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Industry & Technology

The 2020 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in proves pleasing, perhaps pedestrian

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 8:51pm

This might be a dreadful admission to make, but until late December, I'd never driven a Toyota Prius. It's not that we've ignored the hybrid in our coverage, it's just that it has always been someone other than me driving it. To rectify that error, I spent a week with a 2020 Prius Prime Limited, the $33,500* range-topping plug-in version of the car that, for a while, was a synonym for being environmentally conscious.

Not a huge amount has changed in the two years since Ars last drove a Prius Prime. It's still a plug-in hybrid EV with a 1.8L, four-cylinder internal combustion engine under the hood that generates 95hp (71kW) and 105lb-ft (142Nm). The internal combustion engine uses the more efficient Atkinson cycle; this delays closing the intake valve until the piston is already moving back up during the compression stroke, meaning that it compresses less volume than gets expanded subsequently in the power stroke. As a result, the engine has a thermal efficiency of about 40 percent, which is better than just about any other engine outside of Formula 1 or Mazda's Skyactiv-X engine.

The internal combustion engine is joined by a 71hp (53kW) permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, the two working together to drive the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission, for a total system output of 121hp (90kW). (Beware, purists: the internal combustion engine can directly drive the front wheels when it's more efficient to do so.) The battery pack is an 8.8kWh lithium-ion unit weighing 265lbs (120kg) giving the Prius Prime a range of up to 25 miles (40km) on electric power alone. Recharging is just via AC power and takes about two hours with a 240V source or five hours connected to a 110V socket. The EPA rates it at 133mpge or 54mpg on gasoline alone.

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Amazon asks court to block US/Microsoft contract because of Trump interference

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 8:05pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump speaks with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, during an American Technology Council roundtable in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on Monday, June 19, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | The Washington Post)

Amazon is seeking a court order that would prevent Microsoft from doing work for the US Department of Defense under a contract that Amazon says was awarded improperly.

As previously reported, Amazon sued the Trump administration in the US Court of Federal Claims, claiming that Microsoft's Azure cloud service won the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract because of "improper pressure from President Donald J. Trump."

Amazon alleges that the president "launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks to steer the JEDI Contract away from AWS [Amazon Web Services] to harm his perceived political enemy—Jeffrey P. Bezos," the founder and CEO of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post.

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Galaxy S20 Ultra to come with a whopping 16GB of RAM

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 7:55pm

After the recent leak of live pictures of Samsung's next flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S20, more details have started to trickle in about the upcoming device.

First, a recap: the Galaxy S20 is the follow-up to last year's Galaxy S10. Samsung's naming scheme is apparently changing, and a "Galaxy S11" is not a product that will be happening. It looks like it's now going to be "Samsung Galaxy S [current year]" so this year it's the S20. The model lineup is also changing, too, and we're getting three sizes: the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20+, and the highest-end phone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra. In the US, they're all going to be 5G with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoCs, and internationally you should be able to find 4G and 5G versions with Samsung Exynos chips.

Now, the new stuff: Max Weinbach, the XDA author who scored the live pictures of the Galaxy S20, has some spec info.

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Dealmaster: Apple’s AirPods are back to their Black Friday price at Amazon

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 7:28pm

Enlarge / Apple's AirPods.

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a joint-low on Apple's second-generation AirPods on Amazon. The totally wireless earbuds are currently down to $129, which is $30 off Apple's normal MSRP and about $15 off their typical price online. This is the latest version of the earbuds, meaning they come with Apple's improved H1 wireless chip and support for hands-free "Hey Siri" commands. This model does not come with a case that can be powered up via wireless chargers, though, nor does it support active noise cancellation like the AirPods Pro.

We still can't say these are the absolute best true wireless headphones on the market: the 4-5 hours of battery life is just OK, the lack of physical controls can be annoying, and the sound quality is mediocre as ever. (The Powerbeats Pro from Apple's Beats subsidiary are better in just about every way if you're looking for alternatives, but they're pricier.) Still, we can't deny how simple they are to use with iOS devices, nor how utterly popular they've become. If your heart is dead-set on buying a pair, this current sale matches the AirPods' going rate on Black Friday, so this looks like a sensible time to take the plunge.

If you're not interested in new headphones, the Dealmaster also has big sales on Audible subscriptions, Amazon's latest Kindle Paperwhite, a variety of discounts on TCL Roku TVs, and much more. Have a look at the full list below.

