Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 18 min ago
Anybody who hoped the troubled Bioware game Mass Effect: Andromeda would get some more single-player content should probably sit down. The game developer chose to deliver bad news to fans on Saturday evening via its official blog, confirming that it would not create any more "single-player or in-game story content" for the game.
If you're anxious to see the game's loose plot threads receive any resolution, you'll have to turn to other means. The game's existing 1.1 patch, which went live nearly three weeks ago, marked the end of any single-player changes, updates, or patches. Multiplayer modes will receive more "story-based APEX missions," Bioware says, and other stories, including those of the fate of the quarian ark, will be shuffled into "our upcoming comics and novels."
This confirms a DLC cancellation rumor dug up by Kotaku back in June. According to Kotaku's sources, EA had already bailed on plans for either add-on DLC or a full-fledged Andromeda 2 sequel after the game's lukewarm critical and commercial performance.
If recent Hollywood deals are any indication, science fiction on TV is about to get even more interesting and complex. The trend started with the surprising announcement in late 2016 that Lin Manuel-Miranda's next project—after completing his run on Hamilton and writing the music for Moana—would be to adapt Patrick Rothfuss' cult fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicle for TV and film. Just in the past two months, three more gamechanging options were announced: HBO will adapt Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death, award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay is working on a TV adaptation of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, and TNT has snapped up N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. All of these books represented major shifts for the science fiction genre and, until recently, would probably have been considered unfilmable.
To understand the magnitude of this change, consider the Xenogenesis trilogy. Octavia Butler published these cerebral alien invasion novels in the 1980s, shortly before she became the first science fiction author ever to win a prestigious MacArthur "genius grant." The books follow three generations of people after an advanced alien civilization of three-gendered, tentacle-covered creatures has created hybrid children with the dying, post-nuclear remnants of humanity. It's a multi-layered story about colonialism and survival, and it includes surreal scenes in which we enter the minds of aliens to experience their unique sensorium. Though critically acclaimed and widely read, the novels never made it to the screen.
One issue was pragmatic. Imagining these novels coming to life without a James Cameron-level budget is hard. Today, however, special effects are cheaper than ever. A clever combination of practical effects and CGI could render Butler's aliens and their biotech spaceships.
This weekend, NASA's historic Voyager spacecrafts celebrate their 40th year in space. The missions have given humanity many awe-inspiring discoveries in those four decades, and Voyager 1 and 2 have inspired infinite further initiatives or related works, too (such as a great new documentary debuting this week). To celebrate the occasion, we're resurfacing this appreciation from 2012 that details another thing Voyager forever inspired: our science editor.
August 20, 1977 turned out to be a before-and-after moment for me—and probably a lot of other people as well. None of us knew it at the time, though, since the launch of Voyager 2 (followed a few weeks later by Voyager 1) wasn't obviously a big deal to most people. In fact, I wouldn't fully appreciate the change until sometime in 1980.
To understand why, a bit of history is in order. NASA had been sending probes to other planets, like the Mariner and Pioneer series, since the 1960s. However, even the best technology of the time was pretty limited in terms of what it could do remotely. And for most of that time, they were badly overshadowed by manned exploration, first the Apollo missions and Skylab, and later the planning for the space shuttle. In fact, even as the Voyagers flew past Jupiter, I seem to recall more attention being paid to the impending de-orbit of Skylab, which scattered charred pieces of itself over Australia later that year.
This article originally appeared on ProPublica on August 18, 2017.
The neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer was back online Friday with help from a small company whose founder said he wanted to defend free speech and raise the commercial profile of his new venture.
The Daily Stormer was dumped by several Internet service providers this week after it posted a story mocking the appearance of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed last Saturday in Charlottesville. By mid-week, the site was accessible only through what is known as the dark web, a corner of the Internet that is not easily accessible to ordinary users.
