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Industry & Technology

Behind the Curve a fascinating study of reality-challenged beliefs

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

Enlarge (credit: Gabriela Pinto / Flickr)

There's a scene somewhere in the middle of a new flat Earth documentary that acts as a metaphor for so much that surrounds it. Two of the central figures of Behind the Curve are visiting a spaceflight museum that pays tribute to NASA, an organization that they believe is foisting a tremendous lie on an indoctrinated and incurious public. One of them, Mark Sargent, sits in a re-entry simulator that suggests he should press "Start" to begin. He dutifully bangs away at the highlighted word "Start" on screen, but nothing happens.

He wanders away muttering even more about how NASA's a giant fraud. Meanwhile, the camera shifts back to the display and zeroes in on the giant green "Start" button next to the seat Sargent was in.

Into the fringes

It's hard not to think back to two earlier scenes in the movie. In the first, Sargent talks about how he started having suspicions about the globe when he spent weeks watching a flight tracker for flights crossing the southern oceans but couldn't find any. This seemed to fit with his favored model of the Earth's disk, one with the North Pole at the center and the continents spread out like spokes from there. This would place the southern continents much farther apart and make air travel prohibitive—just as the lack of flights suggested.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New documentary has a good time asking how gene editing might change the world

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / An artist's representation of a Cas9 protein immediately interrupting and changing a living creature's genes. (credit: Wonder Collaborative)

Here's a poorly kept secret: the internal chatter at a given research and scientific institution is typically more interesting than what emerges on the public record. Published papers and newspaper interviews don't come with the banter, pop-culture references, or sheer wit that pumps through most nerds' veins.

I thought back to all that nerd humor when I reflected on Human Nature, a documentary about gene editing and CRISPR that had its world premiere at South by Southwest 2019. There's a lot of ground to cover on such a topic, and the film, co-produced by Dan Rather, does quite well by identifying existing research and studies, then grounding them with context and equal parts optimism and pessimism. But Human Nature is also the rare science film that isn't afraid to let its smart talking heads be funny, dorky, or just plain sharp.

Meaning: if you already know everything about CRISPR (and if you read Ars Technica, you very well might), Human Nature still has something for you.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sloth-by-sloth-west: The good and the Goop of SXSW 2019 (in pictures)

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 2:30pm

AUSTIN, Texas—While sitting in the auditorium waiting to hear Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren talk further about her views on Silicon Valley, an older gentleman leaned over to ask about something that had absolutely nothing to do with politics. "I don't get it," he began. "It's a music festival, but a film festival, too? And you're here for the technology stuff, right? Where do all these politicians fit? How do you describe this conference to someone in 30 seconds?"Ars at SXSW 2019

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The answer, of course, is obvious to Ars after our fourth straight year of coverage: you can't. While the three core tenets of South by Southwest remain film, music, and tech, this conference has become the ultimate convergence event—not just of topics, but of people. Where else can you, in a single day, see a cookie vending machine from Milk Bar baking guru Christina Tosi, a massive HBO installation to promote Game of Thronesexperts from Unicode talking about emoji evolution, and then Senator Warren on -isms from capital- to rac- all in the same place? None of that stuff perfectly fits into SXSW's overarching programming tracks, but perhaps that itself is the message. These days, the boundaries between art, business, and innovation blur together more than ever. Put a bunch of movers and shakers in those areas together for a week, and interesting stuff is bound to happen.

Unfortunately, explaining that (even succinctly) takes more than 30 seconds, so we failed this impromptu summarization quiz. But our time in Austin certainly felt like a success overall. Above is just a small sampling of the sights that spanned almost every topic you can find on the pages of Ars Technica. We may have missed Bill Nye crashing New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Q&A to talk about the environment, but we damn well made sure to snag one of those cookies.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

500 million years of climate history pinned on plate tectonics

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Indonesia's Paluweh volcano sits in a region of colliding tectonic plates—perhaps the formula for glacial periods in geologic history. (credit: Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory)

Generally speaking, it’s easy enough to make sense of the last few million years of climate patterns—the world looked much as it does today, so changes in greenhouse gas concentrations or ocean circulation can be related to what we see now. But as you go back farther in time, you can find very different climates and a rearranged map of continents, and those require more creative thinking.

