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Industry & Technology

Ubiquiti’s new “Amplifi Alien” is a mesh-capable Wi-Fi 6 router

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 11:30pm

Enlarge / We were also provided an animated version of this image, in which the Alien router bobs up and down gently while levitating. We elected not to use that one. (credit: Amplifi)

Ubiquiti's consumer brand Amplifi has launched a new Wi-Fi 6 product line called "AmpliFi Alien." The original Amplifi products were typically sold as three-piece Wi-Fi mesh kits, so we got a little excited when we saw a price tag of $380 for Alien.

Unfortunately, that price is for a single router, not a kit—which means that Amplifi Alien, like Orbi AX6000, is still in stratospheric "you probably don't want this yet" territory where price is concerned. We have a sneaking suspicion both these price points are a bit of a gouge, since TP-Link's Broadcom BCM6750-based AX1500 Wi-Fi 6 router is already available for under $100.

Like Amplifi's earlier products, Alien features a small touchscreen on the router which can display the time, speed-test results, and offer some simple direct network control. Its power and WAN ports are recessed inside the base of the unit with a cable-management tunnel, but the four LAN ports are arranged along the back side of the barrel, opposite the touchscreen.

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Ars talks fighting games with Guilty Gear creator Daisuke Ishiwatari

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 11:09pm

Enlarge / Daisuke Ishiwatari takes the stage at ArcRevo 2019 in Irvine, CA (credit: Arc System Works / Aurich Lawson)

A little over 20 years ago, when Daisuke Ishiwatari created Guilty Gear, popular fighting games like Street Fighter or King of Fighters tended to have a similar premise: gather the strongest warriors in the world and pit them against each other in a test of skill. Daisuke wanted a fighting game that was less grounded in the real world and reflected the wilder possibilities of manga and anime. (Guilty Gear was less grounded in a literal sense, too: characters could practically fly about the screen with mid-air moves, later leading to people referring to this style of anime-based fighters as "air dashers.") His vision was a war-torn future, full of magic, man-made bioweapons that turned on their creators (the eponymous Gears), and a diverse cast of heavy-metal-inspired characters players could choose from.

Guilty Gear games are both very difficult to master and also very rewarding for those who put in the hours of study. If fighting games are music, Guilty Gear is jazz, free form and technical, allowing players to improvise and develop their own styles and personalities. It's beautiful in motion but difficult for outsiders to follow, and the hardcore reputation has led to many feeling intimidated about learning or following the games.

In summer 2019, a new Guilty Gear game was announced, and Daisuke began hinting that this time around, the game would be simpler and more accessible. He wanted more players to pick up the game, more people to be able to follow along with tournaments and play. That perhaps comes as welcome news for those curious about the game but put off by the effort required to learn. The long-time player base, however, expressed consternation. Was the game they know and love going to be dumbed down? Was the freedom of expression they adore going to be removed?

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It’s the user’s fault if a Ring camera violates your privacy, Amazon says

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 10:58pm

Enlarge / Your local police might like to interest you in this product. (credit: Amazon)

Amazon subsidiary Ring, which makes home surveillance equipment and cameras, has "partnerships" with more than 600 law enforcement agencies nationwide, allowing those police access to users' footage. And while Ring says it sets terms around how and when it will share that footage with police, anything the police do with it afterward is entirely out of its hands, the company says.

The partnerships between Ring and police, and the terms of the agreements, have not been transparent to the general public. Instead, they've come out in bits and pieces in media reports throughout the year. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in September demanded clearer answers from Amazon about Ring and published the company's responses this week.

In the pair of replies (PDF 1, PDF 2), Ring repeatedly deflects responsibility for the contents of captured footage to the consumers who capture it and the police departments that acquire it.

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EverQuest lead producer and designer Brad McQuaid has passed away

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 9:25pm

Enlarge / The original promotional art for EverQuest. (credit: Daybreak Games)

Brad McQuaid, the lead developer for the groundbreaking massively multiplayer online (MMO) game EverQuest, has died, according to an update from his development team. He was 51.

Details about the circumstances of his death have not been shared publicly, other than a mention that he passed away in his home. The Twitter account for Pantheon, McQuaid's project at the time of his death, and Visionary Realms, the company behind it, tweeted out the following announcement:

It is with deep regret we share that Brad McQuaid passed away last night. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered by gamers worldwide.

Thank you for bringing us together through your worlds. Rest in peace @Aradune.

VR offers our deepest condolences to Brad’s family.

