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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 57 min 43 sec ago

Diana Prince reunites with her long-lost love in first Wonder Woman 1984 trailer

10 hours 5 min ago

Gal Gadot reprises her role as everyone's favorite Amazonian demigod in Wonder Woman 1984.

Diana Prince faces off against two new formidable foes, and reunites with an old love, in the hotly anticipated first trailer for Wonder Woman 1984, with Gal Gadot reprising her titular role. Director Patty Jenkins unveiled the trailer today at Comic Con Experience (CCXP) in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Inspired by the comic book heroine created by William Moulton Marston in the 1940s for DC Comics, Wonder Woman made her big screen debut in the DCEU with 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, followed by 2017's Justice League. The first fell short of box office expectations; the second bombed outright. So when Jenkins took on Wonder Woman's origin story, she deliberately departed from the grim humorlessness and dark sensibility of those earlier films, bringing a brighter energy and wit to her tale, along with the usual action. That vision paid off: Wonder Woman went on to gross $821 million worldwide, and earned critical raves, making it the most successful of the DCEU films thus far.

Jenkins first broached the possibility of a sequel shortly after the first film's release in June 2017, and principal photography began a year later. It has been described as a standalone film rather than a direct sequel, "in the same way that Indiana Jones or [James] Bond are, instead of one continuous story that requires many installments." (That standalone strategy worked well for Warner Bros'  2019 box office smash Joker, which became the first R-rated film to gross over $1 billion worldwide.)

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The physics behind how fire ants band together into robust floating “rafts”

December 8, 2019 - 10:29pm

Enlarge / A spinning fire ant raft in David Hu's biolocomotion lab at Georgia Tech is an example of collective behavior. (credit: Hungtang Ko)

Fire ants can survive floods by linking their bodies together to form large floating rafts. Now researchers at Georgia Tech have demonstrated that fire ants can actively sense changes in forces acting upon the raft under different fluid conditions and adapt their behavior accordingly to preserve the raft's stability. Hungtang Ko described their work at a meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics, held in Seattle just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Fire ants (and ants in general) provide a textbook example of collective behavior. A few ants spaced well apart behave like individual ants. But pack enough of them closely together, and they behave more like a single unit, exhibiting both solid and liquid properties. You can pour them from a teapot like a fluid, or they can link together to build towers or floating rafts—a handy survival skill when, say, a hurricane floods Houston. They also excel at regulating their own traffic flow.

Any single ant has a certain amount of hydrophobia—the ability to repel water—and this property is intensified when they link together, weaving their bodies much like a waterproof fabric. They gather up any eggs, make their way to the surface via their tunnels in the nest, and as the flood waters rise, they’ll chomp down on each other’s bodies with their mandibles and claws, until a flat raft-like structure forms, with each ant behaving like an individual molecule in a material—say, grains of sand in a sand pile. And they can do this in less than 100 seconds. Plus, the ant-raft is “self-healing”: it’s robust enough that if it loses an ant here and there, the overall structure can stay stable and intact, even for months at a time. In short, the ant raft is a super-organism.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

3D printing can keep aging Air Force aircraft flying

December 8, 2019 - 5:10pm

Enlarge / USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress taking-off with undercarriage retracting and trailing-edge wing flaps lowered at the 1998 Fairford Royal International Air Tattoo RIAT. (credit: aviationimages.com | Getty)

Glenn House and his colleagues spent more than four years making a new toilet for the B-1 Lancer. The challenge wasn't fitting the john into the cockpit (it went behind the front left seat) but ensuring that every part could handle life aboard a plane that can pull five Gs, break the sound barrier, and spend hours in wildly fluctuating temperatures. The end result didn't just have to work. It had to work without rattling, leaking, or revealing itself to enemy radar. Getting it OK'd for use aboard the bomber was just as complex as making it. "Getting a part approved can take years," says House, the cofounder and president of Walpole, Massachusetts-based 2Is Inc.

Until last year, 2Is was in the military parts business, furnishing replacement bits for assorted defense equipment. (Pronounced "two eyes," it sold off the parts business and now focuses on defense-related supply-chain software.) Providing spare parts for the military is a peculiar niche of the economy. Things like aircraft and submarines spend decades in service, and the companies that made them or supplied their myriad parts often disappear long before their products retire. So when something needs a new knob, seat, or potty, the military often turns to companies that specialize in making them anew.