For example, the ice age periods in the recent past are not unique. But most of the last 500 million years have been much warmer—what has caused the climate to slowly drift toward warmer or cooler temperatures over millions of years?

Looping

In the grand sweep of Earth history, its climate has remained within a habitable temperature range—thanks in part to the moderating influence of feedback loops within the system. The weathering of silicate minerals in bedrock pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere, for example. In a warming climate, weathering can speed up, removing more greenhouse gas and stabilizing temperatures. Cool the planet and weathering slows, giving greenhouse gases more chance to accumulate.

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How hackers pulled off a $20 million bank heist

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Buyenlarge | Getty Images)

In January 2018 a group of hackers, now thought to be working for the North Korean state-sponsored group Lazarus, attempted to steal $110 million from the Mexican commercial bank Bancomext. That effort failed. But just a few months later, a smaller yet still elaborate series of attacks allowed hackers to siphon off 300 to 400 million pesos, or roughly $15 to $20 million from Mexican banks. Here's how they did it.

At the RSA security conference in San Francisco last Friday, penetration tester and security advisor Josu Loza, who was an incident responder in the wake of the April attacks, presented findings on how hackers executed the heists both digitally and on the ground around Mexico. The hackers' affiliation remains publicly unknown. Loza emphasizes that while the attacks likely required extensive expertise and planning over months, or even years, they were enabled by sloppy and insecure network architecture within the Mexican financial system, and security oversights in SPEI, Mexico's domestic money transfer platform run by central bank Banco de México, also known as Banxico.

Easy pickings

Thanks to security holes in the targeted bank systems, attackers could have accessed internal servers from the public Internet, or launched phishing attacks to compromise executives—or even regular employees—to gain a foothold. Many networks didn't have strong access controls, so hackers could get a lot of mileage out of compromised employee credentials. The networks also weren't well segmented, meaning intruders could use that initial access to penetrate deep into banks's connections to SPEI, and eventually SPEI's transaction servers, or even its underlying code base.

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Can you murder a robot?

BBC Technology News - March 17, 2019 - 1:24am
Does it matter if we hurt a robot? And should we have rules to make sure they don't hurt us?

Christchurch shootings: Social media races to stop attack footage

BBC Technology News - March 16, 2019 - 9:52pm
Why was a video of the shootings shared on social media and what can be done about the wider threat?

Beto O’Rourke outed as Cult of Dead Cow member, phreaker and writer of screeds

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 9:50pm

Enlarge / WATERLOO, IOWA - MARCH 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former Cult of the Dead Cow member Beto O'Rourke greets voters during a canvassing kickoff event with state senate candidate Eric Giddens March 16, 2019, in Waterloo, Iowa. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Senate candidate and recently declared Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has been outed as a former member of what has been described as America's oldest hacking group—the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC). O'Rourke admitted to his membership in an interview for an upcoming book about the group, reported by Reuters.

O'Rourke's role in the group, starting in the late 1980s, was more focused on writing screeds for the CDC's text-file essays than hacking. O'Rourke, like other teens of the time, did find ways to avoid paying for long-distance dial-up phone service time to connect to bulletin board systems (BBSs) of the day across the country with his family's Apple IIe computer and 300 baud modem, which he often used to search for pirated games.

He eventually launched his own bulletin board system (BBS) called TacoLand, which Reuters' Joseph Menn reports, was largely about punk music. "This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalog you couldn't find at record stores," O'Rourke told Menn.

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MIT scientists: Heat can act like sound wave when moving through pencil lead

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge / Graphite rods ready to be encased in wood to make pencils. MIT scientists have shown that heat behaves like sound when moving through graphite. (credit: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images)

A boiling tea kettle diffuses its heat to gradually warm surrounding air, yet it will still be the warmest region even as it, too, slowly cools. But what if the kettle cooled down to room temperature almost instantly, losing its heat in a wave traveling through the material close to the speed of sound? MIT researchers have observed this rare, counterintuitive phenomenon—known as "second sound"—in graphite, the stuff of pencil lead. They described their results in a paper published earlier this week in Science.

Chances are you've never heard of the concept of "second sound," even though the phenomenon has been known for decades. "It's been confined to only a handful of materials that are really very low temperature," said co-author Keith Nelson, severely limiting its potential usefulness. There might be a paragraph or two on the topic in your average solid-state textbook, but the field "has been kind of a backwater."

