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Industry & Technology

400-year-old warships in Swedish channel may be sisters of doomed Vasa

Ars Technica - 49 min 53 sec ago

Enlarge / These curved timbers, called knees, help support deck beams. (credit: Jim Hansson, Vrak Museum of Wrecks)

Two 17th-century shipwrecks on the bottom of a busy Swedish shipping channel may be the sister ships of the ill-fated Vasa. Archaeologists with Sweden's Vrak—Museum of Wrecks discovered the vessels in a 35-meter-deep channel near Stockholm during a recent survey. Neither wreck is as well-preserved as Vasa (to be fair, there are probably ships actually sailing today that aren't as well-preserved as Vasa), but they're in remarkably good shape for several centuries on the bottom.

Studying the wrecks could reveal more details about how early naval engineers revised their designs to avoid another disaster like Vasa.

Hiding in plain sight

The wrecks may be the remains of two of the four large warships Sweden's King Gustav II Adolf built in the 1620s and 1630s. The earliest of the four ships, Vasa, had a first trip out of port in 1628 that ended in disaster; the top-heavy vessel caught a gust of wind and leaned over far enough to let water rush in through open gun ports. King Gustav's prized warship sank just a few dozen meters offshore in front of hundreds of spectators.

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UK gambling machines loaded with AI 'cool off' system

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 2 min ago
Software designed to curtail excessive play has come to all gambling machines in betting shops.

Official Monero website is hacked to deliver currency-stealing malware

Ars Technica - 10 hours 16 min ago

(credit: Pixabay)

The official site for the Monero digital coin was hacked to deliver currency-stealing malware to users who were downloading wallet software, officials with said on Tuesday.

The supply-chain attack came to light on Monday when a site user reported that the cryptographic hash for a command-line interface wallet downloaded from the site didn't match the hash listed on the page. Over the next several hours, users discovered that the mismatching hash wasn't the result of an error. Instead, it was an attack designed to infect GetMonero users with malware. Site officials later confirmed that finding.

"It's strongly recommended to anyone who downloaded the CLI wallet from this website between Monday 18th 2:30 AM UTC and 4:30 PM UTC, to check the hashes of their binaries," GetMonero officials wrote. "If they don't match the official ones, delete the files and download them again. Do not run the compromised binaries for any reason."

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Election debate: Conservatives criticised for renaming Twitter profile 'factcheckUK'

BBC Technology News - 11 hours 49 min ago
Twitter said the stunt was misleading to the public and would not be tolerated in future - but did not take any direct action.

Amazon gets closer to getting Alexa everywhere

BBC Technology News - 12 hours 13 min ago
Alexa chief discusses plans to make the virtual assistant more useful when used outside the home.

Google outlines plans for mainline Linux kernel support in Android

Ars Technica - 12 hours 35 min ago

It seems like Google is working hard to update and upstream the Linux kernel that sits at the heart of every Android phone. The company was a big participant in this year's Linux Plumbers Conference, a yearly meeting of the top Linux developers, and Google spent a lot of time talking about getting Android to work with a generic Linux kernel instead of the highly-customized version it uses now. It even showed an Android phone running a mainline Linux kernel.

But first, some background on Android's current kernel mess.Currently, three major forks happen in between the "mainline" Linux kernel and a shipping Android device (note that "mainline" here has no relation to Google's own "Project Mainline"). First, Google takes the an LTS (Long Term Support) Linux kernel and turns it into the "Android Common kernel"—the Linux kernel with all the Android OS-specific patches applied. Android Common is shipped to the SoC vendor (usually Qualcomm) where it gets its first round of hardware-specific additions, first focusing on a particular model of SoC. This "SoC Kernel" then gets sent to a device manufacturer for even more hardware-specific code that supports every other piece of hardware, like the display, camera, speakers, usb ports, and any extra hardware. This is the "Device Kernel," and it's what actually ships on a device.

This is an extremely long journey that results in every device shipping millions of lines of out-of-tree kernel code. Every shipping device kernel is different and device specific—basically no device kernel from one phone will work on another phone. The mainline kernel version for a device is locked in at the beginning of an SoC's initial development, so it's typical for a brand-new device to ship with a Linux kernel that is two years old. Even Google's latest and, uh, greatest device, the Pixel 4, shipped in October 2019 with Linux kernel 4.14, an LTS release from November 2017. It will be stuck on kernel 4.14 forever, too. Android devices do not get kernel updates, probably thanks to the incredible amount of work needed to produce just a single device kernel, and the chain of companies that would need to cooperate to do it. Thanks to kernel updates never happening, this means every new release of Android usually has to support the last three years of LTS kernel releases (the minimum for Android 10 is 4.9, a 2016 release). Google's commitments to support older versions of Android with security patches means the company is still supporting kernel 3.18, which is five years old now. Google's band-aid solution for this so far has been to team up with the Linux community and support mainline Linux LTS releases for longer, and they're now up to six years of support.

