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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 9 min 30 sec ago

Senior official: NASA will delay first flight of new SLS rocket until 2019

17 min 15 sec ago

Enlarge / We now know for sure that NASA's SLS rocket will not take flight in 2017. (credit: NASA)

NASA has decided it must delay the maiden flight of its Space Launch System rocket, presently scheduled for November 2018, until at least early 2019. This decision was widely expected due to several problems with the rocket, Orion spacecraft, and ground launch systems. The delay was confirmed in a letter from a NASA official released Thursday by the US Government Accountability Office.

"We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019," wrote William Gerstenmaier, chief of NASA's human spaceflight program. "Caution should be used in referencing the report on the specific technical issues, but the overall conclusions are valid."

The GAO report referenced by Gerstenmaier, NASA Human Space Exploration: Delay Likely for First Exploration Mission, reveals a litany of technical concerns, such as cracking problems in the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket, that have significantly reduced the "margin" in schedule available to accommodate development delays.

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Report: Apple wants to let you exchange money with your friends

34 min 24 sec ago

Enlarge / Apple's Craig Federighi talks up Apple Pay on the Web. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Rumors about an Apple-backed peer-to-peer payments system that could compete with services like Square Cash, PayPal's Venmo, and Google Wallet have been floating around for years. Those rumors still haven't amounted to anything yet, but a new report from Recode indicates that Apple is still interested and that it's in talks with banks and other "payments industry partners" about launching a peer-to-peer payments service later this year.

If launched, the service would likely fall under the Apple Pay umbrella. Right now, Apple Pay supports online and in-app payments and in-person contactless payments, but the app only lets users send money to merchants. The company is also allegedly looking into offering its own pre-paid debit cards, though the Recode report suggests Apple could face pushback from the banks it partners with to make the rest of Apple Pay work.

If Apple did get into the money transfer business, it would be a late entry into a crowded market, much as Apple Music was. But the sheer size of Apple's installed base and its ability to push these new services out to people quickly via an operating system update without needing to prompt for any new app downloads or account sign ups still shouldn't be underestimated. At last count in December, Apple's music service had racked up 20 million paid subscribers after a little less than a year and a half. This isn't too shabby compared to the 50 million milestone that Spotify just hit after a little more than eight years on the market, though that is up from 30 million in March of 2016 and 40 million in September. Apple Music obviously hasn't stopped Spotify from growing quickly, and an Apple-backed money transfer service wouldn't necessarily upend that market, either.

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Uber pleads with judge to move Waymo case into arbitration

1 hour 1 min ago

Enlarge / An Uber driverless Ford Fusion in Pittsburgh in 2016. (credit: Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Uber's love for arbitration is well-known, and it has sought to move its disputes with drivers into that more private forum. Now the question is, will it be able to steer a case as big as the Waymo litigation in the same way?

Waymo, Google's self-driving car division, sued Uber in February, claiming that Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski stole thousands of files that were trade secrets. Now Uber is seeking to move most of the case out of court and into arbitration. Waymo, in turn, wants to keep the whole case in federal court.

Uber filed a motion (PDF) to compel arbitration in March, but most of the courtroom action so far has been about Levandowski himself. Levandowski, who is not a defendant in the case, has declined to answer questions about the allegedly stolen files. He has cited his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

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Was Uber’s CEO really the second-best Wii Sports tennis player?

1 hour 9 min ago

Enlarge / "The court is empty because all potential competitors are scared to face me." (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Last weekend's New York Times profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had plenty of important revelations about Kalanick and the company he runs, both of which have been facing some tough PR lately. But there was one incidental, almost throwaway line buried in the piece that made me stop in my tracks:

"In other personal pursuits, he once held the world’s second-highest score for the Nintendo Wii Tennis video game."

