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Industry & Technology

Do face masks help? Studies leaning towards yes

Ars Technica - 1 hour 6 min ago

Enlarge / If only some of the public wears protective gear, is it helpful? (credit: Diego Puletto / Getty Images)

What's the best way to protect yourself when you're at risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2? It seems like a simple question, but many of the options—face masks, lockdowns, social distancing, etc.—have been politically controversial. In addition, it has been difficult for public health authorities to maintain a consistent message, given our changing state of knowledge and their need to balance things like maintaining supplies of protective equipment for health care workers.

But several months into the pandemic, we've started to get a clear indication that social isolation rules are helping, providing support for those policies. So, where do we stand on the use of masks?

Two recent events hint at where the evidence is running. The first involves the retraction of a paper that appeared to show that mask use was ineffective. And the second is a meta-analysis of all recent studies on the use of protective gear against SARS-CoV-2 and its relatives SARS and MERS. It finds support for a protective effect of masks—as well as eye protection—although the underlying evidence isn't as strong as we might like.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Instagram just threw users of its embedding API under the bus

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 10:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Instagram does not provide users of its embedding API a copyright license to display embedded images on other websites, the company said in a Thursday email to Ars Technica. The announcement could come as an unwelcome surprise to users who believed that embedding images, rather than hosting them directly, provides insulation against copyright claims.

"While our terms allow us to grant a sub-license, we do not grant one for our embeds API," a Facebook company spokesperson told Ars in a Thursday email. "Our platform policies require third parties to have the necessary rights from applicable rights holders. This includes ensuring they have a license to share this content, if a license is required by law."

In plain English, before you embed someone's Instagram post on your website, you may need to ask the poster for a separate license to the images in the post. If you don't, you could be subject to a copyright lawsuit.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Huawei’s temperature-taking smartphone is the most 2020 phone of 2020

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 10:15pm

Smartphones have always been the modern tech equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, combining a phone, a music player, a camera, a GPS, a PDA, and more into a single device. Now Huawei is pitching yet another device that can be integrated into a smartphone: a thermometer. Huawei's Honor Play 4 Pro has an IR temperature sensor integrated into the rear camera block that can measure the surface temperature of people and objects. In a year when containing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is a major concern and a fever can be an early indicator of infection, the Play 4 Pro is an extremely 2020 smartphone.

In a video posted on the Chinese social media site Weibo, Huawei demonstrates how the feature will work. Just aim the phone at someone's forehead, tap through the app, and the phone will give you a temperature reading. Temperature checks aren't a guaranteed way to screen for COVID-19, but a fever is a symptom in the majority of hospitalized cases, and it's very easy to check for. The use of infrared non-contact thermometers is a common sight in Huawei's home country of China, and in the United States, employers like Amazon and Walmart are screening masses of warehouse employees for fevers as part of coronavirus control.

Huawei says its IR sensor can read temperatures from -20°C (-4°F) to 100°C (212°F). An IR sensor isn't as accurate as a thermal camera, and neither device, which reads a surface temperature, is as accurate as an internally taken temperature. An IR sensor is cheap, though, and they are already frequently integrated into a smartphone for face unlock and camera effects, so Huawei was able to quickly react to the pandemic.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nature’s cosmic hard drive? Black holes could store information like holograms

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / New research suggests we really can describe black holes as holograms: they have two dimensions, in which gravity disappears, but they reproduce an object in three dimensions. (credit: Gerd Altmann for PIxabay)

Nearly 30 years ago, theoretical physicists introduced the "holographic principle," a mind-bending theory positing that our three-dimensional universe is actually a hologram. Now physicists are applying that same principle to black holes, arguing in a new paper published in Physical Review X that a black hole's information is contained within a two-dimensional surface, which is able to reproduce an image of the black hole in three dimensions—just like the holograms we see in everyday life.

Black holes as described by general relativity are simple objects. All you need to describe them mathematically is their mass and their spin, plus their electric charge. So there would be no noticeable change if you threw something into a black hole—nothing that would provide a clue as to what that object might have been. That information is lost.

