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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 2 min ago

Nintendo Switch tiptoes toward letting users back up their data

4 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / New Switch firmware, new Super Mario Odyssey profile-icon options! And that means T-REX MARIO! RWAAAR! (credit: Nintendo)

As the Nintendo Switch loses some of its brand-new luster, fans have begun to question a few key missing features, from the long-running Virtual Console service to traditional apps like media players and Web browsers. Thus, any new major firmware for the Switch is likely to get fans' hopes up about new functionality, and sure enough Switch firmware 4.0, out on Wednesday, brings a few new features to the table.

Arguably the most notable addition is one that comes oh-so-close to fixing a major Switch problem: the inability to back up any save game data. Switch 4.0 officially adds profile and save transfers between Switch systems. This process will entirely wipe whatever selected data is moved from the source system. This is the first time Switch owners have been able to move save data in any official capacity, as opposed to having save data being completely trapped on a default system, but it's still a far cry from being able to take your console's save files and store them somewhere secure, like a spare SD card or a computer. (Purchases are linked to a universal profile, and these have already been transferable, so long as the source console's licenses are deactivated first.)

We can only hope this feature rollout is a hint of more functionality in the future. Otherwise, the race is still on for hackers and exploiters to beat Nintendo to the save-backup punch (and thereby drive legitimate users towards hacks in the process).

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Native American tribe sues Amazon and Microsoft over patents

6 hours 26 min ago

Enlarge (credit: St. Regis Mohawk Tribe / Aurich Lawson)

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has filed patent lawsuits against Amazon and Microsoft, using patents it acquired from a company called SRC Labs, according to reports in Reuters and CNBC.

Until recently, the patents were owned by a holding company called SRC Labs, which is a co-plaintiff in today's lawsuit. The lawsuits against Amazon and Microsoft are the second and third lawsuits filed by patent-holding companies working together with Native American tribes. Patent-holding companies, sometimes derided in the tech industry as "patent trolls," produce no goods or services and make their revenue from filing lawsuits.

At least two patent-holding companies have chosen to give their patents to Native American tribes, seeking to benefit from tribal "sovereign immunity" that could avoid certain types of patent reviews at the US Patent Office.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple and GE partner to make industrial analytics iOS-accessible

October 18, 2017 - 10:50pm

Enlarge / A wind turbine, May 17, 2016 in Melaune, Germany. (Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

GE and Apple announced a partnership today that will pave the way for putting utility analytics software Predix on iOS devices. The Predix software development kit will allow 77 utilities that work with GE to manage turbines, condensers, boiler feed pumps, and more from iPads and iPhones.

That, GE says, will ensure “that real-time data is captured and shared with field workers and remote operations using iOS devices.”

As part of the program, GE has agreed to standardize iPhones and iPads as the primary work devices for its 330,000 employees. The industrial machinery company will also make Macs available to employees who prefer them, according to Reuters.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Activision’s patented method to drive microtransactions with matchmaking

October 18, 2017 - 10:45pm

Enlarge / Want to have a cool sniper rifle like your Call of Duty partner? Authorize a charge of $4.99 RIGHT NOW! (credit: Activision)

In a US patent filed in 2015 and approved yesterday, Activision outlines an online matchmaking system designed to "drive microtransactions in multiplayer video games" and "influence game-related purchases."

Patent #9789406, for a "System and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games," describes a number of matchmaking algorithms that a game could use to encourage players to purchase additional in-game items. "For instance, the system may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player," the patent reads. "A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player."

An Activision representative told Glixel (which first unearthed the patent) that the filing was merely an "exploratory" effort from a disconnected R&D team and that such a system "has not been implemented in-game" yet. But the patent itself shows a decent amount of thought being put into various ways to maximize the chances of players purchasing in-game items based on their online gameplay partners.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Samsung is all talk about the IoT with Bixby 2.0 and SmartThings

October 18, 2017 - 10:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Samsung's annual developer conference at Moscone West in San Francisco doesn't always get a lot of public attention; in past years, it has often focused on things like Tizen app development. But at this year's conference, the company focused on launching a new platform for connected devices in the home, the car, and elsewhere—or, at least, a collection of previously existent platforms that are getting updated and combined into a new one.

That new platform is called SmartThings Cloud, and it unites existing Samsung IoT services like SmartThings, Samsung Connect, ARTIK, and Harman Ignite. Frankly, Samsung's offerings have been a confusing mess of different platforms and services with overlapping functionality and purposes. SmartThings Cloud is mostly a rebranding, which could mean little, but developers may be hopeful that it also means an actual restructuring of resources and products to unify what Samsung is doing across all of these.

