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Industry & Technology

Hackers, farmers, and doctors unite! Support for Right to Repair laws slowly grows

Ars Technica - 1 hour 37 min ago

Enlarge / Manufacturers would prefer it if iFixit guides (like the one pictured on a Motorola Xoom from 2011) didn't exist. (credit: iFixit)

Kelsea Weber is apologetic for being hard to get ahold of. “We were all busy tearing down the iPhone XS,” she says.

A few minutes’ conversation with Kelsea is enough to convince you that she would be taking apart brand new Apple gear no matter what, but she does it professionally. Weber works for iFixit.com, a website you may have heard of once or twice. It provides repair videos, manuals, and tool kits to more than a hundred million visitors a year.

Or, to put it bluntly: iFixit.com is essentially a clearinghouse for information that some of the big names in consumer electronics would just as soon keep to themselves.

Read 57 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Waymo forges self-driving alliance with Renault and Nissan

Ars Technica - 1 hour 40 min ago

Enlarge / Waymo CEO John Krafcik in 2017. (credit: Misha Friedman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Waymo announced early Thursday morning that it was forming a self-driving alliance with Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi—a trio of car companies that already have strong financial ties to one another. Under the deal, the companies will "explore driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries in France and Japan." Renault is based in France while Nissan and Mitsubishi are Japanese companies.

The deal solves a couple of problems for Waymo.

Over the last three years, major car companies have been forging strong alliances with leading self-driving technology companies. GM bought self-driving startup Cruise, then accepted a major Cruise investment from Honda. Ford invested $1 billion in self-driving startup Argo AI and is reportedly negotiating to sell an Argo stake to Volkswagen. Toyota invested in Uber's self-driving project. Last week, Hyundai announced it was investing in self-driving startup Aurora.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Government error delays online pornography age-check scheme

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 54 min ago
A scheme hoping to stop under-18s stumbling across adult content was due to come into force in July.

Loot boxes aren't gambling, says EA

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 4 min ago
A spokesperson for the company says the system is "quite ethical" and something gamers enjoy.

Interview: Baldur’s Gate 3’s creators talk D&D, turn-based RPGs, and dreams coming true

Ars Technica - 2 hours 6 min ago

Enlarge / There aren't any screenshots of the game yet, so this screengrab from the website will have to do. (credit: Larian Studios)

LOS ANGELES—Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios and Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast didn't show any gameplay from the newly announced Baldur's Gate 3 at E3 in Los Angeles last week—but they were eager to talk about the long-anticipated project in sit-down interviews.

Ars spoke with Larian Studios co-founder and game director Swen Vincke and Dungeons & Dragons franchise creative director Mike Mearls at a hotel near the convention center. We gabbed about how the game came to be, what it's like revisiting the D&D license, and more.

Here's some background: Baldur's Gate 3 is being developed by Larian Studios, the Belgian game studio behind the recent Kickstarter successes Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin 2. Both of those games took on the Baldur's Gate formula with a heavy emphasis on emulating table-top role-playing freedoms with Ultima-style systems-based game design.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Digging into the new features in OpenZFS post-Linux migration

Ars Technica - 2 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / There have been some big developments for ZFS in the past several weeks. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

ZFS on Linux 0.8 (ZoL) brought tons of new features and performance improvements when it was released on May 23. They came after Delphix announced that it was migrating its own product to Linux back in March 2018. We'll go over some of the most exciting May features (like ZFS native encryption) here today.

For the full list—including both new features and performance improvements not covered here—you can visit the ZoL 0.8.0 release on Github. (Note that ZoL 0.8.1 was released last week, but since ZFS on Linux follows semantic versioning, it's a bugfix release only.)

Unfortunately for Ubuntu fans, these new features won't show up in Canonical's repositories for quite some time—October 2019's forthcoming interim release, Eoan Ermine, is still showing 0.7.12 in its repos. We can hope that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (which has yet to be named) will incorporate the 0.8.x branch, but there's no official word so far; if you're running Ubuntu 18.04 (or later) and absolutely cannot wait, the widely-used Jonathon F PPA has 0.8.1 available. Debian has 0.8.0 in its experimental repo, Arch Linux has 0.8.1 in its zfs-dkms AUR package, and Gentoo has 0.8.1 in testing at sys-fs/zfs. Users of other Linux distributions can find instructions for building packages directly from master at https://zfsonlinux.org/.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nation-sponsored hackers likely carried out hostile takeover of rival group’s servers

Ars Technica - 3 hours 6 min ago

Enlarge

If nation-sponsored hacking was baseball, the Russian-speaking group called Turla would not just be a Major League team—it would be a perennial playoff contender. Researchers from multiple security firms largely agree that Turla was behind breaches of the US Department of Defense in 2008, and more recently the German Foreign Office and France’s military. The group has also been known for unleashing stealthy Linux malware and using satellite-based Internet links to maintain the stealth of its operations.

