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Industry & Technology

Defense media tweet threatening Area 51 “raiders” pulled, DOD apologizes

Ars Technica - 1 hour 26 min ago

Enlarge / The photo posted in an DVIDS tweet joking about what would happen to anyone storming Area 51 this past weekend. (credit: US Air Force)

The Defense Department's Defense Video and Image Distribution Service (DVIDS) issued an apology on September 21 after deleting a Twitter post that suggested individuals who participated in the "Storm Area 51" event and entered Air Force property would be blown up by bombs.

The post, tweeted on September 20, displayed a B-2 Spirit bomber on a runway at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, behind a formation of airmen from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri deployed during a Bomber Task Force mission in January. The tweet's text read, "The last thing #Millenials will see if they attempt the #area51raid today…."

A tweet, since deleted, by an employee of DOD's Defense Video and Image Distribution Service. (credit: DVIDS)

DVIDS, a service of the Defense Media Activity, is responsible for providing media organizations access to Defense Department imagery, video, and other content, including real-time broadcast-quality video links for interviews with service members (as well as the video content frequently used by Ars' Sitrep video series). On September 21, a spokesperson for DVIDS issued the following statement via Twitter:

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Security gadgets 'making people more vulnerable' from hackers

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 39 min ago
Hacking experts show a family how easily they can be spied on by technology bought for their safety.

Dealmaster: Last call for Prime members to get a free year of Switch Online

Ars Technica - 2 hours 47 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Nintendo)

A quick PSA for anyone with a Nintendo Switch and an Amazon Prime account: a deal that gives a free year of Nintendo Switch Online to those who subscribe to Amazon’s Twitch Prime service is set to expire tomorrow, September 24.

For the uninitiated, Nintendo Switch Online is a subscription service that normally costs $20 a year and is required to play online multiplayer in most Switch games. (Free-to-play titles like Fortnite are exempt, but it’s needed for games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or the upcoming Overwatch port.) We noted this Amazon deal when it arrived in March, but with Nintendo adding a slate of classic Super Nintendo games to the service (albeit at the expense of monthly releases), it remains a good bargain if you already have a Prime membership.

Redeeming the offer isn’t entirely straightforward, so as a reminder, here’s what you have to do to get the full year. Again, all of this presumes you pay for Prime to begin with:

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Google seeks permission for staff to listen to Assistant recordings

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 59 min ago
The company acknowledges it had not been clear enough that humans might listen to users' recordings.

Pedaling with extra power: A look at Trek’s new electric bike

Ars Technica - 3 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / This isn't your author, but he did get to take this model down a busy urban street and into the relative sanity of Central Park. (credit: Trek)

One of my favorite moments in bicycling comes when you find the exact right combination of effort, gearing, wind speed, road surface, and slope. For a few magic moments, acceleration feels effortless, and you rocket forward like there's a giant hand pushing you from behind.

Last week, I experienced something similar, but it came while riding uphill on the toughest section of Central Park's loop road. The effortless acceleration was courtesy of a compact but powerful electric motor embedded in the frame of a new line of bikes introduced by Trek. The test ride was meant to introduce me to Trek's new models, but it also introduced me to pedal-assist bikes more generally.

The experience was very different from my expectations, in part because there are multiple experiences, depending on exactly how you tweak a combination of settings, gearing, and effort. The results were anything from a gentle boost as I pedaled on the flats to ripping up a hill at speeds that made me a hazard to my fellow cyclists.

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YouTube U-turn after protests over verified status

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 50 min ago
The video-sharing site apologised after proposing a change that drew criticism from prominent YouTubers.

Atoms spin backward while flying along a surface

Ars Technica - 5 hours 7 min ago

Enlarge / Atoms are a bit like this wheel, but they spin backward while moving forward. (credit: Ross Elliott / Flickr)

Have you ever noticed that when a car is filmed, sometimes the wheels appear to be turning backward? For cars, having the wheels rotate in the opposite sense to the car's motion is an artifact. But, for atoms, it may actually happen.

Picture this

Let's set the scene. A flat sheet of metal, hanging in the vacuum: the camera pans to see a single atom moving flat-out a few nanometers above the surface. The electrons surrounding the nucleus of the atom push the electrons in the metal away from the metal's surface, creating a kind of bow wave of charge in front of the nucleus and a wake of charge behind it. What we're looking at is the very picture of a quantum salt flat racer.

