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Industry & Technology

Trump declares national emergency over IT threats

BBC Technology News - May 16, 2019 - 12:49pm
The executive order to protect US networks from "foreign adversaries" is believed to target Huawei.

Global virus fear prompts update for old Windows

BBC Technology News - May 16, 2019 - 11:33am
Fears that a massive computer virus outbreak is imminent prompt Microsoft to update old software

Tesla to update battery software after recent car fires

BBC Technology News - May 16, 2019 - 7:30am
The move follows reports that a parked car caught fire in Hong Kong, after a similar incident in Shanghai.

Oh Polly sorry for separate plus-sized Instagram account

BBC Technology News - May 16, 2019 - 6:24am
Fashion brand Oh Polly had created a separate account for larger models, but has since deleted it.

CBS shows the first new image of Patrick Stewart as Picard in 17 years

Ars Technica - May 16, 2019 - 1:43am

Enlarge / A photo taken of the brief video clip CBS showed at the Upfronts. (credit: Kate Aurthur)

We now have our first look at Patrick Stewart in character as Star Trek: The Next Generation's Jean-Luc Picard since the film Star Trek: Nemesis back in 2002.

The image is a photo of a video clip shown at CBS' Upfronts presentation. Upfronts are hosted by TV networks like CBS to show off the next season's slate of shows primarily to advertisers, but sometimes to press as well. Press and advertising professionals who presented at the event shared the details on Twitter. The image itself was shared by Kate Aurthur, Buzzfeed's chief Los Angeles correspondent.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV critic Rob Owen described the brief scene in a tweet, writing that the clip featured "a Starfleet officer asking Jean-Luc, 'May I have your name, please, sir?' as Picard appears incredulous."

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SpaceX scrubs first attempt to launch 60 Internet satellites [Updated]

Ars Technica - May 16, 2019 - 1:30am

Enlarge / The Falcon 9 rocket, on the launchpad, with its Starlink cargo tucked into the payload fairing. (credit: SpaceX)

1045pm ET Update: About 15 minutes before the Falcon 9 rocket was due to liftoff on Wednesday evening from Florida, the launch was scrubbed. The culprit? Unfavorable upper-level winds. Fortunately, SpaceX has a back-up window that opens again at 10:30pm ET Thursday.

Original post: If the weather and Falcon 9 rocket cooperate, the first batch of SpaceX's Internet satellites will launch from Florida on Wednesday evening. With a mass of 18.5 tons, this will be the company's heaviest launch to date for either the Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy rocket.

Wednesday's rocket will boost 60 Starlink satellites, each weighing 227kg, to an altitude of 440km. This is the first block of Starlink satellites for what should eventually be a much larger constellation, and they will help SpaceX gauge its performance and conduct tests of several key systems. Over the coming months, these first satellites will be joined by six additional launches carrying similarly sized payloads. These launches will bring the constellation to an initial "operational" capability.

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Super Mario Maker 2 news dump: Finally, Mario gets an online-versus mode

Ars Technica - May 16, 2019 - 12:41am

With only six weeks to go before launch, Super Mario Maker 2's new and updated features have mostly emerged thanks to tiny teases. That changed on Wednesday with a whopper of a Nintendo news video that revealed, among other things, the series' first-ever online-versus mode—and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the series' first online-subscription requirement for some of its content.

The game will launch on June 28 at a standard $60 retail price, though Nintendo will also sell Super Mario Maker 2 as a $70 bundle with a 12-month Nintendo Switch Online subscription code. If you're already a paying NSO member, that code will stack on top of however many months you've already purchased (currently $4/mo or $20 for a 12-month subscription).

That bundle will hit store shelves for good reason, as Nintendo will gate much of the original Wii U game's content behind a paid-online requirement—including the ability to upload custom-made levels and to search for and download other users' creations. Should you wish to play a slew of custom levels offline, SMM2 will support offline play for any levels you've already downloaded to your Switch. As of press time, Nintendo did not clarify whether the game will require any routine online check-in to access those downloaded levels after, say, being offline for over a week or canceling a NSO membership.

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Windows dual booting no longer looking likely on Pixelbooks

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 11:50pm

Enlarge / Google's Pixelbook. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Just under a year ago, there were signs that Google was modifying the firmware of its Pixelbook laptop to enable dual booting into Windows 10. The firmware was updated to give the Pixelbook the ability to boot into an "Alternative OS" ("AltOS" mode). The work included references to the Windows Hardware Certification Kit (WHCK) and the Windows Hardware Lab Kit (HLK), Microsoft's testing frameworks for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, respectively.

Google now appears to have abandoned this effort. A redditor called crosfrog noticed that AltOs mode was now deprecated (via Android Police). Pixelbooks are going to be for Chrome OS only, after all.

