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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 21 min 15 sec ago

Facebook is a law-breaking “digital gangster,” UK government report says

1 hour 21 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Facebook yesterday said it is willing to face "meaningful regulation" after UK lawmakers accused the company of acting like a "digital gangster" that has knowingly violated laws and helped spread Russian misinformation during elections.

A House of Commons committee that oversees media policy chastised Facebook in a report on "disinformation and 'fake news.'"

"Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the report said.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

With elections weeks away, someone “sophisticated” hacked Australia’s politicians

1 hour 35 min ago

Enlarge / Just over a week after the announcement of a cyber-attack on Australia's Parliament House, the government now says three Australian political parties weer also attacked by a "sophisticated state actor." (credit: Getty Images)

With elections just three months away, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on February 18 that the networks of the three major national political parties had been breached by what Australian security officials described as a "sophisticated state actor."

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that while the attack bears hallmarks of tools and techniques used by China-sponsored hacking groups in the past, security officials were concerned that the attackers may have used such approaches as part of a "false-flag" attack—like what is believed to have occurred in the case of the "Olympic Destroyer" attack on last year's Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Morrison said that the Australian government had made moves to "ensure the integrity of our electoral system," including instructing the Australian Cyber Security Centre "to be ready to provide any political party or electoral body in Australia with immediate support, including making their technical experts available." Electoral commissions and state and territory security agencies have been briefed on the attacks, and the Cyber Security Centre has also passed along malware samples and other information to "global anti-virus companies," the Prime Minister noted.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

If you call this firm a “patent troll,” it might sue for defamation

1 hour 41 min ago

Enlarge / These trolls, once pretty profitable. (credit: Tomi Knuutila)

We're not going to say that Automated Transactions LLC is a "patent troll," but several others have. The American Bankers Association has called ATL a troll. The Credit Union National Association called ATL a troll—they even illustrated the accusation with a picture of a troll. Individual lawyers, legal commentators, and banks have all described ATL as a troll.

Inventor and ATL founder David Barcelou got so fed up with people labeling his firm a patent troll that he sued about a dozen individuals and organizations for libel in 2016. Last year, a New Hampshire state judge dismissed Barcelou's lawsuit.

And on Thursday, February 14, the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard oral arguments about whether to overrule the lower court's decision and allow the lawsuit to move forward.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Japanese utility makes first contact with melted Fukushima fuel

2 hours 12 min ago

Late last week, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) sent a probe into the damaged second reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant. The probe's mission was to explore the solidity of the nuclear fuel that melted back in 2011, when a tsunami hit the nuclear plant following an earthquake, causing a meltdown of the plant's three reactors.

Eight years later, TEPCO is making slow but steady progress toward decommissioning the three damaged reactors. The mission to touch the melted nuclear fuel with a remote-controlled probe aimed to find out how solid the melted fuel is and whether it could be transported away from the site. This was the first time that field crews had been able to use any device to physically interact with the fuel since the reactor meltdown.

"The observation device made contact with deposits at six locations on the pedestal," TEPCO wrote in a short preliminary report that was published on Friday. "Deposits in five locations could be moved." TEPCO posted a video, which can be found here, of the robotic probe picking up pieces of melted nuclear fuel.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Netflix makes it official, canceling Punisher and Jessica Jones

2 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / Farewell to the last Defenders standing: Jessica Jones and The Punisher have been officially canceled by Netflix. (credit: YouTube/Allowit)

It was only a matter of time, but today Netflix finally made it official, announcing the cancelation of its two remaining Marvel Defenders series, The Punisher and Jessica Jones. The latter's third season hasn't even aired yet, although Deadline Hollywood reports that Netflix will air season 3 as planned. Nobody who has followed the axing of Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Daredevil over the last few months was expecting The Punisher to get a third season, even though season 2 was an under-appreciated gem.

Punisher star Jon Bernthal—who is set to join New Line’s The Sopranos prequel feature—gave a fitting farewell on Instagram: "To all who have served. All who know loss. All who love and understand Frank and his pain. It has been an honor to walk in his boots. I’m endlessly grateful to the comic fans and the men and women of the Armed Services and law enforcement community who Frank means so much to. Thank you to the USMC and all the wonderful soldiers who trained me. Go Hard. Be safe."

