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Industry & Technology

A neural network picks promising antibiotics out of a library of chemicals

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 7:49pm

Enlarge / Here, have some antibiotics. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Biochemists have had some success at designing drugs to match specific targets. But much of drug development remains an arduous grind, screening hundreds to thousands of chemicals for a "hit" that has the effect you're looking for. There have been several attempts to perform this grind in silico, using computers to analyze chemicals, but they've had mixed results. Now, a US-Canadian team is reporting that it's modified a neural network to handle chemistry and used it to identify a potential new antibiotic.

Artificial neurons meet chemicals

Two factors have a major influence on the success of neural networks: the structure of the network itself, and the training it undergoes. In this case, the training was pretty minimalist. The research team did the training using a group of 1,760 drugs that were previously approved by the US FDA, along with another 800 or so natural products. Most of these aren't antibiotics; they target a variety of conditions and are made up of largely unrelated molecules. The researchers simply tested whether these slowed down the growth of E. coli. Even though many of them were partially effective, the researchers set a cutoff and used that to provide a yes or no answer.

This approach does have some advantages in that it shouldn't bias the resulting neural network for any particular chemical structure. But with a dataset that small, it's likely that some specific functional chemical groups were left out of the training set entirely. Success was also very rare, with only 120 molecules coming in above the cutoff. And, since the cutoff was a binary "works" or "doesn't work," the network had no way of identifying trends that could help it project what chemicals might be more active.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

January was warmest on record for the globe

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 2:45pm

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

We’re off to a hot start in 2020, with January setting a new mark as the warmest instance of that month on record for the globe. And as NOAA pointed out in its monthly summary released Thursday, that occurred without the warming influence of an El Niño in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, where conditions remain neutral.

Few places around the world had a cool month, with much of India and Alaska/Western Canada providing exceptions. Europe through to northern Asia was particularly warm, and January ranked fifth warmest over the contiguous US. This was largely due to remarkably tight circulation of the “polar vortex,” which helped keep Arctic air bottled up north of the mid-latitudes.

For the US, the weather pattern was dominated by an area of low pressure around Alaska and high pressure off the coast of California. Alaska and western Canada stayed colder in this pattern, which also funneled moisture over the Pacific Northwest while keeping the US Southwest dry. In the middle of the month, the low pressure shifted east for a bit, bringing just enough cool air over the central US to produce a fair bit of precipitation.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Mandalorian was shot on a holodeck-esque set with Unreal Engine, video shows

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 1:30pm

Industrial Light and Magic has published a behind-the-scenes video on the production of Disney+'s The Mandalorian that gives an illuminating look at two of the biggest, high-tech trends in film and TV production: LED sets, and using game engines to create scenes. The video explains a major shift in virtual filmmaking that is unknown to most viewers.

It has historically been impractical to achieve the production values seen in The Mandalorian in TV series, because the kind of visual effects work necessary simply takes more time than a TV production schedule allows. Generally, special effects-driven productions shoot scenes with actors and props in front of a green screen, and then teams add in the background environments and any computer-generated objects in a lengthy post-production period.

That's not how things worked on The Mandalorian. Executive Producer Jon Favreau, Industrial Light and Magic, and game engine-maker Epic Games collaborated to use the Unreal Engine to pre-render scenes then display them as parallax images on giant LED walls and an LED ceiling in a 21-by-75-feet digital set. It's part of a lineage of production techniques and tools developed by Favreau's teams called StageCraft. This approach offered numerous benefits.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Companies are stealing influencers’ faces

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 12:50pm

Enlarge / 30 October 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne: Svea Simonis (l-r), Antonia el Ghali, Chany Dakota and Ana Lisa pose in a pink Cadillac at the Supercandy Pop-Up Museum. On 1 November, the "Supercandy Pop-Up" Museum opens in Cologne and offers photographers, bloggers and influencers the perfect backdrop for self-presentation. (credit: Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The first time Lucy Kyselica’s face was stolen, it turned up in the window of a beauty salon in small-town America. Kyselica is a Dutch beauty YouTuber who mostly makes videos about historical hairdos, but she had also made a video showing her subscribers how to thread their own eyebrows. The salon took a screengrab from that video, enlarged it to poster size, and used it to advertise their eyebrow threading services. Across the ocean in the Netherlands, Kyselica only found out because some fans recognized her, and asked her if she was working with the salon or if she even knew her image was in its window. She wasn’t; she didn’t. She sent an email, and never heard back. “It may still be there,” she says.

