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Industry & Technology

Coronavirus: NHS contact-tracing app in place by end of month, says minister

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 6 min ago
The app will "be running as soon as we think it is robust", a government minister says.

‘Venus flytrap hand’ has gentle touch and other tech news

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 10 min ago
BBC Click's Paul Carter looks at some of the best of the week's technology news stories.

A lost Maxis “Sim” game has been discovered by an Ars reader, uploaded for all

Ars Technica - 3 hours 42 min ago

Wow. It may only be an incomplete prototype, but in a breathtaking span of time, SimRefinery has gone from a seemingly lost legend to a playable, downloadable video game. (That's its real, full-resolution opening screen, as captured using a DOSBox emulator.) And it's all thanks to an Ars Technica commenter. (credit: / Maxis / Chevron)

We at Ars Technica are proud to be members of video game archiving history today. SimRefinery, one of PC gaming's most notoriously "lost" video games, now exists—as a fully playable game, albeit an unfinished one—thanks to an Ars Technica reader commenting on the story of its legend.

Two weeks ago, I reported on a story about Maxis Business Solutions, a subdivision of the game developer Maxis created in the wake of SimCity's booming success. Librarian and archivist Phil Salvador published an epic, interview-filled history of one of the game industry's earliest examples of a "serious" gaming division, which was formed as a way to cash in on major businesses' interest in using video games as work-training simulators.

As Salvador wrote in May:

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Iran- and China-backed phishers try to hook the Trump and Biden campaigns

Ars Technica - 7 hours 46 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker)

State-backed hackers from Iran and China recently targeted the presidential campaigns of Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, a Google threat analyst said on Thursday.

The revelation is the latest evidence of foreign governments attempting to gain intelligence on US politicians and potentially disrupt or meddle in their election campaigns. An Iran-backed group targeted the Trump campaign and China-backed attackers targeted the Biden campaign, said Shane Huntley, the head of Google’s Threat Analysis Group on Twitter. Both groups used phishing emails. There’s no indication that either attack campaign succeeded.

Kittens and Pandas

Huntley identified the Iranian group that targeted Trump’s campaign as APT35, short for Advanced Persistent Threat 35. Also known as Charming Kitten, iKittens, and Phosphorous, the group was caught targeting an unnamed presidential campaign before, Microsoft said last October. In that campaign, Phosphorous members attempted to access email accounts campaign staff received through Microsoft cloud services. Microsoft said that the attackers worked relentlessly to gather information that could be used to activate password resets and other account-recovery services Microsoft provides.

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A detective hunts a costumed vigilante in Major Grom: Plague Doctor trailer

Ars Technica - 7 hours 59 min ago

Major Grom: Plague Doctor is adapted from the Russian comics of the same name.

A rogue detective who doesn't always play by the rules hunts a costumed vigilante serial killer in the first English-language trailer (well, subtitled) for a Russian superhero film called Major Grom: Plague Doctor, directed by Oleg Trofim (Ice). There's some pretty strong The Punisher vibes here, as well as V for Vendetta. The Major Grom comic books, created by Artem Gabrelyanov, have been likened to the early Batman comics in tone, which might explain the Dark Knight overtones as well.

(Some spoilers for the Russian comics below.)

The original Major Grom comics were published between 2012 and 2015, later spawning several spinoffs. The protagonist is Major Igor Grom, a detective in St. Petersburg who has mean martial arts skills and takes part in the occasional amateur boxing competition (aka Russian Fight Club). He has a tendency to bend the rules, which irritates his young rookie partner, Dmitry "Dima" Dubin, who prefers to play things by the book. Grom's love interest is an investigative reporter named Yulia Pchelkina, whose skill set proves useful in helping solve Grom's various comic book cases. A billionaire social media mogul named Sergey Razumovsky is Grom's archnemesis. Razumovsky is a philanthropist by day but murders homeless people by night, all in the name of cleaning up St. Petersburg.

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Is coronavirus changing the world of cleaning?

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 3 min ago
Hi-tech cleaning products are being offered to tackle coronavirus, but are they better than soap and water?

