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Industry & Technology

Jumanji: The Next Level is less fresh this time around but still lots of fun

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 10:50pm

Enlarge / Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillan star in Jumanji: The Next Level. (credit: Sony Pictures)

The intrepid gang of teens who played their way out of a video game two years ago is back and facing a new in-game adventure in Jumanji: The Next Level, the latest installment in the popular franchise that originated with the 1995 film Jumanji. It's a solid sequel, following the same winning formula that made its predecessor such a big success.

(Spoilers for 1995's Jumanji and 2017's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; mild spoilers for Jumanji: The Next Level.)

The franchise has its roots in a 1981 fantasy children's book by Chris van Allsburg, about two children who discover a jungle adventure board game with the ominous warning, "Do not begin unless you intend to finish." The original 1995 film adaption followed the basic premise pretty closely, although it added several characters, most notably Robin Williams as a grown Alan Parrish and his childhood friend Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt). As a young boy in 1969, Alan finds a supernatural board game called Jumanji and begins to play with Sarah.

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Apple’s new Screen Time Communication Limits are easily beaten with a bug

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 10:47pm

Enlarge / iOS 13 on an iPhone 11 Pro. (credit: Samuel Axon)

A bug in iOS 13.3 allows children to easily circumvent the restrictions their parents or guardians set with the Communications Limit feature in Screen Time. Apple has said it plans to fix the problem in a future software update.

The iOS 13.3 update released earlier this week added the ability for parents to whitelist contacts for their kids to communicate with. Kids need the parents to input a passcode to talk to anyone not on the list, with an exception made for emergency services like 911. It was the flagship feature of the update.

Yesterday, CNBC published a report detailing a bug that allowed kids to easily circumvent the restrictions. It turns out that when contacts are not set to sync with iCloud by default, texts or calls from unknown numbers present children with the option to add the number as a new contact. Once that step has been taken, they can communicate freely with the contact.

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Feds reap data from 1,500 phones in largest reported reverse-location warrant

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 10:19pm

Enlarge / You're not the only one looking at your phone's location history. (credit: Omar Marques | SOPA Images | Getty Images )

Federal investigators trying to solve arson cases in Wisconsin have scooped up location history data for about 1,500 phones that happened to be in the area, enhancing concerns about privacy in the mobile Internet era.

Four Milwaukee-area arsons since 2018, as yet unsolved, have resulted in more than $50,000 of property damage as well as the deaths of two dogs, Forbes explains. In an attempt to find the person or persons responsible, officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) obtained search warrants to gather data about all the devices in the area at the time.

The two warrants Forbes obtained together covered about nine hours' worth of activity within 29,400 square meters—an area a smidge larger than an average Milwaukee city block. Google found records for 1,494 devices matching the ATF's parameters and sent the data along.

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Google’s Pixelbook Go now comes in high-end 4K, $1,399 variant

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 9:55pm

Enlarge / The Pixelbook Go. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The Pixelbook Go is Google's latest swing at a high-end, flagship laptop for Chrome OS. The device was announced and shipped in October, but only the mid- and low-end models. As first spotted by Chrome Unboxed, the laptop's highest-end configuration is now available for $1,399.

The new $1,300 model upgrades the Pixelbook Go to a 13.3-inch, 3840x2160 (331ppi) touchscreen LCD, an Intel Core i7-8500Y, 256GB of eMMC storage, and a 56WH battery. Like the $999 version, you get 16GB of RAM.

Those specs are super-overkill for running a Web browser, but remember, you can run Android and Linux apps on Chromebooks now, so maybe you'll find a way to make use of them. If you're really concerned about non-Web-browser tasks though, for $1,300, you might just want to buy a regular Windows, Mac, or Linux laptop and not deal with the restrictions of Chrome OS. The Pixelbook Go has a nice keyboard and a grippy bottom design, but it mostly earned a firm rating of "average" in our review. There is little that makes it stand out from the competition.

