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Industry & Technology

Design award for fresh look at smart speakers

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 11:34pm
A graphical map explores the social and environmental impact of voice-activated assistants.

Louisiana was hit by Ryuk, triggering another cyber-emergency

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 11:15pm

Enlarge / Louisiana state agencies were taken offline during the response to a Ryuk ransomware attack but are now largely up and running again thanks to backups. (credit: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty Images via Getty Images)

In October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning of increased targeting by ransomware operators of "big game"—targets with deep pockets and critical data that were more likely to pay ransoms to restore their systems. The past week has shown that warning was for good reason.

On November 18, a ransomware attack caused Louisiana's Office of Technology Services to shut down parts of its network, including the systems of several major state agencies. These included the governor's office, the Department of Health (including Medicare systems), the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Department of Transportation. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards activated the state's cybersecurity response team.

Today, we activated the state's cybersecurity team in response to an attempted ransomware attack that is affecting some state servers. The Office of Technology Services identified a cybersecurity threat that affected some, but not all state servers. #lagov #lalege

— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) November 18, 2019

While some services have been brought back on line—in some cases, within hours—others are still in the process of being restored. Most of the interrupted services were because of "our aggressive actions to combat the attack," according to Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne. "We are confident we did not have any lost data, and we appreciate the public's patience as we continue to bring services online over the next few days."

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OneCoin lawyer found guilty in 'crypto-scam'

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 10:35pm
A US jury has found that Mark Scott illegally routed approximately $400m (£310m) out of the US.

Verizon’s new 5G coverage maps show just how sparse the network is

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / Verizon 5G in Boston's Fenway/Kenmore area. (credit: Verizon)

Verizon has continually touted its rollout of 5G as it reaches more cities with the latest cellular technology, but new coverage maps confirm what consumers have experienced: Verizon's 5G network is only sparsely deployed even in major cities.

You can check out Verizon's new coverage maps that show 5G mobile deployment in 18 cities on the Verizon website, and we'll show you some highlights in this article. In many of the maps, you'll see one or two densely populated areas covered by 5G, with just small pockets of 5G scattered throughout the surrounding streets. You'll also see a lot of areas where there is 5G on each street but not between each street, suggesting that Verizon 5G doesn't penetrate indoors.

Here's how to read each coverage map. For each city, we'll start with Verizon's extremely basic and blocky map that displays gray shapes for areas that have at least some 5G and white shapes for parts of the city that have no 5G at all.

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Renewables are not making electricity any more expensive

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 9:21pm

Enlarge / Long Island Solar Farm. (credit: US DOE)

One of the arguments that's consistently been raised against doing anything about climate change is that it will be expensive. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, there have been dire warnings about plunging standards of living due to skyrocketing electricity prices. The plunging cost of renewables has largely silenced these warnings, but a new report from the Department of Energy suggests that, even earlier, renewables were actually lowering the price of electricity in the United States.

Plunging prices

The report focuses on wholesale electricity prices in the US. Note that these are distinct from the prices consumers actually pay, which includes taxes, fees, payments to support the grid that delivers the electricity, and so on. It's entirely possible for wholesale electricity prices to drop even as consumers end up paying more. That said, large changes in the wholesale price should ultimately be passed on to consumers to one degree or another.

The Department of Energy analysis focuses on the decade between 2008 and 2017, and it includes an overall analysis of the US market, as well as large individual grids like PJM and ERCOT and, finally, local prices. The decade saw a couple of important trends: low natural gas prices that fostered a rapid expansion of gas-fired generators and the rapid expansion of renewable generation that occurred concurrently with a tremendous drop in price of wind and solar power.

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Dealmaster: Grab a spare PS4 controller for its Black Friday price of $40

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 7:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another set of deals to share. Today's roundup is headlined by a deal on the Crystal version of Sony's DualShock 4 controller, which is down to $40 at Walmart.

We've seen the PlayStation 4 gamepad drop down to this price several times before, but it's still a nice drop from the $40-50 range in which it normally sits online. Sony says this will be the DualShock 4's retail price during Black Friday, so you won't be punished for getting it ahead of time. If you're looking for a spare controller for your PC or iOS device, we'll note that Microsoft's Xbox One wireless controller has been down to $40 as well for the past couple of weeks, just in case you prefer the larger size and asymmetrical joystick layout of that gamepad. That is the same as its Black Friday pricing as well.

If you don't need another controller, however, we also have deals on the OnePlus 7 Pro, Apple's AirPods Pro, Razer's DeathAdder Elite gaming mice, Amazon service subscriptions, and much more. Have a look for yourself below.