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A nebbishy bank teller discovers he’s trapped in a video game in Free Guy

December 7, 2019 - 11:47pm

Ryan Reynolds stars in Free Guy.

A lowly bank teller discovers he's actually a non playable character in an open-world video game in Free Guy, a forthcoming film from 20th Century Fox. Director Shawn Levy debuted the first trailer this weekend at the 2019 Comic Con Experience (CCXP) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, describing it as "a superhero origin story except without the tights, powers, or pre-existing IP," according to Deadline Hollywood. Stars Ryan Reynolds and Joe Keery (Steve Harrington on Stranger Things) were also on hand for the event.

Per the official synopsis, Free Guy is about "a bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, decides to become the hero of his own story…one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way…before it is too late."

The trailer opens with cheery bank teller Guy (Reynolds) waking up and heading to work. He remains completely unfazed as he encounters all manner of bizarre occurrences en route: shootouts, explosions, a guy with a flame-thrower, and his pal Joe getting thrown through a storefront window. ("Whoa-ho! Mondays! Amirite, Joe?")

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Bernie Sanders vows to break up huge ISPs and regulate broadband prices

December 7, 2019 - 10:07pm

Enlarge / Bernie Sanders speaks to the Organic Farmers Association on December 05, 2019 in Story City, Iowa. (credit: Getty Images | Win McNamee )

Presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders yesterday released a plan to overhaul the US broadband market by breaking up giant providers, outlawing data caps, regulating broadband prices, and providing $150 billion to build publicly owned networks.

"The Internet as we know it was developed by taxpayer-funded research, using taxpayer-funded grants in taxpayer-funded labs," the Sanders plan said. "Our tax dollars built the Internet, and access to it should be a public good for all, not another price-gouging profit machine for Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon."

If enacted, Sanders' "High-Speed Internet for All" plan would be the polar opposite of the Trump administration's treatment of broadband companies and far more aggressive than the regulatory approach of the Obama administration. Sanders pledged to "use existing antitrust authority to break up Internet service provider and cable monopolies," specifically by "bar[ring] service providers from also providing content and unwind anticompetitive vertical conglomerates."

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Aeronauts brings the joy and perils of Victorian ballooning to vivid life

December 7, 2019 - 9:37pm

Enlarge / Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star in The Aeronauts. (credit: Amazon Studios)

Just in time for the holiday season, Amazon Studios has released The Aeronauts, a soaring historical adventure film about the perils faced by a Victorian scientist and a balloonist attempting to fly higher than anyone before them. Granted, the characters might be a bit thinly drawn when it comes to emotional depth, and the earth-bound first act is solid, if unremarkable, period drama. However, once the film (literally) gets off the ground, it blossoms into a gripping, thoroughly entertaining epic tale of survival at punishing altitudes. Above all, the film looks spectacular; every frame is practically a canvas, painted in vibrant, almost Disney-esque hues.

(Some spoilers below.)

The Aeronauts is a fictionalized account of a historic balloon flight by pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher. He and his pilot, Henry Coxwell, made several balloon flights to measure the temperature and humidity of the upper atmosphere between 1862 and 1866. Armed with scientific instruments and bottles of brandy, Glaisher and Coxwell set a world-altitude record, reaching an estimated 38,999 feet (11,887 meters) on September 5, 1862. They were the first men to reach the atmospheric stratosphere, and they did it without the benefit of oxygen tanks, pressure suits, or a pressurized cabin.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Horrified is a terrific family-friendly monster-themed board game

December 7, 2019 - 5:48pm

Enlarge

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

Some folks use "family game" as a pejorative. Not me. For one thing, I happen to like my family. More importantly, as a player and critic of board games, it is my holy duty to introduce as many games as possible to my family. In the cardboard eschaton, all games shall be family games, because families will play anything and everything together.

With that very important disclaimer out of the way, it's now time to announce that Prospero Hall's Horrified is my favorite family game of the year.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

No one knows why rocks are exploding from asteroid Bennu

December 7, 2019 - 3:42pm

Enlarge / A composite image of a short and long exposure photograph of Bennu showing the largest particle ejection on January 6, 2019. (credit: NASA | Goddard | University of Arizona | Lockheed Martin)

For the last year, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been circling a large asteroid named Bennu that regularly passes uncomfortably close to Earth. The spacecraft has been painstakingly mapping the asteroid's rocky surface using a suite of cameras and other instruments that will help it determine where to land next year. Once NASA selects a final landing site, OSIRIS-REx will kiss Bennu just long enough to scoop up a sample to bring back to Earth in 2023.