The forces that generate the bow wave and wake are carried by virtual photons that are exchanged between the metal surface and the atom. In the exchange process, the atom will emit a steady stream of real photons in the direction of travel. The momentum kick from launching these photons slows the atom. This is, ultimately, friction for a single atom.

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In How To: XKCD author offers absurd advice for ordinary tasks

Ars Technica - September 22, 2019 - 10:00pm

Talking about Saturn Vs at on stage at a NASA facility is always appropriate—here's XKCD creator Randall Munroe doing just that in 2015. (credit: Lee Hutchinson)

Any time physicists gets together, one of them will tell a very old joke about a farmer who wants to make their farm more efficient. In the joke, a list of inappropriate professionals offer the farmer reasonable suggestions. The punchline comes from the physicist who responds "Well, let's assume that cows are spheres... "

How To was released in early September. (credit: Riverhead Books)

The actual punchline isn't in the joke itself—it's what happens next: one of the physicists listening to the joke will lecture the rest on how the approximation isn't that bad really. They will end with a list of all the things you can learn about the world from spherical cows. The joke only ends when the bar closes. Physicists: ruining jokes, cows, farming, and most of biology since 1687.

Randall Munroe's new book, How To, is the spherical cows joke relentlessly replicated and explained without—and this is the important part—removing the humor. Munroe has, as the subtitle Absurd Advice for Real-World Problems explains, produced a book of absurd scientific advice. It is, essentially, a "how you shouldn't" manual. With that in mind, you should not read How To as you would an ordinary book.

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iFixit’s iPhone 11 Pro Max teardown finds higher-capacity battery, 4GB of RAM

Ars Technica - September 21, 2019 - 6:56pm

As has become an annual custom, iFixit tore down the latest iPhone—in this case, the iPhone 11 Pro Max—to see what has changed inside Apple's flagship device. The site found that the phone has 4GB of RAM, a 3969mAh battery that adopts the L-shaped design for the first time in a Max phone, and an improved thermal management system.

Also intriguing: "We have a secondary battery connector for the first time ever in an iPhone, plugging in directly adjacent to the wireless charging coil. We're not sure what Apple was up to here."

This additional connector, iFixit postulates, could be evidence of the bilateral charging feature that was rumored before the phone's release. Pre-launch reports claimed that the new iPhone would be able to charge AirPods wirelessly, much like Samsung's recent Galaxy phones. However, iFixit notes that Apple published documentation indicating that the iPhone 11 Pro Max has new hardware for tracking battery performance, and that may be an alternative explanation.

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Horror film Jennifer’s Body bombed 10 years ago; now it’s a cult classic

Ars Technica - September 21, 2019 - 2:10pm

Enlarge / Megan Fox starred in the 2009 film Jennifer's Body. It underperformed at the box office, but has since become a horror cult classic. (credit: 20th Century Fox)

Typically, when we think of cult classic films and TV series that get a second lease on life via VHS, DVD, or streaming, we think of a nerd's club of mostly boys: Blade Runner, Office Space, Freaks and Geeks, and so on. There are obviously exceptions, and this weekend marks one of the the best ones in the horror space: the 10th anniversary of the criminally misunderstood Jennifer's Body.

This 2009 film, penned by Diablo Cody and starring Megan Fox, has prompted lots of fond reminiscences from cast and crew recently, as well as several glowing tributes. That's quite a shift from the film's debut, when Jennifer's Body received decidedly mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office. Count me among those who have long appreciated this smartly subversive, multi-layered horror/fairy tale about toxic female friendship.

(Major spoilers for the film below, because it's been 10 years, people.)

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Facebook suspends tens of thousands of apps in ongoing privacy investigation

Ars Technica - September 21, 2019 - 3:20am

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Facebook—the social media company that has been under intense public criticism for not adequately safeguarding the personal information of its 2 billion users—has suspended tens of thousands of apps for a variety of violations, including improperly sharing private data.

In a post published on Friday, Facebook VP of Product Partnerships Ime Archibong said the move was part of an ongoing review that began in March 2018, following revelations that, two years earlier, Cambridge Analytica used the personal information of as many as 87 million Facebook users to build voter profiles for President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Facebook has been embroiled in several other privacy controversies since then.

