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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 51 min 17 sec ago

Apple releases iOS 12.3.1 and a supplemental update for macOS 10.14.5

May 24, 2019 - 10:59pm

Enlarge / From left to right: the iPhone 8, the iPhone XS, the iPhone XR, and the iPhone XS Max. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Just a little over a week after iOS 12.3 hit iPhones and iPads everywhere, Apple has released iOS 12.3.1—a minor update that fixes a couple bugs. Earlier this week, Apple also released a supplemental update for macOS 10.14.5 to fix issues with the T2 chip on some MacBook Pros, addressing a common user complaint.

The iOS update primarily focused on fixing some issues with the Messages app. More specifically, it addresses a bug that prevented the "report junk" option from appearing on applicable threads and another one that made unknown senders appear in your main inbox when they shouldn't. Additionally, it addresses an issue that affected VoLTE calls.

Apple's patch notes for iOS 12.3.1 are as follows:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Star Wars: KOTOR film rumors, Sonic film delayed to fix its VFX

May 24, 2019 - 9:40pm

How many more Star Wars films and TV series do we need? Our answer to that question became "at least one more" when we learned on late Thursday that a pretty juicy Lucasfilm project is in the works: the first-ever Knights of the Old Republic film.

Buzzfeed News says the project is currently linked to only one person: screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, who has worked on scripts for Terminator Genisys, Netflix's Altered Carbon, and Alita: Battle Angel (meaning no actors, directors, or producers are currently attached, which should indicate how early-stages this project currently is). This script, according to Buzzfeed, is the first of a possible trilogy. If true, that would slam Kalogridis's project up against Star Wars film trilogies from Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and from The Last Jedi director/screenwriter Rian Johnson.

There's always a chance that this KOTOR-linked screenplay is the first step in a protracted process that never leads to production (spec scripts tend to come before true film development) or that it turns into something tailored for the upcoming Disney+ streaming service. Still, the KOTOR video game franchise, shepherded by the game makers at BioWare, has always been beloved for its characters and scripts. Even its MMO incarnation, which launched in 2011 to uneven reviews, has been consistently lauded for its engrossing universe and stories. Hence, we'll join our fellow Star Wars nerds and begin optimistically drooling already.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump gives Barr authority to declassify anything in campaign “spying” probe

May 24, 2019 - 7:35pm

Enlarge / Trump's memorandum to agency heads gives Attorney General William Barr authority to declassify or downgrade classification of anything he sees fit in his investigation into "intelligence activity" around the 2016 presidential election. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Late in the day on May 23, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum ordering the heads of the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, and the Directors of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to give Attorney General William Barr unfettered access to information about "intelligence activities relating to the campaigns in the 2016 Presidential election and certain related matters." The memorandum gives Barr the authority to declassify or downgrade the classification of any information he sees fit as part of the investigation.

Barr's investigation is not into electoral interference by foreign actors during the 2016 presidential campaign, but rather into whether US law enforcement and intelligence illegally spied on the Trump campaign. In an interview with Fox News earlier this month, Barr explained that "people have to find out what the government was doing during that period… If we're worried about foreign influence, for the very same reason we should be worried about whether government officials abuse their power and put their thumb on the scale."

The memorandum states that Barr can "declassify, downgrade, or direct the declassification or downgrading of information or intelligence that relates to the Attorney General's review." No restrictions are placed on what Barr can declassify, other than an instruction that "the Attorney General should, to the extent he deems it practicable, consult with the head of the originating intelligence community element or department."

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

47 Democrats cave on net neutrality after GOP calls bill “dead on arrival”

May 24, 2019 - 7:25pm

Enlarge / Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., participates in the House Financial Services Committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bill Clark)

Forty-seven Democratic members of Congress are calling for a net neutrality compromise with Republicans, who have refused to support a full restoration of the net neutrality rules repealed by the Ajit Pai-led Federal Communications Commission.

The Democratic-majority US House of Representatives voted in April to pass the Save the Internet Act, which would restore the Obama-era FCC's net neutrality rules. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared the bill "dead on arrival" in the Republican-majority Senate.