Of all the fighting video games I imagined might ever get sequels, Nidhogg was pretty low on my wishlist. The 2014 sword-duel game was a masterwork of simplicity, and it benefited from looking and playing like something from an early '80s home console. Two-button controls. Minuscule color palettes. A simple directive to stab and run. I had seen too many zillions-of-buttons, zillions-of-commands fighting games, and Nidhogg, even more than its one-button contemporary Divekick, served as a delightful palate cleanser.
When its sequel was announced last year, fans—including myself—wondered what the heck was going on. Where was the refreshing simplicity? What was up with these new weapons? Why did the fighters transform into grotesque, mutated Homer Simpsons?
Once I went hands-on with Nidhogg 2 last December, I instantly changed my tune. That love has only grown since playing its preview builds in bits and pieces—and it's grown more since getting the final version. Nidhogg 2 is everything a great sequel should be: an opportunity to build on a solid foundation, a successful gamble on updated mechanics, and a better game for fans both old and new.
Shawn Brackbill/Courtesy of the artist
It has been a great 12 months for space music, but to our ears much of this burgeoning scene doesn't quite sound spacey. The Sufjan Stevens-led Planetarium is a modern Holst-ian work, more at home in the concert hall than the Milky Way (and we’d take Gustav’s “Mars” over Sufjan’s). Ennio Morricone’s newly reissued SPACE: 1999 is free-form jazz that sounds appropriate for a sci-fi horror set in the stars, but it doesn’t conjure up images of the galaxy if you close your eyes and listen. And clipping’s Hugo-nominated Splendor & Misery is already an overlooked artistic masterpiece, but its triumph is in storytelling and not necessarily in being some aural representation of interstellar happenings.
Close your eyes and picture “space,” and many of us likely have similar visions. Yet ask what space sounds like, and there’s no such unified response... at least there wasn’t.
When engineers look at mussels, they're typically looking in awe at how they anchor themselves to nearly every surface imaginable, all while under water. The fibers they use to attach themselves are incredibly strong, and the adhesive works wet or dry on all sorts of materials. For the most part, engineers are looking to create a substance with similar properties.
This week, however, brings an exception: engineers who want to try to keep mussels from sticking to everything. Zebra mussels, a species that has invaded the Great Lakes, is estimated to cost utilities hundreds of millions of dollars each year due to clogged pipes and intakes. Ships, buoys, and pretty much anything else we put in the water also ends up needing to have mussels cleared off.
The international team behind the new work has designed a material that mussels can't seem to get a grip on. It's not because the mussel's adhesive fail; instead, the mussel itself doesn't seem to know what it's touching when it's set down on the material.
A chunk of code found in the Kronos bank-fraud malware originated more than six years before security researcher Marcus Hutchins is accused of developing the underlying code, a fellow security researcher said Friday.
The conclusion, reached in an analysis of Kronos published by security firm Malwarebytes, by no means proves or disproves federal prosecutors' allegations that Hutchins wrote Kronos code and played a role in the sale of the malware. It does, however, clarify speculation over a Tweet from January 2015, in which MalwareTech—the online handle Hutchins used—complained that a complex piece of code he had published a month earlier had been added to an unnamed malware sample without his permission.
Just found the hooking engine I made for my blog in a malware sample. This is why we can't have nice things, fuckers.
— MalwareTech (@MalwareTechBlog) February 7, 2015
Shortly after his arrest in Las Vegas two weeks ago, the Tweet resurfaced, and almost immediately it generated speculation that the malware Hutchins was referring to was Kronos. An analysis of Kronos soon showed that one portion used an instruction that was identical to one included in the code Hutchins published in January 2015.
The Tor Project has reiterated its absolutist commitment to free speech, saying that even though Daily Stormer recently moved to a Tor onion service, the organization won’t do anything to stop the "hate-spewing website."
Various online services have begun to re-evaluate their willingness to do business with sites that publish obviously vile content in the wake of last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Earlier in the week, Google removed the Gab app on the Google Play store, and Squarespace said it would disable some of the offensive sites that it hosts as identified as hateful by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Most famously within the tech world, Daily Stormer itself was recently booted from CloudFlare’s CDN service after the company had initially said it would not do so.
