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Industry & Technology

Facebook's digital currency dealt another blow

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 4 min ago
Leaders of the G7 group of major world economies issue a warning about digital coins like Libra.

Covering the Nobels—is it worth the bother?

Ars Technica - October 13, 2019 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / The tail side of the Jean Dausset's Nobel Medal. Dausset received the prize in 1980. (credit: João Trindade / Flickr)

One thing we do regularly at Ars is try out new types of content. We can make some pretty informed guesses as to what our readers will want to see but still find ourselves surprised at times—who knew you guys would be such big archeology fans?

But you readers have made it very clear that you're really not into scientific awards and prizes. We've tried out a number and received a clear message: not interested. The one, not-surprising exception had been the Nobel Prizes, which consistently drew a significant readership. (That shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that our science section started out as a blog named Nobel Intent.)

But that's started to change over the last couple of years, and with the falling reader interest, we're starting to re-evaluate our decision to cover these prizes. So, what follows is an attempt to spell out the pros and cons of Nobel coverage and an opportunity for you to give us your thoughts on the matter.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dyson kills its plan to challenge Tesla with an electric car

Ars Technica - October 13, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / James Dyson, founder and chairman of Dyson Ltd., speaks during the launch of the Airwrap product during the company's beauty technology launch event in New York on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

James Dyson, the inventor and Brexiteer, revealed in 2017 that his company was planning on making an electric vehicle. The plan was to invest $3.2 billion (£2.5 billion) in the project, which would capitalize on the company's expertise with smaller electric motors—the ones in his vacuum cleaners—as well as developing solid-state batteries to power the vehicle. The battery EV was due to arrive in 2021 and would have been built not in the UK but in Singapore. But now, those plans are cancelled.

Despite developing what he referred to as "a fantastic car," in an email to his staff Dyson revealed that "[t]hough we have tried very hard throughout the development process, we simply can no longer see a way to make it commercially viable." Which is bad news for the 532 employees who have been working on the Dyson BEV for the last four years, although the company will do its best to absorb those workers into other roles.

In the email, Dyson revealed that he had been trying to find a buyer for the project but was unable to do so. This difficulty will come as no surprise to industry watchers; although Tesla has managed to establish itself as a car company, it's had a harder time making money selling those cars. Meanwhile, other more recent entrants like Faraday Future and Nio have had an ever rougher time.

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Planting tiny spy chips in hardware can cost as little as $200

Ars Technica - October 13, 2019 - 11:51am

Enlarge (credit: Carl Drougge)

More than a year has passed since Bloomberg Businessweek grabbed the lapels of the cybersecurity world with a bombshell claim: that Supermicro motherboards in servers used by major tech firms, including Apple and Amazon, had been stealthily implanted with a chip the size of a rice grain that allowed Chinese hackers to spy deep into those networks. Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro all vehemently denied the report. The National Security Agency dismissed it as a false alarm. The Defcon hacker conference awarded it two Pwnie Awards, for "most overhyped bug" and "most epic fail." And no follow-up reporting has yet affirmed its central premise.

But even as the facts of that story remain unconfirmed, the security community has warned that the possibility of the supply chain attacks it describes is all too real. The NSA, after all, has been doing something like it for years, according to the leaks of whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Now researchers have gone further, showing just how easily and cheaply a tiny, tough-to-detect spy chip could be planted in a company's hardware supply chain. And one of them has demonstrated that it doesn't even require a state-sponsored spy agency to pull it off—just a motivated hardware hacker with the right access and as little as $200 worth of equipment.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Visa, Mastercard, Stripe, and eBay all quit Facebook’s Libra in one day

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 4:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

Facebook's embattled Libra project suffered a major blow on Friday as four payment processors—Stripe, Visa, Mastercard, and Mercado Pago—withdrew from participation in the Libra Association, the Geneva-based group Facebook created to develop the virtual currency. eBay also announced its resignation Friday. eBay's former subsidiary, PayPal, quit the group last week.

The timing is not a coincidence. The Libra Association is scheduled to hold its first official meeting on Monday. At that meeting, members will be asked to make binding commitments to the project. So for members who weren't prepared to commit to the project, Friday was a good day to get out.

But this is an awkward development for Facebook. When the company introduced Libra earlier this year, it said it hoped to grow Libra's membership from 27 companies to more than 100 by the time the Libra network launched in 2020. Instead, the association's membership has fallen to 22 companies.

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Activists’ phones targeted by one of the world’s most advanced spyware apps

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 2:30pm

Enlarge (credit: ShellyS / Flickr)

Mobile phones of two prominent human rights activists were repeatedly targeted with Pegasus, the highly advanced spyware made by Israel-based NSO, researchers from Amnesty International reported this week.

