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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 48 min 19 sec ago

We need to talk about “Lethe,” last night’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery

2 hours 47 min ago

Enlarge / Ash Tyler is so brave, so hunky, and so nice... but is he actually [redacted in the name of spoilers]? (credit: CBS)

Star Trek: Discovery has been getting tighter with each episode, but in last night's "Lethe," the show turned a corner into addictively good storytelling. There were a couple of standout moments, plus an evolving conspiracy theory involving Klingon spies. But the best part was that we finally saw one of the show's key arcs, which is how the Federation emerged out of planetary separatism.

Spoilers ahead! Go watch the episode and come back!

Logic extremism and hope

In previous episodes, we've already sensed that this Star Trek series would be more darkly psychological than its predecessors. Our main characters are complex and conflicted, much like the fledgling Federation itself. In "Lethe," we saw how this aspect of the story could take us to truly interesting places.

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FBI Director: unbreakable encryption is a “huge, huge problem”

3 hours 36 min ago

Enlarge / Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray participates in a question-and-answer session while arguing for the renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act at the Heritage Foundation October 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a conference of law enforcement officials on Sunday that he and his colleagues have been unable to open nearly 7,000 digital devices in the first 11 months of the 2017 fiscal year.

“To put it mildly, this is a huge, huge problem,” Wray said at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press. “It impacts investigations across the board—narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, child exploitation.”

Wray’s remarks come less than two weeks after another top law enforcement official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, called for “responsible encryption”—a seemingly magical method by which only law enforcement would be able to defeat the encryption on a digitally-locked device.

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Now we know why Xbox One backward compatibility took so long

October 23, 2017 - 10:00pm

This launch-day Xbox One could have supported Xbox 360 games from the get go, had a few things gone differently. (credit: Wired)

Anyone who followed Microsoft's gaming plans in 2013 knows how much the company's confusing policies and public reversals regarding "always on" Internet connection and used game restrictions on the Xbox One damaged the company's image.

Now it sounds like the turmoil surrounding that launch also delayed the rollout of Xbox 360 backward compatibility on the system. This resulted in pushing a planned launch-day feature to its actual late 2015 debut.

That nugget comes from a wide-ranging behind-the-scenes look at Microsoft's backward compatibility efforts posted on IGN this morning. Amid quotes from an array of Microsoft employees involved in the backward-compatibility development and rollout, writer Ryan McCaffrey includes this tidbit (emphasis added):

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Crippling crypto weakness opens millions of smartcards to cloning

October 23, 2017 - 9:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Gemalto)

Millions of smartcards in use by banks and large corporations for more than a decade have been found to be vulnerable to a crippling cryptographic attack. That vulnerability allows hackers to bypass a wide range of protections, including data encryption and two-factor authentication.

The critical vulnerability, which researchers disclosed last week, allows attackers to derive the private portion of any vulnerable key using nothing more than the corresponding public portion. The so-called factorization attack can be completed in minutes or days, and the price can range from nothing, depending on the key size and type of computer an attacker uses, to $20,000. The vulnerability stems from a widely deployed library developed by German chipmaker Infineon, which in turn sells its hardware and software to third-party smartcard and device manufacturers.

The defect has now been confirmed to affect the first line of Gemalto IDPrime.NET smartcards. The cards have been on the market since 2004 at the latest, when Gemalto predecessor Axalto announced Microsoft employees were using the card to secure access to the software maker's network, by, among other things, providing two-factor authentication to company employees worldwide. During the 12 years the cards are known to have been in use, Netherlands-based Gemalto has shipped cards numbering in the millions or even the tens or hundreds of millions.

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New teardown brings more smoke to reports of a touchscreen Google Home

October 23, 2017 - 8:39pm

Enlarge / Amazon's Echo Show may have a Google-made rival in the near future. (credit: Amazon)

Sections of code within a recent update to the Google app seem to bolster reports that Google is working on a competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show smart speaker.

An Android Police teardown of the Google app’s v7.14.15 beta update uncovered several references to functions and commands that can be performed by a device or feature codenamed “Quartz.”

The code suggests that Quartz is activated through voice commands and can perform typical smart speaker tasks like setting a timer or checking the weather. However, it also points to several functions that would likely involve a screen, such as Web browsing, showing Google Maps data, and displaying recipes and other cooking info. The update also seems to contain different layouts for watching videos on YouTube, which Google pulled from Amazon’s touchscreen speaker last month with little explanation.