Now, researchers with security firm Symantec have uncovered evidence of Turla doing something that would be a first for any nation-sponsored hacking group. Turla, Symantec believes, conducted a hostile takeover of an attack platform belonging to a competing hacking group called OilRig, which researchers at FireEye and other firms have linked to the Iranian government. Symantec suspects Turla then used the hijacked network to attack a Middle Eastern government OilRig had already penetrated. Not only would the breach of OilRig be an unprecedented hacking coup, it would also promise to make the already formidable job of attribution—the term given by researchers for using forensic evidence found in malware and servers to pin a hack on a specific group or nation—considerably harder.

A murkier world

“The fact that we’ve seen one advanced group taking over the infrastructure of another nation-backed group changes a lot of policy discussions that are going on, because it complicates attribution,” Jonathan Wrolstad, principal cyber intelligence analyst in Symantec’s Managed Adversary and Threat Intelligence group, told Ars. “This does make us live in the world now that’s a bit murkier.”

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump administration finalizes replacement for Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Ars Technica - 14 hours 56 min ago

Enlarge / A truck loaded with coal is viewed at the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, which is operated by Alpha Coal, on Monday May 08, 2017, in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the "Affordable Clean Energy" rule, known as ACE, to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, or CPP.

The ACE rule was proposed last summer, and after going through the procedural steps required to enact the rule, Administrator Wheeler finally signed it today, along with an official repeal of the CPP. Details regarding the final rules have been submitted to the Federal Register, one of the last steps to making federal rules official in the US.

Obama's CPP attempted to set federal power plant emissions limits by state. Under the CPP, states would have had an incentive to push the most-polluting power plants (in most cases, coal plants) offline sooner. But coal interests and several states and utilities challenged this rule in court. Eventually, the Supreme Court stayed the rule, so it was never actually implemented.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Starry aims to bring its $50, 200Mbps broadband to 25 more US states

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 8:23pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Starry, a wireless home Internet provider, says it has acquired enough spectrum to offer service to 40 million households in more than 25 US states.

Starry's network already passes more than 1.5 million households in Boston, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, New York City, and Denver. Its first launch was in Boston in 2016. The company sells 200Mbps Internet service for $50 a month, but it doesn't reveal how many subscribers it has.

To expand its network, Starry spent $48.5 million on spectrum licenses in the Federal Communications Commission's recent 24GHz auction, as we previously reported. Yesterday, a Starry announcement provided more details on how the new spectrum holdings will be used to expand the network.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How many people did it take to colonize Australia?

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 8:13pm

Enlarge / Norman Tindale, pictured here in 1927 with members of a local Aboriginal group, led a mission to gather precise ethnographic and geographic data from many different Aboriginal groups. He also gathered hair from the people he interviewed, which provided DNA samples for earlier studies. The group here is at Rockshelter at Bathurst Head (Thartali) in eastern Cape York Peninsula. (credit: Photo by Herbert Hale, via South Australian Museum Archives Norman Tindale Collection)

A new study suggests that the first humans to move into Australia and New Guinea came in larger numbers—and perhaps with more of a plan—than some researchers previously thought.

People have lived in Australia and New Guinea since at least 60,000 years ago, when sea levels were about 100 meters (300 feet) lower than today. Due to lower sea levels, a land bridge across the Torres Strait linked Australia and New Guinea into a single landmass (termed Sahul). The first humans to set foot on Sahul probably arrived via closely spaced islands that stretched like stepping-stones across the 1,800km (1,100 miles) of ocean from the exposed continental shelf of Southeast Asia. And a new study suggests that it would have taken at least 1,300 people crossing these islands to give us a lasting foothold.

Playing on hard mode

Trying to colonize a new, uninhabited land is a challenge. If you bring too many people at once, the sudden influx could put too much strain on local resources, and everyone would die. But if you don’t bring enough people to reproduce and maintain genetic diversity, each generation gets smaller until the group eventually runs out of people and everyone dies. Flinders University ecologist Corey Bradshaw and his colleagues wanted to figure out how many people needed to settle in Sahul to make sure humans didn’t end up going locally extinct.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Are these the first pictures of the “Switch Mini”?

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 8:03pm

In 2019, we've seen rumor after rumor after rumor after rumor that Nintendo is planning to release a new, smaller version of the Switch in the near future, possibly without the original system's signature detachable controllers. While Nintendo hasn't announced anything officially, some new listings from Chinese accessory manufacturer Honson have reignited the rumor mill surrounding a redesigned Switch system being potentially in the pipeline.

