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Industry & Technology

If a house was designed by machine, how would it look?

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 22 min ago
This house was designed using algorithms and machines. They chose complex, organic-looking forms.

How computing's first 'killer app' changed everything

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 30 min ago
Technology reshapes the workplace in much subtler ways than simply robots stealing jobs.

Amazon set for facial recognition revolt

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 38 min ago
Investors are to vote on whether the firm should continue selling its facial ID tech to the police.

WannaCry? Hundreds of US schools still haven’t patched servers

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 10:48pm

Enlarge / School IT is old school. And still vulnerable to EternalBlue. (credit: PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images)

If you're wondering why ransomware continues to be such a problem for state and local governments and other public institutions, all you have to do to get an answer is poke around the Internet a little. Publicly accessible security-scan data shows that many public organizations have failed to do more than put a bandage over long-standing system vulnerabilities that, if successfully exploited, could bring their operations to a standstill.

While the method by which RobbinHood ransomware infected the network of Baltimore City two weeks ago is still unknown, insiders within city government have pointed to the incomplete efforts by the Office of Information Technology to get a handle on the city's tangle of software, aging servers, and wide-flung network infrastructure. Baltimore isn't even the only city to have been hit by ransomware in the last month—Lynn, Massachusetts, and Cartersville, Georgia, both had electronic payment systems taken offline by ransomware this month. Greenville, North Carolina, was struck by the same RobbinHood ransomware affecting Baltimore in April.

But cities aren't the only highly vulnerable targets to be found by would-be attackers. There are hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected Windows systems in the United States that still appear to be vulnerable to an exploit of Microsoft Windows' Server Message Block version 1 (SMB v. 1) file sharing protocol, despite repeated public warnings to patch systems following the worldwide outbreak of the WannaCry cryptographic malware two years ago. And based on data from the Shodan search engine and other public sources, hundreds of them—if not thousands—are servers in use at US public school systems.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cable TV customer satisfaction falls even further behind streaming video

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 10:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | amesy)

Netflix and other online video services have expanded their customer-satisfaction lead over cable and satellite TV, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) found in its annual telecommunications report released today.

Streaming-video services averaged a score of 76 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, up from 75 last year. Meanwhile, the traditional subscription-TV industry's score remained unchanged at 62.

"For the past six years, customer satisfaction with subscription TV has languished in the mid-to-low 60s, not recovering enough to effectively compete with streaming services," the ACSI report said. "In 2018, subscription sales declined 3 percent to $103.4 billion. Customer service remains poor, and cord cutting is accelerating. As video-streaming services gain traction, a growing number of households may never subscribe to pay TV in the first place."

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A year after Hawaii’s Kīlauea eruptions, a nearby geothermal plant eyes restart

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 10:14pm

Enlarge / May 21, 2018: Lava erupts and flows from a Kīlauea volcano fissure, near to the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant on Hawaii's Big Island near Pahoa, Hawaii. The plant, currently shut down in the wake of encroaching volcanic activity, provides electricity to around 25 percent of the island. (credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Last May, Hawaii's Kīlauea volcano erupted suddenly, starting a weeks-long lava creep that destroyed dozens of homes and required thousands of residents to be evacuated. Among the structural casualties, the lava also threatened an important source of electricity on the Island of Hawaii: the Puna Geothermal Complex.

Now, the company behind Puna is projecting that the complex may be restarted by the end of this year, following a potential renegotiation of its contract with Hawaii Electric Light Company.

Geothermal plants like Puna create electricity by using the natural heat of underground rocks to heat a working fluid that produces steam to drive a turbine. Puna provided 25 percent of the electricity that served Hawaii (just the Big Island, not the whole Aloha State). So it was an important low-carbon energy source on an island that has historically imported oil to meet its primary energy needs. Although the Big Island has been aggressively incorporating solar power and energy storage onto its grid, petroleum still plays a prominent role in serving the island, which not only creates carbon emissions but also drives the price of electricity up for residents because the oil must be imported.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Windows 10 May 2019 Update now rolling out to everyone… slowly

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 9:50pm

Enlarge (credit: David Holt / Flickr)

To avoid a replay of the problems faced by the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809, Microsoft has taken a very measured approach to the release of the May 2019 Update, version 1903, with both a long spell as release candidate and a much less aggressive rollout to Windows Update.

That rollout starts today. While you previously needed to be in the Insider Program (or have a source such as an MSDN subscription) to download and install version 1903, it's now open to everyone through Windows Update.