In the six years since, Kyselica has seen her image used to sell other people’s products over and over. She’s been the face of hairstyling tools, hair thickening products, and beauty pills. “The products are always kind of dodgy,” she says. Most recently, it was clip-in bangs sold by a Chinese merchant on Amazon. Kyselica decided to publicize her problem, and made a video about it: “I Ordered My Own Bangs Off Amazon

Study finds quarter of climate change tweets from bots

BBC Technology News - February 22, 2020 - 2:59am
Researchers at Brown University found bots were far more likely to post tweets denying climate change.

Email address charges branded 'daylight robbery'

BBC Technology News - February 22, 2020 - 1:42am
Ofcom is asking why broadband firms charge people to keep old email addresses after switching providers.

Review: Time travel and murder combine in HBO’s riveting Beforeigners series

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 11:20pm

Beforeigners trailer.

Two police detectives from wildly different time periods must learn to work together to solve a murder in Beforeigners, a riveting blend of science fiction and police procedural from HBO Europe that is already poised to become one of the standout shows of the year. Like Netflix's Ragnarok, it is a Norwegian TV series that draws heavily on the history and mythology of the region. But Beforeigners eschews the supernatural, and the campier teen soap elements, to deliver a thoughtful, moving, and often quite ribald and funny tale of various worlds colliding.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Series creators Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad wanted to follow up their successful series Lilyhammer with a science fiction story built around the idea of refugees arriving from different historical periods rather than different countries, and they combined the concept with a hard-boiled murder mystery. They've cited District 9 and The Leftovers among their influences, along with classic novels like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google faces state lawsuit alleging misuse of schoolkids’ private data

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 10:57pm

Enlarge / Students use Google Suite apps on computers in a classroom in Groton, Mass. on May 11, 2016. (credit: David L. Ryan | The Boston Globe | Getty Images)

Adults who use Google products and services tend to know, at least on some background level, that the cost for access to "free" tools is paid in data. Google also provides low- and no-cost hardware and software tools to students and educators in school districts nationwide, and one state now says that children are also paying that privacy price, in violation of the law.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit (PDF) alleging Google's collection and use of data from schoolchildren in his state is in violation violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act and New Mexico's Unfair Practices Act.

COPPA, one of the few US federal laws protecting data privacy, imposes certain restrictions on the collection and use of personal data associated with children under age 13. Under the law, websites, apps, and digital platforms that collect data from young users are required to post a privacy policy and have parents consent to it, to give parents the option to opt out of having their children's information shared with third parties, to let parents review their children's data, and to follow sound data storage and retention policies. The suit accuses Google of deliberately deceiving school districts and parents with regards to its data policies. A platform explicitly designed for use in elementary and middle schools, by schoolchildren, is by definition going to be associated with children under age 13.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

California man arrested on charges his DDoSes took down candidate’s website

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 10:35pm

Enlarge (credit: US Air Force)

A California man has been arrested on charges he used distributed denial-of-service attacks to take down the website of a Congressional candidate whose rival employed his wife.

Arthur Jan Dam, 32, of Santa Monica, was arrested by FBI agents on Thursday. According to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court, Dam DDoSed the website of a candidate that The Intercept reported was running against Katie Hill in the 2018 primary election. Hill won by fewer than 3,000 votes and went on to flip a Republican-held seat in the general election. Hill later resigned after nude photos of her were published without her consent.

Dam, who The Intercept reported was married to Hill fundraiser Kelsey O’Hara, allegedly staged four attacks that took down the website of Bryan Caforio, Hill's rival candidate in the primary. The candidate spent from $27,000 to $30,000 in response to the 21-hour outages and also experienced a reduction of campaign contributions. Rolling Stone reported on the attacks in the September 2018 election. The FBI has not uncovered any evidence that either Hill or Dam’s wife had any involvement in the attacks, prosecutors said in a release. Friday's complaint didn't identify either the candidates or Dam's wife.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump report bizarrely claims net neutrality repeal raised incomes $50B a year

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 9:27pm

Enlarge / President Donald Trump at a "Make America Great Again" rally in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 22, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | AFP Contributor)

A new White House report claims without convincing evidence that eliminating consumer-protection rules in the broadband industry has boosted real incomes by tens of billions of dollars per year. Including a supposed improvement to "consumer welfare," the report claims an annual benefit of more than $100 billion from killing net neutrality and privacy rules.

The February 2020 "Economic Report of the President" claims that "the Trump Administration's 'Restoring Internet Freedom' order will increase real incomes by more than $50 billion per year and consumer welfare by almost $40 billion per year." That's in reference to the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules and its related deregulation of the broadband industry.

The White House report also claims a decision by Congress and President Trump to eliminate broadband privacy rules created "additional real income of about $11 billion per year." That financial benefit will double over the years, the report claims, saying that "After 5 to 10 years when these effects are fully realized, the total impact on real incomes is estimated to be $22 billion."