The dual-boot work was being done under the name Project Campfire. There appears to have been little development work on Project Campfire since last December. This suggests that Google actually decided not to bother with dual booting many months ago.

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US says it will not join Christchurch Call against online terror

BBC Technology News - May 15, 2019 - 10:15pm
The scheme aims to tackle terror content after the Christchurch attacks, but the US opts out.

No, someone hasn’t cracked the code of the mysterious Voynich manuscript

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 10:03pm

Enlarge / Composed circa 1420, the 240-page Voynich manuscript is considered by scholars to be the most interesting and mysterious document ever found. (credit: Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

The Voynich manuscript is a famous medieval text written in a mysterious language that so far has proven to be undecipherable. Now, Gerard Cheshire, a University of Bristol academic, has announced his own solution to the conundrum in a new paper in the journal Romance Studies. Cheshire identifies the mysterious writing as a "calligraphic proto-Romance" language, and he thinks the manuscript was put together by a Dominican nun as a reference source on behalf of Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon. Apparently it took him all of two weeks to accomplish a feat that has eluded our most brilliant scholars for at least a century.

So case closed, right? After all, headlines are already trumpeting that the "Voynich manuscript is solved," decoded by a "UK genius." Not so fast. There's a long, checkered history of people making similar claims. None of them have proved convincing to date, and medievalists are justly skeptical of Cheshire's conclusions as well.

What is this mysterious manuscript that has everyone so excited? It's a 15th century medieval handwritten text dated between 1404 and 1438, purchased in 1912 by a Polish book dealer and antiquarian named Wilfrid M. Voynich (hence its moniker). Along with the strange handwriting in an unknown language or code, the book is heavily illustrated with bizarre pictures of alien plants, naked women, strange objects, and zodiac symbols. It's currently kept at Yale University's Beinecke Library of rare books and manuscripts. Possible authors include Roger Bacon, Elizabethan astrologer/alchemist John Dee, or even Voynich himself, possibly as a hoax.

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Researchers make their own E. coli genome, compress its genetic code

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

Enlarge / Like any other E. coli, but different. (credit: CDC)

The genetic code is the basis for all life, allowing the information present in DNA to be translated into the proteins that perform most of a cell's functions. And yet it's... kind of a mess. Life typically uses a suite of about 20 amino acids, while the genetic code has 64 possible combinations. That mismatch means that redundancy is rampant, and a lot of species have evolved variations on what would otherwise be a universal genetic code.

So is the code itself significant, or is it something of a historic accident, locked in place by events in the distant evolutionary past? Answering that question hasn't been an option until recently, since individual codes appear in hundreds of thousands of places in the genomes of even the simplest organisms. But as our ability to make DNA has scaled up, it has become possible to synthesize entire genomes from scratch, allowing a wholesale rewrite of the genetic code.

Now, researchers are announcing that they have redone the genome of the bacteria E. coli to get rid of some of the genetic code's redundancy. The resulting bacteria grow somewhat more slowly than a normal strain but were otherwise difficult to distinguish from their non-synthetic peers.

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Google warns Bluetooth Titan security keys can be hijacked by nearby hackers

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 7:29pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Google is warning that the Bluetooth Low Energy version of the Titan security key it sells for two-factor authentication can be hijacked by nearby attackers, and the company is advising users to get a free replacement device that fixes the vulnerability.

A misconfiguration in the key’s Bluetooth pairing protocols makes it possible for attackers within 30 feet to either communicate with the key or with the device it’s paired with, Google Cloud Product Manager Christiaan Brand wrote in a post published on Wednesday.

The Bluetooth-enabled devices are one variety of low-cost security keys that, as Ars reported in 2016, represent the single most effective way to prevent account takeovers for sites that support the protection. In addition to the account password entered by the user, the key provides secondary “cryptographic assertions” that are just about impossible for attackers to guess or phish. Security keys that use USB or Near Field Communication are unaffected.

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White House refuses to sign international statement on online extremism

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 7:05pm

(credit: Matt Wade)

The Trump administration will not sign an international pledge by governments and online services to combat extremist content online. The Christchurch Call is named after the New Zealand city where a terrorist livestreamed the shooting deaths of 50 Muslims in March.

The statement is being formally released today as part of an international summit in Paris. It will bear the signatures of more than a dozen nations, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Leading technology companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, have also signed on. But not the US government.

"The United States stands with the international community in condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online in the strongest terms," the White House said in an emailed statement Wednesday. The US government says it will "continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call," however, it is "not currently in a position to join the endorsement."

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MPs ask Instagram chiefs about suicide poll

BBC Technology News - May 15, 2019 - 6:29pm
App executives are questioned by MPs two days after the apparent suicide of a Malaysian teenager.