When right-wing trolls and outright racists get kicked off of Twitter, they often move to Gab, a Twitter competitor. Gab was founded by Donald Trump supporter Andrew Torba, who says it's devoted to unfettered free expression online. This week, Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, became an active Gab user after a succession of Internet companies refused service to his website, forcing it offline. The site also hosts controversial right-wing trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos and Andrew "weev" Auernheimer.
On Thursday, Gab said that Google had banned its Android app from the Google Play Store for violating Google's ban on hate speech.
Breaking news: Google has removed Gab's Android app from the Google Play Store for "hate speech." pic.twitter.com/jPqeEx1ID1
— Gab (@getongab) August 17, 2017
Google explained the removal in an e-mail to Ars. "In order to be on the Play Store, social networking apps need to demonstrate a sufficient level of moderation, including for content that encourages violence and advocates hate against groups of people," the statement read. "This is a long-standing rule and clearly stated in our developer policies. Developers always have the opportunity to appeal a suspension and may have their apps reinstated if they've addressed the policy violations and are compliant with our Developer Program Policies."
The Wisconsin Assembly voted 59-30 on Thursday to approve a bill to give incentives worth $3 billion to Taiwan-based Foxconn so that the company would open its first US plant in the state.
Foxconn, best known for supplying parts of Apple's iPhones, will open the $10 billion liquid-crystal display plant in 2020, according to Reuters. The bill still has to be approved by a joint finance committee and the state Senate.
Both houses of Wisconsin's legislature are controlled by Republicans, and the deal is supported by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who negotiated the deal.
Scratch beneath the surface of Agents of Mayhem—the hero-based shoot-and-loot open-world game from developer Volition—and you'll only find more shooting, looting, and hero-based action. It lacks the surprisingly heartfelt camaraderie of the studio's later Saints Row titles. It's not as beautifully, thematically simple as Red Faction: Guerilla, but it is still a few solid hours of fun.
Agents of Mayhem is a pseudo-sequel/reboot/spinoff/prequel to Saints Row (and subsequently Red Faction—all three series are connected in subtle and not-so-subtle ways), but only diehard fans will likely notice it. Saints Row regulars like Pierce Washington, Oleg Kirrlov, and even Johnny Gat make appearances (that last one, only for pre-orderers). Yet they all operate under codenames in the G.I. Joe-like Mayhem, doing battle with the Cobra-esque Legion.
The game tries to seal the Saturday morning cartoon deal with actual cartoon cutscenes. They're just too cheap looking—like Marvel's oddly shaded modern fare, but jerkier—to take the gimmick all the way. It doesn't help make it seem any less rushed when some of the scenes are notably not animated at all.The soul in Seoul
Cheap or not, the animation is what is used to get the game’s pretty decent core conceit across. Legion's evil council wants to take over the world, while the slightly less reprehensible Mayhem aims to stop them. A battle of "bad vs. evil," as Mayhem's ex-criminal director puts it, ensues. It's a brighter and more colorful conflict than 90 percent of open-world games and far better at putting me in the mood for the open-ended shenanigans.
Google has revealed the launch date for the final version of Android O: August 21. Google will be livestreaming an unveiling event live from New York City at 2:40pm ET to coincide with the solar eclipse. There's a new teaser site up at Android.com/eclipse, which counts down the time until the event. "Android O is touching down to Earth with the total solar eclipse," the site promises, "bringing some super (sweet) new powers!"
Android O (which we know will be version 8.0) is currently on its fourth developer preview, having originally launched in March. At the event we're expecting Google to unveil the traditional snack-themed codename for the OS, finally revealing what the "O" in "Android O" stands for. It should also start pushing out OTA updates for at least the Pixel and Pixel XL, with updates for older Google devices happening the day of the event or shortly after.
