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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 4 min 23 sec ago

Google adds indoor positioning to Android’s Find My Device

53 min 28 sec ago


If you've ever lost your Android phone, it's usually a help to use Google's "Find My Device" service to see the phone's last known position on a map. As Google Maps get better and better, it makes sense to keep Find My Device up to date with the latest in mapping technology. With the latest update, Google is adding indoor mapping support to its lost device service.

While Google Maps has most of the great outdoors pretty well mapped, indoor mapping is the next great frontier. For indoor mapping, someone has to upload a floor plan to Google Maps and then set up some kind of indoor positioning system. Outdoor Google Maps can be powered by satellite imaging and photos from Street View cars, but there's no such shortcut for indoor maps, which require each individual building owner to enter data. Today you'll find indoor maps mostly for places like Airports, malls, stadiums, and other large businesses (here is an example). If you lose your device in one of these places and the indoor positioning system actually works, you'll now be able to get a pinpoint location in Find My Device.

This might actually work in your house someday, too. Google added 802.11mc support—AKA Wi-Fi Round Trip Time (RTT)—to Android 9 Pie, which allows Android devices to natively support precise indoor positioning and even indoor navigation. You'll need a constellation of Wi-Fi RTT-compatible routers for indoor positioning to actually work, and no consumer routers actually support it yet. Google has promised Wi-Fi RTT support will come to the Google Wi-Fi mesh router before the end of the year, though.

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Amazon customers’ names and email addresses disclosed by website error

1 hour 3 min ago


Amazon customers woke up on Wednesday to an email saying a technical error caused the site to disclose their names and email addresses. While Amazon officials have said the emails are authentic, they aren’t providing additional details beyond what’s in the extremely terse communication.

Wednesday’s email doesn’t say how long customers’ personal details were disclosed or precisely where on the site the disclosure took place. It’s also not clear how many customers received the email and whether a geographic location, specific purchase, or other common thread caused certain customers to be affected.

Below is the text of an email sent to one Amazon customer:

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Sorry Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook isn’t a “positive force”

1 hour 13 min ago

Enlarge / Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (credit: TechCrunch)

In a Tuesday interview with CNN, Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook's handling of recent scandals and his own leadership of the company. He flatly rejected calls to give up his position as the chairman of Facebook's board and said he had no plans to fire his top deputy, Sheryl Sandberg.

He argued that despite Facebook's recent problems, the site "is a positive force because it gives more people a voice."

It's not surprising that Zuckerberg would defend his own company. But Zuckerberg is wrong: there's no reason to think Facebook is a "positive force" and a lot of reasons to think the opposite.

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Microsoft joining Qualcomm and Google to bring Chrome to Windows on ARM

1 hour 28 min ago

Enlarge / The Asus NovaGo is one of the first generation of Windows 10 on ARM systems, using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. (credit: Asus)

A couple of Microsoft engineers are contributing code to Google's Chrome browser to help make it a native Windows on ARM application, as spotted by 9to5google.

Windows 10 on ARM, Microsoft's second attempt at creating a line of PCs that run on ARM processors, does something important that Windows RT, Microsoft's first attempt, did not. It can run x86 programs in an emulator, greatly expanding the range of software that it can use. But this has a performance penalty, so where possible, it's better to have native ARM applications.

One of the biggest sticking points here is Chrome; Google's browser is the most widely used third-party application on Windows. While Chrome does of course run on ARM systems (both Android phones and Chrome OS laptops), it doesn't currently compile properly as a Windows-on-ARM application. The contributions made by the Microsoft developers are addressing these various issues—adding ARM64 build targets, specifying the right compilers and Windows SDK versions, providing alternatives to x86-specific code, and so on.

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In China, replacing coal and biomass stoves has saved lives

1 hour 47 min ago

Enlarge / A vendor delivers coal briquettes which are mostly used to fuel small coal burners for heating and cooking for low-income homes and restaurants, in an old hutong neighborhood in Beijing, 26 December 2007. (credit: Teh Eng Koon/AFP/Getty Images)

In China, coal and biomass like wood chips and sawdust are burned for cooking and heating. The resulting household pollution has contributed significantly to China's poor air quality. But between 2005 and 2015, China's population moved to urban centers and grew wealthier. More and more people were able to switch their cooking and heating to natural gas- and electricity-powered appliances. Now, researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing and the University of California Berkeley say that the shift likely saves about 400,000 lives annually.