The Moroccan human rights defenders received SMS text messages containing links to malicious sites. If clicked, the sites would attempt to install Pegasus, which as reported here and here, is one of the most advanced and full-featured pieces of spyware ever to come to light. One of the activists was also repeatedly subjected to attacks that redirected visits intended for Yahoo to malicious sites. Amnesty International identified the targets as activist Maâti Monjib and human rights lawyer Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui.

Serial pwner

It's not the first time NSO spyware has been used to surveil activists or dissidents. In 2016, United Arab Emirates dissident Ahmed Mansoor received text messages that tried to lure him to a site that would install Pegasus on his fully patched iPhone. The site relied on three separate zeroday vulnerabilities in iOS. According to previous reports from Univision, Amnesty International, and University of Toronto-based Citizen Lab, NSO spyware has also targeted:

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

When practical effects ruled the world: VFX legend gets his due in new doc

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 2:00pm

The trailer for Phil Tippett—Mad Dreams and Monsters

No matter what the Criterion collector in your life says, DVDs have been slowly fading away from our lives these last few years. Losing films as a self-contained thing you can acquire has many ramifications, but chief among them for film nerds is the transformation of "extras." Where should things like deleted scenes, director's commentary, bloopers, or behind-the-scenes vignettes exist if they can no longer be packaged right alongside the film? Maybe today's YouTube videos, oral histories, or podcasts work well enough in many situations, but frankly, some innovators in film history deserve more.

Luckily, this type of content in 2019 has increasingly found a new streaming-era-friendly home: the standalone documentary. From Hayao Miyazaki: Never-Ending Man (essentially extras for Boro the Caterpillar) to The Director and The Jedi (that's The Last Jedi), these projects show that what would've been extras in the past can work as their own feature-length entities able to play to crowds of film lovers at festivals or exist as algorithmic suggestions alongside original films on Netflix, Amazon Prime, et al.

At the 2019 Fantastic Fest, this budding format proved to be just right for Phil Tippett, a film effects legend whose work you've seen even if his name doesn't ring any bells. From Star Wars to Jurassic Park with Robocop in between, Tippett is the stop-motion savant behind so many landmark "effects" films from the era before CGI took over. And the long time industry hero finally has the spotlight on him in Phil Tippett—Mad Dreams and Monsters, a new documentary delivering that familiar behind-the-scenes feeling in the best way possible.

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Behold Corvette’s new racing car, now with its engine in the middle

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 1:00pm

BRASELTON, Georgia—When Chevrolet unveiled its new "C8" generation Corvette Stingray in July, the headline was that after more than 50 years, the engine in this new car had been moved from ahead of the cockpit to just behind it. At the end of that reveal, we then got a very brief glimpse of a heavily camouflaged racing derivative.

On Thursday, ahead of this year's season finale to IMSA's WeatherTech Sportscar Championship at Road Atlanta in Georgia, Corvette Racing gave us a proper look at that new race car, which is scheduled to start racing next year here in the US and also over in France at Le Mans.

Why did they move the engine?

If you look at a race car from Formula 1, IndyCar, or the prototypes that race in IMSA and Le Mans' top class, you'll find their engines located behind, not ahead, of the driver. The mid-engined layout really came to the fore in the early 1960s, when John Cooper's eponymous F1 team proved that the layout conferred some significant handling advantages. With the engine fully ahead of the rear axle, most of the car's weight is between the wheels, which makes for a much lower polar moment of inertia. And as the majority of the mass is toward the rear, there are traction advantages for the driven rear wheels.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ranked: Every Ticket to Ride map

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 12:30pm


Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at

You may have played one of the most successful titles in tabletop gaming, Alan Moon's Ticket to Ride. But have you tried all of the game’s expansions and standalone spinoffs? These additions introduce new boards and rules that tweak the basic format of drawing train cards and then placing trains to connect cities across each map with the goal of connecting more distant cities so you can complete Destination Tickets for more points.

I’ve counted 17 different maps so far (not counting Japan and Italy, which will be released in Europe at Spiel 2019 in late October and worldwide in January 2020. Also, the Märklin map is no longer available and won't be included in this exercise). That’s a lot for anyone to digest. So to help any Ticket to Ride faithful looking to expand, Ars has compiled this overview—along with my personal ranking—of all existing maps, some of which are also available in the wonderful mobile app version of the game. And if something below doesn't quite ride for you, let us know your favorite maps in the comments.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Blizzard bosses reduce gamer's ban and release prize money

BBC Technology News - October 12, 2019 - 12:10pm
A player who staged an anti-government protest on a live broadcast will now receive his prize money.