The tens of thousands of apps were associated with about 400 developers. While some of the apps were suspended, in a few cases others were banned completely. Offenses that led to banning included inappropriately sharing data obtained from the Facebook platform, making data available without protecting user’s identities, or clear violations of the social network’s terms of service.

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What3words: 'Life-saving app' divides opinion

BBC Technology News - September 21, 2019 - 12:53am
First responders have been singing the praises of what3words but some have reservations about the tech.

Facebook suspends tens of thousands of apps

BBC Technology News - September 20, 2019 - 9:34pm
The move comes as part of a review launched in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Epic seems to have paid $10.5 million for Control’s PC exclusivity

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 9:15pm

At this point, we know Epic is committed to paying a lot of money for exclusive games to attract players to its Epic Games Store. Now, we seem to know how much it paid up front for at least one of those exclusives: €9.49 million (about $10.45 million at today's exchange rates).

The EGS exclusive in question is Remedy and 505 Games' supernatural shooter Control, and the number in question comes buried in an Italian earnings report from 505 Games parent company Digital Bros. (as noticed by analyst Daniel Ahmad). That figure is listed in two tables in the document, corresponding to total revenue from Control and total revenue from the Epic Games Store, both for the period ending June 30, 2019.

"Revenue come[s] from the computer version of Control," the report reads, according to a rough translation of a portion of the document. "The game was released on August 27 but the structure of the marketplace who requested the PC exclusivity has made possible to gain the revenue starting from this quarter."

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“Grassroots” anti-Amazon nonprofit turns out to be retailer astroturfing

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 8:40pm

Enlarge / The Amazon logo at the entrance of a logistics center in France, July 2019. (credit: Denis Charlet | AFP | Getty )

It's no secret that retailers who compete with Amazon for consumer dollars want regulators to take a closer look at the way their titanic, globe-spanning rival works. They've openly said so, many times. And yet, three major firms reportedly spent a great deal of time and effort obscuring their ties to a nonprofit that exists to rally support against Amazon.

The nonprofit, called the Free and Fair Markets Initiative, describes itself as "a nonprofit watchdog committed to scrutinizing Amazon’s harmful practices and promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans." According to a new report today from The Wall Street Journal, however, the group is funded by rivals, including Walmart, Oracle, and mall-owner Simon, who all have a strong financial interest in dethroning Amazon.

All three are competing fiercely with Amazon in their own market sectors. Walmart, the nation's biggest big-box store, competes in retail, selling goods and groceries. Oracle competes in Internet services and has been fighting against Amazon, for example, to secure a $10 billion government contract. And Simon, the country's largest mall owner, is at the front and center of the retail apocalypse and all the dead malls that retail bankruptcies leave in their wake.

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AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X, Threadripper on hold until November

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 8:38pm

Enlarge / That "premiering with 24 cores" fine print is our only concrete clue about November's Threadripper launch. (credit: AMD)

AMD announced in a surprise email today that its Ryzen 9 3950X, originally slated for launch this month, has been delayed until November, when it and new Zen 2 Threadripper CPUs will debut:

We are focusing on meeting the strong demand for our 3rd generation AMD Ryzen processors in the market and now plan to launch both the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X and initial members of the 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor family in volume this November. We are confident that when enthusiasts get their hands on the world’s first 16-core mainstream desktop processor and our next-generation of high-end desktop processors, the wait will be well worth it.

The 3950X will be a 16-core, 32-thread desktop CPU running with a 4.7GHz boost clock, with a suggested retail price of $749. Details on the Threadrippers debuting next month are thinner, although graphics describe it as "premiering with 24 cores." Presumably, we'll eventually see Zen 2 Threadrippers with 32 cores and 64 threads to match the last generation's 2990WX. Although there haven't been any official statements, rumors are floating around about one existing Threadripper 3000 32-core CPU—user benchmarks claiming to be from an engineering sample showed up at Geekbench last month.

The delay of Ryzen 9 3950X's launch—along with extreme shortages of the already-launched Ryzen 9 3900X—leads to obvious supply line speculation. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the foundry AMD uses for its Zen 2 processors (and Apple uses for the 7nm A13 CPU in the iPhone 11), recently increased its lead time for new orders from two months to six. This increased lead should not directly affect the 3950X or Threadripper launches, since the silicon for those processors would have been ordered months ago. But it is an indication that TSMC may be approaching production or binning limits.

