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Industry & Technology

Tremors turns 30, the most perfect B movie creature feature ever made

Ars Technica - 47 min 14 sec ago

It's been 30 years since the release of Tremors, an unabashed love letter to the B-movie creature features of the 1950s that remains as fresh today as it was three decades ago. The film is sheer perfection, and ranks among my personal favorite films of all time. As Ars' own Nathan Matisse wrote last year, "If B-movie horror with flashes of comedic brilliance and a few edge-of-your-seat scares interests you, viewers likely can't do much better than Tremors."

(Major spoilers below, because it's been 30 years.)

Writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock came up with the initial idea for Tremors in the early 1980s while making educational safety videos for the U.S. Navy. They climbed a desert boulder for a shot, and pondered what they would do if, for some reason, they were stuck there due to some outside force they eventually dubbed "Land Sharks." A friend of theirs, Ron Underwood, was a documentary director for National Geographic, and helped them develop a believable creature for what would become the script for Tremors. Wilson and Maddock hit the big time with their 1986 film Short Circuit (directed by John Badham), which enabled them to finally bring Tremors to the silver screen.

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SpaceX successfully completes its Dragon abort test [Updated]

Ars Technica - 2 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge / The Falcon 9 during the launch of the abort test.

Today, SpaceX attempted a critical test of its ability to launch humans to orbit: the ability to get them away from the rocket if things go wrong. Shortly after liftoff, the company shut down the main engines of its Falcon 9 rocket, and fired off the system that's meant to return the crewed capsule safely to Earth.

Everything about the flight appeared to have worked just as planned. The Dragon capsule accelerated away from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, oriented properly, deployed parachutes, and splashed down successfully.

Getting a capsule gently off a rocket in the midst of what might be a catastrophic failure is (as you might imagine) not a simple task. Engines on the capsule have to fire with sufficient power to cause the capsule to accelerate away from a rocket that may still be accelerating itself, all without subjecting the crew to excessive forces. Once free, the capsule has to jettison its service module, and then be oriented so its parachute systems can be deployed safely. Those parachutes then need to make sure the return to Earth's surface is equally gentle.

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Apple TV+: Can it be saved before everyone’s free trials run out?

Ars Technica - 3 hours 55 min ago

Enlarge / When Apple TV+ landed on November 1, it did not include all of these original series, thanks to its "soft launch." (credit: Apple)

When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019, it was the first of four major video-streaming services that would launch between then and May of the next year. It was also one of the riskiest of the set, coming from a company that had zero experience in creating entertainment. With the service’s 90-day mark fast approaching, it’s time to take Apple TV+’s temperature.

And, yes, it’s ice-cold. But is Apple TV+ really as dead in the water as it appears? And what do we expect for the rest of its first year?

So many devices, so little excitement

From the jump, Apple seemed an odd addition to a lineup of players, all of whom were already in the content-creation business. Apple has never been interested in producing its own fare so much as using others’ content to promote its closed hardware ecosystem. But that hardware component was Apple’s claim to enter the derby. The company boasts two billion devices in pockets around the world. If just 10 percent of those users signed up after getting a free year of Apple TV+ with the purchase of a device, it would give the company 200 million subscribers worldwide, dwarfing Netflix’s 158 million.

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Neanderthals may have been shallow free divers, suggests a new study

Ars Technica - 4 hours 55 min ago

Enlarge / Because Mediterranean smooth clams live up to their name, their shells produce a cleaner cutting edge than others. (credit: Villa et al. 2020)

There may be a little more evidence to suggest that Neanderthals waded, swam, and even dove to gather resources along the shores of the Mediterranean. A new study claims Neanderthals at a coastal cave in Italy waded or dove to get clamshells straight off the seafloor to make scraping tools.

Swiping seashells straight from the seafloor?

Neanderthals who lived at Grotta dei Moscerini around 100,000 years ago used the sturdy shells of Mediterranean smooth clams to make sharp-edged scraping tools. Clamshells wash up on beaches all the time, but University of Colorado archaeologist Paola Villa and her colleagues say that some of the worked shell tools at Moscerini look less like flotsam and more like someone scooped them off the seafloor while they were still fresh.

Shells that wash ashore after their former tenants die usually show signs of sanding and polishing, as they spend time being bounced along the sandy bottom by waves. Many also feature small holes where a marine predator drilled its way inside. But nearly a quarter of the 171 shells at Moscerini looked surprisingly pristine, aside from the changes made by Neanderthals.

