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Industry & Technology

Amazon cancels New York City campus plan

BBC Technology News - February 14, 2019 - 9:10pm
The internet giant hit local opposition over the roughly $3bn in subsidies it had been promised.

JPMorgan is creating a cryptocurrency pegged to the dollar

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 9:02pm

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. (credit: Steve Jurvetson)

JPMorgan Chase is developing a new cryptocurrency called JPM Coin whose value will be tied to the US dollar, the bank said on Thursday. The new private blockchain platform is designed to help large JPMorgan clients move money around the world. The new cryptocurrency will be built atop JPMorgan's Quorum blockchain technology, a variant of Ethereum that has been modified to serve the needs of a major financial institution like JPMorgan.

The Ethereum network is public and open to anyone; Quorum is a private blockchain where a network owner can control who has access. All transactions on the Ethereum network are visible to everyone on the network. In contrast, nodes in the Quorum network can create encrypted transactions (and smart contracts) that are only visible to parties to the transaction.

Quorum also jettisons the wasteful proof-of-work algorithm that secures the Ethereum network in favor of a simpler scheme that relies on majority voting among network nodes. Public blockchain networks like Ethereum use proof-of-work algorithms to guard against Sybil attacks, in which someone tries to take over a network by creating a lot of zombie nodes. But Sybil attacks aren't a concern in a permissioned blockchain like Quorum, because each node is tied to a real-world identity that has been vetted by the network owner.

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Microsoft begins work on its 2020 Windows releases in new preview

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:49pm

Enlarge / Windows is now perpetually under construction. (credit: David Holt)

Microsoft has published a new preview release of Windows 10, build 18836, to participants of the "Skip Ahead" group. But it's not quite the preview that they were expecting to get.

Microsoft's preview program has a number of different channels to let people use and test Windows feature updates, Microsoft's twice-yearly Windows 10 upgrades. The two main channels are Fast and Slow; Fast receives builds more regularly, while Slow generally receives only those builds that are felt to be stable. Both channels look ahead to the next feature update. For example, right now, the stable Windows 10 version is 1809. The Fast and Slow channels are receiving previews of version 1903, codenamed 19H1, which is due for release in April.

Skip Ahead is a third channel. Most of the time, Skip Ahead is identical to the Fast channel, but in the last few weeks of each update's development, the two diverged. The Fast ring continues to receive builds of the next feature update; Skip Ahead, well, skips ahead to the update after the next one. As such, one would expect today's Skip Ahead release to be a preview of 19H2, version 1909, due in October. But it isn't; it's skipping ahead not one but two releases, all the way to 20H1, due in April 2020.

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Our favorite psychopath, Villanelle, is back in trailer for Killing Eve S2

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:35pm

Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is back for another round of cat and mouse with Eve (Sandra Oh) in Killing Eve season 2 trailer.

Killing Eve topped the list of our favorite TV shows last year, and we've been eagerly awaiting news of a second season. So BBC America gave us a Valentine's Day gift: the first trailer for season 2, picking up right where the first season left off.

(Spoilers for season 1 below.)

Based on Luke Jennings' series of thriller novellas, Codename Villanelle, Killing Eve stars Jodie Comer as Villanelle, a self-described psychopathic killer for hire. Her string of corpses catches the attention of an MI5 (later MI6) officer named Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), who is obsessed with female killers and correctly guesses there is a new player among their ranks. What follows is a sexually charged cat-and-mouse game where it's not entirely clear who is the predator and who is the prey.

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Dealmaster: Take $20 off Red Dead Redemption 2 or Marvel’s Spider-Man

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:21pm

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a pair of deals on high-profile video games that launched toward the end of 2018, as both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel's Spider-Man are currently down to $40. In both cases, that's a 33% discount.

While Spider-Man has hit this price a couple times in the past, this is as cheap as we've seen Red Dead 2 at a major retailer since launch. Note that both deals here apply to the physical copies of the game, so you won't be able to play either immediately upon purchasing, but the savings should make the wait worthwhile.

