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Industry & Technology

China's Tencent downplays Trump's WeChat app ban

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 31 min ago
The ban on Tencent's messaging app could end up being be more damaging to iPhone maker Apple.

Amazon Prime donates to Fleabag stars' theatre emergency fund

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 42 min ago
Amazon Prime is giving £1.5m to two UK funds offering support to workers affected by the virus.

What will fashion shows look like post Covid-19?

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 50 min ago
CGI models allow patterns to be tested virtually and fewer garments, if any, need to be made.

Apple releases new software updates for iPhones, iPads, and Macs

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 10:46pm

Enlarge / The 27-inch iMac. (credit: Apple)

Apple has released software updates for three of its operating systems: iOS for iPhones and iPods, iPadOS for iPads, and macOS for Macs. The updates are small and focus on bug fixes rather than adding new features.

The updates are labeled iOS 13.6.1, iPadOS 13.6.1, and macOS 10.15.6 Supplemental Update. Typically, iOS or iPadOS updates that have two decimal points are bug-fix updates, and releases that bring new features have just one decimal point.

The mobile device update fixes a problem that prevented storage for being cleared as intended, addressed a bug that could cause "some displays to exhibit a green tint," and fixed an issue "where Exposure Notifications could be disabled for some users." As for macOS, just two changes are named by Apple: a fix for a "stability issue" related to virtualization apps, and a wake-from-sleep problem unique to the brand-new iMac that just released.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Researchers find a chemical that makes locusts swarm

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 10:39pm

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

The year 2020 may be one for the record books in terms of apocalyptic tidings. In addition to the usual background of fires, floods, and earthquakes, the plague is still around. And you might have heard something about a pandemic. But what really nails down the apocalyptic vibe is the fact that the year has seen swarms of locusts causing the sorts of problems they're famous for.

In a tiny bit of good news, the same sort of research that may bail us out with therapies and a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 could potentially help us out against future locust swarms. That's because a team of biologists based in China has now identified the chemical that calls locusts to swarm and shown that genetic engineering can eliminate the response.

A lot of evidence

There's nothing especially exciting about any single aspect of the research here. Instead, the researchers simply put together techniques from a variety of specializations and then applied them to the topic of locust swarms. Locusts are normally solitary animals, but they become immensely destructive when conditions induce them to form massive swarms that are big enough to be picked up by radar. In addition to the altered behavior, swarming locusts actually look physically different, indicating that the decision to swarm involves widespread changes to a locust's biology.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ousted COO sues Pinterest, alleges rampant gender discrimination

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 8:51pm

Enlarge / A Pinterest logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (credit: Mateusz Slodkowski | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

The former chief operating officer of Pinterest is suing her ex-employer, claiming that the platform's woman-friendly public face is not matched internally and instead "reflects a pattern of discrimination and exclusion."

Pinterest hired Francoise Brougher as chief operating officer in March 2018, then fired her in April of this year. In a lawsuit (PDF) Tuesday in California, Brougher claims that her dismissal was unrelated to her performance and was instead in retaliation for complaining about sexism.

Brougher learned in 2019, while reviewing filings that Pinterest was required to make as part of its IPO, that she had been deliberately misled about executive compensation. She was therefore being paid less well than other C-suite executives, the suit alleges. After she brought the discrepancy to the attention of Chief Executive Officer Ben Silbermann, she began being squeezed out of executive and board meetings, Brougher alleged, which prevented her from being able to do her job.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How your PS4 and Xbox One games will work on PS5 and Series X

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 7:03pm

Enlarge / A tense standoff across the demilitarized zone. (credit: Barone Firenze | Shutterstock.com)

Console gamers looking at upgrading to a new system at the end of the year likely have a few major questions about how their existing game libraries will work across console generations, such as:

  • Will I be able to play my current games on the new system?
  • How will those games be improved when running on more powerful hardware?
  • Will I have to buy another copy of the game to get those enhancements?

The answer to those questions varies greatly depending on the platform and publisher involved, and answers for some specific games are still unknown. That said, here's a handy guide to where various cross-generational game compatibility and upgrade plans stand at this point.

Backward compatibility

At a basic level, both Microsoft and Sony are taking steps to ensure that most (if not all) of your current-generation console game library will be playable on their new consoles.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Adding a dash of alcohol suppresses coffee ring effect in 2D printing inks

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / The coffee ring effect happens because evaporation occurs faster at the edge than at the center. (credit: MirageC/Getty Images)

Inkjet printing of two-dimensional crystals will be crucial for ushering in the next generation of printed electronics. While the technology has made a lot of progress in recent years, a major challenge to industrial-scale printed electronic components is achieving uniform distribution of the crystals; uneven distribution can result in faulty devices. The culprit is a phenomenon known as the "coffee ring effect." Now scientists have created a new family of inks that can suppress the effect, according to a new paper in the journal Science Advances.