But problems arise when quantum gravity enters the picture because the rules of quantum mechanics hold that information can never be destroyed. And in quantum mechanics, black holes are incredibly complex objects and thus should contain a great deal of information. As we reported previously, Jacob Bekenstein realized in 1974 that black holes also have a temperature. Stephen Hawking tried to prove him wrong but wound up proving him right instead, concluding that black holes therefore had to produce some kind of thermal radiation.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Retracted: Hydroxychloroquine study pulled over suspect data [Updated]

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 9:07pm

Enlarge / A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine. US President Donald Trump announced May 18 he has been taking hydroxychloroquine for almost two weeks as a preventative measure against COVID-19. (credit: Getty | George Frey)

The Lancet medical journal on Thursday announced the retraction of a dubious study suggesting that the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine significantly increased the risk of death and heart-rhythm complications in hospitalized COVID-19 patients worldwide.

Three of the study’s four authors made the decision to retract the study after they were unable to independently verify the data used for their analysis. The data was provided by an obscure data analytics company, Surgisphere, which is run by the fourth author of the study, Sapan S Desai, who did not appear to agree to the retraction.

The three retracting authors—Mandeep R. Mehra of Harvard, Frank Ruschitzka of University Hospital Zurich, and Amit Patel of the University of Utah—said in their retraction notice that Surgisphere refused to hand over its full dataset and an audit report of its servers for an independent peer review. “Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources,” the wrote.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

I choose you: Pokémon Draft League brings pro sports excitement to the game

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 8:30pm

An early-season draft-league match comes down to the wire.

Draft league is probably nothing like the Pokémon you're familiar with. It's not training up a team of your favorite Pokémon to beat Team Rocket. It's not even like an official competitive tournament run by The Pokémon Company.

And it all started with a bumper sticker.

Steve "Magnitude" Wood is the YouTuber and sports fanatic who came up with the concept of combining his two passions. "I'm a huge Milwaukee Bucks basketball fan," he tells Ars Technica. "And I thought the Pokémon Sawsbuck looks a lot like the Milwaukee Bucks logo. One of my friends was a graphic designer, so she made me a sticker, and I got it printed and put it on my car."

Read 41 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Small ISP cancels data caps permanently after reviewing pandemic usage

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 7:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | RichLegg)

The coronavirus pandemic caused big ISPs to put data caps on hold for a few months, but one small ISP is going a big step further and canceling the arbitrary monthly limits permanently. Antietam Broadband, which serves Washington County in Maryland, announced Friday that it "has permanently removed broadband data usage caps for all customers," retroactive to mid-March when the company first temporarily suspended data-cap overage fees.

The decision to permanently drop the cap was made partly because of "learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic as more people worked and learned remotely," Antietam explained. "During this period customers moved into broadband packages that more accurately reflected their broadband needs." Like most other ISPs, Antietam charges different prices based on speed tiers as measured in bits per second, with Antietam's advertised download speeds ranging up to 1Gbps.

"These are uncertain times. We felt a need to give customers as much certainty over their bill as possible," Antietam President Brian Lynch said in the press release. "Eliminating data usage caps means that customers will know the exact amount of their broadband bill every month."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A ton of PlayStation 4 games are on sale today

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 7:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by Sony's "Days of Play" sale, a now-annual summer sale that includes deals on a wide range of PlayStation games, subscriptions, and accessories. Sony technically kicked off the event on Wednesday, but the company says the sale will last through June 17, with discounts available at its own digital stores and various third-party retailers.

We've rounded up the highlights of the sale below. In general, the offerings aren't quite as diverse as what we saw in last year's sale; there are no discounts on consoles or controllers this time around. But the event does bring a number of worthwhile PS4 games down to $10, including God of WarHorizon Zero DawnUncharted: The Nathan Drake CollectionBloodborne, and The Last of Us Remastered, among many others. The "Game of the Year" edition of Marvel's Spider-Man dropping to $20 is another highlight, while more recent worthy games like DreamsDeath Stranding, and MLB The Show 20 are anywhere from $10 to $20 off their usual street price.