The line baffled me for a number of reasons, not least of which was that the concept of a "high score" in "Wii Tennis" didn't make much sense. Claiming the "world's second-highest score" in Wii Sports tennis is like claiming the second-highest score in Pong based on nothing but playing against the computer and your friends. Absent some sort of sanctioned tournament or logical third-party ranking system, the claim just doesn't parse.

And yet, the boast is oddly specific. Kalanick hadn't earned the best "Wii Tennis" score in the world according to The New York Times. He achieved the second best. If this was just a fabulist boast, why limit yourself to number two? And if it wasn't just puffery, who was number one?

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Punching holes in nomx, the world’s “most secure” communications protocol

1 hour 49 min ago

Enlarge / Artist's impression of a nomx product under the scrutiny of security researchers. (credit: Aurich/ThinkStock/Nomx)

This article was originally published on Scott Helme's blog and is reprinted here with his permission.

I was recently invited to take part in some research by BBC Click, alongside Professor Alan Woodward, to analyze a device that had quite a lot of people all excited. With slick marketing, catchy tag lines and some pretty bold claims about its security, nomx claims to have cracked e-mail security once and for all. Down the rabbit hole we go!


You can find the official nomx site at and right away you will see how secure this device is.

The nomx site as it looked prior to the publication of this piece. (credit: nomx)

"Everything else is insecure."

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The Google Assistant SDK will let you run the Assistant on anything

1 hour 53 min ago

Enlarge / Build your own Google Home with the Assistant SDK.

Today Google is launching yet another Google Assistant feature: The Google Assistant SDK. This will allow developers to run the Google Assistant on their own hardware prototypes. While the SDK is only launching in "Developer Preview" mode today, this is presumably the beginning of a push for third parties to make their own consumer Google Assistant hardware.

Google says the SDK will allow any device to provide "the full Google Assistant experience." Together with the "Actions on Google" API that launched last year, developers can create their own voice commands and responses that can control the local device. Developers are also sent everything in text form so their software can see what's going on and react to it. To start listening, the SDK supports both the "OK Google" hotword and a button.

Right now, the Google Assistant is only available on some Android form factors (phones and watches) and products directly from Google, like the Google Home. The SDK should let it run on just about anything, though. Google suggests "adding smarts to a toy robot" or just getting up and running quickly on a Raspberry Pi.

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Next-generation Xeons to come in “Gold” and “Platinum” versions

2 hours 24 min ago

Intel Skylake die shot. (credit: Intel)

While Intel's desktop and laptop processors are using the latest generation Kaby Lake core, the multisocket high-end Xeon processors, used in servers and workstations, are still using the much older Broadwell core. The full range is due to be refreshed soon, with a whole range of new chips using a derivative of the Skylake core. There's still not much known about these long-awaited processors, but Intel has let slip one thing: an all-new naming scheme.

Currently, Xeons have a series name—one of E3, E5, and E7—a model number—a four digit number—and a version number. The version number denotes the basic architecture, with the current version 4 meaning Broadwell. The series name indicates the core variant—in general, E7 has more RAM capacity, more cores, and more reliability features than E5, and E3 is used for parts that are essentially rebranded standard desktop chips. The first digit of the model number denotes the number of sockets supported (from the single socket 1xxx parts up to the eight socket 8xxx parts), with the remaining three digits having no particular systematic meaning, but being used to distinguish between all the different core count and clock speed options.

(credit: Intel)

The new naming, which Intel has disclosed in a change notification document (spotted by Computerbase), appears to discard this scheme entirely. At the top are 14 processors branded "Xeon Platinum" at base speeds from 2.0 to 3.6GHz and 8000-series model numbers. These are presumed to be counterparts to the current E7 range. Exact socket and core counts remain unknown. Most of the Platinum series is expected to offer between 22 and 28 cores, with the exception of the 3.6GHz part; this will use the same design, but with far fewer cores enabled, to offer a high-cache, high-clock option.