In its official statement, Netflix expressed gratitude to the showrunners, stars, other cast, and crews of both Jessica Jones and The Punisher, adding “We are grateful to Marvel for five years of our fruitful partnership and thank the passionate fans who have followed these series from the beginning.”

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google partially backtracks on Chrome changes that would break ad blockers

3 hours 28 sec ago

Google has said that it will revise the proposed changes to Chrome's extension API that would have broken or reduced the functionality of a wide range of ad-blocking extensions, to ensure that the current variety of content-blocking extensions is preserved. The initial plans generated a wide backlash from both the developers and users of those extensions, but Google maintains that "It is not, nor has it ever been, our goal to prevent or break content blocking" [emphasis Google's] and says that it will work to update its proposal to address the capability gaps and pain points.

The advertising company is planning an overhaul of its extension interface to, among other things, increase user privacy, make it harder for extensions to perform malicious actions, and make the browser's performance more consistent. Together, this work is documented as Manifest V3.

One of these changes in particular had grave consequences for ad blockers. Currently, ad blockers make extensive use of an API named webRequest. This API allows extensions to examine every single network request made by a page and either modify it (to, for example, redirect it to a different address or add or remove cookies), block it altogether, or allow it to continue unhindered. This has both a substantial privacy impact (an extension can see and steal your cookies and hence masquerade as you) and, Google said, some performance impact, as every single network request (of which there may be dozens in a single page) has to wait for the extension to perform its analysis.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A 5km asteroid may briefly occult the brightest star in the night sky

4 hours 57 min ago

Enlarge / An artist's impression showing the binary star system of Sirius A and its diminutive blue companion, Sirius B. (credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon)

Sirius, a binary system, is the brightest star in the night sky. The larger of the two stars, Sirius A, is about 25 times more luminous than the Sun, and Sirius is relatively nearby, at less than 9 light years from our Solar System.

On Monday night, for a few areas of South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Sirius will probably briefly disappear. This will occur as a small asteroid passes in front of the star, occulting it for up to 1.6 seconds, according to the International Occultation Timing Association. (Yes, the acronym is IOTA).

In this case, the asteroid 4388 Jürgenstock will have an apparent diameter just an iota bigger than Sirius. The angular diameter of the asteroid is about 0.007 arcseconds (an arcsecond is 1/3,600th of a degree of the night sky), whereas the angular diameter of Sirius is 0.006 arcseconds. Thus, as the asteroid passes in front of Sirius, the star will briefly dim, perhaps completely, before quickly brightening again. Sirius may appear to blink once, slowly.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HP Elitebook x360 1040 G5 review: A little bit bigger, a little bit better

5 hours 27 min ago

Enlarge / Wow, many book, so elite. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The battle of the business notebooks is in full swing as HP tries to one-up Lenovo—and itself—all in one go. HP scored a winner with an updated 13-inch Elitebook x360 it released last year. Now it's full-speed ahead with the new Elitebook x360 1040 G5, the newest version of HP's 14-inch business notebook. The 13-inch model is smaller and lighter overall, but HP offers upgraded features in this larger convertible and promises a 14-inch display in a 13-inch chassis.

We liked the 13-inch Elitebook x360, so I was looking to answer a few questions in testing the Elitebook x360 1040: Does it succeed in all the ways its 13-inch counterpart did? Is it better than the smaller option? And did HP create a device that can dethrone Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 laptops and convertibles as the kings of commercial ultrabooks? Let's find out.

Look and feel

HP is pushing the fact that the Elitebook x360 1040 fits a 14-inch screen in a 13-inch chassis. That's impressive, but it also means that the company didn't change much about the convertible's external design. The same brushed aluminum coloring covers the entire laptop, accented only by diamond-cut edges that appear shiny and sharp when they catch the light. The metal hinges have a slightly curved, rectangular shape to them, allowing the screen to swivel 360 degrees from laptop to tent to tablet mode.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: All the best Presidents’ Day tech deals we can find

5 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge / Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon is on sale for Presidents' Day. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another holiday deals roundup. This time we're coming at you with a wide range of Presidents' Day sales, because George Washington was definitely thinking of what 4K TV deals he could score as he was crossing the Delaware.