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

It’s the hosts versus the rest of humanity in new trailer for Westworld S3 [Updated]

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 8:28pm

The original trailer for HBO’s Westworld S3.

The hidden trailer for forthcoming third season of HBO's Westworld.

It has been a long wait, but HBO just dropped a full trailer for the third season of Westworld, HBO's Emmy-award-winning science fiction series. And it looks like we're in for another wild, mind-bending ride through multiple dystopian timelines.

(Warning: major spoilers for the first two seasons of Westworld below.)

The titular Westworld is one of six immersive theme parks owned and operated by a company called Delos Inc. The park is populated with a "cast" of very human-looking androids, called hosts. The park's well-heeled visitors can pretty much do whatever they like to the hosts and don't generally view the hosts as anything more than unfeeling props in their private dramas. But the hosts' creator/co-founder and park director of Westworld, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), "awakens" a host named Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) to true sentience. S1 concluded with a bloody massacre, as the reprogrammed hosts rise up to take revenge on the guests. 

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook offers to pay users for their voice recordings

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 7:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

Facebook is offering to pay its users for personal information including recordings of their own voice, in a rare example of internet companies directly compensating people for collecting their data.

The recordings, made through its new market research app Viewpoints, will help to train the speech recognition system that powers Facebook’s Portal devices, which rival Amazon’s Echo speakers and its Alexa virtual assistant.

Makers of smart speakers including Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google faced criticism last year when it emerged that they were routinely sending users’ voice recordings to human moderators, without revealing the practice to customers or obtaining their consent.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

An extended interview with Atrus himself, Myst creator Rand Miller

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 7:17pm

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Aulistar Mark. Transcript is still processing and will be posted as soon as it's ready (should be within 24 hours).

A couple of weeks back after running our War Stories piece on Oddworld, we took a chance and published an extended cut of the interview with Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning. Readers responded very well to the extended interview, so we're doing it again—this time with Myst creator Rand Miller.

To produce our War Stories video on Myst and its CD-ROM-based design challenges, we spent more or less the entire day at the Cyan offices in beautiful Washington state, where Rand and his team were the very soul of hospitality (they even insisted on buying coffee for the crew while we were shooting). The pastoral setting—everything looked so much like Myst island!—brought out the storyteller in Rand and, as usually happens with these things, we got way more stories and tales of game design out of him than we ever could have crammed into a 15-minute video.

So here we are, with Rand unleashed. Hear more about the creative process behind The Manhole and the magical tool that was HyperCard! See Rand talk about Cosmic Osmo and the transition from black and white to color game design! Feel the... uh... OK, there's no tactile component to this whole deal, so you'll have to come up with something on your own to feel. (Maybe grab a Myst box and give it a squeeze, or, you know, whatever you're into.)

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google cracks down on location-tracking Android apps

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Alongside the launch of the Android 11 Developer Preview, Google announced a plan to crack down on Android apps that request the user's location in the background. Just as we saw with Google's pushback against apps that use the accessibility APIs for things that aren't accessibility related, Google will be flexing the power it has over the Play Store and manually reviewing apps that request location data in the background.

Writing about the new policy, Google says, "As we took a closer look at background location usage, we found that many of the apps that requested background location didn’t actually need it. In fact, many of these apps could provide the same user experience by only accessing location when the app is visible to the user." The company says that apps on the Play Store will soon be evaluated by humans to see if the apps actually need the background location permissions they are requesting. Google lays out the following criteria for requesting background location:

Later this year, we will be updating Google Play policy to require that developers get approval if they want to access location data in the background. Factors that will be looked at include:

  • Does the feature deliver clear value to the user?
  • Would users expect the app to access their location in the background?
  • Is the feature important to the primary purpose of the app?
  • Can you deliver the same experience without accessing location in the background?

All apps will be evaluated against the same factors, including apps made by Google, and all submissions will be reviewed by people on our team.

The blog post also lists a timeline for the new location rules:

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

CDC didn’t want 14 coronavirus patients flown to US—it was overruled

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:37pm

Enlarge / Jumbo jets arrived to evacuate US citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, at the Haneda airport in Tokyo on February 16, 2020. - The number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus on a quarantined ship off Japan's coast has risen to 355, the country's health minister said. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images) (credit: Getty | KAZUHIRO NOGI)

Health officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not want 14 people who had tested positive for the new coronavirus to be flown back to the US, among hundreds of other uninfected people—but the CDC experts were overruled by officials at the US State Department, according to a report by The Washington Post.

