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Industry & Technology

As DirecTV tanks, AT&T says it will “re-bundle” TV with HBO Max

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 12:35am

Enlarge / AT&T executive John Stankey at a presentation for investors at Warner Bros. Studios on October 29, 2019, in Burbank, California. (credit: Getty Images | Presley Ann)

AT&T's traditional TV business is tanking, with the company having lost nearly 5 million satellite and wireline TV customers since the end of 2016.

But AT&T President John Stankey sees a path forward in recreating the traditional cable-TV bundle on the Internet. AT&T's HBO Max is slated to launch in May 2020 for $14.99 a month, and AT&T has set an ambitious goal of 50 million US subscribers within five years.

A subscriber number like that would make HBO Max far bigger than AT&T's DirecTV satellite division and its U-verse wireline TV service. But ultimately, the service customers get could end up looking pretty similar to DirecTV, U-verse, or cable TV.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ayahuasca alters brain waves to produce waking dream-like state, study finds

Ars Technica - November 20, 2019 - 12:09am

Enlarge / A sketch drawn by study participant of visuals during their experience. (credit: Imperial College London/Chris Timmermann)

People under the influence of a psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca frequently experience vivid visual and aural hallucinations and also report feeling as if they are in a dream. Now a new study published in Scientific Reports has shown that the drug alters the user's waking brain-wave patterns to produce a mental state that the researchers describe as "dreaming while awake."

Ayahuasca is a bitter tea made from the Brazilian vine banisteriopsis caapi, colloquially known as the "spirit vine," used in shaman-led spiritual ceremonies among native people in the Amazon basin. Its primary active ingredient is dimethyltryptamine (DMT). That's the secret to ayahuasca's powerful psychedelic effects, which can also produce feelings of elation and fear or a sense of epiphany or psychological breakthrough. Those mind-altering properties come at a price, however. Participants in the ceremonies are often advised to bring a bucket, since nausea and vomiting (and sometimes diarrhea) are common reactions to the tea.

The brain controls perception and communication throughout the body via chemical neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter attaches to matching areas on nerve cells known as receptors. LSD, for example, targets the brain's serotonin receptors. Ayahuasca contains a compound (banisterine) that latches onto dopamine receptors in the brain. (That's why banisterine holds potential as a treatment for Parkinson's disease, which destroys dopamine receptors.)

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New WhatsApp security concern: India cyber cell advises update

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 11:57pm
In a statement, WhatsApp said that it had no reason to believe that users phones were affected.

Bonkers pricing of “free” flu shots shows what’s wrong with US healthcare

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 11:23pm

Enlarge / Regardless of the crazy pricing, you should get your flu shot. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The annual flu shots that are free to those with health insurance are not immune from the convoluted and contemptible price-gouging that plague the US healthcare system.

Health insurance companies pay wildly different amounts for the same vaccines depending on how negotiations go with individual medical providers across the country. In some cases, providers have forced insurers to pay upward of three times the price they would pay to other providers, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News.

The outlet noted that one Sacramento, California, doctors’ office got an insurer to pay $85 for a flu shot that it offered to uninsured patients for $25.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Password data for ~2.2 million users of currency and gaming sites dumped online

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 11:09pm

Enlarge (credit: Bureau of Land Management Alaska Follow)

Password data and other personal information belonging to as many as 2.2 million users of two websites—one a cryptocurrency wallet service and the other a gaming bot provider—have been posted online, according to Troy Hunt, the security researcher behind the Have I Been Pwned breach notification service.

One haul includes personal information for as many as 1.4 million accounts from the GateHub cryptocurrency wallet service. The other contains data for about 800,000 accounts on RuneScape bot provider EpicBot. The databases include registered email addresses and passwords that were cryptographically hashed with bcrypt, a function that's among the hardest to crack.

The person posting the 3.72GB Gatehub database said it also includes two-factor authentication keys, mnemonic phrases, and wallet hashes, although GateHub officials said an investigation suggested wallet hashes were not accessed. The EpicBot database, meanwhile, purportedly included usernames and IP addresses. Hunt said he selected a representative sample of accounts from both databases to verify the authenticity of the data. All of the email addresses he checked were registered to accounts of the two sites.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Where the Wi-Fi sucks” is where a new wireless protocol does its magic

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 10:03pm

Enlarge / BYU assistant professor of computer engineering Phil Lundrigan is looking at an ONPC heartbeat on an RF signal analyzer. (credit: Brigham Young University)

Researchers at Brigham Young University have created a new RF protocol that runs on top of existing consumer Wi-Fi at significantly greater range. But before you get too excited, the protocol's bandwidth is extremely low—so much so that it makes LoRa look like an OC-24. The protocol, called ONPC—short for On-Off Noise Power Communication—currently only specifies a single bit per second.

Although ONPC only conveys one bit per second of data, its range is 60m or more beyond Wi-Fi—and it runs in software alone, on unmodified Wi-Fi hardware. An ONPC device can connect to standard Wi-Fi when range permits, fall back to ONPC mode if the connection drops, and then re-connect to the Wi-Fi when it becomes available again.