Many scientists expect the Bennu sample to revolutionize our understanding of asteroids, especially those that are near Earth and pose the greatest threat from space to life as we know it. But as detailed in a paper published this week in Science, NASA has already started making surprising discoveries around this alien world. Earlier this year, the OSIRIS-REx team witnessed particles exploding from the asteroid's surface—and the team's not sure why.

"No one has ever seen an active asteroid up close like this," says Carl Hergenrother, an astronomer at the University of Arizona and the scientist who proposed Bennu as the target for OSIRIS-REx. "It wasn't that long ago that the conventional wisdom was that asteroids are these dead bodies that didn't change very much."

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Floor pavements in Pompeii illustrate surveying technology

December 7, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge (credit: L. FERRO, G MAGLI, M. OSANNA)

Decorative pavements in the floor of a recently unearthed Roman house in Pompeii offer a glimpse into the life and work of an ancient land surveyor. The pavements depict a stylized drawing of an ancient surveyor’s tool called a groma, along with a diagram of a surveying technique and the plan of a construction project in Pompeii. So far, they’re the only original Roman illustrations of the tools and techniques the Romans used to help build an empire and its infrastructure.

The land surveyor’s house

Only a few metal fragments of a Roman groma exist today (also recovered from Pompeii), and archaeologists have found only a few images carved into surveyors’ tombstones. Otherwise, we know the tool only from descriptions in medieval versions of ancient Roman surveying manuals.

The newly unearthed pavements at Pompeii suggest that those medieval copies were pretty close to the original ancient texts. An image on the floor of the entrance hall is nearly identical to illustrations in medieval copies of Roman texts, attributed to Roman surveyor Hygius and famed architect Vitruvius.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Jury sides with Elon Musk in “pedo guy” defamation case

December 7, 2019 - 12:29am

Enlarge / Elon Musk leaves a Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday, December 3, 2019. (credit: Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

A Los Angeles federal jury has found Elon Musk not liable for defamation in a lawsuit brought by British caver Vernon Unsworth. Musk dubbed Unsworth a "pedo guy" in a tweet last year but argued in court that he meant this as a generic insult—not as an accusation that Unsworth was a pedophile.

"My faith in humanity is restored," Musk reportedly said on his way out of court.

Musk and Unsworth have been trading insults since last July, when Unsworth mocked a miniature submarine SpaceX engineers created to help rescue a dozen boys trapped in a cave in Thailand (it didn't arrive in time to be useful). In an interview with CNN, Unsworth said that Musk should "stick his submarine where it hurts."

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On the day of a key test, Russia trolls Boeing’s Starliner mission

December 6, 2019 - 11:19pm

Enlarge / Starliner is tested on top of an Atlas V rocket on Friday. (credit: Boeing)

On Friday, Boeing and United Launch Alliance conducted a number of key tests in preparation for the launch of the Starliner spacecraft later this month.

During this "Integrated Day of Launch," flight controllers in Houston and Florida monitored data as the spacecraft and its United Launch Alliance rocket practiced fueling as if the booster were about to launch. During this test, the Atlas V rocket was loaded with propellants, and the countdown was taken to the final second at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Boeing and United Launch Alliance said this wet dress rehearsal was successful and that they remain on track for a December 20 launch. This Starliner uncrewed mission is a precursor to a flight with astronauts that will follow several months later.

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Hulu is finally offering 4K and 5.1 audio on Roku devices

December 6, 2019 - 11:06pm

Enlarge / The Handmaid's Tale, a Hulu original series. (credit: Hulu)

The long, give-and-take saga of 4K streaming on Hulu continues with the addition of 4K streaming for supported Roku devices. Hulu also added 5.1 surround sound capabilities on Roku.

The Disney-owned streaming platform updated its user-facing help pages with the information sometime in the past few days. Previously, only 1080p streaming was possible with the Hulu app on Roku devices, despite many Roku devices' hardware support for 4K. Unfortunately, Hulu still does not support HDR.

