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Industry & Technology

Facebook blames server tweak for blackout issues

BBC Technology News - March 14, 2019 - 5:58pm
A server configuration change is blamed for global disruption to Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

737 MAX crashes “linked” by satellite track data, FAA says

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 5:29pm

Enlarge / Relatives of the victims of the Sunday plane crash take a picture next to a pile of airplane fuselage at the crash site of the Ethiopian Airlines operated Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, at Hama Quntushele village in the Oromia region, on March 13, 2019. - A Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines Boeing crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on March 10, 2019, killing all eight crew and 149 passengers on board, including tourists, business travelers, and "at least a dozen" UN staff. Families of the victims were taken to the remote site on March 13, 2019, where the plane smashed into a field with 157 passengers and crew from 35 countries, leaving a deep black crater and tiny scraps of debris. (credit: TONY KARUMBA / AFP / Getty Images)

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order grounding all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on March 13, citing new data that showed a possible link between the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight and the crash of a Lion Air flight off the coast of Indonesia last October. In an interview with NPR's David Greene this morning, acting FAA Director Dan Ewell said that "newly refined satellite data" from a flight telemetry system had led the agency to make the move.

Both Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 (ET302) and Lion Air Flight 610 (JT610) were recently acquired 737 MAX 8 aircraft, and both were lost with all aboard just minutes after take-off. According to the emergency order issued by the FAA, "new information from the wreckage concerning the aircraft's configuration just after takeoff that, taken together with newly refined data from satellite-based tracking of the aircraft's flight path, indicates some similarities between the ET302 JT610 accidents that warrant further investigation of the possibility of a shared cause for the two incidents that needs to be better understood and addressed."

The source of the data in question is a combination of telemetry feeds from the flights' Automatic Dependent Surveillance(ADS) system. Introduced in the US in 2001 and more widely worldwide in the wake of the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 in 2014, Europe has required most aircraft to carry the UHF-band ADS-Broadcast (ADS-B) system since 2017, and the FAA has mandated ADS-B for most aircraft by 2020.

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New fuel cell material can run efficiently in reverse, storing energy

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 5:19pm

Enlarge / Close-up of a hydrogen fuel cell. (credit: Wladimir Bulgar | Science Photo Library)

Lithium batteries can readily smooth out short-term hiccups in the supply of intermittent renewable energy. But they're not ideal for long-term storage, since they'll slowly discharge. They also aren't great for large quantities of energy—to store more, you keep having to buy more battery. Because of these issues, there has been research into a number of technologies that scale better, like flow batteries and renewable fuel production. But these pose their own challenges, both chemical and economic.

But researchers are now reporting a possible solution to some of these problems: a fuel cell that can be run efficiently in both directions, either using hydrogen or methane to produce electricity or using electricity to produce these fuels. Their measurements suggest that, after doing a complete cycle, they get out 75 percent of the electricity they put in to start with.

Limitations abound

Batteries, as we mentioned above, don't work for longer-term storage, as they will typically lose charge slowly. They're also expensive, as adding capacity means adding more batteries. Flow batteries solve some of these problems by storing the charged and discharged forms of a chemical in different tanks; larger or additional tanks are cheap, making expanded capacity relatively simple and inexpensive. But flow batteries aren't as efficient as traditional batteries, and the chemicals they use can be toxic or corrosive.

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A dog potentially exposed more than 100 people to black plague in Colorado

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 4:49pm

Enlarge / The dog is thought to have caught the plague from a dead prairie dog. (credit: Getty | Craig F. Walker)

At least 116 people and 46 animals in Colorado were potentially exposed to the black plague after veterinarians struggled to diagnose a critically ill dog back in 2017.

The unusual case prompted health experts to issue an equally unusual—and perhaps startling—warning. That is, that dogs in the US may contract the deadly bacterial infection at any time of the year, and the signs may be hard to spot.

“[P]neumonic plague, although rare, should be considered in dogs that have fever and respiratory signs with potential exposure in disease-endemic areas, regardless of season and lobar [lung] distribution,” the Colorado health experts concluded. They published details of the case and their warning this week in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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The gang’s back with a marvelous new member in Avengers: End Game trailer

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 4:38pm

"It all seems like a thousand years ago": Our heroes reflect on their origins in third trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: End Game.