No video game is objectively great, but for what it's worth, we liked Spider-Man and Red Dead 2 enough to include both in our best games of 2018 list a couple months ago. You should read our reviews for each game for a more in-depth look, but if you want the Dealmaster's ultra-short take: Red Dead 2, while paced a bit slowly and hamstrung by a few of Rockstar's most outdated game conventions, is still as gorgeous, staggeringly detailed, and engrossing as you'd expect from the GTA maker. Spider-Man, meanwhile, is light on narrative substance but as gratifying to play as any action game in recent memory. It's like playing a Marvel movie.

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Ajit Pai orders phone companies to adopt new anti-robocall tech in 2019

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:14pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research on May 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla)

The Federal Communications Commission will consider "regulatory intervention" if major phone companies fail to adopt a new anti-robocall technology this year.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been pressuring phone companies to implement the "SHAKEN" and "STIR" robocall-blocking protocols, which perform Caller ID authentication. Most major providers have committed to doing so, but Pai issued a warning to laggards yesterday.

"I applaud those companies that have committed to deploy the SHAKEN/STIR framework in 2019," Pai said in his statement yesterday. "This goal should be achievable for every major wireless provider, interconnected VoIP operator, and telephone company—and I expect those lagging behind to make every effort to catch up. If it appears major carriers won't meet the deadline to get this done this year, the FCC will have to consider regulatory intervention."

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LG keeps leaking G8 features; the latest is a vibrating display speaker

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 7:30pm

LG is still making smartphones. The latest is the LG G8, which is expected to debut at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month. It has leaked a lot.

First up is this press image from Evan Blass, which leaves little of the G8 to the imagination. LG's last big smartphone design was the LG G6, which was a return to a normal smartphone after the disastrously modular LG G5. You can draw a straight line from the LG G6 through the G7 to the G8, which looks pretty much identical to the phone LG released two years ago. In a year when many OEMs are switching to a minimal "hole punch" camera cutout, the LG G8 still has a notched camera cutout on the front like the LG G7. In a year when many OEMs are switching to an in-screen fingerprint reader, LG still has a capacitive fingerprint reader on the back. Possibly on the plus-side, at least there's still a headphone jack.

There are a few surprises in the LG G8 design, though. If you notice in the render there's no earpiece on the top of the phone; that's because the phone won't have an earpiece. LG has announced the phone will use the display itself as a speaker diaphragm, a feature LG is calling "Crystal Sound OLED." LG says the feature works by "vibrating the entire surface to produce sound," promising "impressive volume" and "improved clarity" over a normal speaker. LG has put a lot of focus in the loudness and quality of its speakers, and the all-speaker display sounds like another step in this strategy. LG doesn't mention anything about phone calls, though, and I wonder if there is a localized mode that could replicate the privacy of an earpiece for phone calls. The press release makes it sound like you'll only get a speakerphone for phone calls.

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Startup will store energy by forcing compressed air in a defunct zinc mine

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 7:20pm

An energy storage startup called Hydrostor is planning to build an Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) project in Australia, using an out-of-operation underground zinc mine as a container for the compressed air.

Hydrostor announced its plans this week after being awarded AUD $9 million (USD $6.4 million) in grants from Australian government institutions.

Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is a sort of physical battery (as opposed to a chemical battery) that uses excess electricity to compress air. The compressed air is stored in a tank, in a balloon, or in an underground cavern. When more electricity is needed, the compressed air is heated, which drives a turbine as it expands.

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Facing opposition, Amazon scraps New York HQ2 plans

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 6:36pm

Enlarge / Protestors at New York City Hall on January 30, 2019. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Amazon is canceling its controversial plan to build a new corporate campus in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. The plan, which included almost $3 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, provoked a grassroots backlash.

"The commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term," Amazon said in a statement. "While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project."

In 2017, Amazon announced that a single city would be chosen for Amazon's "HQ2," a second headquarters that would be an equal of Amazon's original Seattle location and employ as many as 50,000 people. But Amazon ultimately decided to split this "headquarters" up into two pieces, announcing plans to build one campus in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and the other in Queens. Each location was slated to get around 25,000 new jobs.

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Devs accuse Sony of “playing favorites” with PS4’s cross-platform support

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 6:16pm

Enlarge / On the right, Wargroove developers asking for Sony to open up cross-platform support on the PS4. On the left, Sony.