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Real or fake: New NBC Peacock shows

Ars Technica - 7 hours 14 min ago

Enlarge / NBCUniversal kicks off its new Peacock streaming service on TODAY at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (credit: Nathan Congleton | Getty Images)

This July, NBCUniversal and Comcast will launch a new streaming service, Peacock. (Xfinity cable customers will get an advanced version in April.) It will house NBC classics like Parks and Recreation, Frasier, and Law and Order: SVU, as well as a wide array of movies, reality shows, and current programming, including live events from the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. It will offer reboots of nostalgia-triggering shows like Saved by the Bell, Punky Brewster, and Battlestar Galactica. And of course, as there are now a ton of streaming television services competing for eyeballs in the US, NBC is also planning to roll out an ambitious lineup of originals to compete with rivals like Disney+, CBS All Access, and Quibi.

To that end, it has ordered dozens of pilots and several full seasons of new shows to lure viewers into adding yet another paid subscription into their monthly budget. (There will be a free version of Peacock, but it will have a limited roster.) Some of the shows sound great. Some of the shows sound questionable. A large number have summaries that sound like they came from a robot programmed to spit out Hollywood development Mad Libs. And thus, a challenge: Can you tell the difference between the 100 percent real upcoming Peacock offerings and the 100 percent fake shows WIRED made up? Let’s find out.
  1. Expecting: One woman. One gay best friend. One … baby? From Mindy Kaling, this comedy looks at what happens when your GBF becomes your GSD (gay sperm donor).
  2. Brave New World: An adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s famed 1932 dystopian novel, starring Alden Ehrenreich for some reason.
  3. The Adventure Zone: A comedy based on a wildly popular Dungeons & Dragons podcast run by a tight-knit but quirky family.
  4. Clean Slate: A comedy about an Alabama car wash owner who is thrilled when his long-lost child decides to return home, but is flummoxed when he finds out his child is a trans woman, played by Laverne Cox. (Executive producer: Norman Lear.)
  5. Moby-Dick: An animated dramedy based on the classic novel, with Chris Kattan as the titular whale. Three words: Female Captain Ahab.
  6. The Brothers Bongo: Two brothers find unexpected fame as a bongo drumming duo. Turns out success is easy, but keeping the rhythm of family life on the road? That’stough. With Topher Grace as the boys’ manager.
  7. Making It Work: Christina Aguilera in her first lead television role—and her second, as she plays identical twins who inherit a bed and breakfast in Louisiana.
  8. Hatching Twitter: Literally a television show about Twitter.
  9. Girls5Eva: Former ‘90s girl group Girls5Eva decide to reunite and give teenybopper stardom one last shot … even though they’re closer to menopause than puberty!
  10. Pod Save This TV Show: Based on the podcast of the same name, the Pod Save America boys host a humorous but insightful talk show.
  11. Dr. Death: Based on the podcast of the same name, Jamie Dornan smolders as a doctor who is bad at his job—lethally bad.
  12. Intelligence: David Schwimmer stars as a brash maverick NSA agent who moves to England and clashes with his dweeby British colleagues.
  13. Becker 2: Back to Beckin’: Ted Danson reprises his role as Becker from Becker, who is up to his old tricks.
  14. Psych 2: Lassie Come Home: The gang from the show Psych are back, and this time they will explore the topic of marriage in a made-for-television movie.
  15. Law and Order: Oz The latest addition to the Dick Wolf library, Law and Order: Ozsees a familiar face, Finn (Ice-T), begin a new chapter of his career in Sydney, Australia. They do things a little differently Down Under!

Answers: 1: Real, 2: Real, 3: Real, 4: Real, 5: Fake, 6: Fake, 7: Fake, 8: Real, 9: Real, 10: Fake, 11: Real, 12: Real, 13: Fake, 14: Real, 15: Fake.

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A Georgia election server was vulnerable to Shellshock and may have been hacked

Ars Technica - January 18, 2020 - 4:41pm

(credit: Jason Riedy / Flickr)

Forensic evidence shows signs that a Georgia election server may have been hacked ahead of the 2016 and 2018 elections by someone who exploited Shellshock, a critical flaw that gives attackers full control over vulnerable systems, a computer security expert said in a court filing on Thursday.

Shellshock came to light in September 2014 and was immediately identified as one of the most severe vulnerabilities to be disclosed in years. The reasons: it (a) was easy to exploit, (b) gave attackers the ability to remotely run commands and code of their choice, and (c) opened most Linux and Unix systems to attack. As a result, the flaw received widespread news coverage for months.