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FCC’s “illogical” claim that broadband isn’t telecommunications faces appeal

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 9:06pm

Enlarge / The Federal Communications Commission seal hangs inside a meeting room at the headquarters ahead of an open commission meeting in Washington, DC, on Thursday, December 14, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Mozilla and other organizations today appealed the court ruling that upheld the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality rules, arguing that the FCC's claim that broadband isn't telecommunications should not have been accepted by judges.

The FCC repeal was upheld in October by a three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court had some good news for net neutrality supporters because it vacated the FCC's attempt to preempt all current and future state net neutrality laws. But Mozilla and others aren't giving up hope on reinstating the FCC rules nationwide.

The Mozilla petition filed today asks for an en banc rehearing of the case involving all of the DC Circuit judges. Mozilla is probably facing an uphill battle because the three-judge panel unanimously agreed that the FCC can repeal its own net neutrality rules.

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Deep Learning breakthrough made by Rice University scientists

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 7:42pm

Enlarge (credit: pitju / Adobe Stock)

In an earlier deep learning article, we talked about how inference workloads—the use of already-trained neural networks to analyze data—can run on fairly cheap hardware, but running the training workload that the neural network "learns" on is orders of magnitude more expensive.

In particular, the more potential inputs you have to an algorithm, the more out of control your scaling problem gets when analyzing its problem space. This is where MACH, a research project authored by Rice University's Tharun Medini and Anshumali Shrivastava, comes in. MACH is an acronym for Merged Average Classifiers via Hashing, and according to lead researcher Shrivastava, "[its] training times are about 7-10 times faster, and... memory footprints are 2-4 times smaller" than those of previous large-scale deep learning techniques.

In describing the scale of extreme classification problems, Medini refers to online shopping search queries, noting that "there are easily more than 100 million products online." This is, if anything, conservative—one data company claimed Amazon US alone sold 606 million separate products, with the entire company offering more than three billion products worldwide. Another company reckons the US product count at 353 million. Medini continues, "a neural network that takes search input and predicts from 100 million outputs, or products, will typically end up with about 2,000 parameters per product. So you multiply those, and the final layer of the neural network is 200 billion parameters ... [and] I'm talking about a very, very dead simple neural network model."

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AT&T doesn’t want you to see its slow Internet speed-test results

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 6:49pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Steven Puetzer)

AT&T doesn't want its home Internet speeds to be measured by the Federal Communications Commission anymore, and it already convinced the FCC to exclude its worst speed-test results from an annual government report.

"AT&T this year told the commission it will no longer cooperate with the FCC's SamKnows speed test," The Wall Street Journal wrote in an investigative report titled "Your Internet provider likely juiced its official speed scores."

AT&T already convinced the FCC to exclude certain DSL test results from last year's Measuring Broadband America report. The reports are based on the SamKnows testing equipment installed in thousands of homes across the US.

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General Election 2019: How computers wrote BBC election result stories

BBC Technology News - December 13, 2019 - 1:31pm
The BBC carried out its biggest test of machine-generated journalism to cover the general election.

Guidemaster: Nine gift ideas for the tech enthusiast in your life

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / Everyone has someone in their life who demands the latest and greatest. This is the tech we think qualifies. (credit: Flashpop / Getty Images)

The last installment in our five-part holiday gift guide series this year is tailored for power users—those who know their way around technology and feel uneasy settling for gear that doesn’t provide high performance.

The nine gadgets we’ve rounded up below may be overkill for most of the people in your life, but they should satisfy those who consider themselves enthusiasts in some way. Per usual, we’ve curated these recommendations based on hands-on testing we’ve done over the course of 2019. If none of these items fit your shopping list’s needs, though, take a look at our previous gift guides for the home, the office, the road, and affordable gadgets for additional inspiration. For now, though, let’s indulge a little in the latest and greatest tech.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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The Game Awards 2019: All the winners and big reveals

BBC Technology News - December 13, 2019 - 10:59am
Sekiro takes home game of the year as Xbox confirm new console for 2020 and big titles get a new trailers.