Captain Marvel is still burning up the box office, saving Hollywood from a lackluster first quarter of 2019. Might she do the same for the embattled Avengers, reeling from their staggering loss? It sure looks that way, based on the latest trailer for Marvel's Avengers: End Game. And since it would take several days at this point to re-watch all the earlier films in the franchise, we also get to revisit the origins of our surviving Avengers in black-and-white footage from those movies.

(Some spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War and prior MCU films in this series below.)

For the two people on the planet who don't know this yet, in Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos (an intergalactic supervillain from Titan) successfully collected all six Infinity Stones: the Power Stone, the Space Stone, the Time Stone, the Reality Stone, the Soul Stone, and the Mind Stone. Once collected and placed in the Infinity Gauntlet, they gave Thanos the power to wipe out half of all living beings in the universe. And despite the valiant collective efforts of pretty much every superhero in the Marvel cinematic universe, Thanos succeeds. With a single snap of his fingers, half of the universe dissolves into dust, including many of our beloved superheroes.

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Left 4 Dead’s developers are Back 4 Blood with new spiritual successor

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 4:26pm

Enlarge / Artist's conception of Left 4 Dead fans searching aimlessly for a new co-op zombie shooter for the last ten years.

Back in the old days of 2008, when Valve actually made and released new games on a semi-regular schedule, the publisher took a chance on independent developer Turtle Rock and a little co-op focused, AI-driven zombie swarm game called Left 4 Dead. The game was a multimillion-selling success, as was its 2009 sequel and associated DLC packs. So of course Valve and Turtle Rock built on that success by... letting the franchise lay fallow for almost a decade now.

Fast-forward to today, when Warner Bros. Interactive announced it has recruited Turtle Rock to bring the Left 4 Dead flavor back with the not-at-all-coincidentally titled Back 4 Blood.

While an accompanying FAQ makes it clear that this is not Left 4 Dead 3 (an IP that's owned by Valve, in any case), the announcement notes that the new game will share the same creators, development team, and zombie-shooting flavor of those well-remembered classics. "We get to return to a genre that was born in our studio with over ten years of additional experience and zombie ideas racked up in our brains," Turtle Rock cofounder and Design Director Chris Ashton said in a statement.

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God of War, Red Dead Redemption and indie titles lead 2019 Bafta nominations

BBC Technology News - March 14, 2019 - 3:07pm
Big budget games and independent titles will compete across a variety of categories at a ceremony in April.

Here’s why NASA’s administrator made such a bold move Wednesday

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 2:11pm

Enlarge / NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks at Wednesday's Senate hearing. His rocket fuel of choice is not LOX/Kerosene, but rather Mountain Dew. (credit: NASA)

In a remarkable turnaround, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Wednesday said the space agency would consider launching its first Orion mission to the Moon on commercial rockets instead of NASA's own Space Launch System. This caught virtually the entire aerospace world off guard, and represents a bold change from the status quo of Orion as America's spacecraft, and the SLS as America's powerful rocket that will launch it.

The announcement raised a bunch of questions, and we've got some speculative but well-informed answers.

What happened?

During a hearing of the Senate Commerce committee to assess America's future in space, committee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker opened by asking Bridenstine about Exploration Mission-1's ongoing delays. The EM-1 test flight involves sending an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a three-week mission into lunar orbit, and is regarded as NASA's first step toward returning humans to the Moon. This mission was originally scheduled for late 2017, but it has slipped multiple times, most recently to June 2020. It has also come to light that this date, too, is no longer tenable.

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The Ars Technica System Guide, Winter 2019: The one about the servers

Ars Technica - March 14, 2019 - 12:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

In the last Ars System Guide roughly one year ago, we took a slight detour from our long-running series. Rather than recommending the latest components focused on a particular niche like gaming or home entertainment PCs, we broadened our scope and focused on ideology rather than instruction and outlined what to look for when building a great desktop PC.

This time around, we're playing the hits again. The Winter 2019 Ars System Guide has returned to its roots: showing readers three real-world system builds we like at this precise moment in time. Instead of general performance desktops, this time around we're going to focus specifically on building some servers.

Naturally, this raises a particular question: "What's a server for, then?" Let's broach a bit of theory before leaving plenty of room for the actual builds.

