the impact of those changes will be on the acoustics. We're not trying to force anybody to restore it one way versus another, but they should be able to make an informed decision about the acoustic impact."

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Photons dance along a line of superconducting qubits

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / Atoms are always up to something. (credit: Jurgen Appelo / Flickr)

When I think about computing, I usually think about it in terms of individual logic gates performing specific operations. These can be strung together to create more sophisticated and useful operations and can be ultimately built into a disaster like EndNote. Even when I make a conceptual switch and think about quantum computing, I still get stuck thinking about quantum logic gates.

But there is a better-than-even chance that quantum computing will not make direct use of logic gates. If logic gates aren't going to be a thing in quantum computing, how will we compute? One way is through annealing, which I've written about a lot.

But the neglected stepchild of quantum computing is something called a "quantum random walk." In a minor miracle, researchers have shown a quantum random walk through a string of 12 quantum bits. This is the sort of step that may herald the beginning of actually demonstrating a quantum computer based on a random walk.

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Vodafone's 5G UK service to launch in July

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 11:36am
The firm will offer its next-generation mobile network to businesses and the public in seven cities.

Amazon launches collection points at Next stores

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 11:20am
Next says the collection points will help it to stay relevant in a "tough" retail environment.

It took just five days for bitcoin to rise from $6,000 to $8,000

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 4:05am

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images News)

Last Wednesday we reported that bitcoin had risen to $6,000 for the first time this year. On Monday, just five days later, bitcoin reached a new 2019 high of $8,000. As I write this, one bitcoin is worth about $7,900.

Of course, bitcoin reached much higher levels in late 2017 and early 2018. Bitcoin's current price just under $8,000 is less than half the all-time high of $19,500 set in December 2017. Bitcoin was last worth at least $8,000 in July 2018.

As often happens, bitcoin's rise is part of a broader cryptocurrency boom. On Saturday, the price of ether—the currency of the Ethereum network—rose above $200 for the first time in 2019. Other cryptocurrencies, including Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Monero, and Dash are at or near 2019 highs.

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WhatsApp vulnerability exploited to infect phones with Israeli spyware

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 3:00am

Enlarge (credit: Santeri Viinamäki)

Attackers have been exploiting a vulnerability in WhatsApp that allowed them to infect phones with advanced spyware made by Israeli developer NSO Group, the Financial Times reported on Monday, citing the company and a spyware technology dealer.

A representative of WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5 billion people, told Ars that company researchers discovered the vulnerability earlier this month while they were making security improvements. CVE-2019-3568, as the vulnerability has been indexed, is a buffer overflow vulnerability in the WhatsApp VOIP stack that allows remote code execution when specially crafted series of SRTCP packets are sent to a target phone number, according to this advisory.

According to the Financial Times, exploits worked by calling either a vulnerable iPhone or Android device using the WhatsApp calling function. Targets need not have answered a call, and the calls often disappeared from logs, the publication said. The WhatsApp representative said the vulnerability was fixed in updates released on Friday.

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NASA reveals funding needed for Moon program, says it will be named Artemis

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 2:40am

Enlarge / The Trump administration's lunar plan finally has a price. Sort of. (credit: NASA)

NASA revealed Monday that it needs an additional $1.6 billion in funding for fiscal year 2020 to stay on track for a human return to the Moon by 2024. The space agency's budget amendment comes in addition to the $21 billion the Trump administration asked Congress for in March.

In a teleconference with reporters on Monday evening, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the budget amendment was a "down payment" on what will be needed in future years to fund the program. "In the coming years, we will need additional funds," he said. "This is a good amount that gets us out of the gate." He and the other NASA officials on the call would not say how much that would be.

Two people familiar with NASA's internal deliberations say the agency has estimated that it needs as much as $6 billion to $8 billion a year for a lunar return by 2024. (Bridenstine has said the amounts will not be this high). These funds would be needed to design and build a lunar lander, accelerate the Space Launch System rocket so that it can perform three launches by then, design new spacesuits, build elements of the Lunar Gateway, and for related programs.

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Conjuring designs from thin air in a virtual world

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 12:23am
How virtual reality tech is finally beginning to fulfil its potential for business.