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BlackBerry’s last internally designed phone comes out at the end of May

2 hours 34 min ago

Ron Amadeo

It's the end of another era for BlackBerry. Its last internally designed phone, the BlackBerry KeyOne, will be available for preorder in Canada on May 18 and released in Canada and the US on May 31. Unlike 2015's keyboard-equipped BlackBerry Priv, the KeyOne isn't a slider—its keyboard is always exposed, and as a result, it has a shorter and more squarish display than most modern smartphones. Like the Priv, though, the KeyOne runs a lightly customized version of Android (version 7.1.1, in this case) with some of BlackBerry's apps and services preinstalled.

The US version will only be available for the full unlocked price of $549 at first, but the Canadian version will be available for $199 with a two-year contract from Bell, Bell MTS, SaskTel, and Telus Business. The UK version is also available now from Selfridges for £499, with a Carphone Warehouse launch following on May 5.

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Net neutrality rules took away your Internet freedom, FCC chair claims

2 hours 45 min ago

Enlarge / Net neutrality supporters march past the FCC headquarters before a commission meeting on May 15, 2014. (credit: Getty Images | The Washington Post)

Did you feel a sudden loss of Internet freedom in February 2015? That's when the Federal Communications Commission imposed net neutrality rules that prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against websites and other online services. And that's when Americans lost their Internet freedom—according to the current FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.

Pai, a Republican and former Verizon lawyer, opposed the net neutrality rules when Democrats held the commission's majority, and he quickly got to work dismantling the rules after being appointed chair by President Donald Trump. To convince the public that the FCC should eliminate rules it passed two years ago, Pai's office yesterday issued a press release titled, "Restoring Internet freedom for all Americans."

The press release says the plan to eliminate Obama-era Internet regulations "will benefit all Americans" by "boost[ing] competition and choice in the broadband marketplace" and "will restore Internet Freedom by ending government micromanagement and returning to the bipartisan regulatory framework that worked well for decades."

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Most groundwater is ancient but contains surprising human fingerprint

2 hours 57 min ago

Enlarge / We're talking mostly water that is way older than this fellow, but also a little water that's slightly younger... (credit: Don Harrison)

Water is typically considered a renewable resource, as the global cycle of evaporation and precipitation constantly redistributes it. But not all sources of fresh drinking water work that way. Some accumulate at modest rates, which can easily be surpassed by extraction for people and crops. In the case of groundwater aquifers, this extraction is sometimes referred to as “mining,” since water that fell as rain long ago can be quickly depleted by wells.

A new study led by the University of Calgary’s Scott Jasechko estimates how much of the Earth’s accessible groundwater is “fossil” water that has been down there for 12,000 years or more, predating the current interglacial climate period. Along the way, the researchers discovered a surprise—that “fossil” water may not be as untouched by human pollution as we thought.

Old water can be bound in dry areas with very low aquifer-refilling rates, or it can reside deeper in wetter regions, often below relatively impermeable rock layers that separate aquifers. Although water that has spent so long in contact with bedrock sometimes picks up problematic geological contaminants, these deeper waters typically enjoy the advantage of being isolated from human activities. Shallow aquifers can contain pesticides, for example, or industrial contaminants.

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New, deadlier trend in the raging opioid epidemic: Elephant tranquillizer

3 hours 23 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Barcroft Media )

Law enforcement agencies across the country are raising alarms about the increasing trend of finding heroin laced with an extremely lethal elephant tranquilizer called carfentanil, The Washington Post reports.

The drug is 10,000 times stronger than morphine and 100 times stronger than fentanyl, just two milligrams of which is lethal—that’s about one toss of a salt shaker. Carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin, and just a puff from re-sealing a plastic bag can be lethal, raising risks for first-responders. Just a whiff can kill a drug-sniffing dog.

Though authorities are struggling to identify it in overdose cases—and sometimes not trying due to the health risks—carfentanil has been linked to dramatic increases in overdoses, which were already at alarming levels amid the nationwide opioid epidemic.