Why lightning strikes twice as often over shipping lanes

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 11:40am

Enlarge (credit: John Fowler / Flickr)

For all the progress humanity has made since Odysseus had a spot of trouble on a long voyage home, life on the high seas remains a largely joyless affair. Twenty-first-century sailors spend weeks away from home. The hours are long, the pay mediocre, the risk of calamity never quite over the horizon. And, researchers have recently learned, these men and women face a problem not even the King of Ithaca had to deal with: unnaturally large amounts of lightning. Turns out that along some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, lightning strikes are twice as common as they are in nearby areas with similar climatic conditions.

As usual in such stories, the blame doesn’t fall on a riled up Olympian. It goes to the hubris of humans who, in this case, thought their ships could burn filthy fuel without any judgement raining down.

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Blizzard reinstates Hong Kong protestor’s prize, says “China had no influence”

Ars Technica - October 12, 2019 - 3:01am

After four days of mounting public pressure, Blizzard Entertainment took a late Friday opportunity—8:30pm ET, where press releases go to die—to partially undo its ban on three members of the Hearthstone esports community for making statements in support of Hong Kong.

The outright ban applied to professional Hearthstone player Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung has since been changed to a six-month suspension from official Hearthstone esports tournaments. The original decision to strip him of the associated tournament's prize money has been reversed.

Additionally, the two Chinese broadcasters who interviewed (and possibly egged on) blitzchung during his shout of "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" had been fired; they, too, have had their punishment changed to a six-month suspension from their jobs as official Hearthstone esports "casters."

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Payments giants abandon Facebook's Libra cryptocurrency

BBC Technology News - October 11, 2019 - 11:51pm
Mastercard, Visa, eBay and Stripe join PayPal in no longer supporting Facebook's effort to launch a currency.

Disney’s Jungle Cruise looks like an entertaining rehash of The Mummy

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 9:40pm

Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson star in Jungle Cruise.

A scientist hires a down-on-his-luck riverboat captain as her guide on an Amazon adventure in Jungle Cruise, a forthcoming Disney film inspired by the classic Disneyland theme park ride. Yes, Disney's ride-inspired films have largely been forgettable apart from the hugely successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. And yes, the trailer does seem eerily similar to the 1999 film The Mummy in many respects, with a soupçon of Tomb Raider thrown in for good measure. It also looks like good old-fashioned escapist fare, a perfect summer offering.

Emily Blunt plays Lily Houghton, a scientist who is keen to locate the Tree of Life somewhere in the wilds of the Amazon. It's purported to hold "unparalleled healing powers." She's already located a mysterious arrowhead she believes is the key to unlocking those powers, and now she just has to find the tree. Her younger brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) accompanies her on the mission, and they hire a colorful riverboat captain, Frank (Dwayne Johnson), to guide them.

Frank is a bit on the shady side, manufacturing all kinds of fake thrills on his standard riverboat cruise to delight (and sometimes disgust) his clients. He's in this for the money—and his price for guiding Lily and McGregor tends to fluctuate along with their fortunes. "All the while," per the synopsis, "the trio must fight against dangerous wild animals and a competing German expedition." Not to mention, there might also be some kind of mythical cursed creature standing in their way.

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iPadOS review: The iPad is dead, long live the iPad

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 9:30pm

Enlarge / iPadOS.

When we reviewed the 2018 iPad Pro, we were impressed by the power and potential of the hardware, but iOS 12 wasn’t up to the task of making the iPad a true content creation machine or a daily workhorse. We said it was time for Apple to branch out from iOS 13 with an iPad-specific operating system.

Just one year later, that’s exactly what Apple has done with iPadOS, which launched for modern iPads a few days after iOS 13 hit the iPhone and iPod touch. While iPadOS does not actually signify that big of a change under the hood, its new nomenclature is a statement of intent by Apple. This release takes strides toward making the machine more useful for power users who want to do more than just browse the Web, play games, watch videos, and write an email or two.

So as we've tinkered with iPadOS recently and analyzed the changes Apple made, we revisited the question we answered with a negative last year: is the iPad ready to replace your laptop?

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AT&T raises prices 7% by making its customers pay AT&T’s property taxes

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 7:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Aurich)

Telecom companies like AT&T love creating new fees to tack on customer bills, and they really love raising those fees after customers sign contracts that are supposed to lock in a consistent price.

It's a win-win for the company, but not the customer: AT&T gets to advertise a lower price than it actually charges and has a mechanism for raising customer bills whenever it wants to. Customers who are angry enough to cancel service would have to pay early termination fees.

This story about AT&T thus isn't likely to surprise anyone, but it's possible you haven't heard about the particular fee we've been looking into this week. AT&T has been charging business Internet customers a "property tax" fee, claiming it needs to charge this to recover AT&T's own property taxes. AT&T has been charging the fee for at least a couple of years and just hit customers in California with an increase that more doubled the fee.

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Alien’s origin story chestbursts anew in stirring new documentary

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 7:20pm

Trailer for Memory: the Origins of Alien.