Apple releases iOS 12.3, macOS 10.14.5, watchOS 5.2.1, and tvOS 12.3

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 12:11am

Enlarge / Apple announced some of these features at its services-and-TV-focused event on March 25. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Today, Apple began rolling out new versions of its iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS operating systems for iPhones and iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs, respectively.

The updates are largely focused on the video services that Apple announced at its March 25 event—namely, a revamped Apple TV app, Apple TV Channels, and an expansion of AirPlay 2 to devices produced by Apple's partners. A handful of bug fixes, performance optimizations, and other small tweaks are also included in the updates.

And no doubt deliberately timed with these updates, AirPlay 2 and Apple TV app support have finally rolled out to supporting Samsung TVs as planned. Apple says they'll roll out to supporting LG, VIZIO, and Sony smart TVs "later this year."

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Lenovo shows off a folding-screen laptop, coming some time in 2020

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 11:30pm

It doesn't have a name (but it'll be in the ThinkPad X1 family), it doesn't have a spec (but it's using an Intel processor), it doesn't have an operating system ("Windows" but, not specifically "Windows 10"), it doesn't have a release date more specific than "2020," and of course it doesn't have a price. But these are I suppose minor details. The big picture: Lenovo has built a laptop with a folding 13.3-inch OLED 1920×1440 screen made by LG. The screen occupies both halves of the laptop's interior space, including where the keyboard would normally go, and the machine can be folded open to turn it into a flat 13-inch screen that you'd frankly never guess could fold.

Things we do know: Lenovo has been working on this thing for three years already. The company sees it as being a full-fledged PC that can take the place of your laptop, specifically not a mere secondary or companion device. Both halves have batteries, so it's not top-heavy, and it has a proper laptop-style stiff hinge to hold the screen at pretty much any angle up to 180 degrees. The screen supports a Wacom pen, and drawing on the screen feels great. When opened up, there's a barely perceptible dip when drawing across the hinged part. But if you weren't looking for it, you'd be hard-pressed to spot it. The unnamed machine has an IR camera for facial-recognition authentication along with two USB Type-C ports.

As we've seen on other devices with folding screens (such as Samsung's ill-fated Galaxy Fold and Huawei's fabulous-looking Mate X), the folded screen doesn't have a tight crease where it bends. Instead, it curves when closed, though Lenovo won't let us show you that curve. Similarly, when the screen is fully opened, one might imagine that it would be useful if there were some way of supporting it upright so that you can use it to watch movies and so on. There's a way to do this, but Lenovo won't let us show you how. We can say that there will be a keyboard accessory that uses Bluetooth, and while you're free to imagine just how such an accessory might be placed on a clamshell type machine, the company didn't want us to mention any specifics.

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Uber’s stock plunges for a second straight day

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 10:42pm

Enlarge / Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. (credit: Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

Uber's stock fell 7.6 percent on Friday, its first day as a publicly traded firm. The bloodbath continued on Monday, with Uber's stock price falling by an additional 10.7 percent.

It's a sobering moment for the ride-hailing company. As recently as last October, some Wall Street banks were estimating that the company could be valued as high as $120 billion. At Monday's closing price of $37.10, Uber is worth barely half that, at $62 billion. (The company is worth around $68 billion on a "fully diluted" basis, which counts stock options and other assets that could eventually be converted into shares.)

Monday wasn't a good day for the broader stock market either, but the Standard & Poor's 500 fell a comparatively modest 2.4 percent.

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Ex-Google boss defends multiple controversies

BBC Technology News - May 13, 2019 - 9:47pm
On tax, China and treatment of women, Eric Schmidt tells BBC he will defend Google for a "very long time".

Drugmakers hiked prices 1,000% in massive price-fixing scheme, states allege

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 9:45pm

Enlarge / A Teva facility in France. (credit: Getty | Fred Dufour)

Twenty leading drug companies—including Teva Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Novartis, and Mylan—were in cahoots for years to fix and dramatically inflate the prices of more than 100 generic drugs, in some cases to raising prices "well over 1,000 percent," according to a lawsuit filed late last week by 44 states.

