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Industry & Technology

SpaceX may begin testing its Starship spacecraft this week

Ars Technica - 38 min 47 sec ago

Enlarge / For now, Starship's first mission will be to the Moon. (credit: Elon Musk/Twitter)

For months in south Texas, SpaceX employees have been assembling a test version of the upper stage for its next-generation launch system. This prototype "Starship" is far from space-worthy, but it will allow the company to test the vehicle's ability to "hop" from the spaceport and then land propulsively back on the ground.

On Friday, the company sent a notice to nearby residents saying it planned to conduct testing of the vehicle as soon as the week of March 18, and that it would be closing the main roadway of Highway 4 to non-residents during the tests. Presumably this is to cut down on the gawkers who have been posting images and video from the site on a daily basis across various social media sites.

On Sunday, company founder Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that SpaceX was indeed close to beginning tests. Musk said that integration work remained to be done on test vehicle and its Raptor rocket engine, and that the first hops would lift off, but only "barely." Eventually the "Starhopper" test vehicle will have three engines, but for now it appears as though the company will start with just one.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

D-Wave 2000Q hands-on: Steep learning curve for quantum computing 

Ars Technica - 1 hour 58 min ago

Enlarge / Algorithms, a complicated work in progress. (credit: Getty Images)

Editor's note: I realize that I do not correctly calculate the Bragg transmission in either the classical or the quantum case, however, it is close enough to get an idea of the differences between programming a classical and a quantum computer.

Time: non-specific 2018. Location: a slightly decrepit Slack channel.

"You know Python?"

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

WorldPay payments firm in $43bn sale to US rival

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 40 min ago
Payment processor WorldPay, once part of RBS bank, is sold to Fidelity National Information Services.

MySpace admits losing 12 years' worth of music uploads

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 7 min ago
The social network has apologised for losing the data during a server migration.

Christchurch shootings: Social sites struggle to contain attack video

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 24 min ago
Millions of copies of videos showing the Christchurch attacks have been removed from social media sites.

MPs call for tax on social media companies

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 8 min ago
Their report says the money should be used to fund research into the health impact of social media.

UK space internet firm OneWeb ready for lift-off

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 30 min ago
OneWeb secures new funding enabling it to speed up plans for a global high-speed broadband network.

Hong Kong subway trains collide amid new signal system trials

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 45 min ago
Two trains collide during a new signal system trial, threatening travel disruption for millions.

This medieval astrolabe is officially world’s oldest known such instrument

Ars Technica - 14 hours 44 min ago

Enlarge / Left: A laser imaging scan of the so-called Sodré astrolabe, recovered from the wreck of a Portuguese Armada ship. Right: The astrolabe is believed to have been made between 1496 and 1501. (credit: David Mearns/University of Warwick)

A mariner's astrolabe recovered from the wreck of one of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's ships is now officially the oldest known such artifact, according to a new paper in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. The device is even going into the Guinness Book of World Records, along with the ship's bell, now that the age of both artifacts has been independently verified.

A key distinction here is that this is the oldest known mariner's astrolabe. Astrolabes are actually very ancient instruments—possibly dating as far back as the second century BCE—for determining the time and position of the stars in the sky by measuring a celestial body's altitude above the horizon. They were mostly used for astronomical studies, although they also proved useful for navigation on land. Navigating at sea on a pitching deck was a bit more problematic, unless the waters were calm.

The development of a mariner's astrolabe—a simple ring marked in degrees for measuring celestial altitudes—helped solve that problem. It was eventually replaced by the invention of the sextant in the 18th century, which was much more precise for seafaring navigation. Mariner's astrolabes are among the most prized artifacts recovered from shipwrecks; only 108 are currently catalogued worldwide.

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Behind the Curve a fascinating study of reality-challenged beliefs

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 3:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Gabriela Pinto / Flickr)

There's a scene somewhere in the middle of a new flat Earth documentary that acts as a metaphor for so much that surrounds it. Two of the central figures of Behind the Curve are visiting a spaceflight museum that pays tribute to NASA, an organization that they believe is foisting a tremendous lie on an indoctrinated and incurious public. One of them, Mark Sargent, sits in a re-entry simulator that suggests he should press "Start" to begin. He dutifully bangs away at the highlighted word "Start" on screen, but nothing happens.

He wanders away muttering even more about how NASA's a giant fraud. Meanwhile, the camera shifts back to the display and zeroes in on the giant green "Start" button next to the seat Sargent was in.

Into the fringes

It's hard not to think back to two earlier scenes in the movie. In the first, Sargent talks about how he started having suspicions about the globe when he spent weeks watching a flight tracker for flights crossing the southern oceans but couldn't find any. This seemed to fit with his favored model of the Earth's disk, one with the North Pole at the center and the continents spread out like spokes from there. This would place the southern continents much farther apart and make air travel prohibitive—just as the lack of flights suggested.

