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Deadly superbug outbreak in humans linked to antibiotic spike in cows

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 10:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Sebastien Bozon)

A deadly outbreak of multi-drug resistant Salmonella that sickened 225 people across the US beginning in 2018 may have been spurred by a sharp rise in the use of certain antibiotics in cows a year earlier, infectious disease investigators reported this week.

From June 2018 to March of 2019, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified an outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Newport. The strain was resistant to several antibiotics, most notably azithromycin—a recommended treatment for Salmonella enterica infections. Before the outbreak, azithromycin-resistance in this germ was exceedingly rare. In fact, it was only first seen in the US in 2016.

Yet in the 2018-2019 outbreak, it reached at least 225 people in 32 states. Of those sickened, at least 60 were hospitalized and two died. (Researchers didn’t have complete health data on everyone sickened in the outbreak.)

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Hundreds of “banned” goods still for sale on Amazon, report finds

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 9:08pm

Enlarge / A drone with an Amazon package floats in front of the Amazon logistics center in Leipzig, Germany, 28 October 2014. Amazon did not comment on whether drones will fuel this default one-day speed boost for paying Amazon Prime subscribers' deliveries. (credit: Alamy / dpa Picture Alliance)

Amazon is by far the biggest US online retailer. In the past 20 years it has leapt past its origins as a website you could order books from to become, among other things, the everything store—one-stop shopping for all physical and digital goods from A to Z.

The company's explosive growth is due in part to its sprawling third-party merchant marketplace. Many marketplace merchants are indeed above-board retailers, manufacturers, and resellers. But thousands more sell not only counterfeit items, but also mislabeled, unsafe, recalled, or even banned items that can put consumers—especially children—in serious danger.

The Wall Street Journal identified more than 4,100 such products for sale on during the course of a months-long investigation, and at least 2,000 are toys or medications that fail to include warnings about risks to children.

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Vaping-linked lung disease cases jump from 94 to 153 in 5 days, CDC says [Updated]

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 9:05pm

Enlarge / A person exhales vapor while using an electronic cigarette device in San Francisco, California on Monday, June 24, 2019. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Cases of severe lung disease linked to vaping rose from 94 to 153—a jump of over 60%—in just five days, according to an update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Saturday, August 17, the CDC announced its investigation into the cases, which have puzzled health officials. The cases tend to involve gradual breathing difficulties, coughing, fatigue, chest pain, and weight loss, which leads to hospitalization (no one has died from the condition). Health officials say there’s no evidence pointing to an infectious agent behind the illnesses. The only commonality appears to be recent use of e-cigarettes, aka vaping.

As of August 17, the agency had counted 94 probable cases from 14 states between June 28 and August 15. In an update released late Wednesday, August 21, the CDC said the figures are up to 153 probable cases between June 28 and August 20, spanning 16 states.

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US phone carriers make empty, unenforceable promises to fight robocalls

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 8:51pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

Phone companies and attorneys general from all 50 US states are touting a new agreement to fight robocalls, but it won't actually do much to help consumers.

The top wireless carriers and home phone providers promised attorneys general from every state and the District of Columbia that they would offer free robocall blocking and take other steps to fight robocalls. But the agreement imposes no legally binding requirements on phone providers. "Failure to adhere to these principles is not in itself a basis for liability," a disclaimer on the agreement notes.

Even if breaking the agreement was a basis for liability, there would be no deadline to comply. "Adherence to these principles may take time for the voice service providers to plan for and implement," the disclaimer also said, while providing no specific timeline for the carriers to fulfill their promises.

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Dealmaster: iPhone cases, PS4 controllers, and more in today’s top tech deals

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 6:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a couple of deals on Apple's Leather Cases for its iPhone XS and iPhone 8/7 phones. The former is down to $25, while the latter is down to $22.49. Only the black models are discounted, but both prices are as low as we've seen on Amazon. Overpricing is usually the big downside with Apple's first-party cases, but this deal negates that. Otherwise, each case fits its respective iPhone like a glove, and though they aren't the most protective things around, the leather finish feels great.

Elsewhere in the rundown, BuyDig has a big bundle on the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition that includes two months of Xbox Live Gold and six game downloads—including the latest Madden NFL and Gears of War 4—for $229 with an on-site coupon. This deal isn't as much of a showstopper as it sounds: the All-Digital model has no disc drive, it should be cheaper than its $249 MSRP to begin with, and at least one new Xbox console is coming next year. But if you were looking to pick up new Xbox hardware sooner, a $20 hardware discount plus six largely solid games is decent value.