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Windows 7: “I’m not dead yet!”

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 7:18pm

Enlarge / A man looks at the home screen for the "new" Windows 7 platform when it was launched in October 2009. Microsoft has ended support, but the OS lives on. (credit: Katie Collins - PA Images / Getty Images)

We are here to bury Windows 7, not to praise it. Today is the day that Microsoft's extended support for the Windows 7 operating system ends. Microsoft stopped selling Windows 7, which was first released in 2009, on October 13, 2013. Sales of systems with Windows 7 pre-installed ended three years to the day later in 2016. It lived a long life and is survived by Windows 10 and maybe a few remaining instances of Windows 8.

But it seems most organizations are in no hurry to cast off the now-unsupported Microsoft operating system, based on a survey from the enterprise content delivery company Kollective. A survey of 100 US- and UK-based companies found that overall, 53 percent of companies had not completed or had not started migration off of Windows 7 to Windows 10.

The continued presence of Windows 7 was more prevalent in the UK, where two-thirds of businesses are still using the operating system on at least some devices. US businesses were more likely to have moved on, with 40 percent reporting they still had Windows 7. But one-tenth of those surveyed had no idea whether Windows 7 was still running on devices within their organizations.

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New police equipment to search mobile devices

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 6:29pm
Technology which can override encryption on some devices is to be rolled out across Scotland next week.

Windows 10: NSA reveals major flaw in Microsoft's code

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 6:07pm
A patch is likely to be announced later although Microsoft insists no hacker has exploited it.

How Google researchers used neural networks to make weather forecasts

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 5:56pm

Enlarge (credit: YakobchukOlena)

A research team at Google has developed a deep neural network that can make fast, detailed rainfall forecasts.

The researchers say their results are a dramatic improvement over previous techniques in two key ways. One is speed. Google says that leading weather forecasting models today take one to three hours to run, making them useless if you want a weather forecast an hour in the future. By contrast, Google says its system can produce results in less than 10 minutes—including the time to collect data from sensors around the United States.

This fast turnaround time reflects one of the key advantages of neural networks. While such networks take a long time to train, it takes much less time and computing power to apply a neural network to new data.

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Grindr and Twitter face 'out of control' complaint

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 4:30pm
The two firms, and four other ad-tech companies, are accused of sharing user data unlawfully.

Modeling what would happen to the UK if the Gulf Stream shuts down

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 3:26pm

Enlarge / The warm waters of the gulf stream as they pass the US East Coast. (credit: NASA)

While we track climate change as a gradual rise in temperatures, most of its effects are going to be anything but gradual: an increased risk of extreme temperatures and storms, extended droughts, expanded fire seasons, and so on. There's also the risk of pushing the climate past some tipping points, which can change the state of entire areas of the globe. But it can be difficult to understand the impact of tipping points, given that they're occurring against a backdrop of all those other climate changes.

For example, one of the major potential tipping points we're aware of is the shutdown of the North Atlantic's current system, which brings warm water north, moderating the climate of Europe. The loss of this warm water would obviously result in a cool down in Northern Europe. But calculations indicate that the shutdown isn't likely to take place until after the planet had warmed enough to offset this cooling.

But temperatures aren't the only thing affected by some of the tipping points we've looked at. And a new study manages to separate out the effect of shutting down the gulf stream from the general impact of a warming climate. And it finds that, for the UK, changes in precipitation may have a larger impact than changes in temperature.

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Anti-vaxxers celebrate victory in NJ as pro-vaccine bill falls apart

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 3:07pm

Enlarge / Anti-vaccine protesters outside the NJ State House. (credit: Twitter | politics)

Amid raucous protest from hundreds of anti-vaccination advocates, state lawmakers in New Jersey have abandoned legislation to ban vaccination exemptions based on religious beliefs.

The bill, S2173, collapsed in the state Senate Monday as lawmakers realized it was a single vote shy of passage, according to The New York Times. The defeat came after a last-ditch effort to amend the beleaguered legislation, which ultimately generated new opposition.

S2173 would have prohibited parents from using religious beliefs as an excuse to get out of providing standard, life-saving immunizations for their children. Instead, only children with medical conditions that preclude a child from being vaccinated—as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—would be granted an exemption.

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YouTube signs three top gamers away from rival Twitch

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 11:44am
The market for live-stream gamers intensifies as companies compete to sign exclusive deals.

