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It's once again that special time of year when we give you a chance to do well by doing good. That's right—it's time for the 2018 edition of our annual Charity Drive.
Every year since 2007, we've been actively encouraging readers to give to Penny Arcade's Child's Play charity, which provides toys and games to kids being treated in hospitals around the world. In recent years, we've added the Electronic Frontier Foundation to our annual charity push, aiding in their efforts to defend Internet freedom. This year, as always, we're providing some extra incentive for those donations by offering donors a chance to win pieces of our big pile of vendor-provided swag. We can't keep it (ethically), and we don't want it clogging up our offices anyway. It's now yours to win.
This year's swag pile is full of high-value geek goodies. We have nearly 20 prizes amounting to nearly $5,000 in value, including game consoles, computer accessories, collectibles, smartwatches, and more. In 2017, Ars readers raised over $36,000 for charity, contributing to a total haul of more than $280,000 since 2007. We want to raise even more this year, and we can do it if readers really dig deep.
On Tuesday evening, the New York Times revealed more startling news about Facebook: the company "gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules.”
The news comes days after Facebook disclosed a massive photo bug, weeks after 50 million people were affected by an access-token harvesting attack, and less than a month after it was revealed that Facebook considered selling access to its users’ data. All of those scandals are on top of the Cambridge Analytica debacle. In June 2018, Facebook dodged some lawmakers' questions in written testimony, after two days of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before the US Senate.
The newspaper cited "hundreds of pages" of internal documents, which it did not publish.
The Boring Company
HAWTHORNE, CALIF.—On a breezy Tuesday evening across the busy street from SpaceX's headquarters, Elon Musk's Boring Company invited a group of journalists to take a ride through the company's first test tunnel. The test tunnel stretches 1.14 miles from SpaceX's former parking lot, under Crenshaw Boulevard, under the SpaceX campus, and finally terminating behind some nondescript warehouses in Hawthorne, at Prairie St. and 120th St.
The ride was hardly a finished product; judging the success of The Boring Company's tunnel-digging vision would be impossible at this point. What today's demo did, though, was offer a proof-of-concept.
Apple released a new version of iOS yesterday, and the public notes this time apply just to iPhones. Labeled iOS 12.1.2, it arrives just two weeks after 12.1.1 hit, and primarily, it fixes a couple of bugs.
Both bugs are related to cellular connectivity and apply only to the three phones just released this year: the iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max. One is an issue with eSIM activation on those devices. (eSIMs are a new feature in these phones that allow a single phone to have multiple numbers or carriers; they're useful if you, for example, have separate personal and work phone numbers or are a frequent international traveler.)
The second bug is related to cellular connectivity specifically in Turkey.
While Ars Technica takes a comprehensive approach to film reviews, we usually skip one portion: any pre-film "bumper." For one, these cartoon shorts are usually dissimilar from the film they're attached to. More importantly, most studios don't bother with them.
Pixar has consistently been the exception to that rule, and the studio has shipped so many bumper shorts that it has put out a whopping three compilations of the things. To promote the latest collection, Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 3, the Disney-owned studio has made a bold decision: to give away its latest (and possibly best) short on YouTube. As it turns out, Pixar has never offered such a giveaway until this week.
T-Mobile has denied an allegation that it lied to the Federal Communications Commission about the extent of its 4G LTE coverage.
A group that represents small rural carriers says that T-Mobile claimed to have 4G LTE coverage in places where it hadn't yet installed 4G equipment. That would violate FCC rules and potentially prevent small carriers from getting network construction money in unserved areas.
T-Mobile said the allegations made by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) in an FCC filing on Friday "are patently false."
The Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, continues to limp out of the door. While the data-loss bug that saw its release entirely halted has been fixed, other blocking issues have restricted its rollout. It has so far only been available to those who manually check Windows Update for updates, and even there, Microsoft has restricted the speed at which it's distributed.
This particular speed bump has now been removed, and manual checking for updates is now unthrottled. That means a manual check for updates will kick off the update process so long as your system isn't actively blacklisted (and there are a few outstanding incompatibilities that mean it could be).
