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Industry & Technology

Coronavirus: How map hacks and buttocks helped Taiwan fight Covid-19

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 57 min ago
Taiwan credits civic hackers and memes with helping keep down the coronavirus death toll.

The F-word’s hidden superpower: repeating it can increase your pain threshold

Ars Technica - June 6, 2020 - 9:38pm

Enlarge / Got pain? Go ahead and swear a little, science says. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

There have been a surprising number of studies in recent years examining the effects of swearing, specifically whether it can help relieve pain—either physical or psychological (as in the case of traumatic memories or events). According to the latest such study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, constantly repeating the F-word—as one might do if one hit one's thumb with a hammer—can increase one's pain threshold.

The technical term is the "hypoalgesic effect of swearing," best illustrated by a 2009 study in NeuroReport by researchers at Keele University in the UK. The work was awarded the 2010 Ig Nobel Peace Prize, "for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain." Co-author Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele, became interested in studying the topic after noting his wife's "unsavory language" while giving birth, and wondered if profanity really could help alleviate pain. "Swearing is such a common response to pain. There has to be an underlying reason why we do it," Stephens told Scientific American at the time.

For that 2009 study, Stephens and his colleagues asked 67 study participants (college students) to immerse their hands in a bucket of ice water. They were then instructed to either swear repeatedly using the profanity of their choice, or chant a neutral word. Lo and behold, the participants said they experienced less pain when they swore, and were also able to leave their hands in the bucket about 40 seconds longer than when they weren't swearing. It's been suggested (by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, among others) that it is a primitive reflex that serves as a form of catharsis.

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Here’s what WHO says your mask should have to prevent COVID-19 spread

Ars Technica - June 6, 2020 - 5:08pm

Enlarge / French fashion student sews homemade protective face masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. (credit: Getty | GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT)

The World Health Organization on Friday updated its guidance on the use of masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, making several changes and additions. Most notably, the agency is now recommending that governments encourage healthy members of the general public to wear masks in specific situations as part of comprehensive prevention efforts.

The new guidance puts the agency more in line with many countries worldwide that have already recommended masking the public, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which made the recommendation in early April.

However, the WHO made its updated guidance with many caveats—and some highly specific recommendations not provided by the US CDC.

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Exploit code for wormable flaw on unpatched Windows devices published online

Ars Technica - June 6, 2020 - 3:42pm

Enlarge (credit: Windows)

A researcher has published exploit code for a Microsoft Windows vulnerability that, when left unpatched, has the potential to spread from computer to computer with no user interaction.

So-called wormable security flaws are among the most severe, because the exploit of one vulnerable computer can start a chain reaction that rapidly spreads to hundreds of thousands, millions, or tens of millions of other vulnerable machines. The WannaCry and NotPetya exploits of 2017, which caused worldwide losses in the billions and tens of billions of dollars respectively, owe their success to CVE-2017-0144, the tracking number for an earlier wormable Windows vulnerability.

Also key to the destruction was reliable code developed by and later stolen from the National Security Agency and finally published online. Microsoft patched the flaw in March 2017, two months before the first exploit took hold.

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Schools turn to surveillance tech to prevent COVID-19 spread

Ars Technica - June 6, 2020 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / A Daimler electric schoolbus (powered by Proterra) on display at CES 2019. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

When students return to school in New Albany, Ohio, in August, they’ll be carefully watched as they wander through red-brick buildings and across well-kept lawns—and not only by teachers.

The school district, with five schools and 4,800 students, plans to test a system that would require each student to wear an electronic beacon to track their location to within a few feet throughout the day. It will record where students sit in each classroom, show who they meet and talk to, and reveal how they gather in groups. The hope is such technology could prevent or minimize an outbreak of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease at the center of a global pandemic.

Schools and colleges face an incredible challenge come the fall. Across the world, teachers, administrators, and parents are wrestling with how to welcome pupils back into normally bustling classrooms, dining rooms, and dorms, while the threat of the coronavirus remains ever-present.