Within that umbrella, you have a couple new products that are more interesting than just a rebranding. Consumers and developers alike are already familiar with Bixby, Samsung's virtual assistant answer to Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. It replaced S Voice, a lackluster offering on previous phones, when it launched this year. Unfortunately, Ars found Bixby to be frustrating and unfinished. It's telling, then, that Samsung has already moved on to announce Bixby 2.0 at the conference just a few months after the initial launch.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New cloud-friendly Lightroom has 1TB of photo storage, same UI across desktop and mobile

October 18, 2017 - 10:10pm

Enlarge / Worry-free cloud storage, Adobe claims. (credit: Adobe)

At its Adobe MAX conference, Adobe announced a big shake-up for its Lightroom photo processing application. The current Lightroom CC is being renamed to Lightroom Classic CC, and a new product with an old name, Lightroom CC, will take its place.

The new Lightroom CC offers most of the photo processing features of Lightroom Classic but with some key differences. The interface is simpler, and it's shared between both the desktop versions (for Mac and PC), the mobile versions for Android and iOS, the Apple TV version, and Lightroom CC for the Web. It offers both a common look and feel and common capabilities across the range of platforms.

The same editing tools and interface across all your devices. (credit: Adobe)

That cross-platform consistency ties in strongly with its other, likely contentious feature: it uploads all your photos to cloud storage. A $9.99-a-month Lightroom CC subscription—just as is already the case with Classic, the software is only offered on a subscription basis—comes with 1TB of cloud storage, with additional space available in 1, 5, and 10TB increments.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Charter accuses its employees of cutting cables 125 times during strike

October 18, 2017 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / Fiber optic cables. (credit: Getty Images | gerenme)

Charter Communications last week sued a workers' union, alleging that its members have repeatedly sabotaged Charter's network in New York City during a strike that began in March.

"On over 125 occasions, Charter cables, including both coaxial and fiber optic cables in both secured and unsecured locations at sites throughout New York City, have been deliberately cut or damaged, thereby denying thousands of subscribers access to cable, Internet, and voice service and interfering with their ability to contact emergency services, and forcing Charter to devote hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours to investigating and repairing its property," Charter alleged in its complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court.

It's no coincidence that these incidents happened during the strike, Charter further claimed. Charter blamed members of IBEW Local Union No. 3:

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Judge shocked to learn NYPD’s evidence database has no backup

October 18, 2017 - 9:40pm

(credit: See-ming Lee)

As part of an ongoing legal battle to get the New York City Police Department to track money police have grabbed in cash forfeitures, an attorney for the city told a Manhattan judge on October 17 that part of the reason the NYPD can't comply with such requests is that the department's evidence database has no backup. If the database servers that power NYPD's Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS)—designed and installed by Capgemini under a $25.5 million contract between 2009 and 2012—were to fail, all data on stored evidence would simply cease to exist.

Courthouse News reported that Manhattan Supreme Court judge Arlene Bluth responded repeatedly to the city's attorney with the same phrase: “That’s insane.”

Last year, NYPD’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner Robert Messner told the City Council's public safety committee that “attempts to perform the types of searches envisioned in the bill will lead to system crashes and significant delays during the intake and release process.” The claim was key to the department’s refusal to provide the data accounting for the approximately $6 million seized in cash and property every year. As of 2013, according to the nonprofit group Bronx Defenders, the NYPD was carrying a balance sheet of more than $68 million in cash seized.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google Play apps with as many as 2.6m downloads added devices to botnet

October 18, 2017 - 9:19pm

Enlarge (credit: portal gda)

Google has booted eight Android apps from its Play marketplace, even though the apps have been downloaded as many as 2.6 million times. The industry giant took action after researchers found that the apps add devices to a botnet and can perform denial-of-service attacks or other malicious actions.

The stated purpose of the apps is to provide a skin that can modify the look of characters in the popular Minecraft: Pocket Edition game. Under the hood, the apps contain highly camouflaged malware known as Android.Sockbot, which connects infected devices to developer-controlled servers. This is according to a blog post published Wednesday by researchers from Symantec. The malware mostly targets users in the US, but it also has a presence in Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, and Germany.

When the researchers ran an infected app in their laboratory, they found it establishing a persistent connection based on the Socket Secure (SOCKS) protocol to a server that delivers ads. The SOCKS proxy mechanism then directs the infected device to an ad server and causes it to request certain ads be displayed.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

C-sections might be relaxing the evolutionary pressure against big babies

October 18, 2017 - 8:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Kelly Sue DeConnick / Flickr)

Theoretical biologist Philipp Mitteröcker is intrigued by the puzzle of dangerous human childbirth. Unlike other species, human babies are often too big for the birth canal, leading to dangerous—and possibly fatal—obstructed labor. Last year, Mitteröcker and his colleagues published a mathematical model that showed how the mixture of evolutionary pressures acting on humans would inevitably lead to an ongoing risk of obstructed labor in our species.

