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Industry & Technology

FaceApp: Chuck Schumer asks for FBI investigation

BBC Technology News - July 18, 2019 - 4:20am
Senior Democrat Chuck Schumer says the photo app's use of personal data is "deeply troubling".

Microsoft warns 10,000 customers they’re targeted by nation-sponsored hackers

Ars Technica - July 18, 2019 - 1:20am

Enlarge / United Nations HQ in New York. (credit: Javier Carbajal)

Microsoft said on Wednesday that it has notified almost 10,000 customers in the past year that they’re being targeted by nation-sponsored hackers.

According to a post from Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Customer Security & Trust Tom Burt, about 84% of the attacks targeted customers that were large “enterprise” organizations such as corporations. The remaining 16% of attacks targeted consumer email accounts. Burt said some of the 10,000 customers were successfully compromised while others were only targeted, but he didn’t provide figures.

“This data demonstrates the significant extent to which nation-states continue to rely on cyberattacks as a tool to gain intelligence, influence geopolitics, or achieve other objectives,” Burt wrote. Microsoft presented the figures Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum.

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Flat Earth: How did YouTube help spread a conspiracy theory?

BBC Technology News - July 18, 2019 - 12:27am
Many people who believe the Earth is not round first heard the idea on YouTube. But how important was the video-sharing website in helping the flat Earth movement grow?

UK workers who lose jobs to AI will be retrained

BBC Technology News - July 18, 2019 - 12:07am
The government launches a scheme to retrain workers whose jobs may vanish because of automation.

Zombifying fungus bypasses the brain to make ants its puppets, study finds

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 11:00pm

Enlarge / A dead ant that has been taken over by a species of Cordyceps in the Rio Claro Reserve in Colombia. (credit: National Geographic/Justin Maguire)

Pity the poor unsuspecting carpenter ant who unwittingly becomes infected with spores scattered by a parasitic fungus in the Cordyceps genus. The spores attach to the ant and germinate, spreading through the host's body via long tendrils called mycelia. Cordyceps essentially turns its host into a zombie slave, compelling the ant to climb to the top of the nearest plant and clamp its tiny jaws in a death grip around a leaf or twig.

The fungus then slowly devours the ant, sprouting through its head in one final indignity. Then the bulbous growths on the ends of the mycelia burst, releasing even more spores into the air, to infect even more unsuspecting ants. It's not a great way to go: the entire process can take four to 14 days.

There are more than 400 different species of Cordyceps fungi, each targeting a particular species of insect, whether it be ants, dragonflies, cockroaches, aphids, or beetles. The zombification aspect has made the fungus a favorite of nature documentaries. It has also worked its way into popular culture, such as the zombie-apocalypse video game, The Last of Us (2013), in which a parasitic fungus mutates so that it also infects humans. But scientists are keen to study Cordyceps to learn more about the origins and intricate mechanisms behind these kinds of pathogen-based diseases.

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Netflix shares sink 10% as subscriber take-up slows

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 10:19pm
The video streaming pioneer blamed price rises for adding fewer paid subscribers than hoped.

WHO declares Ebola outbreak an international emergency

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 10:14pm

Enlarge / Health workers communicate information about Ebola at an Ebola screening station on the road between Butembo and Goma on July 16, 2019, in Goma, DRC. (credit: Getty | John Wessels)

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the nearly year-long Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The declaration could boost funding and support for outbreak-response efforts, which have been hampered by violence and community distrust in the affected areas. Since January, officials have reported 198 attacks on health responders, which left seven dead and 58 healthcare workers and patients injured.

“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today in a statement. “Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders—coming from not just WHO but also government, partners, and communities—to shoulder more of the burden.”

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Painted-on salt provides glowing thermometer for tiny things

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 9:37pm

Enlarge (credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Temperature is notoriously difficult to measure, mostly because it's an average quantity. The temperature of a room is often recorded at a single point, when it's meant to be a measure of the average energy of the air in the room—a room that will have spatial and temporal fluctuations around that average.

