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AT&T exempts HBO Max from data caps but still limits your Netflix use

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:26pm

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 new HBO Max streaming service is exempt from the carrier's mobile data caps, even though competing services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ count against the monthly data limits. This news was reported today in an article by The Verge, which said that AT&T "confirmed to The Verge that HBO Max will be excused from the company's traditional data caps and the soft data caps on unlimited plans."

The traditional data caps limit customers to a certain amount of data each month before they have to pay overage fees or face extreme slowdowns for the rest of the month. "Soft data caps on unlimited plans" apparently is a reference to the 22GB or 50GB thresholds, after which unlimited-data users may be prioritized below other users when connecting to a congested cell tower.

"According to an AT&T executive familiar with the matter, HBO Max is using AT&T's 'sponsored data' system, which technically allows any company to pay to excuse its services from data caps," The Verge wrote. "But since AT&T owns HBO Max, it's just paying itself: the data fee shows up on the HBO Max books as an expense and on the AT&T Mobility books as revenue. For AT&T as a whole, it zeroes out. Compare that to a competitor like Netflix, which could theoretically pay AT&T for sponsored data, but it would be a pure cost."

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Incredible fossil find is the oldest known parasite

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / Artist's depiction of what this brachiopod—and its parasites—would have looked like. (credit: Zhifei Zhang (Northwest University))

From the perspective of a legacy-seeking critter deep in Earth’s history, there's little chance of you hitting the big time. The odds of getting fossilized are low enough. You need to die in the right kind of place, get buried before you are picked apart or decay, and encounter the right kind of chemistry underground that replaces your fleshy bits with enduring stone.

This unlikely chain makes capturing common life events like your last meal or developing embryos even more rare. But in the case of a newly published study, researchers were lucky enough to find what appear to be the earliest known parasites, still stuck to the hosts they targeted some 510 million years ago.

The find comes from Yunnan, China, where a sedimentary rock layer called the Wulongqing Formation is chock full of tiny fossil brachiopods of a species named (quite sensibly) Neobolus wulongqingensis. Back in the Cambrian Period, shortly after multicellular animal life bloomed into incredible variety, these creatures were living on the seafloor. A team led by Zhifei Zhang at China’s Northwest University discovered that N. wulongqingensis was not alone in the rock—many were adorned with whitish tubes on the exteriors of their shells.

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The Atlantic’s third storm has formed in record time, and it’s a threat

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 6:36pm

Enlarge / Tropical Storm Cristobal formed in the Southern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. (credit: NOAA)

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season ranked among the top five most-active years on record. Its third named storm, Chantal, did not form until August 20.

By contrast, today is June 2, and the Atlantic's third named storm of the year just formed. At around noon Eastern, the National Hurricane Center named Tropical Storm Cristobal—a system wobbling around the Southern Gulf of Mexico with 40mph winds.

This is the earliest ever in the Atlantic season (which, however imperfect, has records dating back to 1851) that the third named storm has formed in a given year. The previous earliest "C" storm was Colin, on June 5, 2016.

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Android: Why this photo is bricking some phones

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 5:23pm
An atmospheric landscape photograph set as wallpaper seems to confuse the handsets.

After Crew Dragon soars, some in Congress tout benefits of commercial space

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 5:14pm

Enlarge / Sen. Ted Cruz, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and US Rep. Brian Babin stand in front of a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket at Space Center Houston on Sunday. (credit: Space Center Houston)

Although the saying probably originated with one of the greatest Roman historians, Tacitus, President John F. Kennedy popularized the phrase—"Success has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan." This aphorism can be applied to commercial space now that SpaceX has successfully launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket inside Dragonship Endeavour.

Since this flight, several congressional leaders have begun speaking more about commercial space, an approach in which private companies self-invest in their hardware, own their vehicle, and sell services to NASA. Prior to Dragon's flight, no private spacecraft had ever flown humans into orbit before—only large government space programs in the United States, Russia, and China had done it. Now, private companies such as SpaceX are demonstrating their capabilities.

US Rep Brian Babin, a Texas Republican whose district includes Johnson Space Center, offered fulsome praise for SpaceX and its achievement after Dragon's flight. "Congratulations to SpaceX, who have never quit, and who have really revolutionized the launch business, and bringing costs down," he said. "These are going to be a great boon to our space program going into the future."

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Indian app hunts out Chinese software on phones

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 4:37pm
Remove China Apps was developed by an Indian firm, amid rising tension between the two nations.

George Floyd protests: Twitter bans over #DCBlackout hoax

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 2:04pm
A "blackout" that never happened and a fake "left-wing" account are among those banned.

Dell XPS 13 and XPS 13 Developer Edition—side-by-side review

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 11:30am

Enlarge / On the left, we have the XPS 13 Developer Edition running Ubuntu 18.04. On the right, a regular XPS 13 running Windows 10 Pro. (credit: Jim Salter)

We spent this weekend going hands-on with a pair of 2020 model Dell XPS 13 laptops—one standard edition running Windows 10 Pro, and one Developer Edition running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. The XPS 13 is among Dell's most popular models, and for good reason—it's a sleek, solid-feeling laptop that usually has top-of-the-line hardware and good battery life.

