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Industry & Technology

Smart meters: Why they are driving some people mad

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 10:52pm
Energy customers are under pressure to install smart meters, but many just don't function properly.

Virgin mobile service restored after outage

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 10:26pm
Customers across the UK had struggled to make calls, send text messages and use mobile data.

Microsoft warns wormable Windows bug could lead to another WannaCry

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 9:48pm

(credit: Pixabay)

Microsoft is warning that the Internet could see another exploit with the magnitude of the WannaCry attack that shut down computers all over the world two years ago unless people patch a high-severity vulnerability. The software maker took the unusual step of backporting the just-released patch for Windows 2003 and XP, which haven’t been supported in four and five years, respectively.

“This vulnerability is pre-authentication and requires no user interaction,” Simon Pope, director of incident response at the Microsoft Security Response Center, wrote in a published post that coincided with the company’s May Update Tuesday release. “In other words, the vulnerability is ‘wormable,’ meaning that any future malware that exploits this vulnerability could propagate from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer in a similar way as the WannaCry malware spread across the globe in 2017. While we have observed no exploitation of this vulnerability, it is highly likely that malicious actors will write an exploit for this vulnerability and incorporate it into their malware.”

As if a self-replicating, code-execution vulnerability wasn’t serious enough, CVE-2019-0708, as the flaw in Windows Remote Desktop Services is indexed, requires low complexity to exploit. Microsoft’s Common Vulnerability Scoring System Calculator scores that complexity as 3.9 out of 10. (To be clear, the WannaCry developers had potent exploit code written by, and later stolen from, the National Security Agency, to exploit the wormable CVE-2017-0144 and CVE-2017-0145 flaws, which had exploit complexities rated as "high.") Ultimately, though, developing reliable exploit code for this latest Windows vulnerability will require relatively little work.

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5G likely to mess with weather forecasts, but FCC auctions spectrum anyway

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 9:06pm

Enlarge / A weather satellite in orbit. (credit: Getty Images | Erik Simonsen)

A US Navy memo warns that 5G mobile networks are likely to interfere with weather satellites, and senators are urging the Federal Communications Commission to avoid issuing new spectrum licenses to wireless carriers until changes are made to prevent harms to weather forecasting.

The FCC has already begun an auction of 24GHz spectrum that would be used in 5G networks. But Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) today wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, asking him to avoid issuing licenses to winning bidders "until the FCC approves the passive band protection limits that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determine are necessary to protect critical satellite‐based measurements of atmospheric water vapor needed to forecast the weather."

Wyden and Cantwell said that the "ongoing sale of wireless airwaves could damage the effectiveness of US weather satellites and harm forecasts and predictions relied on to protect safety, property, and national security." They chided the FCC for beginning the auction "over the objections of NASA, NOAA, and members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). These entities all argued that out-of-band emissions from future commercial broadband transmissions in the 24GHz band would disrupt the ability to collect water-vapor data measured in a neighboring frequency band (23.6 to 24GHZ) that meteorologists rely on to forecast the weather."

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Does being tough on crime actually deter crime?

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 8:46pm

Enlarge (credit:

What's the appropriate role of our prison system? Depending on who you talk to, it's supposed to function as punishment for criminal activity, a deterrent to future crimes, and an opportunity for rehabilitation. It's often possible to find people arguing that an existing prison system is already playing more than one of these roles, which raises questions about how well we understand a system that US society has committed to in a big way.

Fortunately, some researchers decided to view this question as an opportunity and put some hard numbers to what, exactly, our prison system is doing. Using a data set covering more than 100,000 convicted criminals, the researchers compared the outcomes of people sentenced to prison and a similar population that was given probation instead. The results suggest that prison does limit future violent crime by keeping criminals out of the general population, but the experience of prison provides little deterrence for future crime.

Violence in Michigan

A team of social scientists had access to data on everyone who committed a felony in Michigan between 2003 and 2006. This included follow-up data running through 2015, allowing the scientists to track whether any of this population committed additional crimes.

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Dealmaster: Get an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K for $35 if you have Prime

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 7:23pm

Enlarge / Today's deals roundup includes Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K, 9.7-inch iPads, cable modems, desktop hard drives, and much more. (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a pair of deals on streaming sticks, as Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K is down to $35 for members of its Prime service, while Roku's Streaming Stick+ is down to $49. Those are $15 and $11 discounts, respectively—not the absolute lowest we've seen for each media streamer but close enough to be good value.