The alleged scheme was intended to ensure that each company was a "responsible competitor" who was "playing nice in the sandbox" to get its "fair share" of profits from the drugs. Those drugs included pills, capsules, ointments, and cream. They range from oral antibiotics, blood thinners, cancer drugs, contraceptives, statins, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-depressants, blood pressure medications, drugs used to treat HIV, and drugs for ADHD. A full list of the generic drugs can be found here.

"We all know that prescription drugs can be expensive," said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in a statement. "Now we know that high drug prices have been driven in part by an illegal conspiracy among generic drug companies to inflate their prices."

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People drop support for a carbon tax when getting less effective “nudges”

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 8:33pm

Enlarge / A carbon tax would address carbon emissions across sectors, from industry to transport and residential use. (credit: Shiyang Huang / Flickr)

"Nudge" policies have come in for a lot of positive attention. Small tweaks like changing the default on organ donation to opt in (still allowing people to opt out if they choose) seem to be effective at boosting pro-social behaviors. Nudges also work for things like saving for retirement or using less energy while still allowing people freedom of choice.

But nudges like these are "being used as a political expedient," wrote economists George Loewenstein and Peter Ubel in The New York Times in 2010. Nudges, they wrote, allow "policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics." Now, Loewenstein has teamed up with colleagues David Hagmann and Emily Ho on a series of studies showing how this operates. Their results, published today in Nature Climate Change, suggest that if people are offered the chance to support a painless "nudge" policy on energy usage, they seem less likely to support a much more effective carbon tax.

Nudge vs. tax

Nudge policies can be implemented in different ways, but one popular tool is to change a default option to the desired behavior—like employers taking monthly retirement-fund contributions directly out of a paycheck or signing people up with a green energy supplier. Because people are still able to choose the non-default option if they prefer, policies like these are seen as not interfering with individual choice while still ensuring that the positive choice is used more often.

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Facebook sues app maker, says it made millions misusing Facebook user data

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 7:52pm

Enlarge / The Facebook login screen. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Facebook has sued a data analytics company that operated apps on the Facebook platform for nearly a decade, saying the company misused Facebook data to sell advertising and marketing services. Facebook filed the lawsuit on Friday against Rankwave, a South Korean company, in California Superior Court for the County of San Mateo.

Facebook also suspended Rankwave and its apps from its platform, but Rankwave apparently still has a trove of Facebook user data. Facebook's lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the company to delete Facebook user data and suggests that Rankwave may have sold the user data to other unidentified entities. Rankwave refused to tell Facebook which entities it sold data to and refused to "[p]rovide a full accounting of Facebook user data in its possession," Facebook says.

"Rankwave is an application developer that breached its contract with Facebook by violating Facebook's policies and California law," Facebook's lawsuit alleged. Rankwave has developed and operated apps on the Facebook platform since 2010 and "used the Facebook data associated with Rankwave's apps to create and sell advertising and marketing analytics and models—which violated Facebook's policies and terms," the lawsuit said.

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Bluetooth harvester signals hacking group’s growing interest in mobile

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 7:31pm

Enlarge (credit:

A Korean-speaking hacking group in operation since at least 2016 is expanding its arsenal of hacking tools to include a Bluetooth-device harvester in a move that signals the group’s growing interest in mobile devices.

ScarCruft is a Korean-speaking advanced persistent threat group that researchers with security firm Kaspersky Lab have been following since at least 2016. At the time, the group was found using at least four exploits, including an Adobe Flash zeroday, to infect targets located in Russia, Nepal, South Korea, China, India, Kuwait, and Romania.

In a post published Monday, Kaspersky Lab researchers said they discovered a custom Bluetooth-device harvester created by ScarCruft. The researchers wrote:

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When misinformation online leads to death threats

BBC Technology News - May 13, 2019 - 7:09pm
Three stories of what happens when false information is spread about you on social media sites.

Supreme Court ruling could threaten Apple’s 30 percent app commission

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 6:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Chesnot/Getty Images)

A narrowly divided Supreme Court is allowing a group of consumers to move forward with a lawsuit charging that Apple overcharges customers for App Store purchases. Apple had asked courts to throw out the lawsuit, arguing that the law only allowed app developers, not customers, to bring such a case.