With the results of this new research, that may be about to change. Graphite is a very common material, and the effect was observed at a relatively balmy (by low-temperature physics standards) temperature of around -240 degrees F. The team's theoretical models indicate it might be possible to produce the effect in graphene at something closer to room temperature in the future, thereby opening up any number of potential practical applications. For instance, microelectronics just keep getting smaller, making heat management a daunting challenge. If room-temperature graphene could rapidly carry off heat as waves, it might allow even more miniaturization.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How a wireless keyboard lets hackers take full control of connected computers

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 6:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Fujitsu)

There’s a critical vulnerability in a model of Fujitsu wireless keyboard that makes it easy for hackers to take full control of connected computers, security researchers warned on Friday. Anyone using the keyboard model should strongly consider replacing it immediately.

The Fujitsu Wireless Keyboard Set LX901 uses a proprietary 2.4 GHz radio communication protocol called WirelessUSB LP from Cypress Semiconductor. While the keyboard and mouse send input that’s protected with the time-tested Advanced Encryption Standard, the USB dongle that accepts the input accepts unencrypted packets as well, as long as they’re in the proper format.

Researchers with the Germany-based penetration-testing firm SySS developed a proof-of-concept attack that exploits the insecure design. Using a small hardware device, they are able to send commands to vulnerable Fujitsu keyboard receiver dongles that are within range. As the video below demonstrates, the researchers were able to send input of their choice that’s automatically funneled to the connected computer.

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Gum shield helps spot signs of concussion

BBC Technology News - March 16, 2019 - 5:20pm
Fitted with sensors to monitor head trauma the device feeds real-time data to nearby medical staff.

It’s time to start caring about “VR cinema,” and SXSW’s stunners are proof

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 2:00pm

AUSTIN, Texas—You may love, hate, or shrug at the idea of virtual reality, but one niche is still unequivocally devoted to the format: film festivals. The reasons aren't all great.

Because VR usually requires one-at-a-time kiosks, it invites long lines (which film festivals love for photo-op reasons). These films also favor brief, 10-15 minute presentations, which are the bread-and-butter of the indie filmmaking world. And the concept reeks of exclusivity—of the sense that, if you wanna see experimental VR fare, you need to get to Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW to strap in and trip out.Ars at SXSW 2019

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But—seriously, hear me out—VR filmmaking at its best replicates the experience of live theater in a really accessible way. (I've been saying this for years.) You can't watch something like Hamilton on DVD and expect the same impact. And when a VR "film" is done right, with smart technical decisions at play, it really meets (or, sometimes, exceeds) Broadway's best without requiring a flight to New York or a ticket lottery.

Read 43 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Wingspan review: A gorgeous birding board game takes flight

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game from Stonemaier Games.”

Call me odd, but the above description was enough to get my heart racing and my brain spinning up a premature take about how Wingspan will be the best board game of 2019.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hands-on: What’s new in Android Q

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 12:35pm

Enlarge / The Android Q logo. It's also a "10," for "Android 10."

The Android Q beta is now live, and after playing "spot the differences," we're here to report our findings. For this first preview release, Android Q is mostly a lot of small tweaks for users and new APIs for developers.

A lot of things are half-implemented, inconsistent, or broken, but this is just a beta. Hopefully everything will get fixed in the future, but we'll still point out problems in this release. Compared to the leaked builds of Android Q that came out before this release, there are actually fewer features here in some cases. Google is holding out on us.

First up, let's talk about that logo. That "Q" looks funny doesn't it? That's because it's also a "10"—the circle of the Q is a zero and the tail is a one. The previous version of Android was "Android 9 Pie," so the final version of Q will be "Android 10 Q-something."

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How Google influences the conversation in Washington

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

A few days after last year’s midterm election, a Google policy manager and lobbyist sent an email to a congressional staffer with a link to a blog post on the right-wing news site Red State, written under the name The Real DC. In the post, the author accuses Google’s competitor Yelp of prodding President Trump to tweet a “professionally designed” video about Google’s alleged bias, which The Real DC calls “fake news” because it “bears many similarities” to content produced by Yelp.

In the email, a copy of which was viewed by Wired, Ed An, the Google lobbyist, said he does not typically share articles from Red State but thought the staffer would find this one interesting.

