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New US coronavirus case from area with quarantined evacuees from cruise, Wuhan

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 10:05pm

Enlarge / UC Davis Medical Center, where the patient with a COVID-19 infection of unknown origin is being treated. (credit: UC Davis)

A Northern California resident has contracted the new coronavirus despite having no known exposure through travel or obvious contact to an infected person—a first for the US.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the case late Wednesday, saying, “It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19,” meaning that the virus may be moving through members of the general US public undetected.

“It’s also possible, however, that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveler who was infected,” the agency said.

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Starbucks Embraces Fake Meat, Starting In Canada

Slashdot - February 27, 2020 - 9:15pm
Categories: Geek, Opinion

Both Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions are on sale today

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 8:05pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is highlighted by a couple of deals on Xbox subscriptions, as 3-month membership codes for both Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate are on sale. The former is down to $15 from its usual $25, while the latter is down to $25 from its usual $45. Neither deal is an all-time low, but they're still good prices that we typically see whenever these memberships get discounted from reputable retailers.

For the unfamiliar, an Xbox Live Gold subscription is required to access the online components of most Xbox games and nets you a couple bonus games every month, much like Sony's PlayStation Plus service. Game Pass Ultimate, meanwhile, bundles a Gold membership with subscriptions to Microsoft's pseudo-Netflix-style Xbox Game Pass service for console and PC. We generally consider Game Pass to be a good deal on its own—its library has grown to include several worthwhile games, and Microsoft makes its own first-party games available on the service at launch. The company is heavily pushing Game Pass with its upcoming Xbox Series X console, but since it plans to make all of its "next-gen" games available on the current Xbox One for the first year or so of the Series X's life, Game Pass subscribers who don't plan on upgrading their hardware right away should still be able to get the most out of their membership.

Of note: if you already pay for Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft says that buying a 3-month Xbox Live Gold membership will convert to 50 days of Ultimate service. If you've never subscribed to Game Pass Ultimate, though, know that it's still possible to save hundreds of dollars on up to three years of service by stocking up on Gold memberships first, then grabbing an Ultimate of the latter for $1 extra, converting all that Gold subscription time to an Ultimate subscription in the process. We've gone over how this deal works before, but if you plan to use an Xbox for the next couple of years, it's still a great deal worth considering.

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Konami Code Creator Kazuhisa Hashimoto Dies At 61

Slashdot - February 27, 2020 - 7:45pm
Categories: Geek, Opinion

HTTPS for all: Let’s Encrypt reaches one billion certificates issued

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 7:42pm

Enlarge / Encrypted communication has gone from "only if it's important" to "unless you're incredibly lazy" in four short years—and Let's Encrypt deserves a lot of the credit for that. (credit: nternet1.jpg by Rock1997 modified.)

Let's Encrypt, the Internet Security Research Group's free certificate signing authority, issued its first certificate a little over four years ago. Today, it issued its billionth.

The ISRG's goal for Let's Encrypt is to bring the Web up to a 100% encryption rate. When Let's Encrypt launched in 2015, the idea was pretty outré—at that time, a bit more than a third of all Web traffic was encrypted, with the rest being plain text HTTP. There were significant barriers to HTTPS adoption—for one thing, it cost money. But more importantly, it cost a significant amount of time and human effort, both of which are in limited supply.

Let's Encrypt solved the money barrier by offering its services free of charge. More importantly, by establishing a stable protocol to access them, it enabled the Electronic Frontier Foundation to build and provide Certbot, an open source, free-to-use tool that automates the process of obtaining certificates, installing them, configuring webservers to use them, and automatically renewing them.

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T-Mobile conducts layoffs as it prepares to complete Sprint merger

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 7:19pm

Enlarge / The logo of Deutsche Telekom, owner of T-Mobile, seen at Mobile World Congress in February 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

T-Mobile "has laid off a number of employees" in its prepaid business, Light Reading reported yesterday. Light Reading said three sources confirmed layoffs in the Metro by T-Mobile prepaid business, but "the extent of the layoffs is unclear." We contacted T-Mobile about the reported layoffs and will update this article if we get a response.

A federal judge approved T-Mobile's $26 billion acquisition of rival Sprint about two weeks ago, rejecting a lawsuit by 13 state attorneys general who warned that the merger will reduce competition in the wireless telecommunications market and harm consumers with higher prices.

New York Attorney General Letitia James decided not to appeal the ruling, and the merging firms say they expect to be one company by April 1. California telecom regulators still have not approved the deal, a potential factor that could delay the merger closing.

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Pandemic simulation game Plague Inc. pulled from iOS App Store in China

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 6:34pm

Enlarge / A virtual plague spreads from a virtual China in Plague Inc.