Coffee rings are the pattern you get when a liquid evaporates and leaves behind a ring of previously dissolved solids—coffee grounds in the case of your morning cup of joe, 2D crystals in the case of inkjet printing of electrical components. (You can also see the effect with single-malt scotch. A related phenomena is wine tears.) The coffee ring effect occurs when a single liquid evaporates and the solids that had been dissolved in the liquid (like coffee grounds or 2D crystals) form a telltale ring. It happens because the evaporation occurs faster at the edge than at the center. Any remaining liquid flows outward to the edge to fill in the gaps, dragging those solids with it. Mixing in solvents (water or alcohol) reduces the effect, as long as the drops are very small. Large drops produce more uniform stains.

Similarly, when a drop of watercolor paint dries, the pigment particles of color break outward, toward the rim of the drop. So artists who work with watercolors also have to deal with the coffee ring effect if they don't want that accumulation of pigment at the edges to happen. As we reported in 2018, adding alcohol to the watercolor paint can prevent it. Alternatively, an artist may wet the paper before applying the paint. Instead of the drop remaining pinned to the paper, the ink runs off. This allows the artist to play with various effects, such as generating unusual color gradients.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mozilla cuts 250 jobs, says Firefox development will be affected

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 6:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Anadolu Agency)

Mozilla Corporation is laying off 250 people, about a quarter of its workforce, explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly lowered revenue. Mozilla previously had about 1,000 employees.

The Firefox maker's CEO, Mitchell Baker, announced the job cuts yesterday, writing that "economic conditions resulting from the global pandemic have significantly impacted our revenue. As a result, our pre-COVID plan was no longer workable."

In a memo sent to employees, Baker said the 250 job cuts include "closing our current operations in Taipei, Taiwan." The layoffs will reduce Mozilla's workforce in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Another 60 people will be reassigned to different teams.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Surface Duo, Microsoft’s first-ever Android phone, is $1,400

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 6:17pm

The Microsoft Surface Duo, Microsoft's first-ever Android phone (we're not counting the Nokia X), was announced almost a year ago. There have been official images and even live photos of the dual-screen phone floating around for most of the year, and Microsoft has just been quietly developing it. Today, the company is finally ready to talk specs, release date, and price. The phone is up for pre-order now, it ships September 10, and the price—wait for it—is $1,399.

Before we dig into the details, a quick spec rundown: the phone comes with two 5.6-inch, 1800×1350 (4:3), 60Hz OLED panels joined by a 360-degree hinge. A Snapdragon 855 powers the phone, with 6GB of RAM, 128 or 256GB of storage, and a 3577mAh battery. There is one 11MP camera above the right screen that doubles as the front and rear camera, thanks to the hinge. The device comes with a USB-C port on the bottom, a single speaker, a fingerprint reader, Android 10, and support for Surface pen input. Sales seem to be US-only for now, and besides being sold unlocked, the phone is also for sale at AT&T.

It's somewhat exciting to see Microsoft's first Android phone, especially when it has such a unique form factor and sports the company's premium "Surface" brand. But $1,400 is a lot of money to ask for this device, especially when the spec sheet has so many deficiencies in it. I haven't tried the phone yet, but I have a lot of concerns about the Surface Duo.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Uber CEO warns California ruling could force a months-long shutdown

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 6:05pm

Enlarge / Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. (credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is warning that a landmark California ruling on the employment status of its drivers could force the company to shut down its service in California until November.

"We think we comply by the laws," Khosrowshahi said on MSNBC. "But if the judge and the court finds that we're not, and they don't give us a stay to get to November, then we'll have to essentially shut down Uber until November when the voters decide."

Last year, California's legislature passed legislation designed to force Uber and other "gig economy" companies to treat their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. That could entitle the workers to minimum wage protections, reimbursement for expenses, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Will any new smallsat rockets make it to orbit this year?

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 5:57pm

Enlarge / After being released from Cosmic Girl, LauncherOne ignited its engine successfully at the end of May. (credit: VirginOrbit)

In case you hadn't noticed, we're approaching mid-August. As of Wednesday, there are a mere 142 days left in the year. So as the calendar churns toward the end of the year, this is a good time to ask whether any new commercial rockets that launch small satellites will make it to orbit this year.

Back at the optimistic, pre-pandemic beginning of 2020, we had high hopes for the debut of new rockets from Astra, Firefly, and Virgin Orbit. We also expected to see the first flight of Europe's Vega C rocket, which is now confirmed to slip into 2021.

Since then, a few companies have made launch attempts and failed to reach orbit. Others have been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here's a rundown of the companies that could still make orbit this calendar year.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Coronavirus: England's contact-tracing app gets green light for trial

BBC Technology News - August 12, 2020 - 5:02pm
Public tests are set to start on Thursday, but concerns remain about how accurately distance is measured.