Microsoft is saying that this upgrade route is for "advanced" users. Everyone else should wait for the fully automatic deployment, which doesn't seem to have started yet. That'll have its own set of throttles and perhaps even new blacklists if further problems are detected. A number of the remaining compatibility problems are more likely to strike corporate users, as they involve corporate VPN and security software. Companies will need to apply the relevant patches for the third-party applications before they can roll out the Windows 10 update.
We seem to be on the cusp of a revolution in storage. Various technologies have been demonstrated that have speed approaching that of current RAM chips but can hold on to the memory when the power shuts off—all without the long-term degradation that flash experiences. Some of these, like phase-change memory and Intel's Optane, have even made it to market. But, so far at least, issues with price and capacity have kept them from widespread adoption.
But that hasn't discouraged researchers from continuing to look for the next greatest thing. In this week's edition, a joint NIST-Purdue University team has used a material that can form atomically thin sheets to make a new form of resistance-based memory. This material can be written in nanoseconds and hold on to that memory without power. The memory appears to work via a fundamentally different mechanism from previous resistance-RAM technologies, but there's a small hitch: we're not actually sure how it works.The persistence of memristors
There is a series of partly overlapping memory storage technologies that are based on changes in electrical resistance. These are sometimes termed ReRAM and can include memristors. The basic idea is that a material can hold a bit that is read based on whether the electrical resistance is high or whether electrons flow through like it was a metal. In some of these, the resistance can be set across a spectrum that can be divided up, potentially allowing a single piece of material to hold more than one bit.
Have you ever been to a website where the back button just doesn't work? In these instances, you press "back" to go back but instead you just end up at the same page where you started. A new commit on the Chromium source (first spotted by 9to5Google) outlines a plan to stop weird website schemes like this, with a lockdown on "history manipulation" by websites. The commit reads: "Entries that are added to the back/forward list without the user's intention are marked to be skipped on subsequent back button invocations."
The back button moves backward through your Web history, and, along with the close button, it's one of the most common ways of leaving a website. This is very bad if you're a shady website designer, and sites have tried to mess with the back button by adding extra entries to your Web history. It's not hard to do this with a redirect—imagine loading example1.com from a search result, which instantly redirects you to example2.com. Both pages would get stored in your history, so pressing "back" from example2.com would send you to example1.com, which would redirect you again and add more troublesome history entries. This doesn't make it impossible to leave (quickly hitting the back button twice might work), but it does make it harder to leave, which is the end goal.
To stop this kind of history manipulation, bad history entries will soon get a "skippable" flag, which means the back button will ignore them when it navigates through the history order. One commit says Google still needs to come up with some kind of "pruning logic" to declare a website as skippable, but that could probably be done with something like a timestamp. You spent zero seconds on that redirect page, so that's probably not a good history entry.
Nuro, a startup founded by two veterans of Google's self-driving car project, has reached an important milestone: it has started making fully autonomous grocery deliveries on public streets.
Fry's Food, a brand owned by grocery giant Kroger, launched a self-driving grocery delivery program back in August in partnership with Nuro. Fry's has been using Nuro cars to deliver groceries to customers near one of its stores on East McDowell Road in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Initially, these deliveries were made by Toyota Priuses that Nuro had outfitted with its sensors and software. There were also safety drivers behind the wheel. Nuro says it has made 1,000 deliveries using these vehicles since August.
Looking for a palate cleanser after all those wholesome Christmas movies saturating every TV channel? We recommend "A Midwinter's Tale," a special holiday episode of the Netflix horror series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. It caps off a strong first season for the fledgling series. And Sabrina has just been renewed for a third and fourth season (16 episodes in total), which means we'll get even more sinister witchy goodness in the future.
The series is based on the comic book series of the same name, part of the Archie Horror imprint, and it's much, much darker in tone than the original Sabrina the Teenaged Witch comics. Originally intended as a companion series to the CW's Riverdale—a gleefully Gothic take on the original Archie comic books—Sabrina ended up on Netflix instead. It's a stronger series for it, evidenced by rave reviews and a rapidly expanding fan base.