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After Supreme Court detour, Apple v. Samsung goes to a fourth jury trial

October 23, 2017 - 8:16pm

Enlarge / People hold their iPhone during the Apple iPhone 3G launch ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, in 2009. (credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The Apple v. Samsung lawsuit is getting a big "reset," thanks to last year's Supreme Court ruling on design patents.

The long-running litigation rollercoaster has included so many turns it's hard to keep track. The case was filed in 2011 and went to a 2012 jury trial, which resulted in a blockbuster verdict of more than $1 billion. Post-trial damage motions whittled that down, and then there was a 2013 damages re-trial in front of a separate jury. An appeals court kicked out trademark-related damages altogether.

Meanwhile, a whole separate case moved forward in which Apple sued over a new generation of Samsung products. That lawsuit went to a jury trial in 2014 and resulted in a $120 million verdict, far less than the $2 billion Apple was seeking. That verdict was thrown out on appeal, then reinstated on a subsequent appeal. So that one appears to stand.

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Of course Star Trek: Discovery will come back for Season 2

October 23, 2017 - 8:01pm

Enlarge / Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). (credit: CBS)

On Monday, the day after Star Trek: Discovery’s sixth episode aired, CBS announced that the show would be brought back for a second season.

The show—which is only available in the United States on CBS All Access, the network’s online streaming platform—has been met with generally positive reviews, including here at Ars.

"This series has a remarkable creative team and cast who have demonstrated their ability to carry on the Star Trek legacy," said Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer of CBS Interactive in a statement. "We are extremely proud of what they've accomplished and are thrilled to be bringing fans a second season of this tremendous series."

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Police body cams had no “statistically significant effect” in DC

October 23, 2017 - 7:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Police body cams worn by 2,600 officers in the nation's capital did not affect citizen complaints or the use of force by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), according to a new study.

"We found essentially that we could not detect any statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras," according to Anita Ravishankar, an MPD researcher at a city government group named Lab @ DC.

To conduct the study, researchers identified officers across the seven metro police districts that fit a specific criteria: the officer had to have active, full duty administrative status without a scheduled leave of absence during the study; the officer had to hold a rank of sergeant or below; and the officer had to be assigned to patrol duties in a patrol district or to a non-administrative role at a police station. From there, officers were split into control (no body cams) and treatment groups. "Our sample consisted of 2,224 MPD members, with 1,035 members assigned to the control group, and 1,189 members assigned to the treatment group," the study notes.

The study (PDF) then measured four outcome factors: reported uses of force, civilian complaints, policing activities (which includes tickets, warnings, arrests, etc.), and judicial outcomes, specifically whether MPD arrest charges led to prosecutions.

DC Police Chief Peter Newsham told NPR that everybody was expecting a different conclusion about the agency's $5.1 million program. "I think we're surprised by the result. I think a lot of people were suggesting that the body-worn cameras would change behavior. There was no indication that the cameras changed behavior at all."

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Kaspersky pledges independent code review to cast off spying suspicions

October 23, 2017 - 6:48pm

Enlarge / Kaspersky Lab CEO and Chairman Eugene Kaspersky speaks at a conference in Russia on July 10, 2017. (credit: Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

After reports that data collected by the company's anti-malware client was used to target an NSA contractor and various accusations of connections to Russian intelligence, today Kaspersky Lab announced the launch of what company executives call a "Global Transparency Initiative." As part of the effort aimed at regaining the trust of corporate and government customers among others, a Kaspersky spokesperson said that the company would open product code and the company's secure coding practices to independent review by the first quarter of 2018.

Don't just take our word for it - Kaspersky Lab announces comprehensive transparency initiative

— Kaspersky Lab (@kaspersky) October 23, 2017

In a statement released by the company, founder Eugene Kaspersky said, "We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide. And I believe that with these actions we’ll be able to overcome mistrust and support our commitment to protecting people in any country on our planet."

As part of the initiative, Kaspersky Lab will open three "Transparency Centers" for code review—one in the US, one in Asia, and one in Europe. This is similar to the practices of Microsoft and other large major software companies that allow code reviews by major government customers in a controlled environment. Kaspersky isn't the first vendor accused of providing espionage backdoors to follow this route—a similar practice was launched by Chinese networking hardware vendor Huawei in 2012 in the United Kingdom. At the time, Huawei offered to do the same for Australia and the US, but the offer was rejected and the company was banned from sensitive network work in the US by Congress.

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Cray supercomputers coming to Azure cloud

October 23, 2017 - 5:57pm

Enlarge / Cray XC50 supercomputer. (credit: Cray)

Microsoft will add Cray supercomputers to its Azure cloud computing service to handle the needs of those with high performance computing (HPC) workloads.