As anyone who has argued over the thermostat will know, measuring the average is difficult enough. But what if I want to measure the actual fluctuations and temperature differences in the room? Then I need a thermometer that provides a temperature image.

You might be thinking "get an IR camera, dummy." But there is a much cooler option than an infrared camera. It's a (nearly) normal camera coupled with a laser that measures temperature from the emission of visible light.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

DEA tracked every opioid pill sold in the US. The data is out—and it’s horrific

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 9:12pm

Enlarge / Members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters hold signs while protesting during the McKesson Corp. annual meeting at the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce in Irving, Texas, US, on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.

As the epidemic surged over the seven-year period, so did the supply. The companies increased distribution from 8.4 billion in 2006 to 12.6 billion in 2012, a jump of roughly 50%. In all, the deluge of pills was enough to supply every adult and child in the country with around 36 opioid pills per year. Just a 10-day supply can hook 1 in 5 people into being long-term users, researchers have determined.

The stunning supply figures were first reported by the Washington Post and come from part of a database compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration that tracked the fate of every opioid pill sold in America, from manufacturers to individual pharmacies. A federal court in Ohio released the data this week as part of a massive consolidated court case against nearly two-dozen opioid makers and distributors, brought by nearly 2,000 cities, towns, and counties. The local governments allege that the opioid companies conspired to saturate the country with the potent painkillers to soak up billions in profits. The companies deny the allegations, arguing generally that they were serving the needs of patients.

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Turkey crosses “red line,” gets booted from F-35 partnership

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 9:02pm

Enlarge / Turkey's planned purchase of F-35A Joint Strike Fighters has been vetoed in the wake of the Turkish purchase of Russian anti-air defenses. (credit: US Air Force)

Today, the White House officially announced that Turkey would not be allowed to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The US government had warned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that his government's purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia would be incompatible with NATO systems and would trigger an exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 program. Turkey was a financial contributor to the F-35 development program and already had pilots in the US in training to fly the aircraft; those pilots were kicked off US training bases in June.

US and NATO partners are concerned that the S-400 systems, supported by Russian technicians, will essentially amount to an intelligence collection system for Russia on NATO aircraft and military operations. But Erdoğan has been steadily marching away from NATO since the July 2016 coup attempt against his government. That coup led to the arrest of many military officers who were the backbone of the Turkish military and had long relationships with NATO partners. Former head of the Turkish air force Akin Ozturk was one of over 2,000 former members of the military given life sentences.

In a speech on July 15 (the third anniversary of the coup attempt), Erdoğan welcomed the first components of S-400 systems to Turkey, saying that "the S-400s are the strongest defense system against those who want to attack our country... God willing, we are doing this as a joint investment with Russia and will continue to do so.” He added that "with God’s permission," the missile systems would be fully deployed by April 2020.

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Xiaomi’s Mi A3 brings stock Android, OLED display for €249

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 8:26pm

Today Xiaomi announced the Xiaomi Mi A3, the latest phone in its "A" line. In the past, Xiaomi's A line has been a good bet if you're looking for a midrange smartphone. This latest model comes in at €249 (~$280) and is launching in Europe on July 24. Decent phones in the sub-$300 price range are tough to come by, so any serious device priced this low is worth paying attention to. Just looking at the spec sheet, though, we do have some concerns.

As you'd guess, the A3 is a third-generation Xiaomi A phone, and in many ways, these represent the least "Xiaomi" phones Xiaomi makes. Instead of Xiaomi's iOS-inspired "MIUI" Android skin, these phones are in Google's "Android One" program, which means they come with stock Android and get two years of OS updates. The phones usually get a wider distribution than your typical Xiaomi phones (watch out for the LTE bands, though), so even if you're not in Europe, they're usually easy to pick up on a site like Amazon.