Research published this week showed that population-weighted exposure to fine-particle pollution in Chinese households decreased by nearly half between 2005 and 2015. Ninety percent of that decrease came from changes in cookstove and heating technology. These changes avoided 400,000 premature deaths from particulate exposure annually, because fine-particle pollution is strongly linked to premature death in people with lung or heart disease, and it causes a host of other lung and heart problems.

Invisible hand of health

What's interesting is that these positive changes happened without any government intervention; they were unintended consequences of a booming economy. That means there's a lot of room left for further improvements. As of 2015, household fuels still accounted for 43 percent of the fine-particulate-related mortality in China, as solid fuels like coal and biomass haven't been completely eliminated. They're especially prevalent in low-income households and in rural areas where natural gas and electricity service is nonexistent.

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It’s a fight against bubblegum pastels in trailer for The Lego Movie 2

1 hour 59 min ago

Enlarge / Elizabeth Banks as Lucy (aka Wyldstyle) and Chris Pratt as Emmett are back to take on LEGO DUPLO invaders from outer space in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. (credit: Warner Bros. Picture)

It has been five years in the making, but the defenders of the LEGO universe are back to fend off alien invaders in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. If you liked the smartly zany goofiness of the original, there's much to recommend in the sequel, judging by this latest trailer.

(Spoilers for first The LEGO Movie below.)

In the first LEGO movie, we met Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), a lowly worker in the town of Bricksburg who cheerfully fulfills his role as a cog in Lord Business' (Will Ferrell) corporate machine. That includes merrily singing the corporate theme song, "Everything is Awesome." (It's a bona fide ear worm. Just try to get that tune out of your head.) Lord Business has discovered a super-weapon, the "Kragle"—basically a giant tube of Krazy Glue—that will freeze the LEGO world permanently in its present form.

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You snooze, you lose: Insurers make the old adage literally true

2 hours 23 min ago

Enlarge / For millions of sleep apnea sufferers, CPAP machines are the only way to get a good night's sleep. (credit: Somsak Bumroongwong / EyeEm)

Last March, Tony Schmidt discovered something unsettling about the machine that helps him breathe at night. Without his knowledge, it was spying on him.

From his bedside, the device was tracking when he was using it and sending the information not just to his doctor, but to the maker of the machine, to the medical supply company that provided it, and to his health insurer.

Schmidt, an information technology specialist from Carrollton, Texas, was shocked. “I had no idea they were sending my information across the wire.”

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Silk Road’s alleged hitman, “redandwhite,” arrested in Vancouver

3 hours 49 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Diego Torres Silvestre / Flickr)

Nearly a month ago, Canadian authorities arrested a man they believe to be "redandwhite," a hitman allegedly hired by Ross Ulbricht. Also known as Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR), Ulbricht created the infamous and now-defunct underground drug website, Silk Road.

Ulbricht is now serving a double life sentence. Earlier this year, after a federal judge ended Ulbricht's chances for a new trial, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in his case.

The new suspect, James Ellingson, age 42, was released on bail earlier this month by a judge in British Columbia despite American efforts to keep him detained. Separately, Ellingson allegedly made $2 million in profits from selling drugs directly on Silk Road.

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The Snowden Legacy, part one: What’s changed, really?

4 hours 49 min ago

Enlarge / Remember this guy? (credit: Pardon Snowden)

Digital privacy has come a long way since June 2013. In the five years since documents provided by Edward Snowden became the basis for a series of revelations that tore away a veil of secrecy around broad surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, there have been shifts in both technology and policy that have changed the center of gravity for personal electronic privacy in the United States and around the world. Sadly, not all of the changes have been positive. And Snowden's true legacy is a lot more complicated than his admirers (or his critics) will admit.