Neither Red State, its publisher Townhall Media, nor its owner Salem Media Group responded to repeated questions about The Real DC. In a statement, An, the Google lobbyist, said he has no knowledge “of the author who goes by The Real DC.” Yelp Vice President of Public Policy Luther Lowe denied any connection to the video or tweet.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Christchurch shootings: Sajid Javid warns tech giants over footage

BBC Technology News - March 16, 2019 - 8:23am
The home secretary says firms "must do more" after the New Zealand attack was shown live on Facebook.

How swarming drones will change warfare

BBC Technology News - March 16, 2019 - 1:41am
Flocks of airborne robots are being developed, able to collaborate and overwhelm enemy defences.

Study finds people in Ireland and Scotland made “bog butter” for millennia

Ars Technica - March 15, 2019 - 9:28pm

Enlarge / Modern-day bog butter, made by Benjamin Reade of the Nordic Food Lab and sampled by participants at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 2012. It's something of an acquired taste. (credit: Navaro/Wikimedia Commons)

Ancient denizens of what is now Ireland and Scotland buried stashes of so-called "bog butter" in peat bogs, presumably to stave off spoilage. Thanks to the unique chemistry of those bogs, the stashes have survived for thousands of years. Now, scientists at University College Dublin have conducted chemical analysis and radiocarbon dating of several bog butters recovered from archaeological sites in Ireland. They found that the practice was a remarkably long-lived tradition, spanning at least 3,500 years, according to their new paper in Nature: Scientific Reports.

The researchers also uncovered the first conclusive evidence that Irish bog butters are derived from dairy fat as opposed to being meat-based. According to bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove, writing in Forbes, "Previous attempts at analyzing bog butter have come up short, because even though the butter is known to have an animal origin, techniques were unable to distinguish between adipose tissue where lipids or fats are stored and milk fats from ruminants like cows and sheep, particularly on an archaeological time-depth."

There are some 430 recorded stashes of bog butter, according to Benjamin Reade of the Nordic Food Lab, 274 of which were found in Scotland and Ireland. It's usually found wrapped in some kind of wooden container—buckets, kegs, barrels, etc.—or animal bladders. The bog butter may have been buried as a means of meat preservation, based on a 1995 study demonstrating that meat buried in peat bogs for up to two years had roughly the same levels of bacteria and pathogens as meat stored in a modern freezer. Alternatively, it may have been a kind of primitive food processing.

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Report: James Gunn has been un-fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Ars Technica - March 15, 2019 - 8:25pm

Enlarge / Peter Quill/Starlord, Groot, Draxx, and Gamora: dusted Guardians of the Galaxy. (credit: YouTube/Marvel Studios)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is back in production after an unofficial hiatus, according to reports from Deadline and Hollywood Reporter. If you're for any reason fatigued by Marvel Studios sequelitis, you may be more intrigued by why it's back on: because its original director, James Gunn, has been rehired.

Gunn's departure from Marvel Studios and Disney became an airing of dirty laundry in July of last year, after tweets and blog posts from as far back as 2009 were resurfaced by an alt-right proponent of Pizzagate conspiracy theories. The "joking" tweets in question were, on their face, well on the side of bad taste, although because they appeared in an earlier version of Twitter, they lacked the site's newer, reply-linked metadata that might have offered more context.

Gunn's last comment on the matter was an apology posted on Twitter that same month:

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Any Steam game can now use Valve’s low-latency, DoS-proofed networking

Ars Technica - March 15, 2019 - 6:49pm

Enlarge (credit: massmatt)

Valve is opening up its latency-reducing, DoS-protecting network relay infrastructure to every developer using its Steamworks platform.

A few years ago, large-scale denial-of-service attacks against game servers were making the news and becoming a frustratingly frequent occurrence in online gaming and e-sports. To protect its own games, Valve has for a number of years been working on developing a networking infrastructure that makes the system more resilient against denial-of-service attacks and lower latency to boot, and the company is using this system for both Dota 2 and CS:GO.

At 30 different locations around the world, Valve has established relaying servers that route networking traffic between clients and servers. These relay points provide DoS-resilience in several ways. They're equipped with an aggregate of several terabits of bandwidth, so they can handle a certain amount of flooding in any case. Games can also switch from one relay to another without necessarily interrupting their connection. This switching can be to another relay in the same location or even to another point-of-presence entirely.

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