It's been a rocky road for 4K on Hulu. The service first offered 4K streaming on select titles for some devices in 2016, then removed support in 2018. It was then re-added on some devices like the Apple TV 4K, but it was not available on Roku sticks or boxes.

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Newly discovered Mac malware uses “fileless” technique to remain stealthy

December 6, 2019 - 10:17pm

Enlarge (credit: iphonedigital)

Hackers believed to be working for the North Korean government have upped their game with a recently discovered Mac trojan that uses in-memory execution to remain stealthy.

In-memory execution, also known as fileless infection, never writes anything to a computer hard drive. Instead, it loads malicious code directly into memory and executes it from there. The technique is an effective way to evade antivirus protection because there’s no file to be analyzed or flagged as suspicious.

In-memory infections were once the sole province of state-sponsored attackers. By 2017, more advanced financially motivated hackers had adopted the technique. It has become increasingly common since then.

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Halo Reach on PC is the customizable combat we’ve been wanting—but just barely

December 6, 2019 - 9:50pm

Enlarge / Back into Reach. This time, on Windows PC. (credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Years of teases and waiting have finally ended with this: Halo is back on PC in officially supported fashion.

In particular, this week's launch of 2011's Halo Reach on Windows PC is fascinating because of how it compares to the last time Microsoft tried the Halo-on-PC thing. Rewind to 2007, and Microsoft shoved out a Halo 2 port that required both Games For Windows Live and Windows Vista to run—and shipped in mod-unfriendly fashion. It received nary a patch or useful update and left diehard fans scrambling to patch it into decent shape.

Compare that to Halo Reach, which is still a Windows-only game but works on any Microsoft OS from Windows 7 and up and can be purchased either on the Windows Store or Steam. If you pay for Xbox Game Pass on PCs, you get it day-and-date via Windows Store. If you buy it on Steam, meanwhile, you get one heckuva cool option already: total mod support. Simply pick the game's "cheat detection disabled" option upon boot and you can fiddle with every relevant file (within a "friends-only" online sandbox, which is fair enough).

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The “burp-talking” in Rick and Morty isn’t as meaningless as you might think

December 6, 2019 - 9:31pm

Enlarge / Constant burping is one of the defining features of mad scientist Rick Sanchez on Rick and Morty. (credit: Adult Swim/Comedy Central)

Eccentric mad scientist Rick Sanchez, of Rick and Morty fame, is as notorious for his constant mid-speech belching as he is for his brilliantly eccentric inventions—and for routinely dragging grandson Morty into highly dangerous situations. Now, paralinguistic researcher Brooke Kidner of the University of Southern California has made the first acoustical analysis of Rick's unique speech patterns. She described her work at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America this week in San Diego.

“Paralinguistics have been shown to carry significant meaning when inserted into conversation, and being able to understand the meanings of these less common sounds can lead to a greater understanding of natural language processing," Kidner said at a press conference.

Kidner's unusual study began with a phonetics seminar course at USC, focusing on non-speech sounds that occur in human speech—groans, gasps, sighs, the infamous "Loser!" sneeze, and so forth—and how we attribute meaning to them (sarcasm, for instance). The instructor noted that burps were an example of non-speech sounds with no meaning. Kidner brought up Rick Sanchez's constant mid-sentence burps in Rick and Morty as a counter-argument, and the instructor encouraged her to investigate further.

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Social media platforms leave 95% of reported fake accounts up, study finds

December 6, 2019 - 8:42pm

Enlarge / One hundred cardboard cutouts of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stand outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 10, 2018. (credit: SAUL LOEB | AFP | Getty Images)

It's no secret that every major social media platform is chock-full of bad actors, fake accounts, and bots. The big companies continually pledge to do a better job weeding out organized networks of fake accounts, but a new report confirms what many of us have long suspected: they're pretty terrible at doing so.

The report comes this week from researchers with the NATO Strategic Communication Centre of Excellence (StratCom). Through the four-month period between May and August of this year, the research team conducted an experiment to see just how easy it is to buy your way into a network of fake accounts and how hard it is to get social media platforms to do anything about it.

The research team spent €300 (about $332) to purchase engagement on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, the report (PDF) explains. That sum bought 3,520 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views, and 5,100 followers. They then used those interactions to work backward to about 19,000 inauthentic accounts that were used for social media manipulation purposes.