Modelling breakthrough for soft robots and other news

BBC Technology News - December 13, 2019 - 9:19am
BBC Click's Paul Carter looks at some of the week's best technology stories.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 is a crossover you’ll actually enjoy driving

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 9:01am

SAN DIEGO—The new Mazda CX-30 is a strange and wonderful thing—a subcompact crossover you'll really enjoy driving. Sitting between the diminutive CX-3 and the heftier CX-5, it is an all-new model for Mazda that shares the same new Skyactiv vehicle architecture as the Mazda 3 we tried out at the start of the year. (It might have been called the CX-4 had that moniker not already been pressed into action for a China-only crossover.)

The CX-30 is not particularly fast. It boasts no sporting pretensions. It's also not really that expensive—the lineup starts at just under $22,000 for a front-wheel-drive spec, and a fully loaded all-wheel drive model with all the doodads still slips in under $30,000 unless you want that eye-catching Soul Red paint. But it has a well-appointed interior that, like the Mazda 3, punches well above its price bracket. You control everything with buttons and knobs and dials—no touchscreens are to be found here. And it yet again confirms that the Hiroshima-based car maker really does know how to imbue its vehicles with jinba ittai—a Japanese expression meaning the horse and rider acting as one. Drive it fast, slow, in traffic, on the freeway, or on your favorite back road—it doesn't matter. It all puts a smile on your face.

Which is crazy—everyone knows that crossovers aren't supposed to be pleasurable to drive, right?

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The next Xbox has a name and a new design: Behold, 2020’s Xbox Series X

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 3:41am

The next Xbox console, slated to launch in holiday 2020, finally has a name: Xbox Series X. The system that was formerly dubbed Project Scarlett also has a bold, vertical design and a slightly modified controller, as seen in the above gallery.

Xbox chief Phil Spencer took the stage at Thursday night's The Game Awards to reveal the new monolith-shaped console, which Gamespot reports is roughly as wide as an Xbox One controller and roughly three times as tall. Its appearance came at the end of a trailer full of apparent Xbox Series X "real-time" rendering, which included Halo's Master Chief, a red sports car (potentially from the Xbox-exclusive racing series Forza), and a soccer match.

Important details were confirmed by a few angles of the new Xbox console: an apparent disc drive; a vent-covered top with either painted or backlit green coloring; and a slightly modified update to the Xbox One gamepad. This new controller looks largely like the current generation's default controller, but it has a new circle base to its d-pad and a new button in the controller's middle that resembles an "upload" icon from Windows. Spencer has confirmed that this will function as a "share" button (much like a similar button on PlayStation 4's DualShock 4) and that the new Series X controller will be compatible with existing Xbox One systems, not just the new Xbox Series X.

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Where the money is really made at Amazon

BBC Technology News - December 13, 2019 - 1:00am
Amazon's cloud computing business has been a big hit, but faces some big challenges as its boss explains.

Review: Castle Rock’s signature slow burn pays off in tight, twisty finale

Ars Technica - December 13, 2019 - 12:10am

Lizzy Caplan portrays Annie Wilkes, one of Stephen King's most memorable characters—from the novel Misery—in the second season of Hulu's anthology series, Castle Rock.

A nurse on the run with her teenaged daughter ends up stranded in a small Maine town where something evil lurks in the second season of Castle Rock, Hulu's psychological horror anthology series that draws inspiration from the works of Stephen King. The series was a surprising breakout hit last summer, and this new season doesn't disappoint, bringing the same slow burn and unexpected twists leading to a riveting finale.

(Mild spoilers for season one and season two below.)

The fictional town of Castle Rock features in so many of King's novels that co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason thought they could use it as an organizing principle for their storytelling. The series is less a direct adaptation of King's works and more new stories set in the fictional town that occasionally bump up against various books. The biggest King influences for season one were The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile—in other words, a prison-centric setting with themes of crime and punishment. Shawshank tells the story of a prisoner's disappearance, while Castle Rock's focus is the mysterious appearance of a prisoner nobody knew about.