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Half Life Alyx hits PC VR headsets in March 2020 [Updated]

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 7:03pm

After a tease earlier this week, Valve has revealed more details and a new trailer for the first new Half-Life content in over a decade. The "full-length" Half Life: Alyx will hit Steam in March 2020, Valve says, with support for "all PC-based VR headsets." Pre-orders are already available for $59.99, though the game will be free if you own a Valve Index headset.

The game, which Valve says is "set between the events of Half-Life and Half-Life 2," has been "designed from the ground up for Virtual Reality" (i.e. you can stop hoping for a 2D monitor release). "Everyone at Valve is excited to be returning to the world of Half-Life," Valve founder Gabe Newell said in a statement. “VR has energized us."

"We’ve invested a lot of ourselves in the technology," Newell's statement continues. "But we're also game developers at heart, and to be devoting ourselves to a VR game this ambitious is just as exciting. For that to come in the form of Half-Life feels like the culmination of a lot of things we care a lot about: truly great games, cutting edge technology, and open platforms. We can’t wait for people to experience this."

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Apple cancels theatrical premiere of its Oscar hopeful, The Banker

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 6:14pm

The trailer for The Banker

Most of the hype around this month's Apple TV+ launch centered on the TV portion—the Jennifer Anniston-led Morning Show, the Thrones-y future dystopian series Seethe alternative history of the space race in For All MankindLike its streaming competitors in the tech sector, however, Apple also plans to release and produce original movies for the new service. But now, one of the service's first high-profile film projects is abruptly being held ahead of its previously scheduled December 6 theatrical release.

The Banker, a period piece starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson, will no longer hit theaters next month ahead of a planned January streaming release. As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, that's because sisters Cynthia and Sheila Garrett allege they were sexually assaulted in the 1970s for nearly a decade by one of the film's co-producers—Bernard Garrett Jr., their half-brother and son of one of the men portrayed in the film.

"Last week some concerns surrounding the film were brought to our attention. We, along with the filmmakers, need some time to look into these matters and determine the best next steps," Apple said in a statement.

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Google will pay $1.5 million for the most severe Android exploits

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: New Line Cinema)

Google will pay up to $1.5 million for the most severe hacks of its Pixel line of Android phones, a more than seven-fold increase over the previous top Android reward, the company said.

Effective immediately, Google will pay $1 million for a “full chain remote code execution exploit with persistence which compromises the Titan M secure element on Pixel devices,” the company said in a post published on Thursday. The company will also pay $500,000 for exploits that exfiltrate data out of a Pixel or bypass its lock screen.

Google will offer a 50 percent bonus to any of its rewards if the exploit works on specific developer preview versions of Android. That means a critical Titan M hack on a developer preview could fetch $1.5 million, and a data exfiltration or lockcscreen bypass on a developer preview could earn $750,000, and so on. Previously, rewards for the most severe Android exploits topped out at $200,000 if they involved the trusted execution environment—an independent OS within Android for handling payments, multi-factor authentication, and other sensitive functions—and $150,000 if they involved compromise only on the Android kernel.

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Google Assistant can now navigate websites, book movie tickets

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 5:37pm

Enlarge / After you press the "buy tickets" button, the Google Assistant takes over. (credit: Google)

Google is constantly teaching the Google Assistant new tricks, and this week, the assistant is learning how to navigate websites and book movie tickets. Soon, after asking your phone-based Google Assistant for movie showtimes, a new "Buy tickets" button will pop up, and tapping it will whisk you through the ticket-buying process—no extra apps required.

Google says the feature works with "more than 70 cinemas and ticketing services, such as Fandango,, AMC, or MJR Theaters in the US, or ODEON in the UK." While all of those services could have coded up special hooks for the Google Assistant, that's not what's going on here—instead this feature is powered by a feature Google calls "Duplex on the web." You might remember "Duplex" as Google's futuristic phone-call bot that can book restaurants over the phone while sounding like a real human. This "Duplex on the web" doesn't make phone calls, though, and instead navigates websites for you and completes the movie ticket purchase. Google announced this feature earlier in the year during the Google I/O keynote, where CEO Sundar Pichai defined Duplex as "the approach by which we train AI on simple but familiar tasks to accomplish them and save you time."

Buying movie tickets on your behalf through a website means Google Duplex navigates to the site, searches for a movie, fills in your personal info and your credit card details, and, after a confirmation step, completes the purchase, mashing all the necessary "next" and "buy" buttons along the way. You can watch it do all this yourself on your phone screen, and if there's anything that Duplex doesn't know how to deal with, like making a reservation for a specific seat, it will stop and ask you. We've had autofill for some time, and this is like autofill plus auto-navigation.