Android O is not a mystery at this point. The OS brings a big revamp of the notification panel with a new layout, colors, and features like snoozing. Google is clamping down on background apps for more consistent performance and better battery life. There are new, updatable emoji, a faster startup time, an all new settings app, and lots of security enhancements, including the new "Google Play Protect" anti-malware branding. Most importantly, Android 8.0 brings Project Treble to new devices, a modularization of the OS away from the hardware. That initiative should make it easier to develop and roll out new Android updates.
Americans are making their last dashes for glasses and viewers to watch the rare total solar eclipse that will glide across the continental US on Monday. Meanwhile, eye doctors are trying to clear away any orbiting debris that's obscuring vision safety information—and spotlight the dangers of unsafe viewing.
Everyone knows that watching an eclipse—or staring into the Sun in general—can damage eyes. But in a series of articles published Friday in JAMA and JAMA Ophthalmology, a group of ophthalmologists explains in detail how sunlight damages the retina, plus dispels some misconceptions about viewing techniques for the rare event. They also provide a case study of what happens when you go into an eclipse event eyeballs-out.
David Calkins and Paul Sternberg of The Vanderbilt Eye Institute in Nashville, Tennessee, (which will experience a total eclipse) wrote one of the pieces in JAMA Ophthalmology. In it, they point out that many people have the misconception that an eclipse allows safe viewing of the Sun—that the lunar disk will cover everything but the Sun’s beautiful corona. This is true for those lucky ones that are along the path of the total eclipse, albeit only briefly. For those in the totality path, the Sun’s core will be blotted out for no more than two minutes and 41 seconds. “However, for most people, at least some portion of the Sun’s core will be visible during the event,” Calkins and Sternberg note.
— Bing Ads (@BingAds) August 17, 2017
We've known from Microsoft's financial reports that Bing has been growing. The search engine became profitable in the third calendar quarter of 2015, and Microsoft says it has continued to grow both the market share and revenue-per-search since then.
But how big is Bing? Via OnMSFT, Microsoft tweeted yesterday that it's "bigger than you think" and provided some numbers that will probably be a surprise to many. The company claims that fully one-third of searches in the US are powered by Bing, either directly or through Yahoo or AOL (both of which provide results generated by Microsoft). Other strong markets include Taiwan, at 24 or 26 percent, and the UK, at either 23 or 25 percent (depending on which tweet you read).
Globally, the company is claiming a 9-percent market share. Google is still the runaway winner, of course, but Microsoft's numbers (using data from comScore) suggest that in at least some parts of the world, Bing is big enough to take note of. The real target for this kind of data is, of course, advertisers; by showing that Bing is actually being used by large numbers of people, Microsoft hopes that it will become more appealing to those wanting to advertise alongside search results.
Despite President Trump's promise to block AT&T's purchase of Time Warner Inc., the government's review of the merger has "reached an advanced stage" The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
"The deal’s regulatory review has hit a late-stage point where AT&T lawyers are discussing merger conditions with the Justice Department," the report said, quoting people close to the situation. If the Justice Department concludes that any potential harms from the merger can be offset by conditions, then it would not sue to block the deal.
"Among the topics raised in the government’s review is ensuring that AT&T doesn’t discriminate or treat channels that compete with Time Warner's content less favorably, the people close to the situation said," the Journal wrote. "For example, the government could prevent AT&T from favoring HBO over other premium-TV brands in its marketing and pricing, the people said."
Reddit announced a big, and likely welcome, change coming to its site: native video uploads. After testing the feature out in about 200 communities, native video hosting will now roll out for all Reddit communities, giving every user the ability to upload and share videos on Reddit without the use of a third-party service. Until now, users had to upload videos to another site and then post the video's link to Reddit in order to share.