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As DirecTV tanks, AT&T says it will “re-bundle” TV with HBO Max

Ars Technica - 12 hours 59 min ago

Enlarge / AT&T executive John Stankey at a presentation for investors at Warner Bros. Studios on October 29, 2019, in Burbank, California. (credit: Getty Images | Presley Ann)

AT&T's traditional TV business is tanking, with the company having lost nearly 5 million satellite-and-wireline TV customers since the end of 2016.

But AT&T President John Stankey sees a path forward in recreating the traditional cable-TV bundle on the Internet. AT&T's HBO Max is slated to launch in May 2020 for $14.99 a month, and AT&T has set an ambitious goal of 50 million US subscribers within five years.

A subscriber number like that would make HBO Max far bigger than AT&T's DirecTV satellite division and its U-verse wireline TV service. But ultimately, the service customers get could end up looking pretty similar to DirecTV, U-verse, or cable TV.

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Ayahuasca alters brain waves to produce waking dream-like state, study finds

Ars Technica - 13 hours 26 min ago

Enlarge / A sketch drawn by study participant of visuals during their experience. (credit: Imperial College London/Chris Timmermann)

People under the influence of a psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca frequently experience vivid visual and aural hallucinations and also report feeling as if they are in a dream. Now a new study published in Scientific Reports has shown that the drug alters the user's waking brain-wave patterns to produce a mental state that the researchers describe as "dreaming while awake."

Ayahuasca is a bitter tea made from the Brazilian vine banisteriopsis caapi, colloquially known as the "spirit vine," used in shaman-led spiritual ceremonies among native people in the Amazon basin. Its primary active ingredient is dimethyltryptamine (DMT). That's the secret to ayahuasca's powerful psychedelic effects, which can also produce feelings of elation and fear or a sense of epiphany or psychological breakthrough. Those mind-altering properties come at a price, however. Participants in the ceremonies are often advised to bring a bucket, since nausea and vomiting (and sometimes diarrhea) are common reactions to the tea.

The brain controls perception and communication throughout the body via chemical neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter attaches to matching areas on nerve cells known as receptors. LSD, for example, targets the brain's serotonin receptors. Ayahuasca contains a compound (banisterine) that latches onto dopamine receptors in the brain. (That's why banisterine holds potential as a treatment for Parkinson's disease, which destroys dopamine receptors.)

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New WhatsApp security concern: India cyber cell advises update

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 11:57pm
In a statement, WhatsApp said that it had no reason to believe that users phones were affected.

Bonkers pricing of “free” flu shots shows what’s wrong with US healthcare

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 11:23pm

Enlarge / Regardless of the crazy pricing, you should get your flu shot. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

The annual flu shots that are free to those with health insurance are not immune from the convoluted and contemptible price-gouging that plague the US healthcare system.

Health insurance companies pay wildly different amounts for the same vaccines depending on how negotiations go with individual medical providers across the country. In some cases, providers have forced insurers to pay upward of three times the price they would pay to other providers, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News.

The outlet noted that one Sacramento, California, doctors’ office got an insurer to pay $85 for a flu shot that it offered to uninsured patients for $25.

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Password data for ~2.2 million users of currency and gaming sites dumped online

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 11:09pm

Enlarge (credit: Bureau of Land Management Alaska Follow)

Password data and other personal information belonging to as many as 2.2 million users of two websites—one a cryptocurrency wallet service and the other a gaming bot provider—have been posted online, according to Troy Hunt, the security researcher behind the Have I Been Pwned breach notification service.

One haul includes personal information for as many as 1.4 million accounts from the GateHub cryptocurrency wallet service. The other contains data for about 800,000 accounts on RuneScape bot provider EpicBot. The databases include registered email addresses and passwords that were cryptographically hashed with bcrypt, a function that's among the hardest to crack.

The person posting the 3.72GB Gatehub database said it also includes two-factor authentication keys, mnemonic phrases, and wallet hashes, although GateHub officials said an investigation suggested wallet hashes were not accessed. The EpicBot database, meanwhile, purportedly included usernames and IP addresses. Hunt said he selected a representative sample of accounts from both databases to verify the authenticity of the data. All of the email addresses he checked were registered to accounts of the two sites.