Republican lawmakers say they'll only accept a net neutrality law that isn't as strict—even though large majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters support the FCC's old net neutrality rules. On Wednesday, dozens of Democrats asked their party leadership to compromise with the GOP leadership.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Back in time: See You Yesterday brings time travel to the streets of Flatbush

May 24, 2019 - 6:17pm

Director Stefon Bristol's See You Yesterday is something of an anomaly in the pantheon of time travel movies, straddling multiple genres. With its central tragedy, theme focused on the unintended consequences of new technology, and strong social conscience, it's more Black Mirror than Back to the Future. As such, it fits nicely into a small subgroup of quietly innovative time travel films like 2012's Safety Not Guaranteed.

The premise: two teenage science nerds in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn build a makeshift time machine to right a tragic wrong. C.J (Eden Duncan-Smith) and her best friend and fellow science whiz Sebastian (Dante Crichlow), nicknamed Bash, have just wrapped their junior year at the Bronx High School of Science. They're putting the finishing touches on a pair of portable time travel devices for an upcoming science fair, and they're naturally ecstatic when they succeed on their next attempt at a Temporal Relocation Test, traveling back one full day.

That light-hearted tone quickly turns dark. In an all-too-familiar scenario, C.J.'s older brother Calvin (the rapper Astro) runs afoul of a trigger-happy NYPD officer, who mistakes Calvin pulling a cell phone out of his pocket for a weapon and shoots him dead. C.J. figures she and Sebastian can use their science project to travel back in time to save Calvin. Who among us wouldn't want to try to reverse such a tragedy? But as you might expect, there are some serious unintended consequences to her plan.

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Hunter-gathering seems to have been easier than farming

May 24, 2019 - 4:37pm

Enlarge / An Agta family relaxing in the afternoon. (credit: Mark Dyble)

For most of our history, humans got hold of food like any other animal: by hunting and foraging, moving around to find the best resources. Settling down in one place to cultivate crops is a comparatively recent development. But once it started around 12,000 years ago, agriculture spread through human cultures across the world, fundamentally changing our societies, genomes, and possibly even languages. In many ways, farming seems to have been terrible news for the people who adopted it, leading to poorer nutrition and greater social inequality—but it also resulted in higher fertility rates and a massive population expansion.

Understanding how and why this technological change was adopted remains a challenge. Studies mostly rely on fossil evidence, but there are also clues in the modern world, as some present-day groups of people are moving away from hunting, fishing, and gathering their food and toward agriculture.

A paper published in Nature Human Behaviour explores how this shift affects the time budgets of hunter-gatherers in the Philippines, finding that women who participate more in agricultural work have less leisure time—around half the leisure time of women who prioritize foraging. The results fall in line with past research that challenges the concept of hunting and foraging as arduous work with scant rewards, and this work contributes to a growing understanding of the social dynamics that go along with a shift to agriculture.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google bots shut down Baltimore officials’ ransomware-workaround Gmail accounts

May 24, 2019 - 4:11pm

Enlarge / Oh, Baltimore. (credit: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

In the wake of the ransomware attack that has kept city networks and infrastructure shut down now for over two weeks, Baltimore officials—including the mayor and city council members—set up Google Gmail accounts as a backup communications channel. But earlier this week, Google's automated systems shut the accounts down, instructing the account holders to purchase a business account.

On May 23, a Google spokesperson said through the company's Twitter account, "We have restored access to the Gmail accounts for the Baltimore City officials. Our automated security systems disabled the accounts due to the bulk creation of multiple consumer Gmail accounts from the same network."

The problem could have been prevented if Baltimore City officials had set up a Google GSuite Government account (or even just a regular GSuite account) at $6 per user per month.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: SpaceX sues the federal government, Chinese launch failure

May 24, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Welcome to Edition 2.01 of the Rocket Report! This week marks one year since the first report. What started as an experiment has grown into something that a lot of people read. So thank you for joining. And if you appreciate this weekly report and the effort that goes into it, I encourage you to subscribe to Ars Technica. It doesn't cost much, and there are perks. But mostly you'll know you're supporting independent journalism like this. Thank you for considering it.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Virgin performs full-duration hotfire test. On Tuesday, Virgin Orbit announced that it had performed the "final full-duration, full-scale, full-thrust—hell, full everything—test firing" of its LauncherOne rocket's first stage. The firing lasted for more than 180 seconds and was entirely successful, the company reported. Virgin said the rocket, which will be launched from beneath the wing of an airplane, was within an "arm's reach" of its first orbital flight test.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX launches Starlink mission, deploys 60 satellites [Updated]

May 24, 2019 - 4:45am

11:40pm ET Update: The Falcon 9 rocket launched. Its first stage landed. And then the second stage coasted for the better part of an hour before making a final burn and deploying its payload of Starlink satellites.