Kidding. But Presidents' Day—or Washington's Birthday, which, fun fact, does not occur on Washington's actual birthday—has, like most holidays, become an excuse for retailers to push discounts on all sorts of items in their inventory. Many of these deals apply to things like home goods, clothing, and mattresses, but tech is fairly well represented, too.

Per usual, a lot of these sales are junk, but the Dealmaster has rounded up a sampling of the worthwhile tech deals currently available around the Web. Our list includes discounts on Amazon and Apple devices, 4K Roku TVs, big-name video games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel's Spider-Man, Lenovo ThinkPads, a sitewide 15% off coupon at Rakuten, and much more. Have a look for yourself below.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The mythos and meaning behind Pokémon’s most famous glitch

7 hours 36 min ago

Enlarge / Being the result of a glitch doesn't make MissingNo any less real to players—or researchers. (credit: Nintendo / Wilma Bainbridge)

Warning: This article contains references to the plot of Pokémon: Red and Blue and the more recent (but related to the topic here) game, Doki Doki Literature Club.

In my flowery ring binder of Pokémon Red and Blue cheats, there was one set of instructions that spoke to my eight-year-old self most of all. I'd heard from friends (and many, many GeoCities pages) that 'the MissingNo cheat' could destroy your game—but it could also get you unlimited Rare Candy. This seemed like a fair trade to me.

The first Pokémon games for the Game Boy included 151 Pokémon (including the ultra-rare Mew, if your parents were long-suffering enough to drive you to one of the Nintendo promo events where it was distributed). But by following a seemingly random series of steps, players could encounter a 152nd Pokémon, MissingNo (Missing Number), which took the form of an L-shaped block of pixels.

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Liveblog: The Samsung Galaxy S10 launch happens Wednesday, February 20

7 hours 52 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Samsung)

Samsung Unpacked 2019 will kick off Wednesday, February 20, at 11am Pacific (2pm ET) in San Francisco. We're going to hear all about Samsung's Flagship lineup for 2019, which includes the Galaxy S10 in many variants.

We already have a huge post here outlining what to expect, but the highlight of the event will be the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus. These devices are expected to bring a number of advancements to mainstream smartphones. They will be one of the first device families to feature the Snapdragon 855 SoC, Wi-Fi 6, and an ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor. There's also a slick new "hole punch" camera cutout in the display, along with slim bezels, which means the displays are getting even bigger.

We're also getting way more than just the S10 and S10 Plus. There's expected to be a cheaper version of the Galaxy S10 called the "Galaxy S10e," and we might get a look at the upcoming 5G version. Samsung has also spent some time teasing that "The future of mobile will unfold" at the event, which means we'll hear a bit more about the company's upcoming foldable smartphone (the Galaxy F?).

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dance Your PhD’s 2018 winner mixes superconductivity and swing dancing

17 hours 27 min ago

Cooper pairs and impurities come to life in a superconductor and dance their little particle hearts out in Pramodh Yapa's "Superconductivity: The Musical."

Pairs of swing-dancing electrons do the Lindy Hop in "Superconductivity: The Musical," the winning video for this year's geektastic Dance Your PhD contest. Pramodh Yapa, a graduate student at the University of Alberta, Canada, beat out roughly 50 other entries for the interpretive dance based on his master's thesis, "Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance."

The Dance Your PhD contest was established in 2008 by science journalist John Bohannon and is sponsored by Science magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Bohannon told Slate in 2011 that he came up with the idea while trying to figure out how to get a group of stressed-out PhD students in the middle of defending their theses to let off a little steam. So he put together a dance party at Austria's Institute of Molecular Biotechnology, including a contest for whichever candidate could best explain their thesis topics with interpretive dance.

Science kicked in a free one-year subscription as a reward. It was such a hit that Bohannon started getting emails asking when the next such contest would be—and Dance Your PhD has continued ever since. There are four broad categories: physics, chemistry, biology, and social science, with a fairly liberal interpretation of what topics fall under each.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Georgia Tech scientists figured out how maggots can eat so much, so fast

February 17, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / Studying the collective feeding behavior of black soldier fly larvae. (credit: Hu lab/Georgia Tech)

How do the larvae of black soldier flies eat so much, so fast, despite their tiny size? Scientists at Georgia Tech have been studying this "collective feeding" behavior and found that one strategy for maximizing the larvae's feeding rate involves forming maggot "fountains." The scientists described the results in a recent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, along with an entertaining video showing a swarm of larvae consuming an entire pizza in just two hours.