Xiaomi is going with a notched front design for the Mi A3. There's a tiny teardrop notch at the top of the phone, a medium-sized bottom bezel, and rounded display corners. The front and back of the phone is made of Gorilla Glass 5. On the back, you'll find a triple camera setup, and on the front is an optical fingerprint reader in the display. Xiaomi is taking a page out of Google's playbook with wacky color names. There are three colors: "More than White," "Kind of Gray," and "Not just Blue." Xiaomi says there's a "nano-level holographic pattern" on the blue and white models.

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Censored Chinese search project is “terminated,” Google rep testifies

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 7:33pm

(credit: Sam Churchill / Flickr)

Google has ended all work on its censored Chinese search engine, a company representative testified on Tuesday.

“We have terminated Project Dragonfly,” said Karan Bhatia, Google's vice president of public policy, at a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The secret project was first revealed by the Intercept a year ago. The new search engine would have initially been offered as an Android app, and it would have reportedly blacklisted "websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest," according to the Intercept.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New archaeological layer discovered at L’Anse aux Meadows

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / Paul Ledger and Véronique Forbes examining the cultural horizon. (credit: Linus Girdland-Flink)

L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland is famed for being a site where Norse travelers set up a colony hundreds of years before Europe at large became aware of North America's existence. The colony was thought to be short-lived, but a new find may extend the length of its occupancy.

While taking sediment cores from a nearby peat bog to help study the ancient environment, archaeologist Paul Ledger and his colleagues discovered a previously unknown chapter in the story of L’Anse aux Meadows. Buried about 35cm (14 inches) beneath the modern surface, they found signs of an ancient occupancy: a layer of trampled mud littered with woodworking debris, charcoal, and the remains of plants and insects.

Based on its depth and the insect species present, the layer looks like similar surfaces from the edges of Viking Age Norse settlements in Greenland and Iceland. But organic material from the layer radiocarbon dated to the late 1100s or early 1200s, long after the Norse were thought to have left Newfoundland for good.

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The Greatest Leap, part 2: The 50/50 bet that won the Space Race for America

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 6:14pm

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript.

By the summer of 1968, a sense of deep unease had engulfed the American republic. Early in the year, the Tet Offensive smashed any lingering illusions of a quick victory in the increasingly bloody Vietnam conflict. Race relations boiled over in April when a single rifle bullet took the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Two months later, as Bobby Kennedy walked through a hotel kitchen, he was shot in the head. The red, white, and blue threads that had bound America for nearly two centuries were faded and fraying.

Amid this national turmoil, senior planners at the country’s space agency were also having a difficult year. Late that summer they quietly faced their most consequential decision to date. If NASA was going to meet the challenge laid out by President John F. Kennedy, its astronauts would soon have to take an unprecedented leap by leaving low-Earth orbit and entering the gravity well of another world—the Moon. Should they do it?Apollo: The Greatest Leap

View more stories

Such a bold step could provide a glimmer of hope to a fractured nation. It would cement America's lead in the "Space Race" against the Soviet Union and remind Americans of their potential for greatness on the world stage. But a romp around the Moon also carried tremendous risks. If NASA failed, its Moon dreams would expire. The agency might, too. NASA had already lost three astronauts during a launch pad fire in early 1967. Neither the public—nor Congress—would accept three more dead astronauts.

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Can you trust FaceApp with your face?

BBC Technology News - July 17, 2019 - 6:09pm
An app that transforms photos of people's faces into younger and older versions has gone viral.

OneWeb’s low-Earth satellites hit 400Mbps and 32ms latency in new test

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 6:03pm

Enlarge / Illustration of a OneWeb satellite. (credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb says a test of its low-Earth orbit satellites has delivered broadband speeds of more than 400Mbps with average latency of 32ms.

"The tests, which took place in Seoul, South Korea, represent the most significant demonstration of the OneWeb constellation to date, proving its ability to provide superior broadband connectivity anywhere on the planet," OneWeb said in an announcement yesterday.

The company said it's on track toward creating "a fully functioning global constellation in 2021 and delivering partial service beginning as early as 2020." The test described yesterday involved six OneWeb satellites that were launched in February. OneWeb says its commercial network "will start with an initial 650 satellites and grow up to 1,980 satellites."