Beyond that, you can find a $50 discount on the entry-level Mac mini, a $30 drop on Amazon's Cloud Cam security camera, a nice price on a gold DualShock 4 PS4 controller, and more deals below.

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Telling Lies takes an intimate, expansive view of interactive storytelling

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 6:22pm

Four years ago, Sam Barlow surprised the game industry by reviving the moribund and seemingly outdated genre of full-motion-video games. Barlow's Her Story was a well-made, gripping, and ambiguous tale of murder and mania, told exclusively via conversational video snippets that players could search through via deduced transcript keywords.

But Her Story was tight and focused to the point of practical claustrophobia; every scene involved one actress whose character was interrogated in a single, mostly empty room over the course of a few in-game days. Barlow's latest FMV effort, Telling Lies, expands the same basic concept to great effect, packing many more characters, environments, and lengthy plotlines across roughly six hours of raw video and months of in-game time. The result is a slow-burning and deeply intimate character study with a plot that would feel cliché if not for its incredible presentation.

Random walk

Like Her Story, the player interacts with Telling Lies by searching through a video database and watching the clips. This time, though, that database is sourced from an intelligence agency, apparently stolen by your "viewer" character Snowden-style before her access could be completely cut off. Right away, it's apparent your goal is to search through the data before spreading it to the wider world. "When you use the uploader it will erase the hard-drive, so please do that before they take you into custody," read a note that accompanies the USB drive containing the database. "(Which they will—you know this, right?)"

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Alleged “snake oil” crypto company sues over boos at Black Hat [Updated]

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 5:45pm

Enlarge / Things got weird during a sponsored talk at this year's Black Hat USA conference. Now it's spawning a lawsuit. (credit: Getty Images)

One of the strangest moments at the Black Hat USA security conference in Las Vegas this month has now become the subject of a federal lawsuit against the conference.

In a filing to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (PDF), attorneys for the "emerging digital cryptography" firm Crown Sterling alleged that Black Hat USA had breached "its sponsorship agreement with Crown Sterling and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising therefrom." Crown Sterling goes on to accuse the conference organizers of "other wrongful conduct" connected to events surrounding the presentation of a paper by Crown Sterling CEO and founder Robert E. Grant. In addition to legally targeting the conference, Crown Sterling has also filed suit against 10 "Doe" defendants, who it claims orchestrated a disruption of the company's sponsored talk at Black Hat.

Grant's presentation, entitled "Discovery of Quasi-Prime Numbers: What Does this Mean for Encryption," was based on a paper called "Accurate and Infinite Prime Prediction from a Novel Quasi-PrimeAnalytical Methodology." That work was published in March of 2019 through Cornell University's by Grant's co-author Talal Ghannam—a physicist who has self-published a book called The Mystery of Numbers: Revealed through their Digital Root as well as a comic book called The Chronicles of Maroof the Knight: The Byzantine. The paper, a slim five pages, focuses on the use of digital root analysis (a type of calculation that has been used in occult numerology) to rapidly identify prime numbers and a sort of multiplication table for factoring primes.

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Tesla working to resolve dispute with Walmart over solar panel fires

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 5:11pm

Enlarge / Fire damage on the roof of a Walmart store in Indio, California. (credit: Walmart)

Walmart and Tesla are actively negotiating to resolve the lawsuit Walmart filed against Tesla earlier this week over defective solar panels, the two companies said in a joint statement sent out on Thursday evening.

"Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed," the statement said. The companies say they're both committed to a "sustainable energy future" as well as safety and efficiency.

Spokespeople for Tesla and Walmart declined to provide any further details about the state of the negotiations, but it's not hard to guess what happened. The optics of Walmart suing Tesla over multiple fires on its store roofs were not good for Tesla. Tesla wants the public—and potential customers—to know that it's now working to address Walmart's concerns.

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Sun’s solar wind recreated in lab with aid of Big Red Ball

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 4:40pm

Enlarge / The Big Red Ball is pictured in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Oct. 2, 2017. There is no word on whether or not the Big Red Ball contains an unknown glowing green substance which fell to earth, presumably from outer space. (Though it probably does not. Probably.) (credit: Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The solar wind is made mostly of pure awesome. It is an always-changing, poorly predictable flow of charged particles from the Sun: a giant exhalation right into our faces. It's responsible for the auroras, which it produces in partnership with the Earth's magnetic fields. The solar wind has also given rise to possibly the coolest job description on Earth: space meteorologist.

But data on the solar wind is not so easy to come by. Yes, we can always observe the charged particles that hit our world's magnetic field, but for a more global view, we need to use satellite data—and satellites don’t come cheap. It would be nice if we could recreate the solar wind in the laboratory. And that is exactly what a group of physicists have done, using a machine called the "Big Red Ball."