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On the edge of something really good: Ford Edge review

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

Enlarge / The 2019 Ford Edge Titanium. (credit: Eric Bangeman)

If you want to know about the state of the auto industry in the US, look no further than Ford. Once the home of sedans like the Taurus and Crown Victoria, Ford has decided to largely give up on cars and focus its efforts on SUVs and trucks. That means more attention to models like the Explorer and Escape, plus the return of the Bronco (will it be available in OJ Simpson White?). Oh, and the Ford Edge has gotten some serious love from Ford for 2019—it has been redesigned with lots of help from the Ford Performance Team. Let's have a look.

The Ford Edge slots roughly into the middle of Ford's massive lineup of SUVs and crossovers. On the smaller side are the EcoSport and Escape; the Explorer, Flex, and Expedition complete Ford's range of SUVs. At 188 inches long (4,775mm), the Edge looks more like a squat SUV with a blunt-looking front end than other compact crossovers like the Volkswagen Tiguan. Ford's makeover for the Flex manifests itself with new bi-LED headlights, new 18-inch bright-machined aluminum wheels (20-inch wheels come with the Titanium Elite package), sportier-looking front and rear fascia, and a wider grille. And you can admire the new liftgate appliqué as you walk toward the Edge with your bags of groceries.

As is the case with most compact crossovers, Ford has equipped the Edge with a 2.0L, 16-valve turbocharged engine capable of 250hp (184kW) at 5,500rpm and 275lb-ft (373Nm) of torque at 3,000rpm, which comes with the SE, SEL, and Titanium trim. The Edge SL has a 2.7L 24-valve EcoBoost V6 that offers 335hp (246kW) at 5,500rpm. There's a new eight-speed automatic transmission with standard front-wheel drive (all-wheel drive is standard on the SL and available across the rest of the lineup). Our review car had the four-banger under the hood.

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Emma Haruka Iwao smashes pi world record with Google help

BBC Technology News - March 14, 2019 - 9:37am
Emma Haruka Iwao calculates the value of pi to 31 trillion digits, after a lifelong fascination.

Netflix to set own official UK age ratings under BBFC system

BBC Technology News - March 14, 2019 - 3:16am
The streaming giant will use an algorithm to make sure its entire catalogue has an official rating.

'I ignored my children to play video games'

BBC Technology News - March 14, 2019 - 1:28am
The number of people seeking help for addiction to video games is increasing, treatment centres say.

862,520 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles have emissions issues, will be recalled

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 11:56pm

Enlarge / The Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles NV Dodge Ram logo stands on display outside the company's Warren Truck Assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (credit: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Issues with the catalytic converters of 862,520 Fiat-Chrysler vehicles are prompting a semi-voluntary recall, according to officials from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The vehicles in question include:

  • 2011-2016 Model Year (MY) Dodge Journey
  • 2011-2014 MY Chrysler 200/Dodge Avenger
  • 2011-2012 MY Dodge Caliber
  • 2011-2016 MY Jeep Compass/Patriot

The recall will be conducted in phases, with owners of older cars being notified first that they can bring their cars in to be fixed. The last phase is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2019. Unlike previous Fiat-Chrysler emissions recalls, these fixes require replacement parts.

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It looks like Windows 10 Home can now defer updates for 35 days

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 10:26pm

Enlarge / Not every Windows 10 user appreciates being a guinea pig for Windows updates. (credit: Andy Miccone / Flickr)

The next Windows 10 feature update, version 1903, looks like it's going to give Windows 10 Home users a little more flexibility about when they install updates. All versions of Windows 10 allow for updates to be deferred, waiting a number of days after each update is released before attempting to install it.

Currently in Windows 10 version 1809, Windows 10 Home users are limited to a delay of just seven days. In the latest preview build of Windows 10, however, this has been raised to 35 days (via Reddit). This means that users nervous about being the first to use each new update can wait a little over a month before installing it.

While most Windows updates are problem-free for most people, issues do crop up from time to time. Generally, these are resolved within a week or two of the initial release, with Microsoft either reissuing fixed versions of the patches or sometimes blacklisting particular hardware or software combinations that have proven problematic. The 35-day delay is almost invariably going to be sufficient to let people wait for these bugs to be shaken out.

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Story about body cam capturing oral sex audio was apparently a hoax [Updated]

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 9:49pm

Enlarge (credit: Tim Drivas Photography / Getty)

Update: The New York Post and the New York Daily News, our sources for this story, are now both describing this story as a hoax. "The NYPD launched an investigation into a body-cam recording that purported to be of a Brooklyn cop giving oral sex to her boss in a squad car while on duty — but it turned out to be a hoax," the Post writes. We regret reporting on this inaccurate story. The original story is below.