Patching on the sly

Despite the severity of the vulnerability, it remained unpatched for three months on a server operated by the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, the group that was responsible for programming Georgia election machines. The flaw wasn't fixed until December 2, 2014, when an account with the username shellshock patched the critical vulnerability, the expert’s analysis of a forensic image shows. The shellshock account had been created only 19 minutes earlier. Before patching the vulnerability, the shellshock user deleted a file titled shellsh0ck. A little more than a half hour after patching, the shellshock user was disabled.

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Nemesis brings alien impregnation horror to your tabletop—and it works

Ars Technica - January 18, 2020 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / The intruders are... unpleasant. (credit: Awaken Realms)

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at

You’re roused early from cold sleep. The ship’s hibernatorium—and likely the remainder of the ship—is running on half power. There’s a body nearby. More accurately, there’s a body all over. For a moment, your sleep-fogged brain assumes somebody has splashed BBQ pork all over the floor and walls. Nope; that’s the crew member who was supposed to be on watch while everyone else slumbered.

Welcome to Nemesis, a board game with strong (but decidedly unofficial!) echoes of Ridley Scott’s Alien. It raised millions on Kickstarter—but is it any good?

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“Living concrete” is an interesting first step

Ars Technica - January 18, 2020 - 2:45pm

Enlarge / The cyanobacteria in flasks contribute to the structure at right. (credit: Cell Press)

It seems like every week, I can do an article on some interesting science that ended up buried under hyperbolic headlines and overly credible coverage. This week's victim is "living concrete." It only sort of exists, in that the material can either be living or concrete, but not really both. It doesn't heal itself either. But none of that means the publication has no merit, as it does show that the concept more or less works, and it identifies a number of areas that need further study in order for "living concrete" to actually become useful.

La vida concrete

The idea of mixing living things and concrete isn't quite as strange as it sounds. Part of concrete's strength comes from carbonates that are formed during the curing process. Lots of living things also produce structures made of carbonates; these include some very robust structures that are a mix of proteins and carbonates, like the shells of many aquatic animals.

As such, there's been a lot of research around the periphery of structural concrete that's involved biology. This has mostly involved lots of work on trying to figure out how the shells of living creatures get some of their impressive properties. But it's also included the idea that living things could form structural carbonates, including a few attempts to make concrete that self-heals thanks to the presence of carbonate-producing microbes embedded in it.

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A $100 million investment pulls an EV startup out of stealth mode

Ars Technica - January 18, 2020 - 12:40pm

Enlarge / Arrival’s first model, due out later this year, can carry 500 cubic feet of stuff and cover 200 miles between charging stops. (credit: Arrival)

Hyundai and Kia announced Thursday that they are investing $111.5 million in Arrival, a startup British automaker building electric delivery vans. The three companies will jointly develop vehicles and share know-how as Arrival scales up its operations and moves to put a vehicle on the market in the next few years.

Arrival was founded in 2015 and has 800 employees, but until now the company has been in “stealth mode,” revealing little about its business model or plans. But this deal is a sign it has been doing something right, says Michael Harley, an industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book. Major automakers rarely make such large investments in newly established companies. Moreover, Harley says Arrival is smart to target the commercial van market. Buyers who need fleets of vehicles care about reliability and durability, not style and leather seats, lowering the bar for entry. And they buy in bulk. “It’s an excellent space to be in,” Harley says. “They’ve decided to tap into the largest segment.”

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SpaceX delays Crew Dragon escape test until Sunday [Updated]

Ars Technica - January 18, 2020 - 12:00pm

Saturday, 6am ET Update: SpaceX announced early Saturday that it will stand down from its Crew Dragon launch escape test attempt due to sustained winds and rough seas in the recovery area. The company will now target a six-hour launch window that opens on Sunday at 8am ET (13:00 UTC) for the test.

Original post: Officials from NASA and SpaceX said final preparations were underway for a critical flight test of Crew Dragon's launch escape system on Saturday morning from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The four-hour launch window opens at 8am ET (13:00 UTC), and SpaceX indicated it may use much of that time to find an ideal slot due to weather conditions.

At the beginning of the launch window, weather at the pad should be ideal, but forecasters have concerns about offshore winds and waves. Later in the morning on Saturday, weather at the recovery site is expected to improve, which means the launch may well slip closer to noon than the top of the window. SpaceX may also seek to extend the window, if necessary. If the launch slips a day, conditions are reversed Sunday, with less favorable weather at the launch site but better conditions offshore.