US urges Apple to unlock air base shooter's phones

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 10:31am
The tech firm denies the US attorney's accusation that it is not helping the investigators enough.

CAA: Microsoft boss calls India's new citizenship law 'sad'

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 7:52am
Satya Nadella's comments come amid ongoing, sometimes violent, protests against the controversial rules.

Unable to unlock gunman’s iPhones, the FBI (once again) asks for Apple’s help (updated)

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 2:05am

Enlarge (credit: Titanas)

Update: Attorney General William Barr ratcheted up the standoff when, according to the New York Times, he declared the shooting an act of terrorism. Barr issued an extraordinarily high-profile call for Apple to provide access to the gunman's two iPhones. He also said that to date Apple has provided no “substantive assistance” in doing so. The development further suggests that the 2016 high-stakes clash pitting privacy against national security are likely to play out again. What follows is the article as it appeared from 1/7/2020:

In a move that may signal another high-stakes clash over encryption, the FBI is asking Apple for help decrypting two iPhones believed to have belonged to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, the man suspected of carrying out a shooting attack that killed three people last month at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.

The request came in a letter FBI General Counsel Dana Boente sent to his counterpart at Apple on Monday, NBC News reported. Boente said that, although FBI investigators obtained a search warrant to examine the phones, investigators have been unable to guess the passcodes needed to unlock them and decrypt their contents. Complicating matters, 21-year-old Alshamrani fired a round into one of the phones. A second lieutenant in the Saudi Royal Air Force, Alshamrani died in the December 6 shooting. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the sending of the letter but declined to describe its contents, citing an ongoing investigation.

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Using Huawei in UK 5G network 'madness', says US

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 1:16am
US officials hand over new evidence claiming that Huawei's 5G technology is a security risk.

Plug-in and sail: Meet the electric ferry pioneers

BBC Technology News - January 14, 2020 - 1:03am
Battery powered ferries are becoming bigger and are sailing further, but they are still expensive.

CBS renews Star Trek: Picard for a second season

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 12:58am

Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) comes out of retirement in Star Trek: Picard, coming soon to CBS All Access.

Streaming service CBS All Access has already renewed Star Trek: Picard for a second season just over a week before the first season is even set to start airing, Deadline reports.

The announcement was made at the Television Critics Association (TCA), a recurring event at which television networks present their slate of programming to advertisers, the press, and partners. In a Picard-themed panel at the event, the show's cast and showrunner talked about what viewers can expect from the series, which returns to a character who has not appeared on screen since the film Star Trek: Nemesis way back in 2002.

Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman said we can expect to see some of the social relevance that the Star Trek franchise has been known for. Quoted in Deadline, he said:

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On eve of PS5, Sony confirms it will skip E3 for second year in a row

Ars Technica - January 14, 2020 - 12:45am

Enlarge / E3 won't happen with an official Sony presence this year. (credit: Aurich Lawson / PlayStation)

On Monday, Sony Interactive Entertainment confirmed that it will, for the second year in a row, not attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

The news came in a statement sent to Ars Technica by a SIE representative:

After thorough evaluation, SIE has decided not to participate in E3 2020. We have great respect for the ESA as an organization, but we do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year. We will build upon our global events strategy in 2020 by participating in hundreds of consumer events across the globe. Our focus is on making sure fans feel part of the PlayStation family and have access to play their favorite content. We have a fantastic line up of titles coming to PlayStation 4, and with the upcoming launch of PlayStation 5, we are truly looking forward to a year of celebration with our fans.

SIE's representatives did not immediately clarify what the company means by "the vision of E3 2020."

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Exploit that gives remote access affects ~200 million cable modems

Ars Technica - January 13, 2020 - 11:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Netgear)

Hundreds of millions of cable modems are vulnerable to critical takeover attacks by hackers halfway around the world, researchers said.

The attacks work by luring vulnerable users to websites that serve malicious JavaScript code that's surreptitiously hosted on the site or hidden inside of malicious ads, researchers from Denmark-based security firm Lyrebirds said in a report and accompanying website. The JavaScript then opens a websocket connection to the vulnerable cable modem and exploits a buffer overflow vulnerability in the spectrum analyzer, a small server that detects interference and other connectivity problems in a host of modems from various makers. From there, remote attackers can gain complete control over the modems, allowing them to change DNS settings, make the modem part of a botnet, and carry out a variety of other nefarious actions.

Cable Haunt, as the researchers have named their proof-of-concept exploit, is known to work on various firmware versions of the following cable modems:

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