However, Windows users are unlikely to see the update automatically installed for many months. Initially, only those who explicitly visit Windows Update and click "Check for Updates" will be offered version 1903, and even then, they'll have to explicitly choose to download and install the update. This is part of Microsoft's attempt to make Windows Update less surprising: feature updates are offered separately from regular updates because feature updates take a long time to install and regular updates don't (or at least, they shouldn't). This installation experience requires the use of version 1803 or 1809, and it also requires the most recent monthly patch, which is also released today.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

All hail the Chosen One: Schwarzenegger and Fassbender to star in Kung Fury 2

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / David Sandberg will reprise his role as Kung Fury, a Miami detective with superpowers who travels through time to take out Hitler. (credit: YouTube/Laser Unicorns)

Kung Fury is a ridiculously over-the-top short film that became an instant cult classic, racking up over 32 million views on YouTube since it debuted in 2015. And according to The Hollywood Reporter, there's now going to be a feature-length sequel, Kung Fury 2, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender signed on as co-stars. It will go into production at the end of July, primarily filming in Bulgaria and Germany.

Created by (and starring) Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg (not to be confused with Shazam!'s David F. Sandberg), the original Kung Fury pays tribute to cheesy 1980s action flicks and included a cameo by David Hasselhoff as the voice of vehicle navigation system Hoff 9000. It's the story of a renegade Miami police detective with kung fu superpowers who goes back in time to take out Hitler (aka "Kung Führer"). Along the way, Kung Fury (yup, that's his name) gets a little help from Thor, a couple of Viking babes, a computer whiz who can transform into a robot, and Triceracop (a man with the head of a triceratops). Together, they form a fighting force dubbed the Thundercops. What's not to love?

Sandberg wrote the script and shot a trailer with friends to launch a Kickstarter campaign to complete the original short. He ended up raising $630,000 and somehow cobbled together Kung Fury. It was shot in Sweden and used stock footage (for the giant wolf ridden by Viking babe Katana), miniature models, and even included a short animated "heaven" sequence. It debuted at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and even though it didn't win any prizes, it proved an instant favorite among critics.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The US DOC gives Huawei a 90-day window to support existing devices

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 8:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Huawei)

The Trump administration is working to ban Huawei products from the US market and ban US companies from supplying the Chinese company with software and components. The move will have wide-ranging consequences for Huawei's smartphone, laptop, and telecom-equipment businesses. For the next 90 days, though, Huawei will be allowed to support those products. The US Department of Commerce (DOC) has granted temporary general export license for 90 days, so while the company is still banned from doing business with most US companies, it is allowed to continue critical product support.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross explains the new exemption, saying, "The Temporary General License authorizes certain activities necessary to the continued operations of existing networks and to support existing mobile services, including cybersecurity research critical to maintaining the integrity and reliability of existing and fully operational networks and equipment."

The United States' blocking of Huawei was swift and sudden, and companies and people who rely on a Huawei product were no doubt scrambling in the aftermath. Ross says this 90-day exemption "grants operators time to make other arrangements and the Department space to determine the appropriate long-term measures for Americans and foreign telecommunications providers that currently rely on Huawei equipment for critical services."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Instagram: Facebook probes breach of millions of influencer accounts

BBC Technology News - May 21, 2019 - 7:57pm
An Indian company had stored the data of 49 million Instagram users in an unguarded online database.

Drink like it’s 1985: Coca-Cola revives New Coke for Stranger Things 3

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 7:10pm

New Coke, Stranger Things-style

Stranger Things season 3 is coming to Netflix this July 4, and it's going to be set in the year 1985. As a period detail, the show is going to make reference to New Coke, a disastrous 1980s effort from Coca-Cola to update its namesake drink. For those not old enough to remember, New Coke was met with a massive consumer backlash and a very public climbdown by the company.

But to commemorate New Coke's newfound pop culture relevance, Coca-Cola is going to sell 500,000 cans of New Coke as a Stranger Things tie-in. They'll go on sale online on Thursday May 23 at 17:00 EDT. The resurrected drink is also going to be available at World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta on certain days starting June 3. Cans will carry special Stranger Things promotional designs, and the company has even remade its original New Coke ad to add a Stranger Things twist. The ad will be shown in cinemas.