The model also suggested that C-sections are changing the rules of the game by increasing the likelihood that large babies and their mothers survive childbirth and pass on genes that promote this head/pelvis mismatch. The model predicted that we'd see an increasing risk of obstructed labor (and need for C-sections) over generations—but there was no real-world evidence of that happening.

Now, in a new paper, Mitteröcker and colleagues have published empirical evidence that this is indeed the case: women who were born by C-section seem to have a higher risk of needing a C-section themselves. And the real-world increase in risk is similar to what their model predicts.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New neural network teaches itself Go, spanks the pros

October 18, 2017 - 8:30pm

Enlarge (credit: DeepMind)

While artificial intelligence software has made huge strides recently, in many cases, it has only been automating things that humans already do well. If you want an AI to identify the Higgs boson in a spray of particles, for example, you have to train it on collisions that humans have already identified as containing a Higgs. If you want it to identify pictures of cats, you have to train it on a database of photos in which the cats have already been identified.

(If you want AI to name a paint color, well, we haven't quite figured that one out.)

But there are some situations where an AI can train itself: rules-based systems in which the computer can evaluate its own actions and determine if they were good ones. (Things like poker are good examples.) Now, a Google-owned AI developer has taken this approach to the game Go, in which AIs only recently became capable of consistently beating humans. Impressively, with only three days of playing against itself with no prior knowledge of the game, the new AI was able to trounce both humans and its AI-based predecessors.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Due to legal settlement, Amazon customers now get a few extra bucks

October 18, 2017 - 7:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

On Wednesday, Amazon sent out another installment of payments relating to its “Apple eBooks Antitrust Settlement”—except this time, it was to settle related lawsuits brought by a group of state-level attorneys general.

In 2014, Amazon paid out based on settlements with book publishers—including Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster—which allegedly conspired with Apple to fix e-book prices in 2012.

As Ars reported previously, the case began way back in 2012, when Apple and five publishers (Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan) were sued by the Department of Justice and 33 states’ attorney general offices for conspiring to offer e-books at a higher price than Amazon’s loss-leading $9.99. The publishers all eventually settled for a total of $166 million to states and consumers, but Apple held out and eventually lost a judgement in Manhattan district court.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Herbal remedies embraced by naturopaths, alt med widely linked to liver cancers

October 18, 2017 - 7:26pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | JOHANNES EISELE )

Naturopaths and other gurus of “alternative medicine” love to tout the benefits of traditional herbal medicines. For instance, Aviva Romm—a Yale-educated doctor who publicly defended Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop then later called it a “caricature of everything alternative health for women”—sells her own line of unproven herbal remedies. Billionaire Susan Samueli—who donated $200 million dollars alongside her husband so the University of California, Irvine, could open an “integrative” medicine program—promotes homeopathy, naturopathy, and runs an active consulting practice versed in Chinese herbs.

Herbal remedies are often seen as harmless, soothing treatments that tap into the ancient wisdom of traditional healing. While that may be the case for some, there are also those that cause cancer—and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to tell one from the other.

According to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, traditional components of herbal remedies used throughout Asia are widely implicated in liver cancers there. In Taiwan, for instance, 78 percent of 98 liver tumors sampled displayed a pattern of mutations consistent with exposure to herbs containing aristolochic acids (AAs). These are carcinogenic components found in a variety of centuries-old herbal remedies said to treat everything from snakebites to gout, asthma, and pain.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

First floating wind farm, built by offshore oil company, delivers electricity

October 18, 2017 - 7:13pm

Statoil

The world’s first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the Scottish grid today.

The 30MW installation, situated 25km (15.5mi) from Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, will demonstrate that offshore wind energy can be harvested in deep waters, miles away from land, where installing giant turbines was once impractical or impossible. At peak capacity, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power 20,000 Scottish homes.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ex-workers: Supervisors at Tesla factory routinely called us the n-word

October 18, 2017 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / The Tesla Factory is an automobile manufacturing plant in Fremont, California, and the principal production facility of Tesla. The facility at the foot of the Fremont Hills manufactures the Model S and X. (credit: Corbis Unreleased / Getty Images News)

In a new lawsuit, three former Tesla workers claim that they were routinely harassed and subjected to racial epithets during their time at the Fremont, California, factory.