Do face masks help? Studies leaning towards yes

Ars Technica - 10 hours 59 min ago

Enlarge / If only some of the public wears protective gear, is it helpful? (credit: Diego Puletto / Getty Images)

What's the best way to protect yourself when you're at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2? It seems like a simple question, but many of the options—face masks, lockdowns, social distancing, etc.—have been politically controversial. In addition, it has been difficult for public health authorities to maintain a consistent message, given our changing state of knowledge and their need to balance things like maintaining supplies of protective equipment for health care workers.

But several months into the pandemic, we've started to get a clear indication that social isolation rules are helping, providing support for those policies. So, where do we stand on the use of masks?

Two recent events hint at where the evidence is running. The first involves the retraction of a paper that appeared to show that mask use was ineffective. And the second is a meta-analysis of all recent studies on the use of protective gear against SARS-CoV-2 and its relatives SARS and MERS. It finds support for a protective effect of masks—as well as eye protection—although the underlying evidence isn't as strong as we might like.

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Instagram just threw users of its embedding API under the bus

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 10:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Instagram does not provide users of its embedding API a copyright license to display embedded images on other websites, the company said in a Thursday email to Ars Technica. The announcement could come as an unwelcome surprise to users who believed that embedding images, rather than hosting them directly, provides insulation against copyright claims.

"While our terms allow us to grant a sub-license, we do not grant one for our embeds API," a Facebook company spokesperson told Ars in a Thursday email. "Our platform policies require third parties to have the necessary rights from applicable rights holders. This includes ensuring they have a license to share this content, if a license is required by law."

In plain English, before you embed someone's Instagram post on your website, you may need to ask the poster for a separate license to the images in the post. If you don't, you could be subject to a copyright lawsuit.

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Huawei’s temperature-taking smartphone is the most 2020 phone of 2020

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 10:15pm

Smartphones have always been the modern tech equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, combining a phone, a music player, a camera, a GPS, a PDA, and more into a single device. Now Huawei is pitching yet another device that can be integrated into a smartphone: a thermometer. Huawei's Honor Play 4 Pro has an IR temperature sensor integrated into the rear camera block that can measure the surface temperature of people and objects. In a year when containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is a major concern and a fever can be an early indicator of infection, the Play 4 Pro is an extremely 2020 smartphone.

In a video posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo, Huawei demonstrates how the feature will work. Just aim the phone at someone's forehead, tap through the app, and the phone will give you a temperature reading. Temperature checks aren't a guaranteed way to screen for COVID-19, but a fever is a symptom in the majority of hospitalized cases, and it's very easy to check for. The use of infrared non-contact thermometers is a common sight in Huawei's home country of China, and in the United States, employers like Amazon and Walmart are screening masses of warehouse employees for fevers as part of coronavirus control.

Huawei says its IR sensor can read temperatures from -20°C (-4°F) to 100°C (212°F). An IR sensor isn't as accurate as a thermal camera, and neither device, which reads a surface temperature, is as accurate as an internally taken temperature. An IR sensor is cheap, though, and they are already frequently integrated into a smartphone for face unlock and camera effects, so Huawei was able to quickly react to the pandemic.

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Nature’s cosmic hard drive? Black holes could store information like holograms

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / New research suggests we really can describe black holes as holograms: they have two dimensions, in which gravity disappears, but they reproduce an object in three dimensions. (credit: Gerd Altmann for PIxabay)

Nearly 30 years ago, theoretical physicists introduced the "holographic principle," a mind-bending theory positing that our three-dimensional universe is actually a hologram. Now physicists are applying that same principle to black holes, arguing in a new paper published in Physical Review X that a black hole's information is contained within a two-dimensional surface, which is able to reproduce an image of the black hole in three dimensions—just like the holograms we see in everyday life.

Black holes as described by general relativity are simple objects. All you need to describe them mathematically is their mass and their spin, plus their electric charge. So there would be no noticeable change if you threw something into a black hole—nothing that would provide a clue as to what that object might have been. That information is lost.

But problems arise when quantum gravity enters the picture because the rules of quantum mechanics hold that information can never be destroyed. And in quantum mechanics, black holes are incredibly complex objects and thus should contain a great deal of information. As we reported previously, Jacob Bekenstein realized in 1974 that black holes also have a temperature. Stephen Hawking tried to prove him wrong but wound up proving him right instead, concluding that black holes therefore had to produce some kind of thermal radiation.