McQuaid worked as a game programmer and designer starting back in the late 1980s, but he is most well-known for his role as lead programmer, producer, and designer (at various times) on EverQuest, the 1999 massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that defined the genre to this day. EQ, which adapted the DikuMUD formula from text games for a 3D persistent graphical virtual world, was a breakthrough moment for MMORPGs. Its success codified that model for the genre as other, different ideas of what MMORPGs might look like (such as those posited by Meridian 59Underlight, or Ultima Online) largely faded into memory.

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Nikki Haley lost her password, so she sent confidential info over unclassified system

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge / Ambassador Nikki Haley listens at the United Nations. (credit: United States Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers / Flickr)

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley sent confidential material over a network reserved only for unclassified material because she forgot her password for classified communications, The Daily Beast reported.

The event happened on July 4 and July 5, 2017, after North Korea had tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska. As she and her staff scrambled to draft a statement responding to the test, Haley reportedly used her BlackBerry 10 to trade comments over the OpenNet, a State Department network for communicating sensitive, but not classified, information.

“Can’t find my password,” she wrote on July 5. Other messages instructed staff to make changes to the preliminary statement versions they had drafted.

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England boss Gareth Southgate reveals high-tech tips

BBC Technology News - November 20, 2019 - 7:10pm
Gareth Southgate says analysis of data has changed how his team trains - including for penalties.

New antibiotic found in bacteria inside a worm inside an insect egg

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

Enlarge (credit: BSIP/Universal Images Group)

The last antibiotics generated against Gram-negative bacteria—which tend to be the more dangerous type—were developed in the 1960s. Thanks to the rise of antibiotic resistance, we need more. But rather than going through the trouble of trying to make our own, scientists have looked to other species that might need to kill the same bacteria that we do—we can just swipe theirs. Our own guts and soil bacteria have yielded a few recent hits.

The latest organisms that researchers have looked to are bacteria in the microbiomes of roundworms that parasitize insects (technically termed enteropathogenic nematodes). They were considered promising candidates because the worms invade insect larvae and release bacteria. Those bacteria then have to fend off the ones already living in the insect larva, as well as all the other bacteria the nematodes just spewed out. Conveniently for us, those species include common pathogens in our own guts, like E. coli

Usually, when microorganisms are being screened to see if they make effective antibiotics, they are grown on a plate along with the pathogenic bacteria to see if the ones being screened thwart the growth of the ones being targeted. The species taken from the nematodes’ guts did not stop the growth of E. coli in this traditional assay. But the scientists speculated that maybe they still made antibiotics, just not at high enough levels.

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Google Earth gets content creation tools for geography-focused presentations

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 6:21pm

Enlarge / A Google Earth presentation in action. (credit: Google)

Google Earth is getting a new content creation feature set. You'll now be able to make presentations using Google's vast 3D Earth imagery and point-of-interest information. It's sort of like a geography-focused Powerpoint.

Back in 2017, Google Earth was completely rebuilt from a desktop application to a WebGL-based browser app at Starting today, on the left side of the website, you'll see a new "Projects" button, which will let you create a presentation. Just like a Google Doc or Sheet or Slide, these Google Earth Projects get saved as files on your Google Drive.

And like a normal presentation, you can create slides and attach text, images, and videos. Since this is Google Earth, though, all the text and images get overlaid on top of Google's terabytes of Earth imagery. You can pick from Google Earth's 3D views or Street View, set the camera just right, and capture a view. As you click through slides in your presentation, Google Earth will smoothly fly from point to point as your slides pop up.

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Did Neanderthals make eagle talon necklaces 120,000 years ago?

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 5:20pm

Enlarge (credit: José Antonio Lagier Martin)

At Foradada Cave in northeast Spain, Neanderthal fossils lie mingled with stone tools and animal bones. Here, archaeologists recently unearthed the tip of a 39,000-year-old eagle toe with its claw missing. The phalanx (toe bone) came from the end of a Spanish imperial eagle’s big toe (the left one, to be exact), and cut marks along the length of the bone suggest that someone had cut off the large, curved talon at the end of the toe.

Archaeologist Antonio Rodriguez, of the Institute of Evolution in Africa, and his colleagues suggest that the missing talon ended up on a Neanderthal necklace.

The case of the missing jewelry

Along the top side of the toe (a proximal phalanx, if you’re an anatomy fan), 11 deep cut marks run diagonally across the bone; a shallower twelfth cut crosses the others, parallel with the bone’s length. Under the microscope, the cuts have v-shaped cross-sections, leaning to one side—the signature shape of tool-made cuts rather than predator teeth or damage from scraping against rocks or other bone. In fact, the cuts look almost exactly like the marks archaeologists left behind when they used stone tools to separate a raptor’s claw from its toe (because of course they did, for science).