(Some spoilers for season 1 below.)
A Southern California man has become the latest person to sue the federal government over what he says is an unconstitutional search of his phone at the Los Angeles International Airport.
According to his lawsuit, which was recently filed in federal court in Los Angeles, Haisam Elsharkawi had arrived at LAX on February 9, 2017 and was headed to Saudi Arabia to go on a hajj, the Muslim religious pilgrimage.
After clearing the security checkpoint, Elsharkawi, an American citizen, was pulled aside from the Turkish Airlines boarding line by a Customs and Border Protection officer, who began questioning him about how much cash he was carrying and where he was going. Elsharkawi complied with the officer’s inquiries and dutifully followed him to a nearby table.
SpaceX is raising $500 million from investors to help build its worldwide satellite broadband network, The Wall Street Journal reported today.
The company run by Elon Musk has agreed on financing terms with existing shareholders and new investor Baillie Gifford & Co., who will pay $186 per share for new stock, valuing the company at $30.5 billion, according to Journal sources. SpaceX hasn't received the money yet but could announce the deal by the end of December, the Journal reported.
The funding round would pay for initial costs but not the entire project, which the Journal report said could cost as much as $10 billion. We contacted SpaceX about the funding today but the company declined to comment.
Creative Assembly's Total War franchise has been around for so long that it's old enough to drive, vote, and even drink in most countries. For the three people reading this who haven't played at least one title in the series, the games provide a blend of real-time strategy and turn-based resource management that manages to scratch a number of itches simultaneously. You can direct the conquest of large regions from a god's-eye overhead view and then step down to the battlefield and move units around like Command and Conquer.
As technology and the 2000s progressed, new entries in the series became more sophisticated; by the time 2013 rolled around and Creative Assembly was working its magic on Total War: Rome II, the design goals were ambitious indeed. Designers wanted to give players total freedom to move around all of classical-era Europe, from Caledonia to Arachosia and all points in between. Building a canvas this broad to play on meant the small team of designers had to rely on some clever procedural tools, and although you might expect those tools to be the point of this particular War Story, that's not actually what the problem turned out to be.What if we threw a war and nobody came?
In order to properly test a game with thousands of square miles of playable space, the designers employed automated tools running on their office PCs. In the evenings when it was time to go home, Creative Assembly would set as many PCs as they could to playing the game in AI-only mode, iterating through battles and scenarios in order to help see which units needed balancing and which scenarios needed tweaking. Along the way, they would also find areas where their procedural terrain generation hadn't gotten things quite right (like requiring a campaign battle to awkwardly play out on a near-vertical slope).
Charter has agreed to pay $62.5 million in refunds to more than 700,000 customers to settle a lawsuit filed by the New York state attorney general's office, which alleged that Charter defrauded customers by promising Internet speeds that it knew it could not deliver.
The 700,000 New York-based customers will receive between $75 and $150 each, NY AG Barbara Underwood announced today. Charter will also provide access to "streaming services and premium channels, with a retail value of over $100 million, at no charge for approximately 2.2 million active subscribers." The settlement's total value is $174.2 million, the AG's office said.
"The $62.5 million in direct refunds to consumers alone are believed to represent the largest-ever payout to consumers by an Internet service provider (ISP) in US history," the AG's announcement said. "The landmark agreement settles a consumer fraud action alleging that the state's largest ISP, which operated initially as Time Warner Cable (TWC) and later under Charter's Spectrum brand name, denied customers the reliable and fast Internet service it had promised."
Tuesday had the potential to be a pretty amazing day of rocket launches, with SpaceX, Arianespace, and United Launch Alliance all on the pad for their final orbital missions of 2019. Blue Origin, too, said it intended to fly the tenth mission of its New Shepard Launch system from West Texas.
But by early Tuesday, Mother Nature and the intricacies of rocketry had other ideas.