Cloud computing systems like Azure can be used to build large cluster-like machines for high performance distributed workloads. Combined with FPGAs and GPUs, this makes them competitive, some of the time, with traditional supercomputers.

But sometimes, a workload really does need the high performance, low-latency interconnects and storage that are the hallmark of "real" supercomputers. That's why Microsoft is adding Cray XC and Cray CS supercomputer clusters along with ClusterStor storage to its Azure lineup. The machines are intended for tasks such as analytics, climate modeling, engineering simulations, and scientific and medical research. The companies envisage customers combining Cray HPC with Azure workloads to offer better performance and greater scaling than either Cray or Azure can offer alone.

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Returning to Second Life

October 23, 2017 - 5:30pm

Seriously, this once happened.

A decade ago, dozens of media outlets and technologists discovered "The Next Internet." An original cyberspace science fiction fantasy had finally come to fruition as the world gained a second digitized reality. In a short period of time, countries established embassies, media companies opened bureaus, one of Earth’s biggest rock bands played a concert, political campaigns took to its streets, and people became real-world millionaires plying their skills in this new arena.

That much hyped "Next Internet?" You may remember it better by its official name—Second Life. For many modern Internet users, the platform has likely faded far, far from memory. But there’s no denying the cultural impact Second Life had during the brief height of its popularity.

Explaining Second Life today as a MMORG or a social media platform undersells things for the unfamiliar; Second Life became an entirely alternative online world for its users. And it wasn’t just the likes of Reuters and U2 and Sweden embracing this platform. Second Life boasted 1.1 million active users at its peak roughly a decade ago. Even cultural behemoth Facebook only boasted 20 million at the time.

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The Essential Phone gets a $200 price drop, now $499

October 23, 2017 - 5:28pm


Remember the Essential Phone, which was delayed so much it launched right in the middle of the iPhone (and Pixel 2) hype season? The phone built by Andy Rubin's new company offers an innovative design and a great software loadout, but the subpar camera and lack of water resistance put it solely in the "second-tier" phone category. Essential's second-tier phone still had a top-tier price, though, which made it a tough sell in the ultra-competitive world of smartphones.

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Unreleased Super NES game to come packed with every Analogue Super Nt

October 23, 2017 - 4:34pm

An over-the-top trailer for the previously unreleased version of Super Turrican, coming to the Analogue Super NT as a "Director's Cut"

The Super NES Classic Edition isn't the only piece of modern hardware sporting an unreleased, decades-old console game. Analogue announced today that its recently revealed FPGA-based Super Nt hardware would come packed with a new expanded and "uncut" version of Super NES run-and-gun classic Super Turrican embedded on every system.

Factor 5, which later became well-known for the Rogue Squadron games, originally designed Super Turrican to fit on a 6-megabit cartridge (which was actually a decently large console game back in 1993, believe it or not). According to developer Julian Eggebrecht, though, publisher Seika didn't want to pay for the extra ROM chips needed for those cartridges, so the game had to be cut down to fit in just 4Mbit.

The uncut 6Mbit version, which Factor 5 retained through the years, includes a previously unseen final level for the game, along with new music, new enemies, improved sound effects, improved graphics, and some slight changes in the way weapons work. The uncut version was apparently considered for Virtual Console release back in 2008, but Nintendo reportedly refused to release a game that had not been previously available (Nintendo would later break this precedent with the 2015 Wii U release of Earthbound Beginnings, an unreleased translation for the Japanese Mother on the Famicom).

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Proposed law would regulate online ads to hinder Russian election influence

October 23, 2017 - 4:24pm

Enlarge (credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers wants to make it more difficult for Russia to influence US elections. To that end, the group has drawn up legislation requiring Internet-based companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to disclose who is buying political advertisements on their platforms and maintain those records after elections.

The Honest Ads Act would heap on the Internet some of the same types of political advertising rules that apply for TV, radio, and print. The legislation is designed to somehow enforce federal election laws that forbid foreign nationals and foreign governments from spending money in the US to influence elections.

"We understand that election security is national security, and we know Russian threats to national security don't always involve traditional weapons of war," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said at a news conference announcing the legislation.

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Two-week-old Pixel 2 XL displays are already showing burn-in

October 23, 2017 - 3:15pm

Enlarge / The Pixel 2 XL in all its slim-bezel glory. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are the best Android phones you can buy, but boy does the 2 XL have a lot of display issues. In addition to graininess and a weird blue shift at certain viewing angles, the 2 XL is now experiencing burn-in on units that are just a week or two old.