Ajit Pai’s robocall plan lets carriers charge for new call-blocking tools

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 5:28pm

Enlarge (credit: ullstein bild | Getty Images)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is calling on carriers to block robocalls by default without waiting for consumers to opt in to call-blocking services. But he hasn't proposed making this a requirement and is leaving it up to carriers to decide whether to charge for such services.

To encourage carriers, Pai is proposing rule changes making it clear that carriers are allowed to block calls by default. Call blocking by default isn't explicitly outlawed by the FCC, but Pai's announcement today said that "many voice providers have held off developing and deploying call-blocking tools by default because of uncertainty about whether these tools are legal under the FCC's rules."

In a call with reporters this morning, Pai said the uncertainty stems from a 2015 FCC order in which "the FCC suggested that its rules and regulations would not prohibit call-blocking services to the extent that consumers opted into them. Many members of the industry perceived that interpretation to make illegal, potentially, the blocking of calls by default."

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Microsoft open sources algorithm that gives Bing some of its smarts

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 4:51pm

Enlarge / The Eiffel Tower. (credit: Pedro Szekely)

Search engines today are more than just the dumb keyword matchers they used to be. You can ask a question—say, "How tall is the tower in Paris?"—and they'll tell you that the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters (1,063 feet) tall, about the same as an 81-story building. They can do this even though the question never actually names the tower.

How do they do this? As with everything else these days, they use machine learning. Machine-learning algorithms are used to build vectors—essentially, long lists of numbers—that in some sense represent their input data, whether it be text on a webpage, images, sound, or videos. Bing captures billions of these vectors for all the different kinds of media that it indexes. To search the vectors, Microsoft uses an algorithm it calls SPTAG ("Space Partition Tree and Graph"). An input query is converted into a vector, and SPTAG is used to quickly find "approximate nearest neighbors" (ANN), which is to say, vectors that are similar to the input.

This (with some amount of hand-waving) is how the Eiffel Tower question can be answered: a search for "How tall is the tower in Paris?" will be "near" pages talking about towers, Paris, and how tall things are. Such pages are almost surely going to be about the Eiffel Tower.

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Mass grave in Poland embodies the violent beginning of the Bronze Age

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 4:41pm

Enlarge / This is the Late Neolithic mass grave at Koszyce, Poland. (credit: Image courtesy of Piotr Wodarczak)

Sometime between 2880 and 2776 BCE, 15 family members were hastily buried together in a single pit, their shattered skulls telling a story of violent death. Yet someone interred the dead with the pottery, tools, and ornaments typical of a proper burial in their culture, a culture we know today by the name of its most common ceramic artifact: the Globular Amphora. And someone seems to have made the effort to put the closest family members alongside one another in the pit.

Today, the grave near the village of Koszyce in southern Poland is the only record of one particular act of brutal violence during a turbulent time in European prehistory.

Out of the blue

It seems that no one in the seasonal camp of pastoralists was prepared for the raiders. Nearly all of the dead are women and children. Though women in the past (and today) could be formidable fighters, no weapons are buried with them to suggest that was the case here. Almost none of their bones show signs of broken limbs raised in defense (known as parry fractures), so it doesn’t look like they went down fighting. Instead, most appear to have died from crushing blows to the back of their skulls, as if they’d been captured and executed.

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Christchurch attacks: Facebook curbs Live feature

BBC Technology News - May 15, 2019 - 4:15pm
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calls Facebook's new policy a "good first step".

What to do if you see an Instagram post about suicide

BBC Technology News - May 15, 2019 - 3:48pm
A 16-year-old girl in Malaysia killed herself after she posted a poll on Instagram, police say.

The dark side of technology is back in first Black Mirror S5 trailer

Ars Technica - May 15, 2019 - 3:40pm

An impressive ensemble cast will appear in three new episodes for Netflix series Black Mirror season 5.

The first trailer for the highly anticipated fifth season of the Netflix sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror is finally here, and it looks to be as edgy, darkly satiric, and thought-provoking as ever.

(Mildest of spoilers for prior seasons and Bandersnatch below.)

For the uninitiated, Black Mirror is the creation of Charlie Brooker, co-showrunner with Annabel Jones. The series explores, shall we say, the darker side of technology and its impact on people's lives in the near future, and it's in the spirit of classic anthology series like The Twilight Zone. Brooker developed Black Mirror to highlight topics related to humanity's relationship to technology, creating stories that feature "the way we live now—and the way we might be living in 10 minutes' time if we're clumsy." The series debuted on the British Channel 4 in December 2011, followed by a second season. Noting its popularity, Netflix took over the series in 2015, releasing longer seasons 3 and 4 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

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