A body cam captured audio of a female New York Police Department officer performing oral sex on her boss, a male sergeant, the New York Post and New York Daily News report. The tryst occurred around midnight in a police car in the 75th Precinct, which covers the easternmost portion of Brooklyn. The two officers were on the clock.

"The officer and the sergeant were getting hot and heavy in their patrol car when the sergeant allegedly removed the officer’s body camera from her shirt," the New York Daily News reports. "He put the camera in her vest but accidentally switched it on. While the camera lens was obscured by the vest, the audio of the sex act was recorded."

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Google launches the next version of Android—Android Q—in beta

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 9:23pm

Enlarge / The Android Q logo. (credit: Google)

On Wednesday, Google released a preview of the next version of Android, codenamed "Android Q." The final release should happen sometime toward the end of the year, but for now we get a work-in-progress build that will get several new versions throughout the year. The highlights for this release include new privacy and security controls, support for foldables, a share menu that actually works, faster app startup, and more.

This first release only works with Google's Pixel devices, including the Pixel 1, which is technically beyond its support window. Wider device compatibility for some non-Google devices should arrive with the second release.

We will publish a deeper dive into Android Q once we get it installed and have time to read over some documents, but for now, here's a quick batch of highlights from Google's blog post on the subject.

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Google Play apps with 150 million installs contain aggressive adware

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 8:51pm

Enlarge (credit: NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Researchers have identified a massive adware campaign that invaded the official Google Play market with more than 200 highly aggressive apps that were collectively downloaded almost 150 million times.

The 210 apps discovered by researchers from security firm Checkpoint Software bombarded users with ads, even when an app wasn’t open, according to a blog post published by the company on Wednesday. The apps also had the ability to carry out spearphishing attacks by causing a browser to open an attacker-chosen URL and open the apps for Google Play and third-party market 9Apps with a specific keyword search or a specific application’s page. The apps reported to a command-and-control server to receive instructions on which commands to carry out.

Once installed, the apps installed code that allowed them to perform actions as soon as the device finished booting or while the user was using the device. The apps also could remove their icon from the device launcher to make it harder for users to uninstall the nuisance apps. The apps all used a software development kit called RXDrioder, which Checkpoint researchers believe concealed its abusive capabilities from app developers. The researchers dubbed the campaign SimBad, because many of the participating apps are simulator games.

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US to ground all Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 jets in wake of crash [Updated]

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 7:57pm

Enlarge / A Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashed in October 2018; a software fix based on the investigation was delayed by the US government shutdown. It's possible that the fix could have prevented the crash of a similar aircraft in Ethiopia on March 10, 2019. (credit: PK-REN, Jakarta, Indonesia )

Update: President Donald Trump announced Wednesday afternoon that the Federal Aviation Administration will order all 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9 planes to be grounded.

"We’re going to be issuing an emergency order of prohibition to ground all flights of the 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9 and planes associated with that line," Trump said. "Pilots have been notified, airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern."

Faced with widespread bans on the aircraft, Boeing has recommended the 737 MAX be grounded as well. "We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution," Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement. "Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements and help ensure this does not happen again."

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Shading the planet doesn’t have to come with rainfall side-effects

Ars Technica - March 13, 2019 - 7:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Caetano Candal Sato)

It sounds like a drastic course of action: inject stuff high into Earth’s atmosphere to reflect a little sunlight and help counteract global warming. Then again, injecting a bunch of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and warming the planet was pretty drastic, too.

The key to thinking sensibly about this “solar geoengineering” is to avoid the extremes and consider the most plausible use scenarios. That means we can ignore things like using solar geoengineering to cancel out all warming while still emitting as much CO2 as we please—it simply isn't plausible.

There are a number of reasons to take it off the table. There’s the fact that the cooling influence of atmospheric injections is only temporary—quitting quickly reveals the full force of the warming you’re offsetting. There’s also the fact that this scheme only counteracts warming—the acidification of the oceans would continue apace. And for another example, the mismatch in physics between solar-geoengineering-driven cooling and greenhouse warming means that precipitation can decline even if temperature stays the same.

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