A closer look at the solar wind

You'd think we understand the solar wind pretty well given that its existence was predicted before it was observed. But it's a complex system, and predicting its existence has not made it any easier to predict its behavior. Why is it so complicated?

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Actually, NASA is looking at all options for the Moon—including prizes

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 3:15pm

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, far right, tours the Blue Origin facilities near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2019. (credit: NASA)

On Thursday, former US Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich expanded upon his ideas to use multi-billion-dollar prizes to accelerate the Trump administration's goal of sending humans to the Moon by 2024, and then Mars by the 2030s. He positioned the idea to promote commercial space as an alternative solution to NASA's current plans for using the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.

"To be clear: Our proposal does not suggest cancelling any current proposal," Gingrich wrote. "It does suggest that for the cost of one—or at most two—SLS launches, it may be possible to incentivize a competition to land on and start developing the Moon in less time and for less money. It is based on the principle of paying only for the achievement. If no one is able to reach the Moon and begin developing it, then the taxpayer would not pay a cent."

The basic idea is that if SpaceX, Blue Origin, or another company were able to independently develop its own launch systems (like SpaceX's Starship or Blue Origin's New Glenn) and then land humans on the Moon, they would receive a payment of $2 billion or more for the achievement. This would offer a backup option if NASA's existing plans for the Artemis Program—which uses more traditional contracting and is expected to cost at least $30 billion—are delayed or run over budget.

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Guidemaster: Finding the best gaming monitors you can buy in 2019

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 12:45pm

Enlarge / The LG 34GK950F, our favorite ultrawide gaming monitor. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Any monitor can work for gaming, but a good gaming monitor will make your virtual exploits more polished. With their high refresh rates and adaptive sync, they can bring your games to a new level of fluidity. But since the market is flooded with confusingly-named choices, it can be tough to find the ones worth buying.

So for Ars Gaming Week, we set out to help. After spending the last three months researching dozens of gaming monitors and ultimately testing 14, we’ve come up with a few recommendations that should suit players of all kinds, whether you’re more into fast-paced online shooters or contemplative stories.

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Guidemaster: The best keyboards, mice, and more for your gaming PC

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / So many fingers have been typing and clicking in the name of journalism... (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Creating the best PC gaming environment to suit your needs is more complicated than just building the ultimate PC from scratch. Once you have your dream machine, you'll need a mechanical keyboard, a gaming mouse, a high refresh-rate monitor, and other accessories. But deciding on the peripherals to invest in has become more difficult—sure, you have more options now than ever before, but the other side of that coin has birthed a congested world of PC gaming devices.

PC OEMs have embraced gaming with open arms, so much so that most PC companies have their own lines of gaming devices, and those often include desktops and laptops in addition to keyboards, mice, and the like. These new participants, along with the well-known gaming device OEMs, have made the pool of potential peripherals so large that one person alone could not sift through all of it.

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YouTube disables 210 accounts spreading misinformation about Hong Kong

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 12:25pm

Enlarge / Students attend a rally at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong on August 22, 2019. (credit: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

YouTube has disabled 210 accounts linked to the recent protests in Hong Kong, Google announced in a carefully worded blog post on Thursday. Google says the removals are "consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter."

Earlier this week, Twitter deleted hundreds of accounts connected to the Hong Kong protests. Twitter described it as a "significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong." Twitter tipped off Facebook, which deleted several accounts.

In plain English, Twitter suspected that the Chinese government created or hijacked a bunch of accounts to post propaganda defending Hong Kong's police and attacking Hong Kong's pro-democracy protestors. Facebook and YouTube followed up by deleting accounts on their platforms with similar patterns of misinformation.

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Rocket Report: Single-core Delta IV is no more, fully automated Soyuz

Ars Technica - August 23, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace)

Welcome to Edition 2.12 of the Rocket Report! This week's report might as well be brought to you by United Launch Alliance—but never fear, dear readers, no one influences the report—because there is a lot going on with the Colorado-based company. This week, ULA flew its final single-stick Delta IV rocket, and the company is in the midst of transitioning to its new Vulcan-Centaur booster.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Air Force seeks bids for small, medium payloads. The US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center's Launch Enterprise is requesting industry bids for the Orbital Services Program-4, intended to launch payloads of 180kg or larger into orbit. The Air Force will procure about 20 missions over the next nine years, SpaceNews reports. Bids are due August 29.

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Tesla and Walmart address solar panel fire issues

BBC Technology News - August 23, 2019 - 10:46am
The supermarket chain had issued a lawsuit against Tesla over a series of solar panel fires.