The lawsuit has been underway since 2011 and is nowhere close to resolution. The stakes are high. Apple's iOS platform is notable for completely shutting out alternative means of app distribution. Other major software platforms—including Android, Mac OS, and Windows—offer customers the option to download and install software they acquire from third parties without paying a commission to the platform owner. But ordinary iPhone users—those who are unwilling or unable to jailbreak or use developer tools—have no way to install apps other than through the official App Store.

Plaintiffs in this case argue that Apple's 30 percent commission on app sales wouldn't be viable in a competitive app distribution market. The class-action lawsuit seeks refunds on behalf of millions of users who have paid inflated prices for apps as a result of Apple's exclusionary practices.

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Dealmaster: There’s a bunch of deals on Anker charging gear today

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 6:35pm

Enlarge / Today seems like a decent day to stock up on charging gear. (credit: Anker)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back a bit earlier than usual this week to highlight a one-day sale that may be of interest to those in need of new charging gear. Amazon is currently discounting a number of wall chargers, battery packs, and charging cables from popular accessories maker Anker as part of its daily “Gold Box” discounts.

Anker runs these kind of peripheral deals frequently, often through discount codes, but most of what’s on sale here is at or near its lowest price to date. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

  • The PowerPort Speed+ Duo wall charger is down to $19.49 from its usual $26. It comes with a 30W USB-C Power Delivery port, which is powerful enough to charge most new smartphones at max speed (with the appropriate cable) and can charge some ultra-thin laptops like Apple’s 12-inch MacBook. There’s a 12W USB-A port alongside that.
  • The black model of the PowerPort I desktop charger is down to $35 from its usual $50. This charger is more designed to live on a desk, but it also includes a 30W USB-C PD port along with four 12W USB-A ports. The whole things gets up to a maximum of 60W, so you won’t be able to get a full-speed charge from every port if you use them all at once. But at this price, it should still be versatile enough to be useful if you regularly have multiple devices to refill at once.
  • If you need new charging cords, a two-pack of the company’s MFi-certified Lightning cables is $15 instead of their usual $20, a three-pack of microUSB cables is $7.70 instead of their usual $11, and its braided USB-C cable is $9.50 instead of its usual $15. The first two items come with an 18-month warranty, while the USB-C cable comes with a lifetime warranty.

There are a few more deals beyond that, but these additional sales aren’t quite as enticing as the ones above. A pair of wireless chargers—one a flat pad, the other a charging stand—is similarly priced near all-time lows, but we found the former to be outclassed by a competing pad from RAVPower that is currently available for the same price and the latter maxes out at a slow 5W of power. Neither come with an AC adapter, either. If you can put up with the generally slower speeds of wireless charging as a whole, we think you can do better by paying up a little bit more.

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Lenovo bumps X1 Extreme to i9, GTX 1650, introduces new mainstream ThinkBooks

Ars Technica - May 13, 2019 - 6:17pm

Lenovo is having its annual conference for its business partners and customers, and with that comes a spate of new hardware announcements.

Let's start simple: the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, the 15-inch counterpart to the regular X1, has been updated to a 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor and an Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU MaxQ, further enhancing its powerhouse specs, while continuing to weigh under 4 pounds. There's also a new 4K OLED touchscreen option that looks fab. Maximum storage has been doubled to 4TB. Pricing starts at $1,499.99, with availability in July.

Lenovo currently has two main laptop brands: the mass-market IdeaPad, and the high-end/corporate ThinkPad line, with the latter honoring the IBM ThinkPad legacy with their black cases and red TrackPoint mice. To these, the company is adding a third range: ThinkBook. These are intended for small and medium business customers, and they arguably split the difference between the IdeaPad and ThinkPad lines. They have business-friendly features: Windows 10 Pro, a good amount of field serviceability and commercial support options, and buttons for Skype calls. They lack the ThinkPad's TrackPoint and aren't quite as thin or light as comparable ThinkPad machines.

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