Last September, after years of fighting the idea, Sony finally announced that "cross-platform [console] gameplay, progression, and commerce" would be coming to the PlayStation Network, with Fortnite as the first example. Now, though, some third-party developers are saying Sony is still standing in the way of letting the PS4 versions of their games play nicely with other platforms.

"We just launched Wargroove with crossplay between PC, Switch, and Xbox," Chucklefish CEO Finn "Tiy" Brice wrote on the ResetEra forums. "We made many requests for crossplay (both through our [Sony] account manager and directly with higher-ups) all the way up until release month. We were told in no uncertain terms that it was not going to happen."

Brice's comments came days after new Hi-Rez Studios CEO Stew Chisam tweeted at Sony that the studio was "ready to go when you are" for cross-play on Smite, Paladins, and Realm Royale. "It's time to stop playing favorites and tear down the crossplay/progression wall for everyone," he said.

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Opera shows off its smart new redesign that’s just like all the other browsers

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 5:46pm

Enlarge / Both the new dark view and light view look good. (credit: Opera)

Opera has unveiled a new look and feel for its browser. Expected to ship in version 59 and codenamed "Reborn 3" (R3), the new appearance adopts the same square edges and clean lines that we've seen in other browsers, giving the browser a passing similarity to both Firefox and Edge.

The principles of the new design? "We put Web content at center stage," the Opera team writes on its blog. The design is pared down so that you can browse "unhindered by unnecessary distractions." Borders and dividing lines have been removed, flattening out parts of the browser's interface and making them look more uniform and less eye-catching. The new design comes with the requisite dark and light modes, a welcome trend that we're glad to see is being widely adopted.

Being Web-centric is not a bad principle for an application such as a browser, where the bulk of the functionality and interest comes from the pages we're viewing rather than the browser itself. At first blush, I think that Opera has come up with something that looks good, but it does feel like an awfully familiar design rationale.

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Want a better idea of your future climate? Try this map

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 5:23pm

Enlarge (credit: Alan Levine)

Absent a time machine, it’s hard to truly wrap your head around what the future climate will be like. Climate projection numbers carry a lot of information, but those numbers can seem abstract—what does 2.5º warmer actually feel like?

One way to understand that information is to hop in the car (even if it’s not a DeLorean). There are a huge variety of local climates around the world, and it’s possible to find a location today that ought to feel a lot like your hometown will in a few decades. A new study by Matt Fitzpatrick and Rob Dunn applies this “climate analog” approach to 540 cities in the US and Canada—which means about 250 million people can use a Web map to look for an analog to their future climate.

Present and future climates

There are multiple ways you could imagine defining such a comparison. In this case, the researchers broke the data down by season, calculating minimum/maximum temperatures and total precipitation averaged over 1960-1990. This is basically the seasonal weather you’re used to.

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JP Morgan creates first US bank-backed crypto-currency

BBC Technology News - February 14, 2019 - 4:58pm
The US investment bank has created the JPM Coin to handle wholesale payments for some clients.

Amazon caught selling counterfeits of publisher’s computer books—again

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 3:56pm

Enlarge / At left, a counterfeited No Starch book. At right, the real deal. (credit: left, Bill Pollock; right, Jon Sawyer (@jcase))

Bill Pollock, the founder of the tech how-to book publisher No Starch Press, called out Amazon on February 13 for selling what he says are counterfeit copies of his company's book, The Art of Assembly Language—copies that Amazon apparently printed.

Just discovered today a new case of copyright infringement directly by AMAZON'S CREATESPACE. Not the first time! This is obviously NOT printed by No Starch. Kindly report any other cases to us. Please RT and share. @amazon @nostarch

— Bill Pollock (@billpollock) February 2, 2019

One of the Amazon printed fakes. Note the poor spine wrapping. @nostarch

— Bill Pollock (@billpollock) February 12, 2019

Even the photo for the book's main listing on the Amazon marketplace is of a fake, showing a misaligned spine image.

After Pollock's post on Twitter on Wednesday, other people posted pictures of other No Starch books that had been counterfeited through Amazon, including books that had pages poorly cut. What's even crazier is that this isn't the first time this has happened.