Pigs' emotions could be read by new farming technology

BBC Technology News - August 23, 2019 - 12:18am
New technology has been developed to detect how happy the animals are.

Facial recognition technology aims to cut passport queue times

BBC Technology News - August 23, 2019 - 12:14am
The UK Home Office is considering a system which would let you walk through immigration without showing your passport.

Porsche finally shows the interior of its new electric car

Ars Technica - August 22, 2019 - 11:01pm

I know, the slow drip of news from Porsche about its forthcoming Taycan electric car is starting to grate. "Just show us the damn car," you're probably thinking. I am, but I don't set the embargoes, and so here we are again. I've just gotten back from a long day's briefings about the new electric car, but I still can't tell you most of what I learned yet. However, today the company has allowed us to share these images of the interior.

It's unmistakably a Porsche to look at; the original 911 was a heavy influence for both the driving position and also the shape of the dashboard. But it's also unmistakably futuristic—the main instrument panel is a single, slightly curved 16.8-inch display. Not only is it the biggest screen I've seen used like this in a production car, but it sits naked, without a cowl to shade it from bright sunlight. To combat glare, the screen is coated with a polarized layer, and it is angled slightly off-vertical to minimize reflections.

The Taycan's design team has created a radically simple new look for the main instrument panel. The "Classic" mode—seen in these studio shots—is a minimalist take on the traditional horizontal cluster of round dials and gauges. You can replace the center dial with a moving map—also minimalist white-on-black, and oh so tasteful, or go the whole hog and make the entire main display the map. And there's a Pure mode, which just gives you your speed, cutting out all the other distractions like you were able to do with a Saab. Around left and right edges of the main instrument display are icons for functions like the headlights, ride height, and so on. (These are also the buttons to control them, but this is not a touchscreen, and those icons never move.)

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Valve says turning away researcher reporting Steam vulnerability was a mistake

Ars Technica - August 22, 2019 - 9:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Timothy Brown / Flickr)

In an attempt to quell a controversy that has raised the ire of white-hat hackers, the maker of the Steam online game platform said on Thursday it made a mistake when it turned away a researcher who recently reported two separate vulnerabilities.

In its statement, Valve Corporation references HackerOne, the reporting service that helps thousands of companies receive and respond to vulnerabilities in their software or hardware. The company also writes:

We are also aware that the researcher who discovered the bugs was incorrectly turned away through our HackerOne bug bounty program, where his report was classified as out of scope. This was a mistake.

Our HackerOne program rules were intended only to exclude reports of Steam being instructed to launch previously installed malware on a user’s machine as that local user. Instead, misinterpretation of the rules also led to the exclusion of a more serious attack that also performed local privilege escalation through Steam.

We have updated our HackerOne program rules to explicitly state that these issues are in scope and should be reported. In the past two years, we have collaborated with and rewarded 263 security researchers in the community helping us identify and correct roughly 500 security issues, paying out over $675,000 in bounties. We look forward to continuing to work with the security community to improve the security of our products through the HackerOne program.

In regards to the specific researchers, we are reviewing the details of each situation to determine the appropriate actions. We aren’t going to discuss the details of each situation or the status of their accounts at this time.

Valve’s new HackerOne program rules specifically provide that “any case that allows malware or compromised software to perform a privilege escalation through Steam, without providing administrative credentials or confirming a UAC dialog, is in scope. Any unauthorized modification of the privileged Steam Client Service is also in scope.”

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Tiny robot finds an asteroid that’s freakishly free of dust

Ars Technica - August 22, 2019 - 8:36pm

Enlarge / Ryugu's rubble-pile surface, taken by MASCOT shortly before it hit and started bouncing. (credit: JAXA)

For the last few months, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft has been engaged in various acts of interplanetary aggression, shooting the asteroid Ryugu in order to blast free material for a return to Earth. But Hayabusa2's visit has also featured various less violent activities, as its imaging and characterization of Ryugu has given us a new picture of the body, which is thought to act as a time capsule for material that formed at the earliest stages of our Solar System.

As part of these studies, Hayabusa2 dropped off a French-German robot that was meant to hop across the asteroid's surface in order to sample some of its rocks. Despite landing upside-down, the robot eventually hopped into the right orientation, and a paper describing what it found was published in Thursday's edition of Science.

Hopping, but not like a bunny

If you're like me, then the image of a small robot hopping across the surface of an asteroid brought something adorable and possibly anthropomorphic to mind. You may get rid of those images immediately. MASCOT, the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, is a rectangular box. Its ability to hop is provided by an internal weighted device. By rapidly rotating this weight, the robot could generate enough velocity to overcome Ryugu's tiny gravitational field and launch the box to new locations.

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