Marketing tie-ins and product placements happen all the time with major pop culture entities. And normally, a soft drink would do little to deserve such prominent placement in a TV show. But of course, New Coke is no ordinary soft drink; it was a major news story for the three months or so that it was on the market at the time.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FDA safety scandal: 50K hidden reports of heart device malfunctioning

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / The Food and Drug Administration headquarters in White Oak, Md. (credit: Getty | Congressional Quarterly)

The Food and Drug Administration allowed the maker of a faulty implantable heart device to secretly log 50,000 malfunction incidents, according to a series of investigations by Kaiser Health News.

The device—the Sprint Fidelis, made by Medtronic—consists of a pair of wires and a defibrillator to jolt the heart into a regular rhythm. But doctors found that it was giving patients random, harmful zaps and sometimes failed during actual cardiac emergencies.

Medtronic recalled the device in 2007 but only after it was implanted in around 268,000 patients. Many of those patients have since faced the ghastly choice of learning to live with the faulty device or undergoing an invasive, risky—sometimes deadly—surgery to remove it. According to the KHN investigation, they’ve been making that choice without information from the 50,000 incident reports.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

X-rays reveal the colors of a 3 million-year-old fossil mouse

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 6:45pm

Enlarge / A false color synchrotron X-ray image of the fossil chemistry. Blue represents calcium in the bones, green is the element zinc, which has been shown to be important in the biochemistry of red pigment, and red is a particular type of organic sulfur that cannot be imaged by traditional methods. This type of sulfur is enriched in red pigment. When combined, regions rich in both zinc and sulfur appear yellow on this image, showing that the fur on this animal was rich in the chemical compounds that are most probably derived from the original red pigments produced by the mouse. (credit: Wogelius et al. 2019)

Here's something you don't hear often: the dead field mouse looks incredible for its age. It lived and died three million years ago in what is now Germany, but layers of rock preserved nearly its whole skeleton, along with most of the fur and skin on its body, feet, and tail. Even its tiny, delicate ears were preserved.

Thanks to new imaging methods and a better understanding of the chemistry behind pigment in animal fur and feathers, we now know that it had reddish-brown fur with a white underbelly. Paleontologists have had the tools to detect patterns of light and dark coloring in fossil feathers for a few years, but this is their first real glimpse of a colored pigment.

It comes in colors

The range of colors in animal fur comes from varying amounts of two types of a pigment called melanin. Eumelanin produces black or dark brown coloring, while pheomelanin creates reddish or yellow hues. Pheomelanin doesn’t tend to hold up well over the millions of years most fossils are buried; eumelanin is more sturdy, which is why we have a decent idea about the patterns of light and dark in the feathers of Archaeopteryx and some of the other ancestors of today’s birds.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple refreshes MacBook Pro with updated keyboard, 8-core 9th-gen Intel CPUs

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 6:40pm

Enlarge / The 2017 and 2018 15-inch MacBook Pros side by side. Each has a butterfly keyboard. (credit: Samuel Axon)

In the second update to the current crop of MacBook Pros since they were released in July 2018, Apple this week has expanded the available CPU options for both the 13-inch and 15-inch models. The 15-inch MacBook Pro has moved to Intel's 9th generation CPUs and offers 8-core options for the first time in the product line's history. The 13-inch saw a more modest CPU specifications bump. The MacBook Pro's price points remain the same.

Just as importantly, Apple has made another update to its butterfly keyboards in the MacBook Pro. This marks the fourth generation of the butterfly keyboard that has divided users and seen some widely publicized hardware failures that resulted in an ongoing repair program from Apple. Apple claimed significant improvements to reliability in the third generation that shipped with laptops introduced in 2018, but users continued to report issues.

Apple says it has changed the material it is using in the new, fourth-generation keyboards, and the company expects the change to substantially reduce the prevalence of issues with keys double-typing without user input or failing to type at all with user input. The company hasn't yet gotten more specific than that, so we'll have to wait on teardowns and testing to learn more.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Huawei’s US ban: A look at the hardware (and software) supply problems

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 6:35pm

President Trump's Huawei ban is in full effect, and companies from all over the country are announcing they will no longer be doing business with Huawei. Google, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and Intel are all cutting ties with Huawei, and once this new 90-day exemption is up, really every US company would no longer be allowed to supply Huawei with technology or services. Trump's executive order is very broad, prohibiting "any acquisition, importation, transfer, installation, dealing in, or use of any information and communications technology or service" by any foreign company the US government deems a threat, in this case, Huawei.