Honson's Nintendo Switch Mini landing page showcases 11 different products, including a variety of bags, carrying cases, hard shells, and a screen protector. One page promises a "professional design to perfect fit Nintendo Switch mini." Similar product images were posted to the company's Facebook page a week ago.

All of these products are listed as "out of stock" on Honson's own website (the company told NintenDIY that they'll be available starting next week). But some Honson products "for Nintendo Switch mini case" are already available for bulk order through Alibaba right now, complete with customized packaging and logo options for large bulk orders.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Declassified satellite images show how Himalayan glaciers have shrunk

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 7:53pm

Enlarge / The researchers built 3D landscapes from spy satellite images like this one from the border between eastern Nepal and Sikkim, India, in 1975. (credit: Josh Maurer/LDEO)

The glaciers of the Himalayas are beautiful pieces of the unique landscape at the “roof of the world." But they’re also water towers, filling rivers used by hundreds of millions of people in East and South Asia. The need to understand how climate change is altering these glaciers is obvious.

Data is not plentiful in this inhospitable part of the world, and the climate is particularly complex and variable from across the region. For example, the monsoon rains mean that the glaciers in the eastern portion of the range actually gain most of their snowfall in the summer. With such a huge and varied area, studies have generally only been able to focus on a small subset of glaciers, making it harder to draw broad conclusions across the region. A new study led by Josh Maurer at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory relies on spy satellite photos from the 1970s to make that possible.

Spying on ice

Photos from the US KH-9 Hexagon satellite have been declassified, much to the delight of geoscientists. The trick is extracting precise information from the photos—and in this case, the trick is getting 3D information from 2D images. It’s one thing to mark a glacier’s extent, but the truly valuable thing is to work out their change in thickness and, therefore, volume.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Oracle issues emergency update to patch actively exploited WebLogic flaw

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 7:26pm

Enlarge / Security team KnownSec404 proof-of-concept image, showing an instance of Windows Calculator being run on the remote WebLogic server. (credit: KnownSec 404)

Oracle on Tuesday published an out-of-band update patching a critical code-execution vulnerability in its WebLogic server after researchers warned that the flaw was being actively exploited in the wild.

The vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2019-2729, allows an attacker to run malicious code on the WebLogic server without any need for authentication. That capability earned the vulnerability a Common Vulnerability Scoring System score of 9.8 out of 10. The vulnerability is a deserialization attack targeting two Web applications that WebLogic appears to expose to the Internet by default—wls9_async_response and wls-wsat.war.

The flaw in Oracle's WebLogic Java application servers came to light as a zero-day four days ago when it was reported by security firm KnownSec404.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Researchers make a robotic fish with a battery for blood

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: James Pikul)

Lots of experimental robots involve a little bit of cheating. Rather than containing all the necessary electronics and energy sources, they have tethers and wires that provide power and control without weighing the robot down or taking up too much internal space. This is especially true for soft-bodied robots, which typically pump air or fluids to drive their motion. Having to incorporate a power source, pumps, and a reservoir of gas or liquid would significantly increase the weight and complexity of the robot.

A team from Cornell University has now demonstrated a clever twist that cuts down on the weight and density of all of this by figuring out how to get one of the materials to perform two functions. Like other soft robot designs, it pumps a fluid to cause its structure to expand and contract, powering movements. But in this case, the fluid is also the key component of a flow battery that powers the pumps. This allows them to put all the critical components on board their creation.

Going with the flow

So what's a flow battery? Batteries operate by having different reactions that take place at their two electrodes. For something like a lithium-ion battery, the intermediaries of these reactions—electrons and ions—immediately flow from one electrode to another, and the key chemicals spend almost all their time at the electrodes. In flow batteries, the chemical reactions still take place at the electrodes, but the chemicals reside in solution, rather than being confined to electrodes.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fortnite makers grilled by MPs over game safety

BBC Technology News - June 19, 2019 - 5:25pm
MPs ask whether Epic Games does enough to prevent users spending too much time or money on the game.

Twitch sues users who posted porn, racism, and more to Artifact stream page

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 5:13pm

Enlarge / A capture shows the flood of "Ayaya" anime meme streams that took over Twitch's Artifact stream page in May. (credit: Know Your Meme)

In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Twitch accuses 100 unnamed defendants of breaking its terms of service by flooding the site's directory of Artifact game streams with inappropriate content, including "a video of the March 2019 Christchurch mosque attack, hardcore pornography, copyrighted movies and television shows, and racist and misogynistic videos."