Belarus election: How Nexta channel bypassed news blackout

BBC Technology News - August 12, 2020 - 4:35pm
Demonstrators defied an internet shutdown using a channel called Nexta that posts videos and photos.

'Hundreds dead' because of Covid-19 misinformation

BBC Technology News - August 12, 2020 - 3:28pm
A study says at least 800 people have died globally because of coronavirus-related misinformation.

How to turn regular bricks into electricity-storing supercapacitors

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 3:26pm

Enlarge

Usually the phrase “power brick” refers affectionately to the AC adapter of something like a laptop. But what if that term was quite literal, involving an actual brick?

A team led by Hongmin Wang at Washington University in St. Louis set out to make a genuine power brick. More specifically, they wanted to see if they could use a vapor coating technique to turn ordinary red bricks into part of a supercapacitor. That actually isn’t quite as weird as it sounds, given that the red of a brick is an iron mineral, and iron is a common component of some battery chemistries. Bricks are often porous as well, meaning there is plenty of surface area where a thin coating could interact with that iron.

The process (something they had developed previously) involves heating the brick in an enclosure along with hydrochloric acid and an organic compound that mercifully shortens to “EDOT.” The two liquid substances evaporate and condense on the brick’s convoluted surface. The acid dissolves some of the iron mineral, freeing up iron atoms that help the organic molecules link up to form polymer chains (graduating to “PEDOT”) that coat the surface. The polymer makes microscopic, entangled fibers that form a continuous and electrically conductive layer on each face of the brick, which otherwise remains. (This does have the effect of turning the brick black, though.)

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Hyperion XP-1 hypercar wants to give hydrogen a halo effect

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 2:53pm

Angelo Kafantaris is a man on a mission. He's the CEO of Hyperion, which on Wednesday morning debuted a new hypercar that wants to prove you can go really fast without wrecking the planet. But this vehicle isn't packed full of lithium-ion cells. Instead, the XP-1 is powered by a fuel cell, and its job is to give hydrogen a halo effect that more pedestrian fuel cell electric vehicles like the Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Nexo haven't quite managed.

"The key criterion is to deliver this clean powerful energy source in a cost-effective way so that the rest of the world could enjoy it," he told me when we spoke a few weeks go. "So we decided we wanted to help this industry grow so that the rest of us enjoy the same benefits, which of course would be really long range, really fast refuel time, a longer life cycle that doesn't degrade with every charge (or refuel in this case), a very high gravimetric energy density, the nature of recyclability, which is not cost prohibitive as compared to batteries, and then I think lastly, durability since hydrogen vehicles are not susceptible to low performance in high heat or very cold temperatures. All these things make hydrogen a wonderful value proposition for the consumer when applied to vehicles."

It certainly looks the part, appearing a bit like a Bugatti Chiron that had a transporter accident with an IndyCar. The headline figures for the XP-1 would make it a winner in a game of hypercar Top Trumps: Zero to 60mph in under 2.2 seconds. A top speed above 221mph (356km/h). And a range of 1,016 miles (1,635km) between fuel stops. The monocoque tub and bodywork are made from carbon composite with strands of titanium woven through it for added strength, yet the XP-1 has a curb weight of 2,275lbs (1,031kg). And it's powered by a hydrogen fuel cell that feeds energy to a pair of electric motors, with an ultracapacitor in there as an energy storage device.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google Lookout: App reads grocery labels for blind people

BBC Technology News - August 12, 2020 - 1:44pm
An update to Google's blindness assistance app adds AI image recognition for food shopping.

0-days, a failed patch, and a backdoor threat. Update Tuesday highlights

Ars Technica - August 12, 2020 - 12:55pm

Enlarge

Microsoft on Tuesday patched 120 vulnerabilities, two that are notable because they’re under active attack and a third because it fixes a previous patch for a security flaw that allowed attackers to gain a backdoor that persisted even after a machine was updated.

Zero-day vulnerabilities get their name because an affected developer has zero days to release a patch before the security flaw is under attack. Zero-day exploits can be among the most effective because they usually go undetected by antivirus programs, intrusion prevention systems, and other security protections. These types of attacks usually indicate a threat actor of above-average means because of the work and skill required to identify the unknown vulnerability and develop a reliable exploit. Adding to the difficulty: the exploits must bypass defenses developers have spent considerable resources implementing.

A hacker’s dream: Bypassing code-signing checks

The first zero-day is present in all supported versions of Windows, including Windows 10 and Server 2019, which security professionals consider two of the world’s most secure operating systems. CVE-2020-1464 is what Microsoft is calling a Windows Authenticode Signature Spoofing Vulnerability. Hackers who exploit it can sneak their malware onto targeted systems by bypassing a malware defense that uses digital signatures to certify that software is trustworthy.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook adds 'blackface' photos to banned posts

BBC Technology News - August 12, 2020 - 12:49pm
The company's rules also explicitly target references to common anti-Semitic stereotypes.

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