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Jake Paul: YouTuber charged with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 9:25pm
The 23 year old is charged with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly at a Scottsdale mall.

Retracted: Hydroxychloroquine study pulled over suspect data [Updated]

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 9:07pm

Enlarge / A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine. US President Donald Trump announced May 18 he has been taking hydroxychloroquine for almost two weeks as a preventative measure against COVID-19. (credit: Getty | George Frey)

The Lancet medical journal on Thursday announced the retraction of a dubious study suggesting that the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine significantly increased the risk of death and heart-rhythm complications in hospitalized COVID-19 patients worldwide.

Three of the study’s four authors made the decision to retract the study after they were unable to independently verify the data used for their analysis. The data was provided by an obscure data analytics company, Surgisphere, which is run by the fourth author of the study, Sapan S Desai, who did not appear to agree to the retraction.

The three retracting authors—Mandeep R. Mehra of Harvard, Frank Ruschitzka of University Hospital Zurich, and Amit Patel of the University of Utah—said in their retraction notice that Surgisphere refused to hand over its full dataset and an audit report of its servers for an independent peer review. “Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources,” the wrote.

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I choose you: Pokémon Draft League brings pro sports excitement to the game

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 8:30pm

An early-season draft-league match comes down to the wire.

Draft league is probably nothing like the Pokémon you're familiar with. It's not training up a team of your favorite Pokémon to beat Team Rocket. It's not even like an official competitive tournament run by The Pokémon Company.

And it all started with a bumper sticker.

Steve "Magnitude" Wood is the YouTuber and sports fanatic who came up with the concept of combining his two passions. "I'm a huge Milwaukee Bucks basketball fan," he tells Ars Technica. "And I thought the Pokémon Sawsbuck looks a lot like the Milwaukee Bucks logo. One of my friends was a graphic designer, so she made me a sticker, and I got it printed and put it on my car."

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Small ISP cancels data caps permanently after reviewing pandemic usage

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 7:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | RichLegg)

The coronavirus pandemic caused big ISPs to put data caps on hold for a few months, but one small ISP is going a big step further and canceling the arbitrary monthly limits permanently. Antietam Broadband, which serves Washington County in Maryland, announced Friday that it "has permanently removed broadband data usage caps for all customers," retroactive to mid-March when the company first temporarily suspended data-cap overage fees.

The decision to permanently drop the cap was made partly because of "learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic as more people worked and learned remotely," Antietam explained. "During this period customers moved into broadband packages that more accurately reflected their broadband needs." Like most other ISPs, Antietam charges different prices based on speed tiers as measured in bits per second, with Antietam's advertised download speeds ranging up to 1Gbps.

"These are uncertain times. We felt a need to give customers as much certainty over their bill as possible," Antietam President Brian Lynch said in the press release. "Eliminating data usage caps means that customers will know the exact amount of their broadband bill every month."

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A ton of PlayStation 4 games are on sale today

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 7:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by Sony's "Days of Play" sale, a now-annual summer sale that includes deals on a wide range of PlayStation games, subscriptions, and accessories. Sony technically kicked off the event on Wednesday, but the company says the sale will last through June 17, with discounts available at its own digital stores and various third-party retailers.

We've rounded up the highlights of the sale below. In general, the offerings aren't quite as diverse as what we saw in last year's sale; there are no discounts on consoles or controllers this time around. But the event does bring a number of worthwhile PS4 games down to $10, including God of WarHorizon Zero DawnUncharted: The Nathan Drake CollectionBloodborne, and The Last of Us Remastered, among many others. The "Game of the Year" edition of Marvel's Spider-Man dropping to $20 is another highlight, while more recent worthy games like DreamsDeath Stranding, and MLB The Show 20 are anywhere from $10 to $20 off their usual street price.

Outside of games, one-year subscriptions to Sony's PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now services are both down to $42. This isn't the largest discount we've seen for the former, but it's still a good drop from its standard $60, and the service remains a must for playing the vast majority of PS4 games online. PlayStation Now is less essential, but its library of games has grown to the point of being a decent value—albeit not on the level of Xbox Game Pass—and it lets you download hundreds of those games alongside the usual cloud streaming. That deal price is the lowest we've tracked to date.