Starting with that first article published by the Guardian that revealed a National Security Agency program gathering millions of phone records from Verizon—which gave the agency access to metadata about phone calls placed by or received by everyone in America—the Snowden leaks exposed the inner workings of the NSA's biggest signals intelligence programs. Coming to light next was the PRISM program, which allowed the NSA, via the FBI, to gain access directly to customer data from nine Internet companies without notifying the customers. And then came Boundless Informant, a tool for visualizing the amount of signals intelligence being collected from each country in the world. By the time the Snowden cache had been largely mined out, hundreds of files—ranging from PowerPoint presentations to dumps of Internal Wikis and Web discussion boards—had been reviewed and revealed by journalists.

"Thanks to Snowden's disclosures, people worldwide were able to engage in an extraordinary and unprecedented debate about government surveillance," the American Civil Liberties Union declared on the fifth anniversary of the Guardian article.

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Wreck-It Ralph 2 review: Everything we wish Ready Player One had been

5 hours 19 min ago

Enlarge / "Ralph, I'm telling you, there's no porn in Disney's version of the 3D-cartoon Internet." "Don't give up yet, Vanellope! Look, I think that's John Lasseter over there. Maybe he can help." (Not an actual film quote.) (credit: Disney)

Disney's tech-skewering 3D-animation series, Wreck-It Ralph, leans into a misleading subtitle for its first motion-picture sequel: Ralph Breaks the Internet. Figuratively, this film does nothing that equates to the "Internet-breaking" event that was Kim Kardashian-West's exposed rear end, and it doesn't turn in a best-in-class satire of Internet culture (either from a superficial level or a tech-savvy one).

That's fine. 2013's Wreck-It Ralph was in a similar boat: it looked like a gigantic gaming-satire feature at first, yet in the end, it focused on something arguably more important: a sweet-yet-weird take on friendship, complete with likable, fleshed-out characters.

The same applies with its sequel. What's more, with a core friendship established by the source film, this sequel takes some really killer risks (at least, for a family-friendly cartoon) in exploring friendship and villainy in ways that viewers likely won't see coming. You may not cry while watching this film, but in between its riotous laughs, Wreck-It Ralph 2 pulls some clever, unique, and touching heartstrings that other Disney films haven't done in a while.

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E-commerce site is infected not by one, but two card skimmers

November 20, 2018 - 10:26pm

Enlarge (credit: Mighty Travels)

Payment card skimming that steals consumers’ personal information from e-commerce sites has become a booming industry over the past six months, with high-profile attacks against Ticketmaster, British AirwaysNewegg, and Alex Jones’ InfoWars, to name just a few. In a sign of the times, security researcher Jérôme Segura found two competing groups going head to head with each other for control of a single vulnerable site.

The site belongs to sportswear seller Umbro Brasil, which as of Tuesday morning was infected by two rival skimmer groups. The first gang planted plaintext JavaScript on the site that caused it to send payment card information to the attackers as customers were completing a sale. The malicious JavaScript looked like this:

The first skimmer using unobfuscated JavaScript.

A second gang exploited either the same or a different website vulnerability as the first. The second group then installed much more advanced JavaScript that was encoded in a way to prevent other programs from seeing what it did. This is what it looked like:

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Ajit Pai wants to raise rural broadband speeds from 10Mbps to 25Mbps

November 20, 2018 - 10:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Steve Johnson / Flickr)

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to raise the rural broadband standard from 10Mbps to 25Mbps in a move that would require faster Internet speeds in certain government-subsidized networks.

The FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF) distributes more than $1.5 billion a year to AT&T, CenturyLink, and other carriers to bring broadband to sparsely populated areas. Carriers that use CAF money to build networks must provide speeds of at least 10Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. The minimum speed requirement was last raised in December 2014.

Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he's proposing raising that standard from 10Mbps/1Mbps to 25Mbps/3Mbps. "[W]'re recognizing that rural Americans need and deserve high-quality services by increasing the target speeds for subsidized deployments from 10/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps," Pai wrote in a blog post that describes agenda items for the FCC's December 12 meeting.