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New documentary has a good time asking how gene editing might change the world

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / An artist's representation of a Cas9 protein immediately interrupting and changing a living creature's genes. (credit: Wonder Collaborative)

Here's a poorly kept secret: the internal chatter at a given research and scientific institution is typically more interesting than what emerges on the public record. Published papers and newspaper interviews don't come with the banter, pop-culture references, or sheer wit that pumps through most nerds' veins.

I thought back to all that nerd humor when I reflected on Human Nature, a documentary about gene editing and CRISPR that had its world premiere at South by Southwest 2019. There's a lot of ground to cover on such a topic, and the film, co-produced by Dan Rather, does quite well by identifying existing research and studies, then grounding them with context and equal parts optimism and pessimism. But Human Nature is also the rare science film that isn't afraid to let its smart talking heads be funny, dorky, or just plain sharp.

Meaning: if you already know everything about CRISPR (and if you read Ars Technica, you very well might), Human Nature still has something for you.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sloth-by-sloth-west: The good and the Goop of SXSW 2019 (in pictures)

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 2:30pm

AUSTIN, Texas—While sitting in the auditorium waiting to hear Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren talk further about her views on Silicon Valley, an older gentleman leaned over to ask about something that had absolutely nothing to do with politics. "I don't get it," he began. "It's a music festival, but a film festival, too? And you're here for the technology stuff, right? Where do all these politicians fit? How do you describe this conference to someone in 30 seconds?"Ars at SXSW 2019

View more stories

The answer, of course, is obvious to Ars after our fourth straight year of coverage: you can't. While the three core tenets of South by Southwest remain film, music, and tech, this conference has become the ultimate convergence event—not just of topics, but of people. Where else can you, in a single day, see a cookie vending machine from Milk Bar baking guru Christina Tosi, a massive HBO installation to promote Game of Thronesexperts from Unicode talking about emoji evolution, and then Senator Warren on -isms from capital- to rac- all in the same place? None of that stuff perfectly fits into SXSW's overarching programming tracks, but perhaps that itself is the message. These days, the boundaries between art, business, and innovation blur together more than ever. Put a bunch of movers and shakers in those areas together for a week, and interesting stuff is bound to happen.

Unfortunately, explaining that (even succinctly) takes more than 30 seconds, so we failed this impromptu summarization quiz. But our time in Austin certainly felt like a success overall. Above is just a small sampling of the sights that spanned almost every topic you can find on the pages of Ars Technica. We may have missed Bill Nye crashing New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Q&A to talk about the environment, but we damn well made sure to snag one of those cookies.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

500 million years of climate history pinned on plate tectonics

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Indonesia's Paluweh volcano sits in a region of colliding tectonic plates—perhaps the formula for glacial periods in geologic history. (credit: Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory)

Generally speaking, it’s easy enough to make sense of the last few million years of climate patterns—the world looked much as it does today, so changes in greenhouse gas concentrations or ocean circulation can be related to what we see now. But as you go back farther in time, you can find very different climates and a rearranged map of continents, and those require more creative thinking.

For example, the ice age periods in the recent past are not unique. But most of the last 500 million years have been much warmer—what has caused the climate to slowly drift toward warmer or cooler temperatures over millions of years?

Looping

In the grand sweep of Earth history, its climate has remained within a habitable temperature range—thanks in part to the moderating influence of feedback loops within the system. The weathering of silicate minerals in bedrock pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere, for example. In a warming climate, weathering can speed up, removing more greenhouse gas and stabilizing temperatures. Cool the planet and weathering slows, giving greenhouse gases more chance to accumulate.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How hackers pulled off a $20 million bank heist

Ars Technica - March 17, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Buyenlarge | Getty Images)

In January 2018 a group of hackers, now thought to be working for the North Korean state-sponsored group Lazarus, attempted to steal $110 million from the Mexican commercial bank Bancomext. That effort failed. But just a few months later, a smaller yet still elaborate series of attacks allowed hackers to siphon off 300 to 400 million pesos, or roughly $15 to $20 million from Mexican banks. Here's how they did it.

At the RSA security conference in San Francisco last Friday, penetration tester and security advisor Josu Loza, who was an incident responder in the wake of the April attacks, presented findings on how hackers executed the heists both digitally and on the ground around Mexico. The hackers' affiliation remains publicly unknown. Loza emphasizes that while the attacks likely required extensive expertise and planning over months, or even years, they were enabled by sloppy and insecure network architecture within the Mexican financial system, and security oversights in SPEI, Mexico's domestic money transfer platform run by central bank Banco de México, also known as Banxico.