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Electric race cars and human drama on display in And We Go Green

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 6:59pm

Enlarge / Nelson Piquet Jr is one of the drivers featured in a new documentary about Formula E. (credit: Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E)

You might think a film about the world of Formula E racing would focus on the electric car technology being battle-tested by the sport. But And We Go Greena new documentary now streaming on Hulu—is a much more emotional story about the sport. It takes about two and a half minutes for someone to drop the first F-bomb. We're in Hong Kong, and the electric racing cars of Formula E are lined up and waiting for the signal that starts the race. The only problem: those lights aren't working, and series boss Alejandro Agag wants to know "who the fuck is responsible" for messing up. That should make it clear that this is an unvarnished look at the sport.

The film follows this upstart race series as it goes about its fourth season, and more particularly some of the intense, sometimes long-standing rivalries within it. And I bring up the profanity—which starts with Agag but continues aplenty from everyone else—because so often that kind of thing is smoothed over by anodyne corporate messaging. But Formula E has always been a little more freewheeling than a series like Formula 1.

Unvarnished doesn't mean unpolished, though. And We Go Green is as much of a visual feast as any recent motorsports documentary, and if you think you detect the influence of legendary Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin), good guess.

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How to make plastic bottles from sugarcane and captured CO₂

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 6:46pm

Enlarge / Squeeze the magical juice from some sugarcane, and this is what's left. (credit: Harsha K R)

While most plastics have generally been produced from petroleum, that’s not an inherent requirement. Chemistry is chemistry, and it’s possible to grow many of the hydrocarbons we need. But crops are the things we are best at growing, and plastics made from crops can have problems. They tend to cost more, and unless we're willing to accept impacts on our ability to grow food, pathways to bioplastics have to be pretty clever about their starting materials.

A new study led by Durham University’s Long Jiang, Abigail Gonzalez-Diaz, and Janie Ling-Chin lays out a pathway to making plastic bottles from waste organic material and CO2 captured from power plants. A thorough analysis of the economics shows this process could even be cost competitive for making things like plastic bottles.

The process could start with something like the leftover plant material from sugarcane pressing. After a few reaction steps, which include the addition of some captured CO2 and some ethylene glycol produced from corn plants, you’d end up with a plastic polymer called polyethylene furandicarboxylate—otherwise known as PEF. Functionally, it’s similar to the PET plastic used for water and soda bottles, denoted by the number 1 recycling symbol.

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Hulu scraps support for older Roku devices

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 6:27pm

Enlarge / The 2017 Roku Ultra, which will still be supported by the latest Hulu app. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Several older Roku devices will lose access to the latest Hulu app on June 24, 2020, the subscription-based streaming service has announced with an update to its support pages. Users of the affected devices will see messages like "Hulu is no longer supported on this device," or simply "your user session has expired," according to Hulu documentation.

Affected devices include Roku Streaming Stick models 3420 or earlier, as well as Roku Streaming Player models 2400 to 3100. Roku device owners can navigate to the About panel under Settings within the Roku interface to determine which model they have.

The sticks and players were already limited to using the "classic" Hulu app instead of the modern one. The classic app has a number of limitations—most notably the lack of live TV support. However, with this change, it appears that users of these models will not be able to access Hulu in any form after the end-of-support date.

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Medics call for action on social media Covid-19 'infodemic'

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 6:00pm
Hard-hitting testimony by medics highlights the damage being done to frontline healthcare.

COVID vaccine execs hyped vague data to cash in $90M in stock, watchdog says

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 5:33pm

Enlarge / Moderna Inc. headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

An anti-corruption watchdog is pressing the US Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate executives of the biotech company Moderna after they cashed in about $90 million in company shares days after promoting “positive" but vague data from its early COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

The watchdog group, Accountable.US, called the timing of the trades suspicious and questioned whether executives coordinated their stock sales prior to the data release.

In a letter to the SEC that was released to CBS Moneywatch, Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig wrote, "This misconduct was particularly egregious because it involved not only financial fraud and manipulation of the financial markets, but also because it exploited widespread fears surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” In all, the executives' exploitation served to "boost the company's value, as well as their own bank accounts.

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