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“Where the Wi-Fi sucks” is where a new wireless protocol does its magic

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 10:03pm

Enlarge / BYU assistant professor of computer engineering Phil Lundrigan is looking at an ONPC heartbeat on an RF signal analyzer. (credit: Brigham Young University)

Researchers at Brigham Young University have created a new RF protocol that runs on top of existing consumer Wi-Fi at significantly greater range. But before you get too excited, the protocol's bandwidth is extremely low—so much so that it makes LoRa look like an OC-24. The protocol, called ONPC—short for On-Off Noise Power Communication—currently only specifies a single bit per second.

Although ONPC only conveys one bit per second of data, its range is 60m or more beyond Wi-Fi—and it runs in software alone, on unmodified Wi-Fi hardware. An ONPC device can connect to standard Wi-Fi when range permits, fall back to ONPC mode if the connection drops, and then re-connect to the Wi-Fi when it becomes available again.

Disconnected versus unpowered

BYU Associate Professor of Computer Engineering Phil Lundrigan told Ars that ONPC was inspired by problems in an otherwise unrelated health care research project he'd worked on. The project required placing IoT sensors in the homes of study participants so that BYU's control over the environment was minimal to nonexistent. The project also required the sensors to report back to the researchers over the Internet, using whatever Wi-Fi the study participants had in place.

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Company claims breakthrough in concentrating the Sun’s rays

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / Heliogen's demonstration facility. (credit: Heliogen)

The explosion of solar energy capacity has been driven almost entirely by the plunging cost of photovoltaic hardware. That has made the situation difficult for an alternate technology known as solar thermal. Thermal uses mirrors to focus incoming sunlight onto a location that reaches high temperatures, which can then be used to generate electricity by driving a steam turbine. Since heat is relatively easy to store, these plants can continue to produce power long after the Sun has set. In some cases, these plants are able to operate around the clock.

Today, a company backed by tech investors is announcing that it has developed an enhanced form of solar thermal generation that can push the temperatures at the point of focus much higher. That's significant, because the promised temperatures reach heat needed for industrial processes like concrete production, metallurgy, and hydrogen production. While there are clear advantages when it comes to generating electricity, the key to this technology may be how readily it can be integrated into these industrial processes.

A hot startup

The company in question is a startup called Heliogen, which has received backing from several Silicon Valley investors and Bill Gates. But the technology Heliogen has developed does have a rather heavy tech component.

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Senators ask if Facebook really lets users opt out of location tracking

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge / The Facebook logo is displayed on a TV screen on September 9, 2019 in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty)

Back in September, Facebook updated its location privacy settings for users. "Facebook is better with location," the company stressed, but users were free to turn off location tracking, and the company would be happy to tell them how. That setting, however, comes with an enormous loophole, and two US senators want the company to explain itself.

Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) today sent a letter (PDF) to Facebook asking the company how, exactly, it tracks users' locations—even when location access and location history are disabled.

"We appreciate Facebook's attempt to proactively inform users about their privacy options," the senators wrote. "However, we are concerned that Facebook may not in fact be offering users the level of control that the company suggests these settings provide."

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Dealmaster: The OnePlus 7 Pro for $549 may be the smartphone deal of the year

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 7:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's deal is headlined by a $150 discount on the OnePlus 7 Pro, a device we called the "fastest, best-designed, best-value Android phone" on the market earlier this year.

The deal applies to unlocked models—which work on Verizon and GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile—and brings the phone down to $549. OnePlus says this is their official Black Friday discount for the holiday season, and our own Android guru Ron Amadeo told the Dealmaster it will likely go down as the "smartphone deal of the year."

You can read Ron's review from this past May for the full details, but the short take is that the OnePlus 7 Pro was already a good value at its standard going rate of $699. Despite being a large phone, it's been efficiently designed, with no notches or overly large borders blocking the the 6.67-inch 3120x1440 display. The in-display fingerprint reader and pop-up selfie camera only add to that efficiency, and both work well. That display supports a 90Hz refresh rate, too, which makes operating the device feel noticeably smoother across the board. The Snapdragon 855 processor, 8GB of RAM, and UFS 3.0 storage keep general performance as snappy as a top-of-the-line phone should. The triple-camera system on the back isn't the absolute best on the market, but it's still a great value for the price. And the "Oxygen OS" software remains a uniquely clean and useful take on Android.