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NASA concerned about culture of “inappropriateness” at SpaceX

November 20, 2018 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine must continue to rely on Dmitry Rogozin of Roscosmos while US commercial crew vehicles remain under development. (credit: Alexei Filippov / TASS via Getty Images)

In addition to spurring problems for the car company Tesla, Elon Musk's puff of marijuana in September will also have consequences for SpaceX. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that NASA will conduct a "safety review" of both of its commercial crew companies, SpaceX and Boeing. The review was prompted, sources told the paper, because of recent behavior by Musk, including smoking marijuana on a podcast.

According to William Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief human spaceflight official, the review will be "pretty invasive" and involve interviews with hundreds of employees at various levels of the companies, across multiple worksites. The review will begin next year, and interviews will examine "everything and anything that could impact safety," Gerstenmaier told the Post.

The reviews will come as both SpaceX and Boeing are racing to conduct human test flights of their rockets and spacecraft in mid-2019. Both companies have yet to meet critical milestones, including abort tests and uncrewed test flights, before the first crews fly on SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner vehicles.

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Israeli tomb contains a tasty surprise: Vanilla extract

November 20, 2018 - 9:28pm

Enlarge / Tel Megiddo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (credit: Liorca / Wikimedia Commons)

Vanilla may have been used in Israel long before its domestication in Mesoamerica, according to a new find in an ancient tomb. The monumental stone tomb stands near the palace from which ancient kings once ruled the Canaanite city-state of Tel Megiddo, in modern-day northern Israel. Later, the ancient Greeks knew the city by another name: Armageddon. Yes, that Armageddon. But Tel Megiddo is a major archaeological site for reasons that have nothing to do with the theological cloud that hangs over it.

In 2016, archaeologist Melissa Cradic of the University of California, Berkeley, and her colleagues excavated a 3,000- to 4,000-year-old tomb near the palace. Along with the remains of at least nine people, the tomb contained lavish decorations and funerary goods, including four small jugs. When archaeologist Vanessa Linares of Tel Aviv University analyzed the organic residues left behind on the insides of the jugs, she found something surprising: three of the four contained organic compounds called vanillin and 4-hydroxbenzaldehyde, which are the major compounds found in vanilla extract; they’re the chemicals that give vanilla its familiar taste and scent. After Linares and her colleagues ruled out other possible sources of contamination, they determined that the residue left behind on the offering jugs could only have come from the seed pods of the vanilla orchid.

“This is based on the profuse quantity of vanillin found in the juglets that could have only derived from the abundant amount of vanillin yield from the vanilla orchid pods,” wrote Linares in an abstract for her presentation at the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting. She pointed out three species as the most likely sources: one native to central East Africa, one from India, and one from Southeast Asia.

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Hacker Ben Heck is back to fix the flawed Neo-Geo Mini

November 20, 2018 - 7:50pm

When the worlds of retro gaming and customized hacks collide, chances are, you'll find Benjamin Heckendorn (better known as Ben Heck) standing by with a soldering iron.

Ben Heck

Longtime Ars readers are no strangers to Heck's history of making incredible—and often portable—versions of classic computer and gaming hardware from scratch. He most recently popped up in larger nerd culture by helping bring a one-of-a-kind Nintendo PlayStation system back to life.

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Chinese customers hate “new car smell,” so Ford files a patent to bake it out

November 20, 2018 - 7:43pm

Enlarge / Bake off that new car smell. (credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In the US, "new car smell" is a beloved scent. People even try to make their cars smell new with after-market cleaning products. But in China, customers find the same odor repulsive. As the Chinese auto market grows, car makers are looking for a way to make the aroma of their new vehicles more amenable to Chinese tastes.

Early this month, Ford filed a patent to reduce the odor of some of the adhesive, leather, and other materials that produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to new car smell. The patent appears to include software that senses the car's location and the weather it's experiencing, then it possibly detects whether the owner has "requested volatile organic compound removal from the vehicle." Next, on a sunny day, the car will roll down a window and turn on the engine, the heater, and a fan in order to bake off the VOCs and their accompanying smell.

The Ford patent explains: "new vehicles typically have an odor often referred to as a 'new car smell'... This odor typically persists for several months after the manufacture of a new vehicle. Some customers do not like this smell, and even become irritated or sick from the VOCs in the interior of a new vehicle" [emphasis Ford's].