"This is the first time, as far as I know, that we've really tried to quantify how much they were able to eat, and how they are able to do it," said graduate student and co-author Olga Shishkov, who demonstrated the research on Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC. It's not the first time she's had fun demonstrating the maggots' hearty appetite in creative ways: last year, she videotaped the critters devouring a heart-shaped donut for Valentine's Day.

Shishkov's advisor is David Hu, who runs a biolocomotion laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying how various creatures move. He is perhaps best known for his work with fire ants, but his lab also studies cat tongues, water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, and, of course, black soldier fly larvae.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Quirky sci-fi farce Mega Time Squad sends up all those time-travel tropes

February 17, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Seeing double: John (Anton Tennett) steals a magic bracelet from a Chinese antiques store that gives him the ability to go back in time in Mega Time Squad. (credit: Vimeo/Tim van Dammen)

A magic bracelet doubles as a time-traveling device for a down-on-his-luck small-time criminal in the 2018 New Zealand sci-fi comedy Mega Time Squad. A favorite of the festival circuit, this quirky twist on the time travel genre is finally available in select theaters and on video on demand in the United States.

(Mild spoilers below.)

Written and directed by Tim van Dammen, the 90-minute film had screenings last year at the Fantasia International Film Festival and the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF), earning praise for its sharp, slangy dialogue and clever twist on standard time-travel tropes. Tone-wise, it's roughly in the same vein as Taika Waititi's delightful Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows or the 2012 American Sundance favorite Safety Not Guaranteed. In other words, it's an odd, understated, delightful farce, with a touch of sweetness offsetting the zany antics and broad humor.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Electric truck startup announces $700 million funding round led by Amazon

February 17, 2019 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / A marketing photo of Rivian's R1T electric pickup truck. (credit: Rivian)

On Friday, electric truck startup Rivian announced a $700 million funding round led by Amazon. The announcement is notable not just for the size of the investment but also due to Amazon's involvement.

The e-commerce giant has made a variety of investments in mobility, and electric trucks and SUVs like the kind Rivian debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November could help the company further its ambitions in that regard.

Rivian's R1T pickup and R1S SUV made a splash at their announcement. The startup is seen as a potential competitor to Tesla, which has promised to develop an all-electric pickup truck in the future. Rivian's trucks are expected to be pricy: the startup is taking pre-orders, and it said in November that, when the R1T and R1S go on sale in late 2020, they'll start at $61,500, and $65,000 after the $7,500 IRS tax credit. (Rivian has sold no trucks to date, so vehicles from that company would still be eligible for the full electric vehicle tax credit. The full tax credit begins to phase out after a company has sold more than 200,000 electric vehicles.)

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Welcome to the cyber world: The real-world tech behind Alita: Battle Angel

February 16, 2019 - 9:05pm

Enlarge / The futuristic cyborg world depicted in Alita: Battle Angel has some promising real-world analogues. (credit: 20th Century Fox)

The CGI-heavy cinematic world of Alita: Battle Angel, the big-screen adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's popular manga series Gunnm, is chock-full of the kinds of cyberpunk toys most of us only dream about. But while much of the technology in Alita is futuristic, it's deliberately grounded in the real-world technology of today, per producer James Cameron's vision for the film.

(Mildest of spoilers for Alita: Battle Angel below. You can read Sam Machkovech's largely spoiler-free review here.)

Set some 600 years in the future, the cyberpunk world of Alita: Battle Angel is a dystopian society where people in Iron City scavenge for anything useful—especially technology—in the Scrapyard, which holds everything dumped from the floating city of Zalem, where the "elite" reside. There's a series of tubes where products are sent from the Iron City to Zalem (in exchange for the latter's refuse), but otherwise the two worlds never really mix. The Scrapyard is where a kind doctor finds cyborg Alita's head, holding her carefully preserved human brain. He knows immediately he's looking at highly advanced technology from three centuries earlier, lost in time, and rehabilitates her. The plot follows her journey from amnesiac innocent to fierce warrior.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Samsung Galaxy S10 is coming! Here’s what to expect

February 16, 2019 - 8:00pm

On February 20, Samsung is throwing a huge party in San Francisco, where it will take the wraps off its flagship smartphone lineup for 2019. Given the unbelievable amount of leaks that poured forth, we know just about everything Samsung is planning to show off. We're going to learn all about the Galaxy S10.