Ridley Scott's timelessly evocative sci-fi/horror mashup Alien celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, so what better way to mark the occasion than with an in-depth documentary exploring the film's origins? Memory: The Origins of Alien does just that, with a mythological twist: Director Alexandre O. Philippe has framed his narrative around how certain films (like Alien) tap into our collective unconscious, particularly our most deep-seated fears, and this new documentary makes some surprising—and thought-provoking—connections in the process.

On Alien and film docs

Alien grossed between $100 million and $200 million worldwide upon its release in 1979. Critical reviews were initially mixed, but the film snagged an Oscar for best visual effects—the gross-out chest-burster scene and H.R Giger's nightmare-inducing designs for the various alien life cycles alone were worthy of the honor. Now, of course, the film is considered a classic. The American Film Institute ranked it the seventh best science fiction film of all time in 2008. And naturally it spawned an equally lucrative franchise of sequels, none of which have ever quite achieved the same level of artistic vision. (I'd argue that James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens came close, though.)

The film's success was all the more remarkable given that it was released just two years after Star Wars: A New Hope, more of a classic space opera action film. Alien was darker, moodier, grittier, and more constrained. Much of the action takes place aboard the spaceship Nostromo, with doomed crew members getting picked off one by one by the monster in fine horror-trope fashion. Meanwhile, Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley challenged conventional gender roles in both genres, transcending the stereotypical Final Girl to become the ultimate nerd-culture icon.

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Google’s next Pixelbook is basically a Macbook that runs Chrome OS

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 5:52pm

Google's October 15 hardware event is fast approaching, and in addition to the launch of the Pixel 4, Google Home Mini 2, Google WI-Fi 2, and a new pair of Pixel Buds, the show should usher in a new Pixelbook. We've known the new Pixelbook would be called the "Pixelbook Go," but other than a few details from Chrome OS commits, the device has mostly been a mystery. Google takes its title as "least secretive device manufacturer" very seriously, though, and recently 9to5Google managed to just get a Pixelbook Go ahead of the event. They took a bunch of pictures and video.

Unlike the fairly unique design of the original Pixelbook and the Pixel Slate, the Pixelbook Go mostly just looks like a MacBook. 9to5Google got that vibe from the device in person, too, writing: "We can’t fathom that this laptop won’t immediately be labeled 'Google’s MacBook.'" The one unique design aspect is the bottom, which is a brightly colored, ribbed pad that covers the entire bottom of the device. This device is a near-final prototype, with placeholder logos and product names.

The report doesn't nail down the material used to build the laptop (aluminum?), but it does say the laptop has "what appears to be a painted on coating similar to that of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL." The Pixel 2 was a metal phone with a thick coating of paint on top, but this time the finish seems to be smoother and softer.

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To try to understand the youths, researchers snooped through their trash

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 5:45pm

Enlarge / Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is disguised as a mountain climber, while hiding in a trash can, in a scene from the film 'The Pink Panther Strikes Again', 1976. (Photo by United Artists/Getty Images) (credit: Getty | Michael Ochs Archives)

While the government may be considered Big Brother, a team of researchers in California are officially that parent.

The researchers resorted to snooping through high schoolers’ trash to get a better understanding of their vaping and smoking habits. The results of the “garbology” study appear in the October 11 issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The gumshoes—Jeremiah Mock and Yogi Hendlin of University of California, San Francisco—scanned the parking lots and perimeters of 12 public high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area between July 2018 and April 2019. They picked up any trash related to e-cigarettes, combustible tobacco products, and cannabis products that they suspected litter-bug teens left behind.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Extreme disasters costing more but killing fewer

Ars Technica - October 11, 2019 - 4:26pm

Enlarge / Hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. (credit: Yuisa Rios/FEMA)

With the warming climate, we should expect a change in weather-related disasters. Fewer cold snaps and stronger heat waves are the obvious issues. But we should also see more intense storms, as a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, while droughts may intensify in areas where rain was already sparse as the heat bakes water out of the soil.

All that suggests the costs of weather disasters will be different—but not necessarily better or worse. Researchers who have tried to study the topic have come up with very mixed results: some show an upward trend in the cost of natural disasters, while others fiercely dispute these analyses. Now, a new study suggests a possible reason for this: while the average damage caused by disasters is staying relatively stable, the most extreme events are increasing rapidly. But in a small bit of consolation, the human costs may be dropping.

A confused literature

It might seem that analyzing the cost of weather disasters would be simple: identify the disasters, total the cost, and see if there's a trend over time in the warming world. But the reality is more complex. One complication is obvious: offsetting effects. Heat waves are going up in a warming world, but cold snaps are dropping. If these changes have offsetting costs, you could see no effect even as the dynamics shift.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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