Outside of games, one-year subscriptions to Sony's PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now services are both down to $42. This isn't the largest discount we've seen for the former, but it's still a good drop from its standard $60, and the service remains a must for playing the vast majority of PS4 games online. PlayStation Now is less essential, but its library of games has grown to the point of being a decent value—albeit not on the level of Xbox Game Pass—and it lets you download hundreds of those games alongside the usual cloud streaming. That deal price is the lowest we've tracked to date.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Electric race cars and human drama on display in And We Go Green

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 6:59pm

Enlarge / Nelson Piquet Jr is one of the drivers featured in a new documentary about Formula E. (credit: Steven Tee/LAT/Formula E)

You might think a film about the world of Formula E racing would focus on the electric car technology being battle-tested by the sport. But And We Go Greena new documentary now streaming on Hulu—is a much more emotional story about the sport. It takes about two and a half minutes for someone to drop the first F-bomb. We're in Hong Kong, and the electric racing cars of Formula E are lined up and waiting for the signal that starts the race. The only problem: those lights aren't working, and series boss Alejandro Agag wants to know "who the fuck is responsible" for messing up. That should make it clear that this is an unvarnished look at the sport.

The film follows this upstart race series as it goes about its fourth season, and more particularly some of the intense, sometimes long-standing rivalries within it. And I bring up the profanity—which starts with Agag but continues aplenty from everyone else—because so often that kind of thing is smoothed over by anodyne corporate messaging. But Formula E has always been a little more freewheeling than a series like Formula 1.

Unvarnished doesn't mean unpolished, though. And We Go Green is as much of a visual feast as any recent motorsports documentary, and if you think you detect the influence of legendary Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin), good guess.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How to make plastic bottles from sugarcane and captured CO₂

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 6:46pm

Enlarge / Squeeze the magical juice from some sugarcane, and this is what's left. (credit: Harsha K R)

While most plastics have generally been produced from petroleum, that’s not an inherent requirement. Chemistry is chemistry, and it’s possible to grow many of the hydrocarbons we need. But crops are the things we are best at growing, and plastics made from crops can have problems. They tend to cost more, and unless we're willing to accept impacts on our ability to grow food, pathways to bioplastics have to be pretty clever about their starting materials.

A new study led by Durham University’s Long Jiang, Abigail Gonzalez-Diaz, and Janie Ling-Chin lays out a pathway to making plastic bottles from waste organic material and CO2 captured from power plants. A thorough analysis of the economics shows this process could even be cost competitive for making things like plastic bottles.

The process could start with something like the leftover plant material from sugarcane pressing. After a few reaction steps, which include the addition of some captured CO2 and some ethylene glycol produced from corn plants, you’d end up with a plastic polymer called polyethylene furandicarboxylate—otherwise known as PEF. Functionally, it’s similar to the PET plastic used for water and soda bottles, denoted by the number 1 recycling symbol.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hulu scraps support for older Roku devices

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 6:27pm

Enlarge / The 2017 Roku Ultra, which will still be supported by the latest Hulu app. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Several older Roku devices will lose access to the latest Hulu app on June 24, 2020, the subscription-based streaming service has announced with an update to its support pages. Users of the affected devices will see messages like "Hulu is no longer supported on this device," or simply "your user session has expired," according to Hulu documentation.

Affected devices include Roku Streaming Stick models 3420 or earlier, as well as Roku Streaming Player models 2400 to 3100. Roku device owners can navigate to the About panel under Settings within the Roku interface to determine which model they have.

The sticks and players were already limited to using the "classic" Hulu app instead of the modern one. The classic app has a number of limitations—most notably the lack of live TV support. However, with this change, it appears that users of these models will not be able to access Hulu in any form after the end-of-support date.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Medics call for action on social media Covid-19 'infodemic'

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 6:00pm
Hard-hitting testimony by medics highlights the damage being done to frontline healthcare.

COVID vaccine execs hyped vague data to cash in $90M in stock, watchdog says

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 5:33pm

Enlarge / Moderna Inc. headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

An anti-corruption watchdog is pressing the US Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate executives of the biotech company Moderna after they cashed in about $90 million in company shares days after promoting “positive" but vague data from its early COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

The watchdog group, Accountable.US, called the timing of the trades suspicious and questioned whether executives coordinated their stock sales prior to the data release.

In a letter to the SEC that was released to CBS Moneywatch, Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig wrote, "This misconduct was particularly egregious because it involved not only financial fraud and manipulation of the financial markets, but also because it exploited widespread fears surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” In all, the executives' exploitation served to "boost the company's value, as well as their own bank accounts.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook removes 'inauthentic' George Floyd groups

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 5:26pm
Some had previously focused on coronavirus, 5G conspiracies and support for US President Donald Trump.