Inappropriate or irrelevant streams are nothing new on Twitch, of course. The company's Trust and Safety team uses a variety of moderation tools to take down streams that violate the site's terms of service and ban the users behind them. But the company is taking the added step of a lawsuit in this case because, according to the complaint, "Defendants’ actions threatened and continue to threaten Twitch and the safety of the Twitch community."

"Twitch took down the posts and banned the offending accounts, but the offensive video streams quickly reappeared using new accounts," the complaint continues. "It appears that Defendants use automated methods to create accounts and disseminate offensive material as well as to thwart Twitch’s safety mechanisms."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break: engineering superbugs, accidentally or otherwise

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / "George, you've heard about this virus? Shall I cough on you, George?" (credit: Warner Bros.)

Today we’re presenting the third installment of my conversation with Naval Ravikant about existential risks. This interview first appeared in March, as two back-to-back episodes of the After On Podcast (which now features 50 unhurried conversations with world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists). Naval is one of tech’s most successful angel investors and the founder of multiple startups—including seed-stage investment platform AngelList. Please check out parts one and two of this conversation if you missed them. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded audio player or pull up the transcript, both of which are below.

In this segment, Ravikant and I move on from yesterday’s topic of AI risk to the dangers inherent in the rise of synthetic biology, or synbio. Here, I should disclose that I am a hopeless synbio fanboy. I’ve gotten to know many of the field’s top figures through my podcast, and I essentially revere both their work and its potential. But even the most starry-eyed synbio booster cannot ignore the technology’s annihilating potential.

Click here for a transcript and click here for an MP3 direct download.

A big topic in today’s segment is a genetic hack performed on H5N1 flu. This nasty bug kills a higher proportion of those infected than even Ebola (as discussed in some detail in this piece on Ars yesterday). But since its wild form is barely even contagious to humans, it has historically killed very few of us. But in 2011, independent research teams in Wisconsin and Holland modified H5N1’s genome to make it virulently contagious.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

We should create a global DNA threat-detection network to fight future pathogens

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Artist's impression of scientist doing DNA science. (credit: Roger Richter / Getty)

We're running a series of companion posts this week to accompany our special edition Ars Lunch Break podcast. This is the second of three guest posts centered around Rob Reid's TED talk from yesterday. Today, geneticist George Church weighs in with his thoughts and opinions on synthetic biology and a world-wide "DNA detector" net. Tomorrow we'll have a guest post from microbiologist Andrew Hessel.

Since the start of the millennium, we’ve improved the cost and quality of reading DNA 10 millionfold. This technology applies identically to our own genomes and to those of the most deadly pathogens. Yet we’ve barely begun to use this new "superpower" of DNA scrutiny to monitor our environment for threats to human health.

Many of the enabling technologies for highly distributed DNA detection networks are already here. For instance, we now have palm-sized devices that read DNA in nearly real time, and they can be attached to our smartphones—which themselves can append and transmit audio, video, and GPS data. Thousands are already using these new tools. They’re based on nanopore and other single-molecule electronics—which have very low reagent and tiny fabrication costs, and they are super-portable (a fraction the size of a phone).

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Unseen 9/11 photos bought at house clearance sale

BBC Technology News - June 19, 2019 - 4:50pm
The images were stored on CD Roms bought at a house clearance sale.

How do you improve a great racing game? Just add Lego bricks

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 4:29pm

It's no secret that I like cars. I left a career in science policy to come to Ars to write about them, after all. But long before I fell in love with the automobile, there was Lego. I got sucked back into the world of the plastic brick on the eve of the millennium thanks to the first Lego Star Wars sets, but these days I've mostly been building little minifig-scale sports cars, particularly when writer's block strikes. So imagine how excited I was to find out that those Lego Speed Champions cars were coming to the rather excellent Forza Horizon 4.

Expansion packs are no new thing to the Horizon series. Nor are cameos or guest appearances from other franchises—The Fast and the Furious has shown up previously, and the most recent game includes a brief Halo crossover. But this is certainly the most left-field of them, transporting you from Britain to the Lego Valley, a magical place where most everything is built from bricks, and the humans are all now minifigs.

There are some Lego-specific tweaks—in addition to in-game currency and reputation points, you also need to earn bricks to build yourself a Lego house. But by and large, the gameplay remains identical: drive around wherever you want, entering races and challenges as you go and listening to the radio while you do it. (Sadly, or perhaps happily, that catchy number so beloved by Emmett in The Lego Movie is absent from the soundtrack.) There's still dynamic weather, day turns into night, and each week the in-game season changes.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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