Unfortunately, both of the XPS 13 models we tested had driver issues—particularly the Windows laptop, which has a Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi card.

Hardware Specs at a glance: Dell XPS 13 2020 model, as reviewed XPS 13 XPS 13 Developer Edition OS Windows 10 Home Ubuntu 18.04 LTS Screen 13.4-inch FHD+ (1920×1200) touchscreen 13.4-inch UHD+ (3840×2400) touchscreen CPU Intel Core i7-1065G7 GPU Intel Iris+ RAM 16GiB 32GiB HDD Intel 512GB NVMe SSD Hynix 512GB NVMe SSD Networking Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi 6 (2×2),
Bluetooth 4.2 Ports 2 x Thunderbolt 3, 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack,
1 x microSD card reader Size 11.6×7.8×0.58 inches (296×199×15mm) Weight 2.7 pounds (1.2kg) 2.8 pounds (1.3kg) Battery 52Wh battery Warranty 1 year on-site (after remote diagnosis) Extras Fingerprint reader (in power button),
720P IR camera, backlit keyboard Price as tested $1,617 at Dell $2,000 at Dell

The XPS 13 is a small, sleek, very solid-feeling laptop with a bright screen and very narrow bezels. It doesn't offer much in the way of connectivity—there's no Ethernet jack, no HDMI port, and no USB-A port either.

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PlayStation 5 and Call of Duty events delayed due to US protests

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 11:08am
Civil unrest in the US has also caused Google to delay showing off the next version of Android.

Asia's fishermen and farmers go digital during virus

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 3:09am
Farming communities in South East Asia are embracing online selling for the first time during lockdown.

Apple fixes bug that could have given hackers full access to user accounts

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 1:57am

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

Sign in with Apple—a privacy-enhancing tool that lets users log in to third-party apps without revealing their email addresses—just fixed a bug that made it possible for attackers to gain unauthorized access to those same accounts.

“In the month of April, I found a zero-day in Sign in with Apple that affected third-party applications which were using it and didn’t implement their own additional security measures,” app developer Bhavuk Jain wrote on Sunday. “This bug could have resulted in a full account takeover of user accounts on that third party application irrespective of a victim having a valid Apple ID or not.”

Jain privately reported the flaw to Apple under the company’s bug bounty program and received a hefty $100,000 payout. The developer shared details after Apple updated the sign-in service to patch the vulnerability.

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Lawsuit over online book lending could bankrupt Internet Archive

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 1:02am

Enlarge / The book drop outside the Spring Township library in Pennsylvania was closed on April 6, 2020. (credit: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

Four of the nation's leading book publishers have sued the Internet Archive, the online library best known for maintaining the Internet Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive makes scanned copies of books—both public domain and under copyright—available to the public on a site called the Open Library.

"Despite the Open Library moniker, IA's actions grossly exceed legitimate library services, do violence to the Copyright Act, and constitute willful digital piracy on an industrial scale," write publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley, and Penguin Random House in their complaint. The lawsuit was filed in New York federal court on Monday.

For almost a decade, the Open Library has offered users the ability to "borrow" scans of in-copyright books via the Internet. Until recently, the service was based on a concept called "controlled digital lending" that mimicked the constraints of a conventional library. The library would only "lend" as many digital copies of a book as it had physical copies in its warehouse. If all copies of a book were "checked out" by other patrons, you'd have to join a waiting list.

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SARS-CoV-2 looks like a hybrid of viruses from two different species

Ars Technica - June 2, 2020 - 12:03am

Enlarge / Researchers examine a bat as part of their search for dangerous animal pathogens in the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative Lab in Yaounde, Cameroon. (credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

One of the longest-running questions about this pandemic is a simple one: where did it come from? How did a virus that had seemingly never infected a human before make a sudden appearance in our species, equipped with what it needed to sweep from China through the globe in a matter of months?

Analysis of the virus's genome was ambiguous. Some analyses placed its origin within the local bat population. Others highlighted similarities to pangolins, which might have been brought to the area by the wildlife trade. Less evidence-based ideas included an escape from a research lab or a misplaced bioweapon. Now, a US-based research team has done a detailed analysis of a large collection of viral genomes, and it finds that evolution pieced together the virus from multiple parts—most from bats, but with a key contribution from pangolins.


How do pieces of virus from different species end up being mashed together? The underlying biology is a uniquely viral twist on a common biological process: recombination.

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Coronavirus: What's it like to be laid off over Zoom?

BBC Technology News - June 2, 2020 - 12:02am
Being made redundant is rarely pleasant, but is it worse finding out via a video call?