Zoom defenders cite legit reasons to not end-to-end encrypt free calls

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 5:23pm

Enlarge (credit: Zoom)

If you’ve waded into Twitter timelines for security and privacy advocates over the past five days, you’ve no doubt seen Zoom excoriated for its plans to enable end-to-end encrypted video conferencing solely for paying customers. Zoom’s millions of non-paying users won’t receive the protection so that the company can monitor meetings for child-abuse activity and other types of illegal and disturbing content, executives said.

“Oh, fuck off, @zoom_us. You don't care about anything except money,” one critic wrote on Twitter Tuesday, five days after Reuters reported the plans. “You certainly don't care about protecting people from the abusive overreach of police. After all, didn't you just say non-paying customers won't benefit from encryption b/c you want to work with law enforcement?”

The move is certainly a departure from some platforms that already offer end-to-end encryption. Signal, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp all offer the protection to all users, though few if any pay for the services. Few video conferencing services offer end-to-end encryption. Like Zoom, its competitors that do offer end-to-end crypto generally do so only for select users.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Culture of workplace fear” leads to COVID-19 spread at Amazon, suit says

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 4:37pm

Enlarge / Amazon.com Inc. signage is displayed in front of a warehouse in the Staten Island borough of New York, US, on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (credit: Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

A group of Amazon employees are suing the company, alleging it mandated unsafe working conditions in one of its fulfillment centers that led to the spread of COVID-19 and deaths resulting from the disease.

"This case is about Amazon's failures to comply with New York law and state and federal public health guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic at the JFK8 facility," the complaint (PDF) reads, alleging, "the company has relied on purposeful miscommunication with workers, sloppy contact tracing, and the culture of workplace fear it has instilled at JFK to ensure it can maintain productivity while reducing costs, even if that means workers come to work sick and cannot engage in proper hygiene, sanitizing, or social distancing while at work in order to stay healthy."

At least one worker at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island has died of COVID-19 so far, and several others have fallen ill. As recently as this past weekend, employees at the facility were receiving additional newly confirmed cases at the facility. One of the plaintiffs in the suit alleges that after she contracted the novel coronavirus at work in the warehouse, "she awoke to find her cousin with whom she lived dead in their bathroom" after he developed COVID-19 symptoms. She requested paid quarantine leave from the company under the terms of New York law, the suit says, but Amazon failed to pay her.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

K-pop fans drown out #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 2:02pm
Use of the tag has increased as a response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Gaming 'hero' retires at 23 due to ill-health

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 1:21pm
Jian Zihao says physical and mental health problems have caused him to quit e-sports.

Outer Worlds on Switch: A monumental, messy conversion on weak hardware

Ars Technica - June 4, 2020 - 1:00pm

Eight months after its launch on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, The Outer Worlds remains an easy recommendation for a Fallout-caliber single-player adventure (and it's still part of an Xbox Game Pass subscription). But let's say you haven't grabbed the game yet, either because you don't own those consoles or because you're waiting for its premiere on PC storefronts like Steam (coming no earlier than this October). Or maybe you just want a portable version.

In that case, is Friday's launch of a Nintendo Switch port (Amazon, Nintendo eShop) right for you? In our incomplete testing of the Switch version, the answer to that question is fuzzy—about as fuzzy as the port's resolution and presentation.

Content, frames, and motion controls

In good news, the entire game appears to have been ported with zero cuts to content or apparent changes to level layouts. The opening planet is a good test of the larger game's sales pitch. You'll eventually hop from one planet to the next, each with giant fields to traverse, monsters to fight, and citizen-filled towns to contend with. And right from the jump, the game remains the same mechanically. You'll see a ship's wreckage in the distance, run a ways to reach it, and find it littered with loot, dead bodies, and dangerous monsters. Then you'll reach a town full of chatty NPCs, and if you decide to take Obsidian Entertainment up on the devs' promise of playing however you like and attack the townspeople, the locals will react by running around and fighting back.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple tracks looters who steal iPhones

BBC Technology News - June 4, 2020 - 11:59am
Messages that appear on stolen phones suggest the authorities are also being alerted.

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