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Industry & Technology

Online porn age-checks for under-18s 'face new delay'

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 18 min ago
Changes aimed at stopping under-18s viewing explicit content were due to come into force next month.

Trump administration finalizes replacement for Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Ars Technica - 6 hours 47 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.

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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.

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How many people did it take to colonize Australia?

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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).

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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.

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New report finds NASA awarded Boeing large fees despite SLS launch slips

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 4:06pm

Enlarge / When will NASA's Space Launch System rocket take flight? (credit: NASA)

As NASA talks up its Artemis Program to return humans to the Moon by the year 2024, a new report from the US Government Accountability Office raises questions about the space agency's ability to build the spacecraft and rockets intended to carry out that mission.

Instead of launching in 2020, the Artemis-1 mission that will see a Space Launch System rocket boost an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon will instead launch as late as June 2021, the GAO report finds. NASA also appears to have been obscuring the true cost of its development programs, particularly with the large SLS rocket, which has Boeing as its prime contractor.

"While NASA acknowledges about $1 billion in cost growth for the SLS program, it is understated," the report found. "This is because NASA shifted some planned SLS scope to future missions but did not reduce the program’s cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8 billion."

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For the industrial Internet of Things, defense in depth is a requirement

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / Sensors, sensors everywhere! (credit: Getty / 7postman)

Ars yesterday wrote a big feature on the concept of "Industry 4.0," the fancy-sounding name that describes the ongoing shift in how products are created from raw materials and distributed along the supply chain to customers.

What the "4.0" revision adds compared to Industries 1.0 through 3.0 is a complex set of linkages between information and operational technologies. (IT stores, transmits, and manipulates data, while "OT" detects and causes changes in physical processes, such as devices for manufacturing or climate control.)

It's a modular and flexible approach to manufacturing that creates digital links among "smart factories" that are powered by the industrial Internet of Things, big data, and machine learning. And that's almost enough fancy CEO words to make bingo. At least in this case, the buzzwords aren't just important-sounding but ultimately meaningless concepts. Similar to how the rise of devops welded programming with operations, making the manufacturing process smarter by stuffing in all those buzzwords really is causing fundamental changes in how things are made.

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Facebook 'mysteriously locks out Hungarian users'

BBC Technology News - June 19, 2019 - 1:13pm
The social network has disabled a large number of accounts in error, according to reports.

Facebook urged to pause Libra crypto-currency project

BBC Technology News - June 19, 2019 - 11:51am
A US lawmaker asks Facebook to wait before launching its digital currency, hours after it was announced.

Two new papers explore the complicated physics behind bubbles and foams

Ars Technica - June 19, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / The complex physics of bubbles and foams have fascinated scientists for centuries. (credit: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images)

Human beings derive intense pleasure from bubbles and all kinds of foamy products, and scientists have long found them equally fascinating, given the complicated underlying physics. Most recently, a group of Japanese researchers published a paper in Scientific Reports describing two distinct mechanisms by which simple foams collapse. And in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, physicists at MIT and Princeton University demonstrated how to develop spherical bubbles uniformly by confining them in a narrow tube.

Individual bubbles typically form a sphere, because that's the shape with the minimum surface area for any volume and hence is the most energy-efficient. Back in the 19th century, Lord Kelvin proposed a bizarre soccer-ball shape called a tetrakaidecahedron (Greek for "fourteen faces" and sometimes translated "tetradecahedron"), with six square and eight hexagonal faces, to describe a bubble's natural geometry. It's known as "Lord Kelvin's cell," and while it was a valiant effort, that exact structure has yet to be observed in real-world bubbles, although physicists from Trinity College Dublin proposed a better solution to the conundrum in a 1993 paper.

Foams are ubiquitous in everyday life, found in foods (whipped cream), beverages (beer, cappuccino), shaving cream and hair-styling mousse, packing peanuts, building insulation, flame-retardant materials, and so forth. All foams are the result of air being beaten into a liquid formula that contains some kind of surfactant (active surface agent), usually fats or proteins in edible foams, or chemical additives in non-edible products. That surfactant strengthens the liquid film walls of the bubbles to keep them from collapsing.

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China loses ground in top supercomputer list

BBC Technology News - June 19, 2019 - 10:44am
There are slightly fewer Chinese machines, and some more US ones, in the list of top supercomputers.

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