Disconnected versus unpowered

BYU Associate Professor of Computer Engineering Phil Lundrigan told Ars that ONPC was inspired by problems in an otherwise unrelated health care research project he'd worked on. The project required placing IoT sensors in the homes of study participants so that BYU's control over the environment was minimal to nonexistent. The project also required the sensors to report back to the researchers over the Internet, using whatever Wi-Fi the study participants had in place.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Company claims breakthrough in concentrating the Sun’s rays

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / Heliogen's demonstration facility. (credit: Heliogen)

The explosion of solar energy capacity has been driven almost entirely by the plunging cost of photovoltaic hardware. That has made the situation difficult for an alternate technology known as solar thermal. Thermal uses mirrors to focus incoming sunlight onto a location that reaches high temperatures, which can then be used to generate electricity by driving a steam turbine. Since heat is relatively easy to store, these plants can continue to produce power long after the Sun has set. In some cases, these plants are able to operate around the clock.

Today, a company backed by tech investors is announcing that it has developed an enhanced form of solar thermal generation that can push the temperatures at the point of focus much higher. That's significant, because the promised temperatures reach heat needed for industrial processes like concrete production, metallurgy, and hydrogen production. While there are clear advantages when it comes to generating electricity, the key to this technology may be how readily it can be integrated into these industrial processes.

A hot startup

The company in question is a startup called Heliogen, which has received backing from several Silicon Valley investors and Bill Gates. But the technology Heliogen has developed does have a rather heavy tech component.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Senators ask if Facebook really lets users opt out of location tracking

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge / The Facebook logo is displayed on a TV screen on September 9, 2019 in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty)

Back in September, Facebook updated its location privacy settings for users. "Facebook is better with location," the company stressed, but users were free to turn off location tracking, and the company would be happy to tell them how. That setting, however, comes with an enormous loophole, and two US senators want the company to explain itself.

Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) today sent a letter (PDF) to Facebook asking the company how, exactly, it tracks users' locations—even when location access and location history are disabled.

"We appreciate Facebook's attempt to proactively inform users about their privacy options," the senators wrote. "However, we are concerned that Facebook may not in fact be offering users the level of control that the company suggests these settings provide."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: The OnePlus 7 Pro for $549 may be the smartphone deal of the year

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 7:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's deal is headlined by a $150 discount on the OnePlus 7 Pro, a device we called the "fastest, best-designed, best-value Android phone" on the market earlier this year.

The deal applies to unlocked models—which work on Verizon and GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile—and brings the phone down to $549. OnePlus says this is their official Black Friday discount for the holiday season, and our own Android guru Ron Amadeo told the Dealmaster it will likely go down as the "smartphone deal of the year."

You can read Ron's review from this past May for the full details, but the short take is that the OnePlus 7 Pro was already a good value at its standard going rate of $699. Despite being a large phone, it's been efficiently designed, with no notches or overly large borders blocking the the 6.67-inch 3120x1440 display. The in-display fingerprint reader and pop-up selfie camera only add to that efficiency, and both work well. That display supports a 90Hz refresh rate, too, which makes operating the device feel noticeably smoother across the board. The Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM, and UFS 3.0 storage keep general performance as snappy as a top-of-the-line phone should. The triple-camera system on the back isn't the absolute best on the market, but it's still a great value for the price. And the "Oxygen OS" software remains a uniquely clean and useful take on Android.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Esports gamers experience same stressors as pro athletes, study finds

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 6:56pm

Enlarge / A new study by researchers at the University of Chichester in England found that esports players who compete in major tournaments face the same level of stress as pro-athletes. (credit: ESL/University of Chichester)

Professional athletes at the highest level regularly contend not only with fierce competition from opposing teams or individual athletes but also intense psychological pressures, ranging from performance anxiety, fear of failure, and tensions resulting from miscommunication, particularly in team sports. Professional gamers competing in major esports competitions experience the same kinds of stressors, according to a new psychology study published in the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations.

Sports psychology has long been an active field, but applying it to esports is a relatively new area of research, one that the University of Chichester in the UK is embracing with its newly launched BA (Hons) esports degree. The program focuses on the scientific study of the physical and psychological impact of esports, including nutrition, coaching, and strategy in an immersive gaming environment, according to co-author Philip Birch, who specializes in sports and exercise performance psychology.

This is the first study of its kind, per Birch. The objective was to gain a clearer understanding not just of the stresses esports players face but also the coping strategies they use to deal with those stressors. Birch and his colleagues decided to focus on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) because it is similar to physical team sports like football or rugby. It's a multiplayer first-person shooter game that pits two teams against each other: Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists. The Terrorists try to plant bombs or take hostages, for example, while the Counter-Terrorists strive to defuse those bombs and rescue any hostages, as both sides try to eliminate the other. Players who do well are rewarded after each round with in-game currency; those who screw up can incur penalties.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Arron Banks' private messages leaked by hacker

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 6:54pm
The founder of Leave.EU's Twitter account has been breached and messages spanning years leaked.

Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation after nine years

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 6:21pm

Enlarge / Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. (credit: Getty Images | Jack Taylor)

Swedish prosecutors have dropped a nine-year-old rape investigation into Julian Assange, saying that "the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question."

"I would like to emphasize that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events," Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson said, according to a BBC report today. "Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed; however, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation."

Prosecutors said they interviewed seven witnesses before deciding to stop the investigation, according to the BBC.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft says yes to future encrypted DNS requests in Windows

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 6:11pm

Enlarge / Microsoft will (eventually) support secure DNS requests over the DoH protocol, and maybe over some others at some point. (credit: Yuichiro Chino via Getty Images)

In a post yesterday to the Microsoft Tech Community blog, Microsoft Windows Core Networking team members Tommy Jensen, Ivan Pashov, and Gabriel Montenegro announced that Microsoft is planning to adopt support for encrypted Domain Name System queries in order to "close one of the last remaining plain-text domain name transmissions in common web traffic."

That support will first take the form of integration with DNS over HTTPS (DoH), a standard proposed by the Internet Engineering Task Force and supported by Mozilla, Google, and Cloudflare, among others. "As a platform, Windows Core Networking seeks to enable users to use whatever protocols they need, so we’re open to having other options such as DNS over TLS (DoT) in the future," wrote Jensen, Pashov, and Montenegro. "For now, we're prioritizing DoH support as the most likely to provide immediate value to everyone. For example, DoH allows us to reuse our existing HTTPS infrastructure."

But Microsoft is being careful about how it deploys this compatibility given the current political fight over DoH being waged by Internet service providers concerned that they'll lose a lucrative source of customer behavior data.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sony controller patent points to potential PS5 permutations

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 5:18pm

New images from a Japanese Sony patent, first filed in March and recently published by the Japanese patent office, seem to show a new version of Sony's DualShock controller. The patent images display some potential changes to the hardware for next year's planned release of the PlayStation 5.

Sony system architect Mark Cerny previously discussed the PlayStation 5's new controller in an interview with Wired last month. That interview mentioned that the new system's controller would sport a USB-C connector for charging and a potential wired data connection. And while the newly published patent images resemble the PS4's existing DualShock 4 in many ways, the port at the top appears to be USB-C rather than the USB-B micro connector on the DualShock 4.

There are a few other changes in the patent images that do not reflect potential controller changes Sony has publicly discussed. Chief among them is the apparent omission of the DualShock 4's lightbar. That lightbar's ability to glow in different colors was often used as a gimmick by game developers to indicate health or other in-game status effects, but it was also positioned in a way that was hard for players to use it or see it effectively. More importantly, many PlayStation VR games used that lightbar in conjunction with the PlayStation Eye camera to track the controller's position in space, a function that would not be possible in the same form on the patented controller.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A Nintendo designer reviews your Super Mario Maker 2 levels

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 5:05pm

Video shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

There are over 7 million courses available in Super Mario Maker 2. And at least seven of them are pretty fun.

Seriously, though, making a good Mario level is one of those tasks that's harder than it looks. So what differentiates a satisfying level from a frustrating one?

To find out, we reached out to both the Mario Maker and Nintendo Switch subreddits and asked readers to submit their favorite homemade levels for review. After sifting through pages and pages of submissions, we picked out a handful of interesting examples for a fuller evaluation by Corey Olcsvary of Nintendo's storied Treehouse product development division.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

One part of NASA seems serious about fostering aerospace innovation

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 4:56pm

Enlarge / A Starship on the Moon? It could happen in as few as three years. (credit: SpaceX)

About a year ago, NASA announced it had selected nine different companies that were eligible to compete for contracts to deliver relatively small science and cargo missions to the lunar surface.

What seemed notable about this was that many of the companies selected had not done much (if any) business with NASA before. (Lockheed Martin was an exception.) NASA has since begun to award a couple of contracts for actual deliveries, but it evidently wants more bidders. So on Monday, the agency added five new companies to the pool of eligible contractors in its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS.

“Expanding the group of companies who are eligible to bid on sending payloads to the Moon’s surface drives innovation and reduces costs to NASA and American taxpayers," the agency's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said in a news release.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Snapchat says it will fact-check political ads

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 3:08pm
The policy distinguishes the platform from other tech giants such as Twitter and Facebook.

'Rude' robot able to distract gamers

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 2:45pm
Gamers make fewer rational decisions when faced with insults - even from robots, a study suggests.

Disney+ fans without answers after thousands hacked

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 2:40pm
Hours after its new streaming service was launched, customer details were sold on the dark web for under £10

Can Valve tempt gamers to try virtual reality?

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 1:57pm
The game studio is preparing a prequel to its iconic Half-Life title that will be set entirely in VR.

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