About 1 hour and 3 minutes after the launch, the entire stack of 60 satellites floated away from the Falcon 9's second stage. Slowly—very slowly, it appeared—the 60 satellites began to drift apart. The SpaceX webcast ended without saying whether this deployment went as anticipated, and it probably will take some time for the Air Force to begin identifying and tracking the individual satellites.

A stack of 60 Starlink satellites is released from the Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage. (credit: SpaceX webcast)

In any case, this all made for an interesting evening in space.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fake cryptocurrency apps on Google Play try to profit on bitcoin price surge

May 24, 2019 - 1:20am

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Google's official Play Store has been caught hosting malicious apps that targeted Android users with an interest in cryptocurrencies, researchers reported on Thursday.

In all, researchers with security provider ESET recently discovered two fraudulent digital wallets. The first, called Coin Wallet, let users create wallets for a host of different cryptocurrencies. While Coin Wallet purported to generate a unique wallet address for users to deposit coins, the app in fact used a developer-owned wallet for each supported currency, with a total of 13 wallets. Each Coin Wallet user was assigned the same wallet address for a specific currency.

"The app claims it lets users create wallets for various cryptocurrencies," ESET Malware Researcher Lukas Stefanko wrote in a blog post. "However, its actual purpose is to trick users into transferring cryptocurrency into the attackers' wallets—a classic case of what we named wallet address scams in our previous research of cryptocurrency-targeting malware."

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Stronger than aluminum, a heavily altered wood cools passively

May 23, 2019 - 11:48pm

Enlarge / A look at the lignin-free compressed wood. (credit: University of Maryland)

Most of our building practices aren't especially sustainable. Concrete production is a major source of carbon emissions, and steel production is very resource intensive. Once completed, heating and cooling buildings becomes a major energy sink. There are various ideas on how to handle each of these issues, like variations on concrete's chemical formula or passive cooling schemes.

But now, a large team of US researchers has found a single solution that appears to manage everything using a sustainable material that both reflects sunlight and radiates away excess heat. The miracle material? Wood. Or a form of wood that has been treated to remove one of its two main components.

With the grain

Wood is mostly a composite of two polymers. One of these, cellulose, is made by linking sugars together into long chains. That cellulose is mixed with a polymer called lignin, which is not really a single polymer. The precise chemical formula of its starting material can vary among species, and it typically contains multiple places where chemical bonds can form, turning the polymer into a chaotic but extremely robust mesh.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Assange indictment adds 17 espionage charges

May 23, 2019 - 10:42pm

Enlarge / Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside the Ecuadorian embassy as the WikiLeaks founder awaits a High Court hearing to determine whether he will be extradited to Sweden on sexual charges. Now, new US charges have been added to a previous indictment: 17 counts of espionage. (credit: Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Today, the Department of Justice filed a new indictment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia—adding 17 more charges atop the original hacking charge used to file for Assange's extradition from the United Kingdom. The new charges are all espionage-focused: conspiracy to receive, obtaining, and disclosure of "national defense information. Each of the 17 counts carries a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years.

In a statement announcing the filing, a Justice Department spokesperson said, "The superseding indictment alleges that Assange was complicit with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the US Army, in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense." The new counts allege, among other things, that Assange conspired with Manning to steal "national defense information," obtained that information from Manning, and "aided and abetted her in obtaining classified information with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation."

In a Twitter post, a WikiLeaks spokesperson wrote, "This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the First Amendment."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA officially orders its first segment of a lunar space station

May 23, 2019 - 10:26pm

Maxar has been selected to build and fly the first element of NASA’s lunar Gateway. (credit: Maxar Technologies)

NASA has chosen its first commercial partner for a proposed space station, known as the Lunar Gateway, to be built near the Moon. On Thursday, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Maxar Technologies would build the first component of the Gateway—the power and propulsion element. Like the name suggests, it will provide electricity to the Gateway and help move it around.

"This time when we go to the Moon, we're actually going to stay," Bridenstine said in making the announcement. He has characterized the Gateway, which will be positioned in a high, elliptical orbit balanced between the Earth and Moon's gravity, as a reusable "Command Module." Under NASA's current plans to land humans on the Moon by 2024, this is where astronauts will launch to from Earth before climbing aboard pre-positioned landers to take them down to the lunar surface.