We've written about both of these devices in the past, but the comparison between the two remains fairly straightforward: both support 4K and HDR10 playback, include just about all of the major streaming apps, and are fast enough to stream those apps without any significant hitch. Both come with 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Presuming you can't settle for the apps built into your game console or smart TV, which one you prefer will likely come down to its interface. Roku's is probably uglier, but it's cleaner, with a focus on apps laid out in simple rows. Amazon's puts more emphasis on content but still has a tendency to promote its own Prime Video app and partner services. Amazon's Alexa-aided voice controls are generally more robust than those on Roku (which now works with the Google Assistant), though, and the company says it will finally patch the YouTube-shaped hole in its app library in the next few months.

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New speculative execution bug leaks data from Intel chips’ internal buffers

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 7:10pm

First disclosed in January 2018, the Meltdown and Spectre attacks have opened the floodgates, leading to extensive research into the speculative execution hardware found in modern processors, and a number of additional attacks have been published in the months since.

Today sees the publication of a range of closely related flaws named variously RIDL, Fallout, ZombieLoad, or Microarchitectural Data Sampling. The many names are a consequence of the several groups that discovered the different flaws. From the computer science department of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Helmholtz Center for Information Security, we have "Rogue In-Flight Data Load." From a team spanning Graz University of Technology, the University of Michigan, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and KU Leuven, we have "Fallout." From Graz University of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and KU Leuven, we have "ZombieLoad," and from Graz University of Technology, we have "Store-to-Leak Forwarding."

Intel is using the name "Microarchitectural Data Sampling" (MDS), and that's the name that arguably gives the most insight into the problem. The issues were independently discovered by both Intel and the various other groups, with the first notification to the chip company occurring in June last year.

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Wikipedia blocked in China in all languages

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 6:28pm
The country had previously only blocked the Chinese language version of the site.

Party like it’s 2004 with WoW Classic starting August 27

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 6:26pm

Enlarge / No, World of Warcraft Classic won't look like this in-game. (Not that the modern version looks that much more polished, of course.) (credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Rewind to those halcyon days of 2004, when cries of "for the Horde" and "for the Alliance" were still novel, with the return of World of Warcraft Classic on August 27. Blizzard announced the release date in a lengthy news post that also spells out a range of closed beta and stress-test periods over the next three months.

This release date will place the game's launch nearly two years after Blizzard Entertainment confirmed it would release and maintain the game's "vanilla" version as a live service. That decision followed years of fans doing the same "behind" Blizzard's back, though their attempt to do so was an open secret—one that Blizzard battled aggressively.

"Select WoW players will be invited" to the classic version's first closed beta period beginning May 15, though Blizzard didn't confirm what makes particular WoW fans more eligible than others (perhaps the ones who signed certain petitions get bumped to the front of the list). Meanwhile, players who want to participate in a later trio of stress tests, taking place this May, June, and July, can opt in by flipping a toggle in their official Blizzard accounts.

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Spooky Midsommar trailer gives new horror rule: Don’t trust Swedish hippies

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

Dani (Florence Pugh) tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to a Swedish festival in a remote village that is not at all what it seems in Midsommar.

The seemingly harmless inhabitants of a remote Swedish village are harboring a terrible secret in Midsommar, a new film from Director Ari Aster, who brought us last year's chilling horror film Hereditary. The official synopsis describes the film as "a dread-soaked cinematic fairytale where a world of darkness unfolds in broad daylight." Judging from the trailer, that sounds about right.

Aster is a longtime fan of the horror genre and kicked off his career with a controversial short film called The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, in which a son develops a taboo incestuous relationship with this father. Hereditary, his first feature, also rooted its horror in dysfunctional family drama, with themes of trauma and grief—right before turning into a bone-chilling nightmare. It was lauded by critics as the scariest movie of the year and likened to such horror classics as The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby.

Midsommar seems like it owes more to the 1973 horror/mystery, The Wicker Man, in which a police sergeant investigates a missing girl on the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle, where the inhabitants practice a form of Celtic paganism. It's a genuinely creepy, if dated and somewhat hokey, film. (The less said about the 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage, the better.) Midsommar features the same bucolic setting with sinister undertones and incorporates the same notion of a harvest festival featuring a maypole dance. It's not a stretch to suspect that the same theme of pagan sacrificial rituals will appear.