With Huawei cut off from US technology, exactly how hard will it be for the company to continue to make smartphones? For an idea of how much Huawei would need to change, let's do a parts audit on the company's latest flagship smartphone, the Huawei P30 Pro. We'll see where each component comes from and what other options exist out there in the ecosystem. Between spec sheets, teardowns from iFixit, and EE Times, we can whip together a pretty good list of components and their countries of origin.

The Power of HiSilicon

(credit: Huawei)

The System on a Chip is the heart of any smartphone, supplying most of your basic three-letter computer components like the CPU, GPU, LTE modem, GPS, and more. Huawei is better off than most companies in this area—it's one of the few companies (along with Samsung) that has its own chip-design division. Huawei's "HiSilicon" group designs SoCs for its smartphones, and the Huawei P30 Pro uses the HiSilicon Kirin 980 SoC. HiSilicon has its own LTE modem solution and is a leader in 5G modems.

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

See how much faster Sony’s next PlayStation can load Spider-Man

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 6:25pm

Sony's official video comparing performance of PS4 Pro vs next-gen PlayStation pic.twitter.com/2eUROxKFLq

— Takashi Mochizuki (@mochi_wsj) May 21, 2019

Last month, Sony showed Wired a demo highlighting how the PS4's successor would utilize SSD storage to heavily improve load times over the PS4. Now we can all see a similar demo for ourselves, thanks to video captured at a recent investor presentation.

The video above, taken by the Wall Street Journal's Takashi Mochizuki, shows a scene from Insomniac's Spider-Man loading in 0.83 seconds on Sony's "next generation" console, compared to 8.1 seconds on the PS4 Pro. That's a smaller improvement than the one cited by Wired (which reported a change from "15 seconds" to "0.8 seconds, to be exact") but it's still a difference that can add up over the course of hours spent with a game.

Sony's demo also showed how the upcoming console's SSD can help improve game situations where content is streamed continuously from the hard drive rather than loaded in large chunks. In a fly-through on Spider-Man's version of New York City, a PS4 Pro had to pause every few seconds when the apparent flight speed got too fast. On the next PlayStation, the data streams without any apparent loading pauses even at the increased speed.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Bleach peddled as 'miracle' autism cure on YouTube

BBC Technology News - May 21, 2019 - 6:17pm
An investigation by Business Insider led the site to take down most - but not all - of the videos.

Driverless cars: Cambridge University model cars 'talk' to avoid jams

BBC Technology News - May 21, 2019 - 6:14pm
Researchers say it shows driverless cars working together could improve traffic flow by at least 35%.

Black Mirror S5 is almost here and Netflix just dropped three new trailers

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 6:06pm

Nicole Beharie and Anthony Mackie star in "Striking Vipers," one of three new episodes in the upcoming fifth season of the Netflix anthology series Black Mirror.

The long-awaited fifth season of Black Mirror debuts next month, and Netflix just released three—count 'em—new one-minute trailers to stoke fans' anticipation.

Black Mirror is the creation of Charlie Brooker, co-showrunner with Annabel Jones. The series explores 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.

The first season 5 teaser dropped last week, showcasing an impressive cast that includes Anthony Mackie, Miley Cyrus, Topher Grace, Nicole Beharie, Damson Idris, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, among others. We only caught glimpses of what the three episodes might be about, and now we have a separate trailer for each yielding a bit more information.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft: Gaming should be for everyone, shouldn’t be toxic stew

Ars Technica - May 21, 2019 - 5:56pm

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft's Xbox chief Phil Spencer has written a paean to video gaming, calling games a unifying force that anyone and everyone can enjoy. He rejoices in gaming's ability to sustain communities, foster friendships, and even reduce stress and depression. He also describes the shift gaming has made; games aren't just the domain of teenage boys but have grown far beyond that: most gamers are adults, and nearly half are women.

But against these positive elements, Spencer recognizes the many flaws in the gaming community. Online life as a whole includes a "growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry, and misogyny," he writes, but games can be part of the solution. Spencer says that games have a uniquely equalizing ability to bring people together—we're all just names on a screen, substantially eroding differences in class, race, gender, and so on—and so present an environment that can help dismantle prejudice.

The purpose of his essay is to call on the gaming industry to work together to make gaming a safe space, one where gaming's positive features can be celebrated, without being mired in the same toxicity as contaminates the rest of the online world. To that end, he outlines three principles he wants the games industry to follow.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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