Despite the fanfare Thursday—Bridenstine provided an hour-long overview of NASA's ambitious Moon plans at the Florida Institute of Technology for a relatively simple contract award—the announcement represents a continuation of a Lunar Gateway plan that was initiated under the Obama administration. The Obama space plan involved using the Gateway as a stepping stone toward Mars, but now the Trump administration is pivoting toward the lunar surface.

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GOP, Dem Senators officially introduce loot box, “pay-to-win” legislation

May 23, 2019 - 9:50pm

Unlike this ceramic replica, video game loot boxes are not filled with real candy. (credit: ThinkGeek)

Weeks ago, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) released an outline for the The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act, aimed at stopping randomized loot boxes and pay-to-win mechanics in the game industry. Today, Hawley was joined by Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in formally introducing that bill in the Senate, complete with an 18-page draft of its legislative text.

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the bill attempts to define so-called "pay-to-win" mechanics in games. Those are defined broadly here as purchasable content that "assists a user in accomplishing an achievement within the game that can otherwise be accomplished without the purchase of such transaction" or which "permits a user to continue to access content of the game that had previously been accessible to the user but has been made inaccessible after the expiration of a timer or a number of gameplay attempts."

For multiplayer games, this would also include any purchasable in-game content that "from the perspective of a reasonable user, provides a competitive advantage."

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Purdue infiltrated WHO, manipulated opioid policies to boost sales, report finds

May 23, 2019 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and its owners, the Sackler family, are facing hundreds of lawsuits across the country for the company's alleged role in the opioid epidemic. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer)

Infamous OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma used front organizations and sponsored research to deceive the World Health Organization and corrupt global public health policies with the goal of boosting international opioid sales and profits, according to a Congressional report(PDF) released Thursday, May 22.

The investigation identified two WHO guidance documents that appear to parrot some of Purdue's misleading and outright false marketing claims about the safety and efficacy of their highly addictive opioids.

The findings, released by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), land as the country is still grappling with an epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses kill an average of 130 Americans every day.

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Comcast does so much lobbying that it says disclosing it all is too hard

May 23, 2019 - 8:40pm

Enlarge / A Comcast sign at the Comcast offices in Philadelphia, Penn. (credit: Getty Images | Cindy Ord )

Comcast may be harming its reputation by failing to reveal all of its lobbying activities, including its involvement in trade associations and lobbying at the state level, a group of shareholders says in a proposal that asks for more lobbying disclosures.

Comcast's disclosures for its lobbying of state governments "are often cursory or non-existent," and Comcast's failure to disclose its involvement in trade associations means that "investors have neither an accurate picture of the company's total lobbying expenditures nor an understanding of its priorities, interests, or potential risks from memberships," the proposal said. "Comcast's lack of transparency around its lobbying poses risks to its already troubled reputation, which is concerning in a highly regulated industry, especially given the rise of public Internet alternatives."

The proposal is on the ballot for Comcast's June 5 annual shareholder meeting and was filed by Friends Fiduciary, which "invest[s] based on Quaker values" and says it "actively screen[s] companies for social responsibility." Friends Fiduciary and other investors who joined the proposal collectively hold "over 1 million shares of Comcast stock," they said.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A sad raven bums out its friends

May 23, 2019 - 6:35pm

Enlarge / Does he look happy or sad to you? (credit: US Fish and Wildlife)

As social creatures, we subconsciously match moods with those around us—and not just when a cranky supervisor darkens your day (Editor's Note: Is it something I said?). The scientific term for the spread of feelings is “emotional contagion,” a term that may feel particularly appropriate when it comes to grumpiness. But as is so often the case with human psychology, this very human behavior does not appear to be unique to our species.

Studying emotions and their contagious nature in other animals can be tricky. Relying on outward displays runs the risk of conflating a simple emotion with some overt rowdiness that makes it visible. Getting at that underlying emotion requires understanding how critters act in varying moods. A team led by the University of Vienna’s Jessie Adriaense tried to do that with ravens by designing a test to reveal whether they were feeling optimistic.