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Fourth-largest coal producer in the US files for bankruptcy

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 6:15pm

Enlarge / WRIGHT, WY - OCTOBER 19: Train cars full of 100 tons of coal leave a mine near Wright, Wyoming on October 19, 2006. Empty cars head to the facility. (credit: Photo by Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Cloud Peak Energy, the US' fourth-largest coal mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last week as the company missed an extension deadline to make a $1.8 million loan payment.

In a statement, Cloud Peak said it will continue to operate its three massive coal mines in Wyoming and Montana while it goes through the restructuring process. Colin Marshall, the president and CEO of the company, said that he believed a sale of the company's assets "will provide the best opportunity to maximize value for Cloud Peak Energy."

Cloud Peak was one of the few major coal producers who escaped the significant coal industry downturn between 2015 and 2016. That bought it a reputation for prudence and business acumen.

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OnePlus won’t sell the OnePlus 7 in the US, but the 6T gets a $30 price drop

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 6:07pm

It's launch day for the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro. While we already have a full review up for the flagship OnePlus 7 Pro, many people will probably ask about the regular OnePlus 7. A review for that phone is not happening, because, well, it's not coming to the US. OnePlus is changing up its product strategy this year: in the US, it's offering the more premium OnePlus 7 Pro, keeping last year's OnePlus 6T on the market with a small price drop; the OnePlus 7 is destined for other, non-US markets.

So what exactly are we missing out on when it comes to the OnePlus 7? Well, while the OnePlus 7 Pro is an all-new device with a pop-up camera, all-screen design, and a 90Hz display, the OnePlus 7 is just a spec bump of the OnePlus 6T. The OnePlus 7 design is basically identical to the OnePlus 6T: there's a glass back with two rear cameras, a fixed front camera with a teardrop notch, and an in-screen fingerprint reader. The phone should be a bit faster, though, as it has been outfitted with a new Snapdragon 855, speedier UFS 3.0 storage, and a 48MP main camera that is hopefully the same as the excellent OnePlus 7 Pro camera. The rest of the OnePlus 7 specs are just like the OnePlus 6T: a 6.41-inch, 2340×1080 display, 6GB or 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of storage, and a 3700mAh battery.

The OnePlus 7 will be released in China, India, Hong Kong, and most of Europe. In Europe, the OnePlus 7 starts at €559 ($626) for the 6GB RAM/128GB storage version. For context, the OnePlus 7 Pro is €709 in Europe, or $794, which is way more expensive than the $670 MSRP in the US.

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Andrew Wakefield, others hold anti-vaccine rally amid raging measles outbreaks

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 5:34pm

Enlarge / Andrew Wakefield, disgraced former doctor found to have committed fraudulent research. (credit: Getty | Peter Macdiarmid)

Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, and other prominent anti-vaccine advocates unleashed fear and toxic misinformation last night at a well-attended symposium in New York’s Rockland County. The area is currently grappling with one of the largest and longest-standing measles outbreaks in the country, mainly in its tight-knit, ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

The Monday, May 13 event was reportedly promoted by targeted robocalls and billed as being a “highly informative night of science and discussion addressing your concerns, fears, and doubts.” But according to reporters who attended the event, the speakers made numerous unsubstantiated and egregiously false claims—as usual. In one instance, Brooklyn Orthodox Rabbi William Handler reportedly made the unsubstantiated claim that getting measles, mumps, and chickenpox reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke by 60 percent. He did not provide a citation.

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'Hard-to-fix' Cisco flaw puts work email at risk

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 5:16pm
Security researchers have found serious vulnerabilities in some Cisco devices.

One month later, $249 All-Digital Xbox One S still seems unsustainable

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 5:12pm

Psht, who needs 'em? (credit: Squirmelia)

It has been about a month since Microsoft announced its disc-drive-free, "All Digital" Xbox One S. At the time, we pointed out that the system's $249.99 MSRP was unsustainably high given the fact that standard 1TB Xbox One S systems, complete with a disc drive and a bundled game, were selling for the same price or less at major retailers.