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Report: Uber self-driving team was preparing for CEO demo before fatal crash

November 20, 2018 - 7:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Uber)

We've known since May that serious flaws in Uber's self-driving software contributed to the fatal crash that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona, back in March. For example, Uber had disabled emergency braking on its vehicles to make its cars' driving behavior less erratic. A new report from Business Insider's Julie Bort sheds light on why Uber's software may have been so flawed at the time of the March crash.

In early 2018, Uber's Advanced Technology Group—the team developing self-driving cars—was focused on getting ready for a forthcoming demo ride with Uber's recently hired CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi. Business Insider reports that in November 2017, Uber circulated a document asking engineers on the self-driving car team to think about "rider experience metrics." Engineers were encouraged to try to limit the number of "bad experiences" to one per ride.

Two days later, another email went out announcing that Uber was "turning off the car's ability to make emergency decisions on its own like slamming on the brakes or swerving hard."

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Scientists spot two massive stars creating a pinwheel of dust

November 20, 2018 - 7:10pm

Enlarge / An image of Apep taken in the infrared. (credit: University of Sydney/European Southern Observatory)

Figuring out what powers the Universe's largest explosions can be a real challenge, as the explosion wipes out evidence of what caused it. Archival data can sometimes provide hints of what was in the area where things went boom, but a lot of the progress we've made comes down to physicists modeling some of the more extreme objects out there and seeing if they can recapitulate the details of the explosion.

That's where we're at with long gamma ray bursts (where "long" in this case means a couple of seconds). We've seen them happen, and astrophysicists have calculated that they could be emitted from a rapidly rotating, massive star. But we don't have a lot of examples of this sort of star to study in order to see if the physics of their explosions match up with our models. Now, a team of researchers thinks it has spotted one that, in combination with a second massive star, created the fantastic-looking pinwheel shown above. But detailed observations of the system suggest that the pinwheel is formed by materials that originated on a single star yet are moving at two different speeds—something we can't explain.

The serpent god

Technically, the new object goes by the absurdly memorable name 2XMM J160050.7–514245. Surveys spotted it because it was an oddity: unusually bright at certain infrared wavelengths. Follow-up observations revealed its sinuous form, which led the researchers to rename it from the "cumbersome" 2XMM J160050.7–514245 to Apep, which is the name of a serpent deity in Egyptian mythology.

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Now it’s Office’s turn to have a load of patches pulled

November 20, 2018 - 6:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Benjamin)

After endless difficulties with the Windows 10 October 2018 update—finally re-released this month with the data-loss bug fixed—it seems that now it's the Office team's turn to release some updates that need to be un-released.

On November's Patch Tuesday two weeks ago, Microsoft released a bunch of updates for Office to update its Japanese calendars. In December 2017, Emperor Akihito announced that he would abdicate and that his son Naruhito would take his role as emperor. Each emperor has a corresponding era name, and calendars must be updated to reflect that new name. The Office patches offer updates to handle this event.

Two of these updates, KB2863821 and KB4461522, both for Office 2010, are apparently very broken, causing application crashes. The company has suspended delivery of the patches, but the problem is so severe that Microsoft is recommending that anyone who has installed the updates already should uninstall them pronto (see instructions for KB2863821 here and for KB4461522 here).

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Amazon trying to buy 22 cable TV sports channels, including Yankees network

November 20, 2018 - 6:14pm

Enlarge / A YES logo banner. (credit: Getty Images | Michael Heiman)

Amazon is trying to buy 22 regional sports TV networks (RSNs) from the Walt Disney Company, according to a CNBC report today.

In June, Disney received Department of Justice approval to buy 21st Century Fox properties on the condition that it divest Fox-owned regional sports networks (RSNs). Together, these networks have programming rights for 44 Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and National Hockey League teams.

"In addition to Amazon, Apollo Global Management, KKR & Co, The Blackstone Group, Sinclair Broadcast Group and TEGNA also made first round bids for the full slate of networks," CNBC wrote, citing anonymous sources.

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