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Apple 'loses money on phone repairs'

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 5:01pm
Apple says it loses money when it repairs devices such as iPhones and Macbooks.

New map shows the strange terrain of Titan

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 3:41pm

Enlarge / The map, as viewed from the poles. (Color key shown below.) (credit: Lopes et al/Nature Astronomy)

Saturn’s moon Titan is one of the most wonderfully weird worlds in our Solar System. In the way that Earth has a water cycle of rain and evaporation, frigid Titan has a methane cycle and lakes of the liquid stuff. Unfortunately, its atmosphere is thick with smudgy clouds and organic haze, limiting our view.

But while visible light can’t penetrate the atmosphere, other wavelengths have better luck. When the Cassini probe was still hanging out in the Saturnian neighborhood, radar and infrared instruments were used to scan the surface. In a new study published this week, a team led by Rosaly Lopes compiled that data to make a geologic map spanning Titan’s surface.

After analyzing the data, the team decided to group the terrain into six types of landscapes: craters, lakes, plains, dunes, hummocky (or mountainous) areas, and something they termed "labyrinth terrains."

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SpaceX has lost its first Starship prototype—is this a big deal?

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 3:39pm

Enlarge / Here is Starship Mk 1 as revealed on September 28, 2019. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars)

On Wednesday afternoon, SpaceX loaded nitrogen into a prototype version of its Starship vehicle. The exercise, at the company's facilities near Boca Chica Beach in South Texas, represented the first significant pressurization test of the vehicle fuel tanks.

About halfway during the process, however, some sort of failure occurred as the top bulkhead of the vehicle broke apart and went flying away. This was followed by a large, white cloud of smoke and vapor emanating from the interior of the vehicle, which eventually cleared to reveal a dented, but still shiny Starship. This was the same vehicle the company revealed in late September.

SpaceX sought to play down the accident, noting this was a "max" pressurization test to stress the system. No one was hurt, the company said, and it was not a serious setback in the development of the ambitious vehicle. The company's founder and lead technical designer, Elon Musk, later said on Twitter that this prototype had "some value as a manufacturing pathfinder," but that the flight design of the vehicle would be "quite different."

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Rouen hospital turns to pen and paper after cyber-attack

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 2:18pm
The University Hospital Centre in Rouen says it will not pay the ransom and has taken steps to contain the attack.

Facebook ads: Who is spending money to get you to vote?

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 1:21pm
Different groups on Facebook are spending money to encourage young people to register to vote.

BA passengers face delays after 'technical issue'

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 10:22am
The airline is booking passengers into hotels after some were stuck for up to 10 hours.

No, Apple isn’t opening a new manufacturing plant in Texas

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 6:06am

Enlarge / Donald Trump speaks at Apple's Mac Pro manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas. (credit: MANDEL NGAN / Getty)

President Donald Trump toured Apple's Mac Pro manufacturing facility in Austin, Texas, with CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday.

"We're seeing the beginning of a very powerful and important plant," Trump said during the visit. "I want to see Apple building plants in the United States. That's what's happening."

Trump echoed that theme in a tweet after the tour. "Today I opened a major Apple manufacturing plant in Texas that will bring high paying jobs back to America," he wrote.

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Report: Sacklers using fake doctors, false marketing to sell OxyContin in China

Ars Technica - November 21, 2019 - 3:19am

Enlarge / Bottles of Purdue Pharma L.P. OxyContin medication sit on a pharmacy shelf in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The mega-rich family behind the OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma is back to selling its highly addictive pain-killer with underhanded tactics and deceptive advertising—this time in China, via its international company, Mundipharma. That’s all according to a searing new investigation by the Associated Press.

The Sackler family, which owns both Purdue and Mundipharma, is embroiled in litigation in the United States over its alleged role in sparking the country’s epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses. Thousands of plaintiffs—many state and local governments—claim that Purdue and the Sacklers misled patients, doctors, and regulators on the addictiveness of their drugs, aggressively marketed them, and wooed doctors into over-prescribing them.

While Purdue has since declared bankruptcy and stopped promoting OxyContin in the US, the Sacklers seem to be employing the same practices in China.

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E-sports: How gaming helped Liam McCarron live the dream

BBC Technology News - November 21, 2019 - 2:02am
A skin condition forced Liam McCarron to miss a school year, but now he's "on top of the world".

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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