Easy pickings

Thanks to security holes in the targeted bank systems, attackers could have accessed internal servers from the public Internet, or launched phishing attacks to compromise executives—or even regular employees—to gain a foothold. Many networks didn't have strong access controls, so hackers could get a lot of mileage out of compromised employee credentials. The networks also weren't well segmented, meaning intruders could use that initial access to penetrate deep into banks's connections to SPEI, and eventually SPEI's transaction servers, or even its underlying code base.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Can you murder a robot?

BBC Technology News - March 17, 2019 - 1:24am
Does it matter if we hurt a robot? And should we have rules to make sure they don't hurt us?

Christchurch shootings: Social media races to stop attack footage

BBC Technology News - March 16, 2019 - 9:52pm
Why was a video of the shootings shared on social media and what can be done about the wider threat?

Beto O’Rourke outed as Cult of Dead Cow member, phreaker and writer of screeds

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 9:50pm

Enlarge / WATERLOO, IOWA - MARCH 16: Democratic presidential candidate and former Cult of the Dead Cow member Beto O'Rourke greets voters during a canvassing kickoff event with state senate candidate Eric Giddens March 16, 2019, in Waterloo, Iowa. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and Senate candidate and recently declared Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has been outed as a former member of what has been described as America's oldest hacking group—the Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC). O'Rourke admitted to his membership in an interview for an upcoming book about the group, reported by Reuters.

O'Rourke's role in the group, starting in the late 1980s, was more focused on writing screeds for the CDC's text-file essays than hacking. O'Rourke, like other teens of the time, did find ways to avoid paying for long-distance dial-up phone service time to connect to bulletin board systems (BBSs) of the day across the country with his family's Apple IIe computer and 300 baud modem, which he often used to search for pirated games.

He eventually launched his own bulletin board system (BBS) called TacoLand, which Reuters' Joseph Menn reports, was largely about punk music. "This was the counterculture: Maximum Rock & Roll [magazine], buying records by catalog you couldn't find at record stores," O'Rourke told Menn.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

MIT scientists: Heat can act like sound wave when moving through pencil lead

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge / Graphite rods ready to be encased in wood to make pencils. MIT scientists have shown that heat behaves like sound when moving through graphite. (credit: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP/Getty Images)

A boiling tea kettle diffuses its heat to gradually warm surrounding air, yet it will still be the warmest region even as it, too, slowly cools. But what if the kettle cooled down to room temperature almost instantly, losing its heat in a wave traveling through the material close to the speed of sound? MIT researchers have observed this rare, counterintuitive phenomenon—known as "second sound"—in graphite, the stuff of pencil lead. They described their results in a paper published earlier this week in Science.

Chances are you've never heard of the concept of "second sound," even though the phenomenon has been known for decades. "It's been confined to only a handful of materials that are really very low temperature," said co-author Keith Nelson, severely limiting its potential usefulness. There might be a paragraph or two on the topic in your average solid-state textbook, but the field "has been kind of a backwater."

With the results of this new research, that may be about to change. Graphite is a very common material, and the effect was observed at a relatively balmy (by low-temperature physics standards) temperature of around -240 degrees F. The team's theoretical models indicate it might be possible to produce the effect in graphene at something closer to room temperature in the future, thereby opening up any number of potential practical applications. For instance, microelectronics just keep getting smaller, making heat management a daunting challenge. If room-temperature graphene could rapidly carry off heat as waves, it might allow even more miniaturization.

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How a wireless keyboard lets hackers take full control of connected computers

Ars Technica - March 16, 2019 - 6:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Fujitsu)

There’s a critical vulnerability in a model of Fujitsu wireless keyboard that makes it easy for hackers to take full control of connected computers, security researchers warned on Friday. Anyone using the keyboard model should strongly consider replacing it immediately.

The Fujitsu Wireless Keyboard Set LX901 uses a proprietary 2.4 GHz radio communication protocol called WirelessUSB LP from Cypress Semiconductor. While the keyboard and mouse send input that’s protected with the time-tested Advanced Encryption Standard, the USB dongle that accepts the input accepts unencrypted packets as well, as long as they’re in the proper format.

Researchers with the Germany-based penetration-testing firm SySS developed a proof-of-concept attack that exploits the insecure design. Using a small hardware device, they are able to send commands to vulnerable Fujitsu keyboard receiver dongles that are within range. As the video below demonstrates, the researchers were able to send input of their choice that’s automatically funneled to the connected computer.

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Gum shield helps spot signs of concussion

BBC Technology News - March 16, 2019 - 5:20pm
Fitted with sensors to monitor head trauma the device feeds real-time data to nearby medical staff.

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