New Ebola outbreak flares up as measles, COVID-19 rage in DRC

Ars Technica - June 1, 2020 - 11:49pm

Enlarge / Health workers operate within an Ebola safety zone in the Health Center in Iyonda, near Mbandaka, on June 1, 2018. (credit: Getty | JUNIOR D. KANNAH )

A new outbreak of Ebola has ignited in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is still trying to stamp out an Ebola outbreak from 2018—and is now also battling a massive measles outbreak and COVID-19.

The new Ebola outbreak is in the western city of Mbandaka, the capital of the Équateur Province. The city—situated at the junction of the Congo and Ruki Rivers—is a major trade and travel hub and home to more than 1 million people.

On Monday, June 1, 2020, officials confirmed an outbreak with six cases so far (three confirmed, three probable). Four of the cases have died, and two are being treated. The World Health Organization reported that officials expect to find more cases as outbreak responses ramp up.

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Grindr removes 'ethnicity filter' after complaints

BBC Technology News - June 1, 2020 - 11:32pm
The LGBT app says it has a "zero-tolerance policy for racism" and will remove the filter.

New study challenges popular “collapse” hypothesis for Easter Island

Ars Technica - June 1, 2020 - 10:28pm

Enlarge / Moai statues in a row, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile. (credit: De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

In his bestselling 2005 book Collapse, Jared Diamond offered the societal collapse of Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui), around 1600, as a cautionary tale. Diamond essentially argued that the destruction of the island's ecological environment triggered a downward spiral of internal warfare, population decline, and cannibalism, resulting in an eventual breakdown of social and political structures. It's a narrative that is now being challenged by a team of researchers who have been studying the island's archaeology and cultural history for many years now.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers offer intriguing evidence that suggests the people of Rapa Nui continued to thrive well after 1600. The authors suggest this warrants a rethinking of the popular narrative that the island was destitute when Europeans arrived in 1722.

"The degree to which their cultural heritage was passed on—and is still present today through language, arts, and cultural practices—is quite notable and impressive," co-author Robert DiNapoli, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Oregon, told Sapiens. "This degree of resilience has been overlooked due to the collapse narrative and deserves recognition."

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One Zoom to rule them all: Lord of the Rings cast reunites to share memories

Ars Technica - June 1, 2020 - 9:56pm

One Zoom to rule them all

For the first time in a long while, every actor who played a member of The Lord of the Rings’ fellowship reunited (along with other former cast members) to discuss their memories of shooting the hugely popular 2000s films, do line readings, and crack jokes. The 50-minute reunion was published on YouTube yesterday.

It’s part of a series hosted by actor Josh Gad, each episode of which is a reunion via Zoom meeting to raise money for a charity that is working on some aspect of COVID-19 relief. At the time of this writing, this particular video has raised just over $83,000 for No Kid Hungry.

Much of the Zoom chat is staged and heavily edited, but there are some good moments and interesting insights to be found for fans of the film trilogy.

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Nest users now covered by Google’s ultra-secure Advanced Protection Program

Ars Technica - June 1, 2020 - 9:11pm

Enlarge (credit: Akram Kennis / Flickr)

Accounts for Google’s Nest line of smart home devices are now covered by the company’s Advanced Protection Program, which traditionally has provided enhanced security for journalists, politicians, elections workers, and other people who are frequently targeted by hackers.

Google rolled out APP in 2017. It requires users to have at least two physical security keys, such as those available from Yubico, Google’s Titan brand, or other providers. Typically, keys connect through USB slots or Near-field Communication or Bluetooth interfaces. Once registered, the keys provide cryptographic secrets that are unphishable and, at least theoretically, impossible to intercept through malware attacks or other types of hacking. APP also limits the apps that can connect to protected accounts, although registering Thunderbird to connect to Gmail is relatively easy.

Pulling up your account by the bootstraps

Once an account is enrolled and each device (including a phone) is authenticated through the physical-key process Google calls bootstrapping, people can use their iOS or Android devices as a security key. That’s usually easier, faster, and more convenient than using physical security keys. Typically, users must bootstrap only rarely after the bootstrapping process, such as when Google detects suspicious behavior. APP also pushes alerts to users’ devices and registered email accounts each time a new device connects.

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Hurricane season began today, and there are legitimate reasons to be concerned

Ars Technica - June 1, 2020 - 8:25pm

Enlarge / Almost all seasonal forecasters are predicting high numbers of hurricanes during the 2020 Atlantic season. (credit: Phil Klotzbach)

Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season begins today. Historically, the season's first named storm doesn't spin up until some time in July. But this being 2020, we're not having anything normal this year.

The Atlantic Ocean already blew through the "A" (Arthur) and "B" (Bertha) names for storms. And it looks almost certain that Cristobal will form in a day or two in the southern Gulf of Mexico—threatening Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana with winds and heavy rainfall. With such a wild start to the year out of the gate, what does this mean for the heart of hurricane season, which typically does not really get going until August?

For answers, Ars contacted hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who will update his seasonal forecast for Atlantic activity this year in a few days.

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