This year we're not just getting a device in two sizes but a big lineup of phones. As usual, there's a Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus but also a downmarket version expected to be called the "Galaxy S10e." Upmarket, there's expected to eventually be a bigger, 5G version of the Galaxy S10, but it's unclear how much we'll hear about this model at this week's show. Also in the high end of the spectrum is Samsung's foldable smartphone, which will be at this event in some form.

That's the short version. Now, let's talk details!

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The replication crisis may also be a theory crisis

February 16, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / A jumbled jigsaw puzzle, AKA the state of theory in the behavioral sciences. (credit: flickr user: giveawayboy)

A replication crisis has called into question results from behavioral (and other) sciences. Complaints have focused on poor statistical methods, the burying of negative results, and other “questionable research practices” that undermine the quality of individual studies.

But methods are only part of the problem, as Michael Muthukrishna and Joseph Henrich argue in a paper in Nature Human Behaviour this week. It’s not just that individual puzzle pieces are low in quality; it’s also that there’s not enough effort to fit those pieces into a coherent picture. "Without an overarching theoretical framework,” write Muthukrishna and Henrich, “empirical programs spawn and grow from personal intuitions and culturally biased folk theories.”

Doing research in a way that emphasizes joining the dots constrains the questions you can ask in your research, says Muthukrishna. Without a theoretical framework, “the number of questions that you can ask is infinite.” This makes for a scattered, disconnected body of research. It also feeds into the statistical problems that are widely considered the source of the replication crisis. Having too many questions leads to a large number of small experiments—and the researchers doing them don't always lay out a strong hypothesis and its predictions before they start gathering data.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Starz’ Counterpart has been canceled—which is bad, because the show is good

February 16, 2019 - 4:30pm

Enlarge / He may not constantly be the central focus of the narrative (as he was in S1), but Howard(s) is still tangled up in all the larger happenings within Counterpart. (credit: Starz)

Warning: This story contains minor spoilers for Counterpart S2.

This week, genre TV fans received a bit of bad news. Counterpart, the JK Simmons-led Starz drama combining sci-fi realism with pseudo-Cold War spy thrills, would not be getting a third season.

Deadline reported Starz' decision to cancel came in early January. Presumably execs had already read scripts if not viewed the rest of the season, but the timing certainly wasn't ideal for Counterpart's chances. After a strong S1 that mixed intriguing world-building, a ticking-clock bit of action (via a mysterious assassin), stunning visuals, and an even more beautiful individual discovery arc executed in the capable hands of Simmons, the start of S2... well, it felt flat.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Private cabins, flying bars, and hundreds of seats—farewell, Airbus A380

February 16, 2019 - 3:30pm

On Valentine's Day, Airbus confirmed that production of the massive A380 airliner will come to an end, breaking some plane nerds' hearts. When it was unveiled to the world in 2005, Airbus touted its efficiency over twin-engined long-haul planes, but this mighty carbon-fiber double-decker never lived up to expectations. Not all airports could accommodate its physical size, and getting the self-loading cargo on and off could take a while.

Unlike the 747, it doesn't appear set to have a continued career carrying cargo, either. You'd expect the biggest passenger plane of the skies to make a pretty decent freighter. But there's no folding nose variant, so you can't take full advantage of its commodious interior to carry really big stuff. In 2021, the last A380 will depart final assembly in Toulouse, France. By then, more than 300 of these carbon composite skywhales should have been delivered, and so we expect they'll remain a regular sight at airports they already service.

The Airbus superjumbo never really captured the public's heart the way the 747 has, and there's no denying the decision to put the cockpit on the lower deck gives the plane a hydrocephalic appearance. But the complex curvature of the wing is a thing of beauty, and it's always wonderful to see something so large land so gracefully. (If you time your visit to the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy annex for the right time of day, you can watch them come in up on the observation deck.)

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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