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Iran's internet blackout reaches four-day mark

BBC Technology News - November 20, 2019 - 4:28pm
Almost all internet connectivity in the country has been switched off since Saturday.

Researchers see spike in “out of season” IRS-impersonating phishing attacks

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 4:22pm

Enlarge / A fake IRS site used in a set of phishing campaigns observed by Akamai from August to October. (credit: Akamai)

Tax return scammers usually strike early in the year, when they can turn the personal information of victims into fraudulent tax refund claims. But members of Akamai's threat research team found a recent surge in "off-season" phishing attacks masquerading as notices from the Internal Revenue Service, targeting over 100,000 individuals. The attackers used at least 289 different domains hosting fake IRS websites—the majority of them legitimate sites that had been compromised. This wave of attacks came as the October 15 deadline for people who had filed for extensions approached.

According to a post by Akamai's Or Katz, the phishing campaigns kicked off in the second half of August, with the majority of victims targeted between August 22 and September 5. But the campaigns continued to be launched into early October. Each of the fake websites used visually identical HTML pages, with randomly generated style tags and other content, in an attempt to throw off signature detection by security software.

Most of the domains were active for fewer than 20 days. However, a significant number of them remained active after a month—undetected by the owners of the sites. "The lack of maintenance on legacy websites, as well as the challenges of patching and removing injected content, explains the duration over which phishing pages can remain active," Katz wrote.

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Volkswagen is putting this cool electric station wagon into production

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 3:54pm

LOS ANGELES—Buzz. Crozz. Buggy. Vizzion. And now Space Vizzion. No, I haven't overdosed on the letter Z; those are the slightly wacky names for a series of not-at-all-wacky electric ID concept cars from Volkswagen, the newest of which was just unveiled on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The ID Space Vizzion is the latest installment in an electrification push from one of the world's largest automakers, one aiming to sell 20 million electric cars worldwide over the next 10 years.

Volkswagen Group had little choice but to embrace electric powertrains in the aftermath of dieselgate—the alternative would be failing to meet 2021's European CO2 rules, which would result in billions of dollars in fines. Audi and Porsche, the two big premium brands within the group, got their battery EVs to market first. The first of these—the Audi e-tron—is mainly a stop-gap, a Q8 with batteries and two electric motors in place of the normal internal combustion engine stuff. The Porsche Taycan had an extra year to gestate, and is all the better for it, a mostly clean-sheet design that's wowed everyone who's driven it.

Meanwhile, over at VW (the brand, not the group) the engineers were working on MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten, or Modular Electrification Toolkit), which it will use to build millions of BEVs over the next decade. VW has long embraced the use of modular architectures; its current MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten, or Modular Transverse Toolkit) gives rise to such diverse cars as the VW Atlas and Audi TT-RS. And MEB should be even more flexible, as the various ID concept cars have shown.

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Molly Russell: Coroner demands social media firms turn over account data

BBC Technology News - November 20, 2019 - 2:51pm
Social media firms must provide data from the accounts of a teenager who killed herself, a coroner says.

Guidemaster: The most useful gadgets to have in your bag while traveling

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / Not all of us frequently travel with camping/hiking backpacks like these joyful stock photo travelers—luckily, we have some recommendations on tech tailored for on-the-go life. (credit: Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images)

Traveling can be a fun, illuminating experience, but packing for your travels is often stressful. Everything you choose to bring with you on your excursions must have a purpose, because unnecessary items do not belong in anyone's cramped suitcase. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, it can be difficult to decide which pieces of tech deserve to come with you and which you only think would be useful.

It can also be hard to find gadgets that are suitable for travel—devices that work even more efficiently when you're not in your normal environment. To combat this, Ars has picked out some of the best travel tech gifts that will be solid additions to anyone's travel bag. All of the items below we've personally tested or reviewed, so we're confident saying that none of these devices will end up languishing, abandoned, at the bottom of your suitcase.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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400-year-old warships in Swedish channel may be sisters of doomed Vasa

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 12:45pm

Enlarge / These curved timbers, called knees, help support deck beams. (credit: Jim Hansson, Vrak Museum of Wrecks)

Two 17th-century shipwrecks on the bottom of a busy Swedish shipping channel may be the sister ships of the ill-fated Vasa. Archaeologists with Sweden's Vrak—Museum of Wrecks discovered the vessels in a 35-meter-deep channel near Stockholm during a recent survey. Neither wreck is as well-preserved as Vasa (to be fair, there are probably ships actually sailing today that aren't as well-preserved as Vasa), but they're in remarkably good shape for several centuries on the bottom.