Emotional control

The first goal of the experiment was to induce a positive or negative emotional state in a raven. To do so, the raven was shown a pair of food items: dog kibbles (a highly rated treat) and some raw carrot (a hard pass). One of the food items would then be taken away. When the tasty treat remained in view, the raven should be enthused; it responded by walking up to that side of the cage and focusing its attention on the snack. When the carrot was left, the bird gave it a dominantly left-side side-eye (the left eye and right brain hemisphere are linked to negative stimuli) and scratched at the ground in frustration.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Now live post-leaks, Star Trek: Picard trailer asks why the “Admiral” left Starfleet

May 23, 2019 - 6:08pm

Star Trek fans briefly turned into Internet archaeologists today after CBS posted, then quickly took down, the first trailer for Star Trek: Picard. Earlier this morning, Entertainment Weekly appeared to have taken down a story about the reveal, but luckily for everyone else the trailer still showed up in Google results as "Star Trek: Picard first trailer released." (And this being the Internet, of course, mirrored versions of the trailer soon existed everywhere, showing us the first public glimpse of a show that was last teased at CBS' Upfront presentation in March.)

With rampant unofficial footage of the captain officially out of retirement, however, CBS soon righted the ship and debuted the teaser via the @StarTrek Twitter feed, noting it comes on the anniversary of The Next Generation's series finale.

25 years ago today, ‘All Good Things’ brought us to an end. The end is only the beginning. #StarTrekPicard to stream exclusively on @CBSAllAccess in the United States, Amazon #PrimeVideo in more than 200 countries, in Canada on @SpaceChannel & @CraveCanada https://t.co/MQp0eP0ovM pic.twitter.com/m9sDqvS8Mo

— Star Trek (@StarTrek) May 23, 2019

"Fifteen years ago today you led us out of the darkness," a voiceover intones elliptically over a vineyard that evokes images of the potential future in Next Generation finale All Good Things.... "You commanded the greatest rescue armada in history. Then, the unimaginable. What did that cost you? Your faith? Your faith in us? Your faith in yourself?"

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Save big on Windows laptops and smart TVs ahead of Memorial Day

May 23, 2019 - 5:51pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Memorial Day hasn't arrived yet, but the holiday deals are already in full swing. Before you get out of town for the long weekend, you can snag big sales on some of our favorite Windows laptops from the likes of Dell, HP, and Lenovo. You can get the newest Dell XPS 13 laptop, featuring a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD for just $979.

The XPS 13 has always been a stellar laptop, but Dell made a few updates this year that pushed it up to the top spot in our Windows ultrabook guide. It's constructed beautifully and sturdily with a mixture of aluminum and woven fiberglass (depending on the model), and now it's not blemished by an unflattering up-nose cam. Dell's new, 2.25mm FHD webcam sits atop the FHD display so you can video chat without worrying about your on-camera appearance.

On top of that, the XPS 13 laptop has a comfortable keyboard and trackpad area, a fingerprint sensor embedded into its power button, and superb performance with an average battery life of about 13 hours base on our testing. The biggest things you can complain about are its display's 16:9 aspect ratio, which admittedly isn't ideal, and its scant port selection that includes just two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one USB-C 3.1 port, one microSD card slot, a headphone jack, and a lock slot. The base laptop still costs $899, but you'll save $230 if you opt for this more powerful model.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Subscribe to Ars and get 20% off

May 23, 2019 - 5:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

The final weekend in May marks the unofficial start of summer (at least at the Orbiting HQ, where our season simulator is aligned with the Northern Hemisphere). It's a time for farmers' markets, parades, and cookouts, if you're into those sorts of things. But who would want to spend time out under the Daystar absorbing UV radiation and swatting away flying disease vectors when you could be reading the latest from your favorite website?

We've got some improvements to Ars in the works. We plan to tweak the commenting system and are working on a complete overhaul of our mobile site. Part of what makes these improvements—and indeed, all of our work—possible is the support of our readers. To make that more enticing, we are offering 20% off any subscription to Ars Technica. Ars Pro is discounted to $20 from $25 and Ars Pro++ is just $40.

In addition to supporting our mission of bringing you the smart reporting Ars readers have come to love, subscribing to Ars comes with a bunch of other perks. All Ars Pro and Ars Pro++ subscribers get a completely ad-free experience. Based on reader feedback, we also removed all tracking scripts for subscribers. Beyond that, subscribers get Classic View (a throwback to the old-school Ars experience), full-text RSS feeds, premium forum access, and PDFs of all our stories.

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