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Esports gamers experience same stressors as pro athletes, study finds

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 6:56pm

Enlarge / A new study by researchers at the University of Chichester in England found that esports players who compete in major tournaments face the same level of stress as pro-athletes. (credit: ESL/University of Chichester)

Professional athletes at the highest level regularly contend not only with fierce competition from opposing teams or individual athletes but also intense psychological pressures, ranging from performance anxiety, fear of failure, and tensions resulting from miscommunication, particularly in team sports. Professional gamers competing in major esports competitions experience the same kinds of stressors, according to a new psychology study published in the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations.

Sports psychology has long been an active field, but applying it to esports is a relatively new area of research, one that the University of Chichester in the UK is embracing with its newly launched BA (Hons) esports degree. The program focuses on the scientific study of the physical and psychological impact of esports, including nutrition, coaching, and strategy in an immersive gaming environment, according to co-author Philip Birch, who specializes in sports and exercise performance psychology.

This is the first study of its kind, per Birch. The objective was to gain a clearer understanding not just of the stresses esports players face but also the coping strategies they use to deal with those stressors. Birch and his colleagues decided to focus on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) because it is similar to physical team sports like football or rugby. It's a multiplayer first-person shooter game that pits two teams against each other: Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists. The Terrorists try to plant bombs or take hostages, for example, while the Counter-Terrorists strive to defuse those bombs and rescue any hostages, as both sides try to eliminate the other. Players who do well are rewarded after each round with in-game currency; those who screw up can incur penalties.

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Arron Banks' private messages leaked by hacker

BBC Technology News - November 19, 2019 - 6:54pm
The founder of Leave.EU's Twitter account has been breached and messages spanning years leaked.

Sweden drops Julian Assange rape investigation after nine years

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 6:21pm

Enlarge / Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy Of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. (credit: Getty Images | Jack Taylor)

Swedish prosecutors have dropped a nine-year-old rape investigation into Julian Assange, saying that "the evidence has weakened considerably due to the long period of time that has elapsed since the events in question."

"I would like to emphasize that the injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events," Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson said, according to a BBC report today. "Her statements have been coherent, extensive and detailed; however, my overall assessment is that the evidential situation has been weakened to such an extent that there is no longer any reason to continue the investigation."

Prosecutors said they interviewed seven witnesses before deciding to stop the investigation, according to the BBC.

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Microsoft says yes to future encrypted DNS requests in Windows

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 6:11pm

Enlarge / Microsoft will (eventually) support secure DNS requests over the DoH protocol, and maybe over some others at some point. (credit: Yuichiro Chino via Getty Images)

In a post yesterday to the Microsoft Tech Community blog, Microsoft Windows Core Networking team members Tommy Jensen, Ivan Pashov, and Gabriel Montenegro announced that Microsoft is planning to adopt support for encrypted Domain Name System queries in order to "close one of the last remaining plain-text domain name transmissions in common web traffic."

That support will first take the form of integration with DNS over HTTPS (DoH), a standard proposed by the Internet Engineering Task Force and supported by Mozilla, Google, and Cloudflare, among others. "As a platform, Windows Core Networking seeks to enable users to use whatever protocols they need, so we’re open to having other options such as DNS over TLS (DoT) in the future," wrote Jensen, Pashov, and Montenegro. "For now, we're prioritizing DoH support as the most likely to provide immediate value to everyone. For example, DoH allows us to reuse our existing HTTPS infrastructure."

But Microsoft is being careful about how it deploys this compatibility given the current political fight over DoH being waged by Internet service providers concerned that they'll lose a lucrative source of customer behavior data.

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Sony controller patent points to potential PS5 permutations

Ars Technica - November 19, 2019 - 5:18pm

New images from a Japanese Sony patent, first filed in March and recently published by the Japanese patent office, seem to show a new version of Sony's DualShock controller. The patent images display some potential changes to the hardware for next year's planned release of the PlayStation 5.

Sony system architect Mark Cerny previously discussed the PlayStation 5's new controller in an interview with Wired last month. That interview mentioned that the new system's controller would sport a USB-C connector for charging and a potential wired data connection. And while the newly published patent images resemble the PS4's existing DualShock 4 in many ways, the port at the top appears to be USB-C rather than the USB-B micro connector on the DualShock 4.

There are a few other changes in the patent images that do not reflect potential controller changes Sony has publicly discussed. Chief among them is the apparent omission of the DualShock 4's lightbar. That lightbar's ability to glow in different colors was often used as a gimmick by game developers to indicate health or other in-game status effects, but it was also positioned in a way that was hard for players to use it or see it effectively. More importantly, many PlayStation VR games used that lightbar in conjunction with the PlayStation Eye camera to track the controller's position in space, a function that would not be possible in the same form on the patented controller.

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