Plague Inc. maker Ndemic Creations says the game has been removed from sale on the iOS App Store in China because the relevant authorities say it “includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China.”

The popular game—which asks players to shepherd a virus' deadly spread around the world—has been available on the Chinese App Store for years without issue. Ndemic says it's "not clear to us if this removal is linked to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that China is facing," but it certainly seems like the most likely proximate cause.

"This situation is completely out of our control," Ndemic writes. "We are working very hard to try and find a way to get the game back in the hands of Chinese players—we don’t want to give up on you—however, as a tiny independent games studio in the UK, the odds are stacked against us. Our immediate priority is to try and make contact with the Cyberspace Administration of China to understand their concerns and work with them to find a resolution."

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War Stories: How Crash Bandicoot hacked the original PlayStation

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 5:15pm

Shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

When you hear the name Crash Bandicoot, you probably think of it as Sony's platformy, mascoty answer to Mario and Sonic. Before getting the full Sony marketing treatment, though, the game was developer Naughty Dog's first attempt at programming a 3D platform game for Sony's brand-new PlayStation. And developing the game in 1994 and 1995—well before the release of Super Mario 64—involved some real technical and game design challenges.

In our latest War Stories video, coder Andy Gavin walks us through a number of the tricks he used to overcome some of those challenges. Those include an advanced virtual memory swapping technique that divided massive (for the time) levels into 64KB chunks. Those chunks could be loaded independently from the slow (but high-capacity) CD drive into the scant 2MB of fast system RAM only when they were needed for Crash's immediate, on-screen environment.

The result allowed for "20 to 30 times" the level of detail of a contemporary game like Tomb Raider, which really shows when you look at the game's environments. Similar dynamic memory management techniques are now pretty standard in open-world video games, and they all owe a debt of gratitude to Gavin's work on Crash Bandicoot as a proof of concept.

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Everyone agrees: Facebook, Twitter should block disinfo—but probably won’t

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 4:43pm

Enlarge / Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding foreign influence operations' use of their social media platforms on September 5, 2018. (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

If you're feeling extremely cynical about social media's preparedness for the rest of the madcap 2020 election season, you're in good company: A whopping three-quarters of Americans don't expect Facebook, Twitter, or other large platforms to handle this year any better than they handled 2016.

That finding comes from the Pew Research Center, which polled Americans about their confidence in tech platforms to prevent "misuse" in the current election cycle. A large majority of respondents think platforms should prevent misuse that could influence the election, but very few think they actually will.

Overall, only 25 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat confident in tech platforms' ability to prevent that kind of misuse, Pew found. Meanwhile, 74 percent reported being not too confident or not at all confident that services would be able to do so. The responses were extremely similar across both Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning respondents.

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Google asked to justify Toronto 'digital-city' plan

BBC Technology News - February 27, 2020 - 4:39pm
Sister company Sidewalk Labs must explain why it has chosen digital solutions over non-digital ones.

YouTube 'not a public forum' with guaranteed free speech

BBC Technology News - February 27, 2020 - 3:32pm
First Amendment rights do not force YouTube to host or promote videos, a court rules.

How to track the coronavirus: Dashboard delivers real-time view of the deadly virus

ZDnet Blogs - February 27, 2020 - 3:31pm
The live dashboard​ pulls data from sources like the World Health Organization to show all confirmed and suspected cases of coronavirus, along with recoveries and deaths.
Categories: Opinion

Review: Altered Carbon comes back strong with twisty, fast-paced S2

Ars Technica - February 27, 2020 - 2:30pm

The first season of Altered Carbon, the Netflix adaptation of Richard K. Morgan's 2002 cyberpunk novel of the same name, earned critical praise for its existential themes and visually stunning world-building, plus a few dings for uneven storytelling and excessive violence. The much-anticipated second season has all the same strengths and almost none of S1's weaknesses, delivering an engrossing storyline that delves deeper into the underlying mythology and history of the planet known as Harlan's World. Fans of the first season won't be disappointed.

(Spoilers for S1 below; some spoilers for S2, but no major plot twist reveals.)

Like the novel (the first of a trilogy), the series is set in a world more than 360 years in the future, where a person's memories and consciousness can be uploaded into a device—based on alien technology—known as a cortical stack. The stack can be implanted at the back of the neck of any human body (known as a "sleeve"), whether natural or synthetic, so an individual consciousness can be transferred between bodies. Income inequality still exists, however, so only the very rich can afford true immortality, storing their consciousness in remote backups and maintaining a steady supply of clones. Those people are called "Meths" (a reference to the biblical Methuselah, who supposedly lived for 969 years).

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