Native video uploading is supported on both the desktop and mobile versions of Reddit. Users can upload pre-recorded videos from their devices; on the Reddit mobile app, you can shoot videos to upload immediately by giving the app access to your camera. Videos must be either MP4 of MOV files, and they can be no longer than 15 minutes. You can even make gifs out of your videos by using Reddit's new MP4 converter, and videos uploaded through the mobile app can be trimmed to show only the most important part. Since Reddit's core is its communities, the company made it so you could watch videos and read posted comments at the same time. On desktop, the video player will shrink and stay at the top of the page so you can scroll through comments. On mobile, the video player remains at the top of the page while the bottom-half is scrollable.
Reddit's blog post cites user experience as one of the main reasons for its new native video hosting. It was previously a hassle for users to post a video to Reddit, and the viewing experience wasn't seamless. Reddit gave the same treatment to images last year when it cut ties with its longtime partner Imgur in favor of native image hosting. Not only does native image and video hosting make it easier for users to upload and share content to their favorite subreddits, but it also cuts the amount of time users spend on third-party sites.
People with cracked touch screens or similar smartphone maladies have a new headache to consider: the possibility the replacement parts installed by repair shops contain secret hardware that completely hijacks the security of the device.
The concern arises from research that shows how replacement screens—one put into a Huawei Nexus 6P and the other into an LG G Pad 7.0—can be used to surreptitiously log keyboard input and patterns, install malicious apps, and take pictures and e-mail them to the attacker. The booby-trapped screens also exploited operating system vulnerabilities that bypassed key security protections built into the phones. The malicious parts cost less than $10 and could easily be mass-produced. Most chilling of all, to most people, the booby-trapped parts could be indistinguishable from legitimate ones, a trait that could leave many service technicians unaware of the maliciousness. There would be no sign of tampering unless someone with a background in hardware disassembled the repaired phone and inspected it.
The research, in a paper presented this week at the 2017 Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies, highlights an often overlooked disparity in smartphone security. The software drivers included in both the iOS and Android operating systems are closely guarded by the device manufacturers, and therefore exist within a "trust boundary." The factory-installed hardware that communicates with the drivers is similarly assumed to be trustworthy, as long as the manufacturer safeguards its supply chain. The security model breaks down as soon as a phone is serviced in a third-party repair shop, where there's no reliable way to certify replacement parts haven't been modified.
This June, we received a letter from a reader asking why it seemed like there are fewer summer blackouts, especially in the western US, than there used to be.
This resonated with me. When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, summer always seemed to bring with it a couple of electrical blackouts. By 2001, the term "rolling blackouts" was a household phrase. The morning news would warn of a heat wave. My sister and I would head out to a friend’s house or some local summer camp, and when we returned home from pool-bleached adventures the power would go dead. Sometimes the blackouts lasted just a few minutes. But occasionally, hours passed and my parents would get cranky, sweating miserably with no way to know when we could get the air conditioner back on.
For me, it’s a trivial memory to think back on—my 20-years-younger parents wondering if they should wait for power to cook dinner or just have everyone fend for themselves in the slowly warming fridge. We were lucky. We were a young family with bodies that were able to withstand a couple hours of heat. But blackouts aren’t just a minor inconvenience for some people. Surely, there were less fortunate people who suffered hyperthermia during these heatwaves. The very old and the very young are particularly susceptible, but blackouts are problems for businesses, too. Back then, the fledgling world of the dot-com boom was just figuring out how to deal with overheating servers and dropped conference calls.
Dating site OkCupid made the unusual move of announcing that it had given a single member a "lifetime" ban on Thursday—and naming him—in order to make a point.
"We were alerted that white supremacist Chris Cantwell was on OkCupid," the company wrote at its official Twitter account on Thursday. "Within 10 minutes, we banned him for life."
Cantwell was the subject of a Vice documentary about the white-supremacist Unite The Right marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the past weekend, where he offered numerous racist and threatening comments while acting as a march organizer and riding in a car alongside former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. ("We're not non-violent," Cantwell offered at one point in the documentary. "We'll fucking kill these people if we fucking have to.")