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AO Air's face mask uses fans for cleaner breathing

BBC Technology News - January 18, 2020 - 11:49am
The fans de-pollute and cool the air meaning the mask does not need a tight seal against the face.

Malvern's touchscreen tech secrets now on your radar

BBC Technology News - January 18, 2020 - 1:12am
Hopes that a new science centre at one of Britain's most secret sites will inspire next generation.

Smart homes will turn dumb overnight as Charter kills security service

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 9:15pm

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum vehicle. (credit: Charter)

Charter is killing its home-security service and telling customers that security devices they've purchased will stop working once the service is shut down on February 5.

The impending shutdown and customers' anger at Charter—a cable company also known by the brand name "Spectrum"—has been widely reported over the past month. Over the years, some customers have spent large sums on products that will no longer work.

One user posting on a DSLReports forum said they spent $1,200 on sensors and IP cameras, which will be essentially useless in a couple of weeks. The devices won't connect to other alarm-monitoring services, and Charter will no longer offer the ability to remotely manage the system and view security video. (We're guessing a Charter alarm would still be able to make loud noises when someone breaks into a house, but that doesn't mean it'll work with an alarm-monitoring service.)

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Biden wants Sec. 230 gone, calls tech “totally irresponsible,” “little creeps”

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 8:45pm

Enlarge / Former Vice President Joe Biden poking at a mobile phone in October 2019. (credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP | Getty Images)

Former Vice President Joe Biden is calling for one of the primary laws defining how Internet content is regulated to be "revoked," adding that the "little creeps" who run some of Silicon Valley's biggest businesses aren't the economic powerhouses they think they are.

"I've never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I've never been a big [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg fan," Biden began in response to tech questions posed by The New York Times. "I think he's a real problem."

"He [Zuckerberg] knows better," Biden elaborated, telling the Times, "Not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy and them being exempt."

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New Star Wars movie to be made by Thor: Ragnarok director?

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 7:56pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Mandalorian Ragnarok)

Over the past few years, New Zealand's Taika Waititi has become one of our favorite directors here at Ars. And with good reason—his back catalogue of feature films includes Eagle vs Shark, Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok, and last year's controversial-but-excellent, Oscar-nominated Jojo Rabbit. And soon, we'll be able to add a Star Wars movie to that list. Unnamed sources have told the Hollywood Reporter that Waititi has been approached by Lucasfilm to develop a film that takes place in that galaxy far, far away.

This news follows a surprise tweet earlier this week from Phil Tippett, the stop-motion innovator whose work could be found all over the original Star Wars trilogy. He used the social media platform to laud the first season of Disney+ exclusive The Mandalorian, then implored showrunner Jon Favreau to hire Tippett to work on future episodes. As massive fans of Tippett’s work and of The Mandalorian’s focus on practical effects, we hope Favreau takes the tweet seriously (embedded below).

Congrats @Jon_Favreau on the amazing success of @themandalorian. It’s really something. Reminds me of our adventures making the original trilogy back in the day, shootin’ from the hip. I tell you, I’d love to come back on board and get my hands dirty with you guys!

— Phil Tippett (@PhilTippett) January 16, 2020

Meanwhile, Waititi is no stranger to the Star Wars universe. He not only appears in The Mandalorian—as assassin droid IG-11—he also directed the final episode of the first series. The Hollywood Reporter also speculates that The Mandalorian is being used by Lucasfilm and Disney as a training ground for new talent; Director Deborah Chow directed episodes 3 and 7 of the space western/space ronin show and is now going to direct an Obi-Wan Kenobi series starring Ewan McGregor, which will also air on Disney+.

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Can Microsoft's 'moonshot' carbon goal succeed?

BBC Technology News - January 17, 2020 - 7:39pm
The tech giant admits its "carbon negative" goal is ambitious.

Game dev union leader: “Dream job” passion “can open us up to exploitation”

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 6:45pm

Enlarge / The logo for the newly formed Campaign to Organize Digital Employees.

It's been almost two years now since the launch of Game Workers Unite (GWU), the most concerted effort yet to bring game developers to fight for better working conditions industry-wide. In the years since, we've seen a few stuttering steps toward collective action inside game studios, including an employee walkout at Blizzard to protest the company's controversial policy toward Hong Kong protesters and a walkout at Riot to protest proposed arbitration over sexual harassment allegations (that case was later settled without arbitration).