The men, who are all African-American, allege that shortly after they began work in 2015, their co-workers and superiors began taunting them and called them "n****r" on a regular basis.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday, is the second such suit brought this year on behalf of former Tesla employees represented by Lawrence Organ, a local civil rights attorney. Organ did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Bay Area: Join us tonight, 10/18, to talk to co-writer of Star Wars: Rogue One

October 18, 2017 - 5:54pm

Gary Whitta co-wrote Rogue One and has written screenplays for movies starring Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Plus he writes comics and novels! (credit: Gary Whitta)

What’s it like to work as a professional geek in Hollywood? Find out from Gary Whitta, who started as a humble gamer and became the co-writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Along the way, he worked on movies with Will Smith and Denzel Washington and helped create a Walking Dead game. He’ll discuss his experiences writing movies, as well as what it's like to tell new stories set in a beloved fan-favorite franchise.

Join Ars Technica editors Cyrus Farivar and Annalee Newitz in conversation with Gary Whitta at the next Ars Technica Live tonight, October 18, at Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland.

Gary is the former Editor-in-Chief of PC Gamer magazine and now an award-winning screenwriter and author, best known as the co-writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He also wrote the post-apocalyptic thriller The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington, co-wrote the Will Smith sci-fi adventure After Earth, and served as writer and story consultant on Telltale Games’ adaptation of The Walking Dead, for which he was the co-recipient of a BAFTA award for Best Story. Gary has written multiple episodes of Disney XD’s animated series Star Wars Rebels. Most recently, he wrote the feature film adaptation of the Eisner award-winning comic-book series Mouse Guard for 20th Century Fox. His first novel, Abomination, was recently published to critical acclaim.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HP’s new workstation tablet makes Surface Pro look like Surface Amateur

October 18, 2017 - 5:53pm

HP

Imagine that you're a digital artist. You like the idea behind Microsoft's Surface Pro—a good touchscreen with pen support, tablet form factor for convenience, but adaptable into something like a laptop for when you've gotta write an e-mail—but you want something with a bit more potency. Perhaps you need to do 3D modeling, perhaps your Photoshop files are a bit too big and complex, perhaps you use Chrome so the Surface Pro's 16GB of RAM is too limiting.

Boy, does HP have the answer for you. The ZBook x2 joins HP's line of Surface Pro-like hybrid tablets, but as the Z in the name will indicate (at least, to those who are overly familiar with HP's product naming terminology), this is positioned as a workstation-class machine, sitting alongside HP's other PC workstations.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple Maps gains airport maps for O‘Hare and several others

October 18, 2017 - 5:43pm

Enlarge

As part of iOS 11, Apple announced plans to add airport and mall interiors to its Maps app. A few early examples of that rolled out earlier this year, but now the airport lineup has greatly expanded. New airports are already available in the app.

Oakland International (OAK), Miami International (MIA), Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP), Baltimore–Washington International (BWI), Portland International (PDX), and McCarran International in Las Vegas (LAS), as well as two airports in Chicago—O'Hare International (ORD) and Midway International (MDW)—have been added. These are in addition to San Jose International (SJC) and Philadelphia International (PHL), which were in beta versions of iOS 11.

When you find an airport on the map, you'll see indicators for each terminal. Tapping a specific terminal will zoom you in to a view of that terminal's floor plan, with markers representing various stores and shops, as well as gate numbers and security checkpoints. Markers for restaurants and shops can be tapped for more information. The airports are searchable, too.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Republican fight against municipal broadband heats up in Michigan

October 18, 2017 - 5:33pm

A state lawmaker in Michigan wants to prevent cities and towns from using any government funding to provide Internet service. Michigan Rep. Michele Hoitenga, a Republican from Manton, last week submitted a bill that says cities and towns "shall not use any federal, state, or local funds or loans to pay for the cost of providing qualified Internet service."

Hoitenga is the chair of the Michigan House's Communications and Technology committee, which will consider the bill.

About 20 states, including Michigan, already have laws restricting municipal broadband in some way, effectively shielding private broadband providers from competition even as many residents lack robust broadband options. But while these states generally let cities and towns offer Internet service if they meet certain criteria, the Hoitenga bill doesn't give local governments much leeway.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Viral video of man being dragged from United flight gets officers fired

October 18, 2017 - 5:03pm

Two aviation security officers involved in the April incident in which a 69-year-old doctor was violently removed from a United Airlines flight have been fired. The doctor, David Dao, suffered a broken nose, the loss of two teeth, and a concussion in an event that went viral on the Internet after it was captured by passengers' mobile phones.

The Chicago Department of Aviation did not release the names of the officers who were fired. Another resigned and a fourth official was briefly suspended in the O'Hare International Airport episode, in which Dao had refused to give up his seat on a flight to Louisville that was overbooked. He was forcibly removed. Dao later sued the airline and settled for an undisclosed amount. The ordeal also prompted United's CEO, Oscar Munoz, to publicly apologize.

Chicago's inspector general on Tuesday confirmed earlier reports that the officers involved had suggested that it was Dao's fault that he struck his face on an armrest before he was dragged off the plane.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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