Studying the wrecks could reveal more details about how early naval engineers revised their designs to avoid another disaster like Vasa.

Hiding in plain sight

The wrecks may be the remains of two of the four large warships Sweden's King Gustav II Adolf built in the 1620s and 1630s. The earliest of the four ships, Vasa, had a first trip out of port in 1628 that ended in disaster; the top-heavy vessel caught a gust of wind and leaned over far enough to let water rush in through open gun ports. King Gustav's prized warship sank just a few dozen meters offshore in front of hundreds of spectators, killing half the crew onboard.

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UK gambling machines loaded with AI 'cool off' system

BBC Technology News - November 20, 2019 - 12:33pm
Software designed to curtail excessive play has come to all gambling machines in betting shops.

Official Monero website is hacked to deliver currency-stealing malware

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 3:19am

(credit: Pixabay)

The official site for the Monero digital coin was hacked to deliver currency-stealing malware to users who were downloading wallet software, officials with said on Tuesday.

The supply-chain attack came to light on Monday when a site user reported that the cryptographic hash for a command-line interface wallet downloaded from the site didn't match the hash listed on the page. Over the next several hours, users discovered that the miss-matching hash wasn't the result of an error. Instead, it was an attack designed to infect GetMonero users with malware. Site officials later confirmed that finding.

"It's strongly recommended to anyone who downloaded the CLI wallet from this website between Monday 18th 2:30 AM UTC and 4:30 PM UTC, to check the hashes of their binaries," GetMonero officials wrote. "If they don't match the official ones, delete the files and download them again. Do not run the compromised binaries for any reason."

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Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile 'factcheckUK'

BBC Technology News - November 20, 2019 - 1:45am
Twitter said the stunt was misleading to the public and would not be tolerated in future - but did not take any direct action.

Amazon gets closer to getting Alexa everywhere

BBC Technology News - November 20, 2019 - 1:21am
Alexa chief discusses plans to make the virtual assistant more useful when used outside the home.

Google outlines plans for mainline Linux kernel support in Android

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 1:00am

It seems like Google is working hard to update and upstream the Linux kernel that sits at the heart of every Android phone. The company was a big participant in this year's Linux Plumbers Conference, a yearly meeting of the top Linux developers, and Google spent a lot of time talking about getting Android to work with a generic Linux kernel instead of the highly customized version it uses now. It even showed an Android phone running a mainline Linux kernel.

But first, some background on Android's current kernel mess.Currently, three major forks happen in between the "mainline" Linux kernel and a shipping Android device (note that "mainline" here has no relation to Google's own "Project Mainline"). First, Google takes the LTS (Long Term Support) Linux kernel and turns it into the "Android Common kernel"—the Linux kernel with all the Android OS-specific patches applied. Android Common is shipped to the SoC vendor (usually Qualcomm) where it gets its first round of hardware-specific additions, first focusing on a particular model of SoC. This "SoC Kernel" then gets sent to a device manufacturer for even more hardware-specific code that supports every other piece of hardware, like the display, camera, speakers, usb ports, and any extra hardware. This is the "Device Kernel," and it's what actually ships on a device.

This is an extremely long journey that results in every device shipping millions of lines of out-of-tree kernel code. Every shipping device kernel is different and device specific—basically no device kernel from one phone will work on another phone. The mainline kernel version for a device is locked in at the beginning of an SoC's initial development, so it's typical for a brand-new device to ship with a Linux kernel that is two years old. Even Google's latest and, uh, greatest device, the Pixel 4, shipped in October 2019 with Linux kernel 4.14, an LTS release from November 2017. It will be stuck on kernel 4.14 forever, too. Android devices usually do not get kernel updates, probably thanks to the incredible amount of work needed to produce just a single device kernel and the chain of companies that would need to cooperate to do it. Thanks to kernel updates never happening, this means every new release of Android usually has to support the last three years of LTS kernel releases (the minimum for Android 10 is 4.9, a 2016 release). Google's commitments to support older versions of Android with security patches means the company is still supporting kernel 3.18, which is five years old now. Google's band-aid solution for this so far has been to team up with the Linux community and support mainline Linux LTS releases for longer, and they're now up to six years of support.

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