Android Central was the first to report the issue, showing a picture of a Pixel 2 XL with some nasty image retention around the navigation bar. Shortly after, several other reports of burn-in started popping up, and you can add Ars' review unit to the list of affected devices. You can see the permanent navigation bar burn-in below on our two-week-old device.

Here's the burn-in on our two-week-old review unit. You can still see the navigation buttons on this solid gray image. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

In response to the complaints, Google has sent out a statement saying that it's investigating the issue:

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Taikonaut seeks to fly again, pledges “absolute loyalty” as CPC member

October 23, 2017 - 2:51pm

Enlarge / Combination photo taken on November 9, 2016 shows Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) as he talks with the two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, in the space lab Tiangong-2. (credit: Xinhua/Ju Peng/Li Tao via Getty Images)

After the Soviet Union flew the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, US President Dwight Eisenhower established NASA. There was some question at the time as to whether the US space agency would be militaristic in nature or civil, promoting the peaceful use of space for exploration and science. Eisenhower made clear his preference for the latter, and this proved a wise decision, as NASA has projected US soft power through achievement and apolitical cooperation ever since.

China's space program, on the other hand, is not as independent from the Communist Party of China or the country's military programs. This association has led some members of Congress to forbid NASA from working directly with the Chinese space agency, due to concerns about technology theft and other potential problems.

That being said, the degree to which some taikonauts express their fidelity to the Communist party is still striking. During the 19th National Congress of the CPC this weekend, three-time taikonaut Jing Haipeng expressed his desire to fly in space for a fourth time. "I'm eager to go to space again, be a pioneer in the battle one more time," the 51-year-old major-general said, according to Xinhua.

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Mercedes handles the competition because it knows how to handle data, too

October 23, 2017 - 1:56pm

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas—History happened Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas. Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton won for the fifth time in six years at Austin, inching him closer to a fourth world championship this year. And on a macro scale, Hamilton’s victory sealed a fourth straight Formula One constructors’ championship for the Silver Arrows team at Mercedes. According to ESPN, that makes Mercedes the first team to win consecutive championships across a major regulation change.

How does a team achieve such sustained dominance—Mercedes has won a staggering 51 of 59 total races between 2014 and 2016—in an era where the sport has witnessed an infusion of more money, more engineering talent, and more of those aforementioned regulations? If you listen to members of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport tech team tell it, the answer starts in the team’s network stacks.

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Tesla strikes a deal to open a factory in Shanghai, WSJ sources say

October 22, 2017 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / This picture taken on March 17, 2015 shows a Tesla Model S car on display at a showroom in Shanghai. (credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday morning the Wall Street Journal reported that Tesla has reached an agreement to open a factory in Shanghai.

The electric vehicle (EV) company has had grand ambitions for increasing its market share in China, and in June of this year Tesla said it was in talks with the Shanghai government about opening a manufacturing facility. At the time, the company said it hoped to reach a deal by year’s end.

Ars reached out to Tesla, and spokesperson Kady Cooper said the company wouldn’t make new comments on the WSJ article, but referred Ars to a statement Tesla made in June, which noted:

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You’ll never see a more touching film about a 72-year-old alien experiencer

October 22, 2017 - 5:00pm

Ars talks with Love & Saucers creators Matt Ralston and Brad Abrahams at Fantastic Fest 2017. (video link)

AUSTIN, Texas—Perhaps no film has ever set its tone so clearly within its first line as the new documentary Love & Saucers:

“When I was 17, I lost my virginity to a female extraterrestrial,” begins 72-year-old David Huggins. “That’s all I can say about it.”

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Nintendo Switch’s first portable dock offers freedom, but with new shackles

October 22, 2017 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / The author's Nintendo Switch, inserted into the Nyko Portable Docking Kit. (Cables aren't inserted into its backside for this product shot.) (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Nyko had clearly been watching my Nintendo Switch coverage. The accessory maker invited me to an E3 demo this summer with promises of all kinds of new, third-party Switch accessories, but this wasn't about carrying cases or screen protectors. The invite frontloaded one accessory above them all: the Nyko Portable Docking Kit.

Ever since I first played with a Switch, I've been wanting a reasonably priced, hyper-portable dock to toss into my laptop bag, to better enable an impromptu "let's hook Mario Kart up to a TV" party. Nintendo's official dock, as I found, is designed for nothing of the sort. Nyko demonstrated something that plain-and-simply got the job done. But that was during its flashy E3 demo—how would that translate into a final product?

The answer finally arrived in my mailbox this week, following a quiet rollout to retailers in the States. The result is modest and gets the job done, though its specific issues may very well be dealbreakers for people who want it all in a truly portable Switch dock.

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