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Leading anti-vaxxer jailed as measles death toll rises to 63 in Samoa

December 6, 2019 - 7:57pm

Enlarge / APIA, SAMOA - DECEMBER 5: Red flags are seen hanging outside of homes of Apia residents indicating they have not been vaccinated for measles on December 5, 2019 in Apia, Samoa. (credit: Getty | Chikara Yoshida)

Samoa’s most prominent locally based anti-vaccine advocate will stay behind bars as officials go door to door vaccinating residents against a massive measles outbreak that has already killed 63—nearly all of whom are children under 4 years old.

Officials arrested Edwin Tamasese Thursday, December 5, charging him with "incitement against the Government vaccination order[s]," according to the Samoa Observer. He faces two years in jail.

The arrest came after he allegedly posted a message on social media about the current vaccination campaign that read, "I will be here to mop up your mess. Enjoy your killing spree."

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Google Assistant gets a big note-taking revamp, with support for several apps

December 6, 2019 - 7:31pm

Enlarge / The Google Assistant and Google Keep, now back together.

Shopping list creation can be a very handy feature to have in a voice assistant. As you pull the jug of milk out of the fridge and realize it's a little light, just give a quick "Hey Google, add milk to my shopping list," and the little voice box on the kitchen counter will dutifully jot down that you need more milk. In the early days of the Google Assistant, this feature was pretty good—your lists were created in Google Keep, a fully featured note-taking app. In 2017, Google seriously limited the usefulness of Google Assistant shopping lists when it took away Google Keep integration and instead forced the feature into Google Express, Google's online-shopping-focused Amazon Prime clone.

It has been two and a half years now, and Google Keep integration is coming back to the Google Assistant. Google is actually introducing a full-blown note taking feature set now. You can pick from several note apps—Google Keep, Any.do, AnyList, and Bring—and you can juggle multiple lists now instead of just a single shopping list. Shopping lists, holiday gift lists, a list of who is naughty and nice—It seems like you can pick any arbitrary name you want and the Google Assistant will create it and add to it. These lists can now pop up on Google Smart Displays, too—just ask for them.

The Google Assistant's 2017 integration with Google Express (now called Google Shopping) was a mess. Google Express was nowhere near the fully featured note-taking app that Google Keep was, and overnight users lost the ability to reorder items with drag and drop, share lists and do real-time collaboration with other users, attach location or time-based reminders to lists, and add voice recordings and images. The Google Express-hosted shopping list turned your shopping list into a big advertisement for Google Express, adding search links next to all your items, encouraging you to order them online through Google's $95-a-year shipping service. If you were just intending to run down to the local grocery store, that wasn't really supported by the Google Express UX.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Get holiday sales on Lenovo ThinkPads, board games, and more

December 6, 2019 - 6:24pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's tech deal roundup brings a number of leftover sales from Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Lenovo, for one, is still running a couple of deals on very good ThinkPad laptops: a configuration of its latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon with an 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive is available for less than $1,000 with the code "THINKBF1," while a similar config of the more business-oriented ThinkPad T490 is down to $749 with the code "THINKBF7". We rate the former very highly—just note that its memory is not upgradeable, though it is a lighter and more premium-feeling machine than the latter.

Beyond that, we're still seeing a number of Cyber Week sales going strong: the Razer DeathAdder Elite, our favorite gaming mouse, is still at a low of $25; a number of Instant Pot models remain on sale; and our favorite noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3, are still at their Black Friday discount of $70 off. The Dealmaster has a one-day Amazon sale on board games, a discount on retro NES-style controllers for the Nintendo Switch, deals on recommended microSD cards and portable power banks, and much more. Have a look at the full rundown below.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Some Stadia games cost more than their downloadable counterparts

December 6, 2019 - 5:34pm

Since back in June, Google has been telling us that the publisher-set prices for games on its Stadia streaming service would be "competitive... to what you would see on other platforms." While that's been true of the vast majority of games on the service, fans were surprised to find a Stadia price premium for yesterday's launch of Darksiders Genesis.

The new action-adventure title is currently on sale for $40 on Stadia, compared to a $30 price on other PC platforms (including Steam, GOG, and the Humble Store). Steam players could get an even better deal with a pre-order price of $25.50 for the game. Console versions, which aren't due until next February, are currently listed at the higher $40 price point on various digital and retail storefronts.

A spokesperson for THQ told Polygon that "THQ doesn’t comment on their price policy."

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