Now that the All Digital edition has been on store shelves for about a week, that state of affairs has continued. While the less-capable, disc-drive free system was officially supposed to undercut the price of its disc-drive equipped brethren, it seems the reverse is still happening at some major retailers.

Yes, major retailers like Target and Best Buy are sticking to Microsoft's MSRP of $299.99 for a 1TB, disc drive-equipped Xbox One S bundle. That price does indeed make the $249.99 all-digital edition, complete with three downloadable games, look like a great deal.

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AT&T promised 7,000 new jobs to get tax break—it cut 23,000 jobs instead

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 4:41pm

Enlarge / AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

AT&T has cut more than 23,000 jobs since receiving a big tax cut at the end of 2017, despite lobbying heavily for the tax cut by claiming that it would create thousands of jobs.

AT&T in November 2017 pushed for the corporate tax cut by promising to invest an additional $1 billion in 2018, with CEO Randall Stephenson saying that "every billion dollars AT&T invests is 7,000 hard-hat jobs. These are not entry-level jobs. These are 7,000 jobs of people putting fiber in ground, hard-hat jobs that make $70,000 to $80,000 per year."

The corporate tax cut was subsequently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The tax cut reportedly gave AT&T an extra $3 billion in cash in 2018.

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Disney takes full control of Hulu as Comcast steps aside

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 3:27pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Today, Disney takes the reins at Hulu. Disney and Comcast announced a deal saying that Disney will assume full operational control of Hulu, effective immediately. In turn, Disney and Comcast have entered a "put/call" agreement, which means that as early as January 2024, Comcast can require Disney to buy NBCUniversal's 33-percent interest in Hulu. On the flip side, Disney can require NBCUniversal to sell its interest in Hulu by January 2024 for fair market value.

Fair market value will be assessed at the time of sale, but Disney has guaranteed Comcast a minimum sale price of $27.5 billion for the remaining stake in Hulu.

As part of the agreement, Comcast has agreed to extend Hulu's licensing of NBCUniversal content until late 2024. That means, despite Disney's immediate takeover, Hulu will retain NBCUniversal content for the next few years. This goes for on-demand content as well as Hulu Live.

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Mapping Notre Dame’s unique sound will be a boon to reconstruction efforts

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 1:16pm

Enlarge / Protective tarps displayed on the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, two weeks after a fire devastated it. (credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

When the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire last month, people found some hope in the news that scientist Andrew Tallon had used laser scanning to create precisely detailed maps of the interior and exterior of the cathedral—an invaluable aid as Paris rebuilds this landmark structure.

The acoustics of the cathedral—how it sounds—are also part of its cultural heritage, and given the ephemeral nature of sound, acoustical characteristics can be far trickier to preserve or reproduce. Fortunately, a group of French acousticians made detailed measurements of Notre Dame's "soundscape" over the last few years, along with two other cathedrals. That data will now be instrumental in helping architects factor acoustics into their reconstruction plans.

Dialing in the reverb

"We have a snapshot of the acoustics from two years ago and a computer model that can reproduce that," said Brian FG Katz, research director of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Sorbonne University in Paris, who worked in tandem with Tallon's laser scanning project. "The idea is if they want to, for example, change the materials, we can tell them what the impact of those changes will be on the acoustics. We're not trying to force anybody to restore it one way versus another, but they should be able to make an informed decision about the acoustic impact."

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Photons dance along a line of superconducting qubits

Ars Technica - May 14, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / Atoms are always up to something. (credit: Jurgen Appelo / Flickr)

When I think about computing, I usually think about it in terms of individual logic gates performing specific operations. These can be strung together to create more sophisticated and useful operations and can be ultimately built into a disaster like EndNote. Even when I make a conceptual switch and think about quantum computing, I still get stuck thinking about quantum logic gates.

But there is a better-than-even chance that quantum computing will not make direct use of logic gates. If logic gates aren't going to be a thing in quantum computing, how will we compute? One way is through annealing, which I've written about a lot.

But the neglected stepchild of quantum computing is something called a "quantum random walk." In a minor miracle, researchers have shown a quantum random walk through a string of 12 quantum bits. This is the sort of step that may herald the beginning of actually demonstrating a quantum computer based on a random walk.

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Vodafone's 5G UK service to launch in July

BBC Technology News - May 14, 2019 - 11:36am
The firm will offer its next-generation mobile network to businesses and the public in seven cities.

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