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What’s up with Sweden?

Ars Technica - June 6, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden has admitted that the pandemic response he promotes hasn't worked out as well as he hoped. (credit: ANDERS WIKLUND/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Sweden's government epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, admitted that his plans for how the country should handle the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic hasn't quite worked out as he hoped, saying there's "quite obviously a potential for improvement in what we have done," according to one translation. There are probably very few public health officials on the planet who couldn't say the same. But Tegnell's admission made headlines, largely because Sweden has charted its own path, starting with relatively light restrictions compared to other European countries in the hope that the pandemic's economic impact would be blunted.

That approach has turned Sweden into a political talking point far from the Baltic Sea, with many people who would be horrified by Sweden's taxation levels and social safety net suddenly adopting it as a model of minimal government intervention. The role of Sweden in Internet arguments grew increasingly large as opposition to social distancing measures became organized in a number of countries. So, with the country's coronavirus plan architect saying mistakes were made, it's worth taking a look at how Sweden handled the pandemic—and what the results have been.

The plan and its economics

Some countries in Europe, like Italy and Spain, were faced with a rapid surge in cases early in the pandemic; others had the examples of Italy and Spain to guide their policy. The end result was that most European countries imposed pretty severe social distancing regulations, banning large gatherings, closing schools, and limiting access to a variety of businesses. In most cases, this has limited the spread of the pandemic, or at least it started to bring an out-of-control situation back into something more manageable.

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Coronavirus face mask lights up with moving mouth shapes

BBC Technology News - June 6, 2020 - 12:14am
A games designer creates a face mask that shows animated mouth shapes as you speak.

How Bill Gates became the voodoo doll of Covid conspiracies

BBC Technology News - June 6, 2020 - 12:12am
The ex-Microsoft head is currently the target of all kinds of outlandish theories and false claims.

We put Western Digital’s dreaded SMR Red drive to the test

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Western Digital's EFAX Red—an SMR disk—squares off against a Seagate Ironwolf in today's testing. (credit: Jim Salter)

Western Digital has been receiving a storm of bad press—and even lawsuits—concerning their attempt to sneak SMR disk technology into their "Red" line of NAS disks. To get a better handle on the situation, Ars purchased a Western Digital 4TB Red EFAX model SMR drive and put it to the test ourselves.

Although Western Digital's 4TB SMR disk performed adequately in Servethehome's light duty tests, it performed miserably when they used it to replace a disk in a degraded four-disk RAIDz1 vdev. (credit: ServeTheHome)

Recently, the well-known tech enthusiast site Servethehome tested one of the SMR-based 4TB Red disks with ZFS and found it sorely lacking. The disk performed adequately—if underwhelmingly—in generic performance tests. But when Servethehome used it to replace a disk in a degraded RAIDz1 vdev, it required more than nine days to complete the operation—when all competing NAS drives performed the same task in around sixteen hours.

This has rightfully raised questions as to what Western Digital was thinking when it tried to use SMR technology in NAS drives at all, let alone trying to sneak it into the market. Had Western Digital even tested the disks at all? But as valuable as Servethehome's ZFS tests were, they ignored the most common use case of this class of drive—consumer and small business NAS devices, such as Synology's DS1819+ or Netgear's ReadyNAS RN628X00. Those all use Linux kernel RAID (mdraid) to manage their arrays.

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Americans are drinking bleach and dunking food in it to prevent COVID-19

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 9:21pm

Bleach (credit: Adina Firestone)

Americans are doing more housecleaning and disinfecting amid the COVID-19 pandemic and many are turning to wild and dangerous tactics—like drinking and gargling bleach solutions.

Back in April, the agency noted an unusual spike in poison control center calls over harmful exposures to household cleaning products, such as bleach. The timing linked it to the spread of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 (not statements by President Trump). But to get a clearer idea of what was behind the rise, CDC researchers set up an online survey of household cleaning and disinfection knowledge and practices.