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Judge serves up sizzling rebuke of Arkansas’ anti-veggie-meat labeling law

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 11:51pm

Enlarge / Tofurky's bourbon glazed ham. (credit: Tofurky)

A federal judge on Tuesday roasted Arkansas' law banning makers of meatless meat products from using words such as "burger," "sausage," "roast," and "meat" in their labeling. The law also established fines of $1,000 for each individual label in violation.

Known as Act 501, the law passed state lawmakers in March but has yet to be enforced. If it had, meatless-meat makers, such as Tofurky, would be forced to stop selling their products in the state, face a ruinous amount of fines, or change their labeling of meatless burgers and sausages to unappetizing and vague descriptors, such as "savory plant-based protein" and "veggie tubes."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Good Food Institute, and Animal Legal Defense Fund challenged Act 501 on behalf of Tofurky in July. Together, the groups argued that the law amounted to a ham-fisted attempt by meat-backed lawmakers to protect the profits of the dairy and meat industry and stifle popular meatless competition.

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Nebula VPN routes between hosts privately, flexibly, and efficiently

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 11:30pm

Last month, the engineering department at Slack—an instant messaging platform commonly used for community and small business organization—released a new distributed VPN mesh tool called Nebula. Nebula is free and open source software, available under the MIT license.

It's difficult to coherently explain Nebula in a nutshell. According to the people on Slack's engineering team, they asked themselves "what is the easiest way to securely connect tens of thousands of computers, hosted at multiple cloud service providers in dozens of locations around the globe?" And (developing) Nebula was the best answer they had. It's a portable, scalable overlay networking tool that runs on most major platforms, including Linux, MacOS, and Windows, with some mobile device support planned for the near future.

Nebula-transmitted data is fully encrypted using the Noise protocol framework, which is also used in modern, highly security-focused projects such as Signal and WireGuard. Unlike more traditional VPN technologies—including WireGuard—Nebula automatically and dynamically discovers available routes between nodes and sends traffic down the most efficient path between any two nodes rather than forcing everything through a central distribution point.

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Wave of Ring surveillance camera hacks tied to podcast, report finds

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 11:10pm

Enlarge / An Amazon Ring security camera on display during an unveiling event on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (credit: Andrew Burton | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

A series of creepy Ring camera intrusions, including one where a stranger sang to an 8-year-old child and said he was Santa Claus, may be linked through a forum and associated livestream podcast, a new report finds.

The cluster of hacks, first reported by local media outlets, have become national news in the past few days. In all the cases, some bad actor accessed indoor Ring cameras (not doorbells) and used them to harass, intimidate, or attempt to extort the residents.

One family in Florida suddenly heard racist commentary about their teenage son coming from their Ring camera on Sunday night. On Monday, someone yelled at a couple in Georgia to "wake up." Another family, in Tennessee, heard a voice taunting their daughter through a camera in their kids' room on Tuesday. And in Texas yesterday, someone tried to demand a ransom to exit the household camera system, telling the homeowners to pay 50 bitcoin (roughly $360,000).

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988 will be the new 911 for suicide prevention—by sometime in 2021

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 8:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Chris McLoughlin)

The Federal Communications Commission plans to designate 988 as the short dialing code for the United States' suicide-prevention hotline. Much like 911 for general emergencies, 988 could be dialed by anyone undergoing a mental health crisis and/or considering suicide.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can already be reached at 1-800-273-8255 (or 1-800-273-TALK), but the FCC today gave preliminary approval to a plan that would make 988 redirect to that hotline. The commission's unanimous vote approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks public comment on the plan.

Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day period for taking public comments, and the FCC would finalize the plan after considering the public input. It could take another 18 months after that to implement 988 nationwide, depending on what requirements the FCC imposes on phone providers.

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Emotion-detecting tech should be restricted by law - AI Now

BBC Technology News - December 12, 2019 - 8:15pm
A US-based AI institute says that the science behind the technology rests on "shaky foundations".

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