By around 8am ET, Arianespace said it was scrubbing the launch of a Russian-made Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in South America due to "high-altitude wind conditions." Launch has been pushed back a day in hopes of better weather.
Right now, I can open up Google Photos, type "beach," and see my photos from various beaches I've visited over the last decade. I never went through my photos and labeled them; instead, Google identifies beaches based on the contents of the photos themselves. This seemingly mundane feature is based on a technology called deep convolutional neural networks, which allows software to understand images in a sophisticated way that wasn't possible with prior techniques.
In recent years, researchers have found that the accuracy of the software gets better and better as they build deeper networks and amass larger data sets to train them. That has created an almost insatiable appetite for computing power, boosting the fortunes of GPU makers like Nvidia and AMD. Google developed its own custom neural networking chip several years ago, and other companies have scrambled to follow Google's lead.
Over at Tesla, for instance, the company has put deep learning expert Andrej Karpathy in charge of its Autopilot project. The carmaker is now developing a custom chip to accelerate neural network operations for future versions of Autopilot. Or, take Apple: the A11 and A12 chips at the heart of recent iPhones include a "neural engine" to accelerate neural network operations and allow better image- and voice-recognition applications.
With Microsoft's decision to end development of its own Web rendering engine and switch to Chromium, control over the Web has functionally been ceded to Google. That's a worrying turn of events, given the company's past behavior.
Chrome itself has about 72 percent of the desktop-browser market share. Edge has about 4 percent. Opera, based on Chromium, has another 2 percent. The abandoned, no-longer-updated Internet Explorer has 5 percent, and Safari—only available on macOS—about 5 percent. When Microsoft's transition is complete, we're looking at a world where Chrome and Chrome-derivatives take about 80 percent of the market, with only Firefox, at 9 percent, actively maintained and available cross-platform.
The mobile story has stronger representation from Safari, thanks to the iPhone, but overall tells a similar story. Chrome has 53 percent directly, plus another 6 percent from Samsung Internet, another 5 percent from Opera, and another 2 percent from Android browser. Safari has about 22 percent, with the Chinese UC Browser sitting at about 9 percent. That's two-thirds of the mobile market going to Chrome and Chrome derivatives.
A report prepared for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) due to be released later this week concludes that the activities of Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) leading up to and following the 2016 US presidential election were crafted to specifically help the Republican Party and Donald Trump. The activities encouraged those most likely to support Trump to get out to vote while actively trying to spread confusion and discourage voting among those most likely to oppose him. The report, based on research by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika Inc., warns that social media platforms have become a "computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants, and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike."
In an executive summary to the Oxford-Graphika report, the authors—Philip N. Howard, Bharath Ganesh, and Dimitra Liotsiou of the University of Oxford, Graphika CEO John Kelly, and Graphika Research and Analysis Director Camille François—noted that, from 2013 to 2018, "the IRA's Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter campaigns reached tens of millions of users in the United States... Over 30 million users, between 2015 and 2017, shared the IRA's Facebook and Instagram posts with their friends and family, liking, reacting to, and commenting on them along the way."
While the IRA's activity focusing on the US began on Twitter in 2013, as Ars previously reported, the company had used Twitter since 2009 to shape domestic Russian opinion. "Our analysis confirms that the early focus of the IRA's Twitter activity was the Russian public, targeted with messages in Russian from fake Russian users," the report's authors stated. "These misinformation activities began in 2009 and continued until Twitter began closing IRA accounts in 2017."
California telecom regulators have abandoned a plan to impose government fees on text-messaging services, saying that a recent Federal Communications Commission vote has limited its authority over text messaging.
The FCC last week voted to classify text-messaging as an information service, rather than a telecommunications service.
"Information service" is the same classification the FCC gave to broadband when it repealed net neutrality rules and claimed that states aren't allowed to impose their own net neutrality laws. California's legislature passed a net neutrality law anyway and is defending it in court. But the state's utility regulator chose not to challenge the FCC on regulation of text messaging.