In all, they surveyed 502 US adults and used statistical weighting to make it representative of the country’s population. The findings—published Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report—are stunning.

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Archaeologists find a way to look for ancient beer

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / Barley grain used in the production of beer at the Asahi Kanagawa Brewery in Japan. (credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Over the last few years, archaeologists have learned a lot from ancient people’s dirty dishes. Microscopic residues clinging to the inside of potsherds contain chemical traces of ancient food and drink, which have revealed remarkable details of ancient people’s diets. But as much as we now know about when people started eating certain grains or fermenting milk to make cheese, we’re still not sure when people first started brewing beer. It’s hard to tell a container used for beer from one that was just storing plain old grain.

But by looking at the remains of ancient grains under a microscope, archaeologists can tell whether the grains had been malted—the first step in the process of brewing beer.

When grains start to germinate, or sprout, they release an enzyme called diastase, which converts the grain’s stockpile of starch into sugar. The whole point of malting is to make the grains release diastase but then stop the process before the starch gets turned into sugar. Once the brewer adds yeast to the malted grain, then, the diastase can produce more sugar to feed the yeast—and that produces carbon dioxide, alcohol, and a sweet taste. To make this happen, brewers soak grains in water so they start to germinate, then stop the process by air-drying the grains and heating them in an oven.

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Tear gas is more dangerous than police let on—especially during the pandemic

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 8:20pm

Enlarge / A woman holds a placard reading 'I can't breathe' amid tear gas in Toulouse, France. (credit: Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When Amira Chowdhury joined a protest in Philadelphia against police violence on Monday, she wore a mask to protect herself and others against the coronavirus. But when officers launched tear gas into the crowd, Chowdhury pulled off her mask as she gasped for air. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I felt like I was choking to death.”

Chowdhury was on a part of the Vine Street Expressway that ran underground. Everyone panicked as gas drifted into the dark, semi-enclosed space, she said. People stomped over her as they scrambled away. Bruised, she scaled a fence to escape. But the tear gas found her later that evening, inside her own house; as police unleashed it on protesters in her predominantly black neighborhood in West Philadelphia, it seeped in.

“I can’t even be in my own house without escaping the violence of the state,” said Chowdhury, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, she said her throat still felt dry, like it was clogged with ash.

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New iPad keyboard shortcuts aim to make up for lack of function keys

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 8:15pm

Apple may soon add keyboard shortcuts for the iPad that would perform some of the actions Mac and PC users use the function or media keys for, according to 9to5Mac. The claim is based on analysis of code within iPadOS 13.5.5 beta.

When we reviewed the iPad Pro's new Magic Keyboard peripheral, one of our main complaints was the lack of physical media keys. Some features like managing media playback or changing screen brightness are available in the Control Center, which is a simple swipe away.

But others, like keyboard backlight brightness, have to be changed deep within the Settings app, whereas they could be changed with one or two taps on the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar or the MacBook Air's function keys. The Apple-made keyboard attachments for the various iPad models have no Touch Bar, and they lack function or media keys.

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George Floyd: Reddit co-founder quits board and asks for black replacement

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 8:14pm
Alexis Ohanian says the move was inspired by protests over the death of George Floyd.

Motorola’s sub-$200 Moto G Fast and Moto E pack modern designs, big batteries

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 7:34pm

Motorola is releasing some cheap smartphones for 2020. You might think the company had already done this with the April release of the Moto G Stylus ($299) and the Moto G Power ($249), but today Motorola is announcing more budget devices for the US: the Moto G Fast ($199) and the 2020 version of the Moto E ($149).