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Medicine show: Crown Sterling demos 256-bit RSA key-cracking at private event

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 8:23pm

Enlarge / Robert Grant, Crown Sterling CEO and founder, emcee'd a demonstration of crypto-cracking at an event yesterday. Cryptographers were not impressed. (credit: Crown Sterling, via YouTube)

On September 19, in a conference room at the Pelican Hill Resort in Newport Beach, California, Crown Sterling CEO Robert Grant, COO Joseph Hopkins, and a pair of programmers staged a demonstration of Grant's claimed cryptography-cracking algorithm. Before an audience that a Crown Sterling spokesperson described as "approximately 100 academics and business professionals," Grant and Hopkins had their minions generate two pairs of 256-bit RSA encryption keys and then derive the prime numbers used to generate them from the public key in about 50 seconds.

In a phone interview with Ars Technica today, Grant said the video was filmed during a "business session" at the event. The "academic" presentation, which went into math behind his claims and a new paper yet to be published, was attended by "mostly people from local colleges," Hopkins said. Grant said that he didn't know who attended both sessions, and the CEO added that he didn't have access to the invitation list.

During the presentation, Grant called out to Chris Novak, the global director of Verizon Enterprise Solutions' Threat Research Advisory Center, naming him as a member of Crown Sterling's advisory board. The shout-out was during introductory remarks that Grant made about a survey of chief information security officers that the company had conducted. The survey found only 3% had an understanding of the fundamental math behind encryption.

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AT&T tells court: Customers can’t sue over sale of phone location data

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 8:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | SOPA Images)

AT&T is trying to force customers into arbitration in order to avoid a class-action complaint over the telecom's former practice of selling users' real-time location data.

In a motion to compel arbitration filed last week, AT&T said that plaintiffs agreed to arbitrate disputes with AT&T when they entered into wireless service contracts. The plaintiffs, who are represented by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorneys, will likely argue that the arbitration clause is invalid.

The case is pending in US District Court for the Northern District of California. In March 2018, a judge in the same court ruled that AT&T could not use its arbitration clause to avoid a class-action lawsuit over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans. That's because the California Supreme Court had ruled in McGill v. Citibank "that an arbitration agreement that waives the right to seek the statutory remedy of public injunctive relief in any forum is contrary to California public policy and therefore unenforceable," the District Court judge wrote at the time.

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iOS 13 ships with known lockscreen bypass flaw that exposes contacts

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 7:41pm

Enlarge (credit: Jose Rodriguez)

Apple released iOS 13 with a bunch of new features. But it also released the new OS with something else: a bug disclosed seven days ago that exposes contact details without requiring a passcode or biometric identification first.

Independent researcher Jose Rodriguez published a video demonstration of the flaw exactly one week ago. It can be exploited by receiving a FaceTime call and then using the voiceover feature from Siri to access the contact list. From there, an unauthorized person could get names, phone numbers, email addresses, and any other information stored in the phone’s contacts list.

Rodriquez’s video was the topic of more than 100 news articles over the past week. Since iOS 13 was in beta when it first appeared, I assumed Apple developers would fix the bypass in time for yesterday's release. Alas, they didn’t, and it’s not clear why.

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Sacklers threaten to scrap opioid deal if they aren’t shielded from lawsuits

Ars Technica - September 20, 2019 - 6:36pm

Enlarge / PURDUE PHARMA, STAMFORD, CT, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/12: Members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and Truth Pharm staged a protest on September 12, 2019 outside Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, over their recent controversial opioid settlement. (credit: Getty | Erik McGregor)

Lawyers for OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma filed a new complaint late Wednesday threatening that the company’s mega-rich owners, the Sackler family, could pull out of a proposed multi-billion-dollar opioid settlement deal if a bankruptcy judge doesn’t shield the family from outstanding state lawsuits.

Purdue’s lawyers argue that if the lawsuits continue, the Sacklers will have to waste “hundreds of millions of dollars” on legal costs that could otherwise go to claimants in the settlement. The family's lawyers added that in that event, the family “may be unwilling—or unable—to make the billions of dollars of contributions” to the proposed settlement.

State attorneys general, however, argue that the tactic is yet another move designed to shield the Sacklers and their ill-gotten wealth.

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