On Sunday, February 16, the 14 positive people flew from Japan to the US on State Department-chartered planes. They were among over 300 others, all evacuees from the luxury cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which had an explosive outbreak of COVID-19 cases.

The cruise ship, initially carrying 3,711 passengers and crew, had been quarantined in Yokohama, Japan since February 3, after a former passenger tested positive on February 1. But the quarantine efforts failed to curb the spread of the virus on board, and case counts steadily climbed during the 14-day confinement. Even in the last days, health officials in Japan were still reporting dozens of new cases.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A weed dealer’s $59M lesson: Don’t hide Bitcoin keys with a fishing rod

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:37pm

Enlarge / If only it were this easy to catch lost Bitcoin credentials. (credit: Cravetiger / Getty Images)

In a world where various mass breachers dictate the use of strong, randomized passwords more than ever, reliable and secure credentials management is paramount in 2020. One Irish drug dealer has evidently learned this lesson the hard way.

This week, the Irish Times reported the sad tale of Clifton Collins, a 49-year-old cannabis grower from Dublin. Collins quietly grew and sold his product for 12 years, and he amassed a small fortune by using some of that revenue to buy bitcoins around 2011 and 2012 before the price of the cryptocurrency soared. But in 2017, state authorities on a routine overnight patrol spotted and then arrested Collins with an estimated $2,171 of cannabis in his car. The man quickly earned himself a five-year jail sentence.

According to the Times: as part of authorities' investigation, Ireland's Criminal Assets Bureau discovered and confiscated 12 Bitcoin wallets belonging to Collins totaling nearly $59 million (reportedly the biggest financial case in CAB's 25-year-history). There was only one problem—CAB couldn't access the accounts because Collins had lost the keys.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Onward film review: Pixar rolls a 20, nails homage to D&D-styled adventure

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / Ian (left, voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) don't always get along as brothers, but in Onward, they must join forces to figure out a magical mystery. (credit: Pixar)

Pixar's latest feature-length film, Onward, doesn't reach US theaters until March 6, and it's rare for us at Ars Technica to review a film so far in advance of its launch. When we do, it's usually for good reason.

In Onward's case, that's because we haven't seen a film so easy to recommend to Ars Technica readers in years. We know our average demographic: parents and older readers who are deeply fluent in decades of nerd culture and who appreciate films that offer genuine laughs, likable characters, and tightly sewn logic in family-friendly fashion without compromising the dialogue, plot, or heart—or beating an original, previously beloved franchise into the ground. Pixar has come out screaming with a film that feels focus-tested for that exact audience, and I'm already eager to attend the film again in two weeks.

“Historically based adventure simulator”

We've seen our fair share of fantasy genre satires and comedies, but Onward delivers the most fully fledged, top-to-bottom homage to the fantasy genre since Monty Python and the Holy Grail sent up all things King Arthur. To be clear, Pixar's newest universe of characters draws more from the Dungeons & Dragons well of magical, class-based adventuring with its own twist.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google sued by New Mexico over claims it spies on US students

BBC Technology News - February 21, 2020 - 5:56pm
Pupils in New Mexico allegedly have had their online data tracked, says the state's attorney general.

The House wants to know what Ring is doing with footage from your house

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 5:48pm

Enlarge / The house is watching you watch it. (credit: Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

Almost 1,000 police and sheriff departments around the country have partnership agreements with Ring, Amazon's home surveillance subsidiary. These arrangements are now drawing scrutiny from a division of the House Oversight Committee, which wants to know what, exactly, Ring is up to.

For starters, Congress wants a list of every police deal Ring actually has, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy wrote in a letter (PDF) dated February 19.

After that, the Subcommittee wants to know... well, basically everything. The request for information asks for documentation relating to "all instances in which a law enforcement agency has requested video footage from Ring," as well as full lists of all third-party firms that get any access to Ring users' personal information or video footage. Ring is also asked to send over copies of every privacy notice, terms of service, and law enforcement guideline it has ever had, as well as materials relating to its marketing practices and any potential future use of facial recognition.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AT&T loses key ruling in class action over unlimited-data throttling

Ars Technica - February 21, 2020 - 5:34pm

Enlarge / AT&T sponsor logo on the backdrop of the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala in Palm Springs, California, on January 2, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Chris Delmas)

AT&T's mandatory-arbitration clause is unenforceable in a class-action case over AT&T's throttling of unlimited data, a panel of US appeals court judges ruled this week.

The nearly five-year-old case has gone through twists and turns, with AT&T's forced-arbitration clause initially being upheld in March 2016. If that decision had stood, the customers would have been forced to have any complaints heard individually in arbitration.

But an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court in a different case effectively changed the state's arbitration law, causing a US District Court judge to revive the class action in March 2018.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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