Motorola's 2020 lineup of phones-at-$50-increments is getting pretty complicated, so maybe a big table would help:

Moto E (2020) MOTO G FAST MOTO G POWER MOTO G STYLUS STARTING PRICE $149.99 $199.99 $249.99 $299.99 SCREEN 6.2-inch 1520×720p LCD 6.4-inch 1560×720p LCD 6.4-inch 2300×1080 LCD 6.4-inch 2300×1080 LCD CPU Snapdragon 632
Four 1.8GHz A73 cores,
four 1.8GHz A53 cores, 14nm Snapdragon 665
Four 2GHz A73 cores, four 1.8GHz A53 cores, 11nm RAM 2GB 3GB 4GB 4GB STORAGE 32GB 32GB 64GB 128GB CAMERA 13MP Main
2MP Depth
5MP Front 16MP Main
8MP Wide Angle
2MP Macro
8MP Front 16MP Main
8MP Wide Angle
2MP Macro
16MP Front 48MP Main
16MP Wide Angle
2MP Macro
Laser autofocus
16MP Front PORTS Micro-USB, headphone jack USB-C, headphone jack BATTERY 3550mAh 4000mAh 5000mAh 4000mAh

One big oddity in Motorola's phone lineup is that none of these phones has NFC. You won't be able to use tap-and-pay with Google Pay anywhere, which is disappointing. They at least all have headphone jacks, Android 10, rear capacitive fingerprint readers, and Micro SD slots, which is nice. The Moto E is the only phone that is still using the dusty old Micro USB standard, which sadly is a normal occurrence at this price point.

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Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review: Loving the smell of Tiberium

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 6:00pm

The strategy, the explosions, the FMV sequences, the ripping guitars, and the Kane-fueled cheese—they're all back. The original 1995 game Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn and its 1996 prequel Red Alert have returned in today's launch of the C&C: Remastered Collection on Windows 8/10 (AmazonSteamOrigin). In good news, the package is right for the price: $20 gets you both original games, all of their expansion packs (one for C&C:TD, two for Red Alert), and each game's console-exclusive content. The complete package has been aesthetically touched up for the sake of working on modern PCs.

I've spent the past week tinkering with Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection to break down exactly what to expect and how you should temper your real-time strategy expectations. Despite a few quality-of-life tweaks, the package is otherwise faithful to the originals—almost to a fault—while its compatibility with modern PCs is mostly good enough.

From 400p to 2160p, but not without issues

The package's biggest selling point is a new coat of high-res paint. Every single asset and map element has been redrawn, and like other recent classic-game remaster projects, this one includes a handy "graphic-swap" button. By default, tap the space bar at any time during single-player modes to switch from the original 400p assets to a new, 2160p-optimized suite of units, buildings, and terrain. Here, enjoy an after-and-before gallery of both zoomed-in units and full battleground scenes.

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Elon Musk calls for 'break up' of Amazon

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 5:53pm
The entrepreneur condemned the online retailer after it rejected a book about coronavirus.

Investors argue against excessive pay package for Activision CEO

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 4:32pm


A major investment group with substantial holdings in Activision stock is speaking out this week against the high compensation for Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. The move comes ahead of a shareholder vote on executive pay scheduled for June 11.

"Over the past four years, Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick has received over $20 million in combined stock/option equity per year," the CtW investment group writes in a letter filed with the SEC this week. "These equity grants have consistently been larger than the total pay (the sum of base salary, annual bonus, and equity pay) of CEO peers at similar companies."

CtW—which works with union-sponsored pension funds to speak out against "irresponsible and unethical corporate behavior and excessive executive pay"—said Kotick's excessive compensation is especially concerning in light of the wave of nearly 800 layoffs the company rolled out in 2019. Those layoffs were implemented amid the announcement of "record results in 2018" for Activision and reportedly focused on "non-development teams" that were no longer needed thanks to a lighter slate of releases from the company going forward.

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Combat drone to compete against piloted plane

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 2:27pm
The US Air Force will pit an advanced autonomous aircraft against a piloted plane in tests.

Whatever happened to the NHS contact-tracing app?

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 1:52pm
The app, first tested on the Isle of Wight, had been expected to be rolled out at the end of May.

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