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NASA’s large SLS rocket unlikely to fly before at least late 2021

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 5:40pm

Enlarge / NASA Administrator James Bridenstine testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on July 17, 2019. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As recently as last month, both NASA planning documents and officials with Boeing said the space agency was still working toward a 2020 launch of the Artemis-1 mission. This is the first launch of the large, costly, and delayed Space Launch System rocket that NASA hopes will serve as the backbone for its efforts to explore the Moon and eventually Mars with humans.

This uncrewed test flight, which will boost an Orion capsule to the Moon, is the first of three main missions in NASA's Artemis campaign to land humans on the Moon by 2024. However, for the first time, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Wednesday foreclosed the possibility of a 2020 launch date.

Twice during testimony before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Bridenstine referenced 2021 as the expected launch date for Artemis-1. "I think 2021 is definitely achievable for the Artemis-1 launch vehicle," Bridenstine said in response to a question from Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who chairs the committee.

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War Stories: Designing Dead Cells was a marriage of man and machine

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 4:40pm

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

Is it better to build a game by hand, piece by piece, or to program a computer that can build that game for you? In the cast of MotionTwin's Dead Cells, the answer is a little mix of both.

In Ars Technica's latest War Stories video, Motion Twin's "Lead Whatever" (as he calls himself) Sebastien Bénard, talks about the difficulty of designing interesting and playable environments for the game. At one point, the game was "traumatized by huge levels with no actual meaning," he told us. That's because, while the team's computer algorithm was good at generating maze-like rooms, it couldn't tell when it had created a "good result."

After that, the team transitioned to a hybrid approach, hand-designing individual rooms with distinct entrances and exits and a strong sense of flow. Then they designed a computer algorithm that could link these rooms together into a game that felt fresh but also well-designed every time.

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Ford designs a pickup truck emoji, petitions Unicode Consortium

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 4:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Ford)

Did you know that July 17 is World Emoji Day? No, me neither—at least not until Ford used the celebration of these 21st century hieroglyphs to announce that it wants a pickup truck emoji. In fact, Ford was so serious about the idea that in 2018, it submitted an official proposal to the Unicode Consortium to make that happen. On Wednesday, it revealed that the little blue truck had made it as far as the short list for inclusion in the next official emoji update, which is scheduled for 2020.

"When customers started demanding a truck emoji, we knew we had to help make it happen," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of automotive. "Given the popularity of Ford trucks globally, there's no one better than Ford to help bring an all-new pickup truck emoji to hard-working texters around the globe."

The emoji as proposed by Ford is unmistakable as a pickup truck, but it's generic enough to work for any make or model of pickup. (Although, as the cheeseburger emoji scandal of 2017 proved, that might not stop some app or OS team from implementing their version with the wheels on the top, or the load bed out front of the cab.)

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New standard Switch model will improve battery life 40 to 80 percent

Ars Technica - July 17, 2019 - 3:30pm

Enlarge (credit: YouTube / Aban Tech)

Last week, we broke down the evidence that Nintendo was working on a new model of the standard Switch to go alongside the recently announced, portable-only Switch Lite. Today, Nintendo confirmed the existence of that new model via product page listings that promise improved battery life over the existing Switch.

Switch model HAC-001-01 will last approximately 4.5 to 9 hours on a single charge, depending on the game being played, according to Nintendo. That's a 38 to 80 percent increase from the 2.5 to 6.5 hours of the original model HAC-001. For The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo promises an increase from approximately three hours of single-charge play on the old model to approximately 5.5 hours on the new model. For comparison, the Switch Lite will get three to seven hours on a single charge, and it can last four hours on Breath of the Wild, according to Nintendo. [Update: Edited to correct percentage math].

The new model should be available in the US in mid-August and in Japan in late August, according to Nintendo. Eurogamer reports that Nintendo expects it in the UK "starting from early September." Besides the model numbers, consumers will be able to tell the new extended-battery Switch units from the old ones by looking for a serial number starting with "XKW."

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