But while nearly half of developers supported the idea of unionizing in a GDC survey published last year, no major game studios have thus far announced formal plans to form a workers' union.

The industry's stalled labor effort got a potential shot in the arm last week, though, when GWU announced it is partnering with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) to form the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE). The move puts one of the country's biggest unions—with a reported 700,000 members represented across telecom, IT, news media, education, and more—squarely behind the effort to bring tech and gaming workers together for collective bargaining.

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Report: Google wants to bring the Steam game store to… Chrome OS?

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 6:15pm

Enlarge / Pictured: a hotrod gaming device. (credit: Valentina Palladino / Ron Amadeo)

We have a wild report from Android Police this morning, as the site claims that Google is working to bring official Steam support to Chrome OS. Yes, Valve's Steam. The gaming platform. On Chromebooks.

The story apparently comes from a direct source: Kan Liu, the director of product management for Chrome OS. During an interview with Liu at CES, the site says Liu "implied, though would not directly confirm, that Google was working in direct cooperation with Valve on this project." The idea is that, according the Liu, "gaming is the single most popular category of downloads for Play Store content on Chromebooks," and Steam would mean even more games.

Anyone can put Steam on Chrome OS now. Chrome OS supports Linux apps. Steam has a Linux client and sells Linux games. You can install Steam and use it as a Chrome OS game store right now. You wouldn't get the entire Windows collection of Steam games, but there is a modest-and-growing collection of games that support Linux. No one does this because Chromebooks are not gaming hardware. They usually have just enough GPU power to run YouTube, scroll a webpage, and that's about it—3D graphics are not really going to happen. To make matters worse, Chrome OS' hardware acceleration for the Linux sandbox is actually pretty bad, and nearly identical hardware can run games at a higher FPS using Windows or a real distribution of Linux.

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WeLeakInfo gets pwned by FBI; Dutch, N. Irish police arrest alleged breach brokers

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 5:42pm

Enlarge / The seizure notice for WeLeakInfo even included the site's logo. Fancy.

On Wednesday, police in the Netherlands and Northern Ireland arrested two 22-year-old men believed to be connected to WeLeakInfo, a site offering usernames and passwords from multiple data breaches for sale. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in coordination with the UK's National Crime Agency, the Netherlands National Police Corps, the German Bundeskriminalamt, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, took down the domain for the site, redirecting it to a seizure notice (shown above).

At first, some thought the takedown was simply a breach of the site itself—mostly because the FBI took the time to add the site's logo to the takedown notice.

There's a mess happening over at We Leak Info since yesterday. It looks like they got hacked, and someone threw up an FBI seizure page. The seizure notice doesn't look legit.

... Not a good look for them... #WeLeakInfo #WLI

— Cypher (@CryptoCypher) January 16, 2020

But on Thursday afternoon, the Justice Department announced the takedown and put out a call for further information on WeLeakInfo and its operators. WeLeakInfo claimed to have over 12 billion usernames and passwords from a collection of over 10,000 data breaches. Originally hosted at a Canadian hosting company's data center when set up in 2016, the domain was moved behind Cloudflare a day later. The site, originally advertised as "the most extensive private database search engine," purported to be a legitimate tool for companies to perform security research—even claiming to offer an application interface for performing bulk checks for breaches of company accounts.

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Lexus had its European design team imagine vehicles for moon mobility

Ars Technica - January 17, 2020 - 5:29pm

I love a good concept car. And I'm pretty keen on space—Charlie Brown bears responsibility for getting me interested at a very early age. So obviously my interest was going to be piqued by an email from Lexus containing a bunch of design sketches from ED2, its European Advanced Design Studio thinking about what we might drive on the moon.

The designs—seven in total—were created by the design studio for an art and fashion publication called Document Journal, which invited a range of designers to imagine what life might be like on the moon. In Lexus' case, the inspiration was the company's recent LF-30 concept car; you may remember if from our coverage of last year's LA Auto Show.

"When Document Journal approached us about the Lunar Design Portfolio, our team was working on the LF-30 Concept, which represents the "Lexus Electrified" futuristic vision for Lexus. The design team was already looking beyond near-term production and ahead to how advanced technology will change the way we interact with vehicles," said Ian Cartabiano, President of ED2. "The lunar project came at the right time, half way through the LF-30 development. It gave the team a chance to dream further out, and then apply some of the design language from the LF- 30 interior to their lunar proposals."

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