In 2017, Pollock got reports of Amazon selling counterfeit copies of Python for Kids, a popular children's introduction to programming, and four other No Starch titles. The books were easy to distinguish from No Starch's production runs because of the poorer quality of the paper and binding, changes likely resulting from Amazon's print-on-demand production.

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Citing lack of demand, Airbus cancels A380 superjumbo aircraft

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 3:17pm

Enlarge / An Emirates Airbus A380. (credit: Getty | NurPhoto)

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus announced today that it will halt production on its enormous A380 superjumbo passenger airliner.

The news was delivered by Airbus CEO Tom Enders at the company's headquarters in Toulouse, France. Enders cited a lack of orders as the key reason behind the cancellation of what is currently the world's largest airliner. Airbus expects the cancellation to potentially affect thousands of employees in the UK currently working on A380 production, though the company hopes to reassign as many of those employees as possible to other roles.

Efficiency remains king

The writing has been on the wall for the A380 for quite some time, and sales of the enormous jet never really reached the levels Airbus had hoped. The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, according to The Guardian's report, was an order reduction from Emirates, the A380's largest buyer.

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British hacker Marcus Hutchins loses bid to omit 'intoxicated' testimony

BBC Technology News - February 14, 2019 - 2:42pm
Devonian Marcus Hutchins is accused of writing virus code and says he was "intoxicated" in an interview.

Crackdown 3 review: Half-baked action with tasty triple-jumping

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 2:17pm

Enlarge / The views are pretty nice.

Originally announced way back in 2014 for a 2016 launch, Crackdown 3 has certainly taken its time in finally reaching Xbox One and Windows PC players this week. Despite all that time in the proverbial oven, though, Crackdown 3 comes out feeling dated and half-baked—though it's still a fun world to jump around in.

This time around, the super-powered agents of, uh, The Agency, are unleashing their carnage-filled version of justice on the secluded city of New Providence. The metropolis is controlled by Terra Nova, an immensely powerful corporation that apparently organized a blackout of every major city in the world (and incinerated most of the Agency agents dispatched to stop them) in order to attract new citizens to their futuristic haven. Once there, though, these refugees find they're forced to exist as impoverished grist for Terra Nova's economic mill, enriching company executives who live in relative opulence.

The stratified architecture found in the different regions of New Providence provides some important grounding for the battle between the haves and have-nots that the Agency finds itself in. For the most part, though, the game is annoyingly blunt about telling—rather than showing—how your actions are inspiring the proletariat to "rise up" against their authoritarian masters (throwing in plenty of "edgy-for-a-thirteen-year-old" random cursing along the way).

Free some dissidents from jail, for instance, and a voice in your ear immediately tells you how they will help "take the fight to Terra Nova." But I can only recall one time in my play-through when I actually saw citizens taking up arms against their corporate masters (rather ineffectually, I might add). Shut down a mining operation for Chimera—a poisonous weapon Terra Nova gathers for vast profits—and you're reminded how it will disrupt the company's plans without ever really seeing that effect in the city itself.

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What is Article 13? The EU's copyright directive explained

BBC Technology News - February 14, 2019 - 2:13pm
The final version of the new EU copyright law is agreed after three days of talks in France.

Alita: Battle Angel rises above its ugly ads, flies to a cloud city of awesome

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / There's just no getting around the eyes, huh, 20th Century Fox? So be it. (credit: 20th Century Fox)

Alita: Battle Angel lands in theaters on Thursday, February 14, with—if my own pessimistic assumptions are any indication—some significant baggage attached.

I know I'm not the only person to sigh after seeing the oversized, Avatar-esque eyes in Alita's trailers. Worse, those eyes are attached to a James Cameron script that adapts an early '90s Japanese manga into a multimillion-dollar film that casts zero Asian actors as leads. Nothing about that bullet-point trio, which reminded me of the 2017 ScarJo stinker Ghost in the Shell, got me excited ahead of Alita's press screening.

But the name "Robert Rodriguez" made me interested. Could one of my favorite directors of the past 20 years strike gold again, even while saddled by so much apparent baggage?

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School bomb hoax suspect arrested in US

BBC Technology News - February 14, 2019 - 12:45pm
Thousands of US schools were shut down by fake threats involving bombs, allege prosecutors.

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