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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 19 min 4 sec ago

For the first time ever, Disney posts a Pixar “short” on YouTube for free

28 min 35 sec ago

Disney Pixar

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.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

T-Mobile denies lying to FCC about size of its 4G network

December 18, 2018 - 11:01pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

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."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Windows 10 October 2018 Update is now fully available—for “advanced” users

December 18, 2018 - 10:15pm

Enlarge / Who doesn't love some new Windows? (credit: Peter Bright / Flickr)

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.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Researchers make RAM from a phase change we don’t entirely understand

December 18, 2018 - 9:41pm

Enlarge / Two layers of one of the materials used in this work. (credit: The American Mineralogist Crystal Structure Database)

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.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google Chrome wants to stop back-button hijacking

December 18, 2018 - 7:22pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

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.

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Kroger-owned grocery store begins fully driverless deliveries

December 18, 2018 - 7:18pm

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.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina charms with some welcome holiday horror

December 18, 2018 - 7:15pm

Enlarge / Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) toasts friends and family at the witchy winter solstice in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina holiday special. (credit: Netflix)

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.)

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Man sues feds after being detained for refusing to unlock his phone at airport

December 18, 2018 - 6:34pm

Enlarge (credit: FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

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.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX raising $500 million to help build satellite broadband network

December 18, 2018 - 6:18pm

Enlarge / SpaceX's first Starlink broadband satellites. (credit: Elon Musk)

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.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Video: Total War: Rome II devs built all of Europe—and the AI ignored most of it

December 18, 2018 - 5:15pm

Shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Motion graphics by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

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).

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Charter users who didn’t get promised speeds will get $75 or $150 refunds

December 18, 2018 - 5:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | tazytaz)

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."

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Weather and technical issues forced multiple launch scrubs Tuesday, but…

December 18, 2018 - 4:14pm

Enlarge / SpaceX held its Falcon 9 launch with 7 minutes, 1 second left in the countdown. (credit: SpaceX webcast)

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.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How computers got shockingly good at recognizing images

December 18, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

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.

Read 104 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google isn’t the company that we should have handed the Web over to

December 17, 2018 - 11:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

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.

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Massive scale of Russian election trolling revealed in draft Senate report

December 17, 2018 - 10:02pm

Enlarge / A report commissioned by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, based on data provided to the committee by social media platforms, provides a look at just how large and ambitious the Internet Research Agency's campaign to shape the US Presidential election was. (credit: Chesnot/Getty Images)

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."

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FCC forces California to drop plan for government fees on text messages

December 17, 2018 - 9:38pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Tom Werner)

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.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Conservation of energy used to parallelize quantum key distribution

December 17, 2018 - 8:53pm

Enlarge (credit: Taki Steve / Flickr)

It has been a while since I wrote about quantum key distribution. Once a technology is commercially available, my interest starts to fade. But commercial availability in this case hasn't meant widespread use. Quantum key distribution has ended up a niche market because creating shared keys with it for more than one connection using a single device is so difficult.

That may all change now with a very inventive solution that makes use of all the best things: lasers, nonlinear optics, and conservation of energy.

Quantum key distribution in less than 500 words

The goal of quantum key distribution is to generate a random number that is securely shared between two people, always termed Alice and Bob. The shared random number is then used to seed classical encryption algorithms.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Take 24% off the latest 9.7-inch Apple iPad

December 17, 2018 - 8:25pm

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a deal on the 32GB model of Apple's latest 9.7-inch iPad, which is down to $249 at Walmart and Amazon. That's $80 off its usual price.

This has been the iPad's sale price for much of the holiday season, but if you're in need of a new tablet and haven't taken advantage yet, it's still a strong deal. While the 9.7-inch model isn't the most capable device for professional work, it is far and away the best slate on the market for the things most people do with tablets—namely, watching videos, reading articles, and playing games.

It may not have the souped-up processor or ultra-vibrant display of Apple's iPad Pro devices, but it is still built well and plenty smooth for far less money. Android's sloppiness on large screens almost makes Apple king of this territory by default. There's no pressing need to upgrade if your tablet still serves you well, but if you need something new and don't want to settle for the flimsier designs of cheaper devices, the 9.7-inch model remains a good value. Note that the 128GB model is on sale, too, if you need more storage.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Genetic information as self-fulfilling prophecy

December 17, 2018 - 7:56pm

Enlarge (credit: 23AndMe on Flickr)

If the TV ads are at all effective, plenty of people will be getting the gift of their genetic tests this Christmas. These tests frequently allow people to explore their inherited tendencies toward health problems and, in some cases, may suggest lifestyle changes to ward off future problems—although studies have indicated that few people do.

However, DNA test results can also cause issues that wouldn't otherwise be there. Genetic information can exert a potent placebo effect—or the opposite, the nocebo effect, wherein if you think that something can harm you, it in fact does. And the potency of this effect has not been studied until now.

Experimental ethics

Some psychologists at Stanford wondered if the perception of genetic risk could actually increase people’s risk, independent of their actual genetic risk. In other words, could simply learning that you have a genetic propensity for something elicit physiological changes akin to really having that propensity, regardless of whether you have it? The team designed experiments to find out.

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Archaeologists reconstruct pre-Columbian temple with 3D-printed blocks

December 17, 2018 - 6:51pm

Enlarge (credit: Brattarb via Wikimedia Commons)

The unfinished temple in a southern valley of the Lake Titicaca Basin in modern-day Bolivia has been a mystery for at least 500 years. Now known as the Pumapunku—"Door of the Jaguar" in the Quechua language—the complex stone structure is part of a sprawling complex of pyramids, plazas, and platforms built by a pre-Columbian culture we now call the Tiwanaku. Construction began around 500 CE and proceeded off and on, in phases, over the next few centuries until the Tiwanaku left the site around 900 or 1000 CE.

When the Inca Empire rose around 1200 CE, they claimed the sprawling ceremonial complex as the site of the world's creation, although they didn't finish the Tiwanaku's temple.

Old school and high tech

Spanish visitors in the 1500s and 1600s describe “a wondrous, though unfinished, building” with walls of H-shaped andesite pieces and massive gateways and windows carved from single blocks. These were set on remarkably smooth sandstone slabs, some of which weighed more than 80 tons. But after centuries of looting, the stones of the Pumapunku are so scattered that not one lies in its original place. The Tiwanaku left behind no written documents or plans to help modern researchers understand what their buildings looked like or what purpose they served.

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