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China launches second (and first homegrown) aircraft carrier

5 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge / China's first domestically developed aircraft carrier at its launching ceremony at Dalian Port on April 26, 2017. (credit: Getty Images/ VCG)

On August 26, the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) launched its first domestically constructed aircraft carrier from a shipyard in Dailan. The as-yet-unnamed carrier still requires much more additional work before it joins PLAN's fleet. But the ship's construction began less than five years ago (in November of 2012), and it only moved into full dry-dock construction in 2015. And China appears poised to churn out additional new aircraft carriers even faster based upon the experience acquired in this first homegrown carrier project.

In March, Zhu Chenghu, a professor at China's National Defense University, told China Daily, "China launching its first domestically designed aircraft carrier is a monumental step toward building a world-class navy. The valuable lessons learned from building a carrier from scratch will help China build more carriers faster in the future and enable them to reach combat readiness quicker."

For the sake of comparison, the US Navy's newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, began construction in 2009 and launched in 2013; it is still undergoing outfitting, and no commissioning date has yet been set. While the Ford is certainly a more complicated and much larger vessel than the new Chinese carrier, the US has been building aircraft carriers since World War II. China's only previous experience with aircraft carriers comes from work on the PLAN's first carrier, the CNS Liaoning—the rebuilt former Soviet ship that China purchased from Ukraine in the mid-1990s. It took nearly 16 years to complete the Liaoning, which was purchased under somewhat shady circumstances.

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The secret lives of Google raters

5 hours 14 min ago

Things are on fire, as usual. That's Moss from the IT Crowd, who sometimes feels like a rater. Credit: BBC.

Something disturbing has been happening to Google's advertising algorithms. These are the programs responsible for placing ads in appropriate contexts; serving up travel-related ads to people searching for hotels or music-related ads to people watching the latest Beyoncé video. But in the UK, government ads for the Royal Navy, the Home Office, and Transport for London recently ran before YouTube videos featuring Holocaust-denying pastor Steven Anderson, who enthusiastically endorsed the man who killed 49 people in Florida's gay nightclub Pulse. According to the UK government, its taxpayer-sponsored ads also ran on videos from "rape apologists" and on white supremacist speeches from David Duke.

Google's business immediately took a hit: prominent European ad agencies cut ties with the company, while AT&T and Verizon cut all video ad buys. Acknowledging the gravity of the problem, Google assured advertisers and users that it would make sure no ads ran alongside "upsetting-offensive" content. The company said it was unleashing its army of over 10,000 raters, people who work around the clock to make sure Google's algorithms don't return results that are unhelpful, offensive, or downright horrific.

Who are these raters? They're carefully trained and tested staff who can spend 40 hours per week logged into a system called Raterhub, which is owned and operated by Google. Every day, the raters complete dozens of short but exacting tasks that produce invaluable data about the usefulness of Google's ever-changing algorithms. They contribute significantly to several Google and Android projects, from search and voice recognition to photos and personalization features.

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Nintendo plans to ship 10 million Switch consoles in the next year

5 hours 56 min ago


For months now, Nintendo has said it planned to ship 2 million Switch systems to players worldwide in the system's first month of availability. In an earnings report released Thursday, the company announced it had beaten that estimate by nearly 40 percent, shipping 2.74 million systems in March for what it calls "a promising start."

The numbers are no great surprise, at this point. The Switch has seen nearly instant sellouts at major retailers, leading to high markups on eBay's secondary market. Still, the official numbers highlight an incredibly strong start for Nintendo's new hardware.

A strong start is no guarantee of continued success, though. The Wii U sold just over 3 million units in its first six weeks on store shelves before seeing sales quickly deteriorate in 2013 (though that system launched during the busier holiday season).

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Cassini flies where no spacecraft has gone before—within 3,000km of Saturn

6 hours 9 min ago

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

After the Cassini spacecraft plunged between Saturn and its innermost rings on Wednesday, mission scientists waited anxiously Wednesday night for a message from the robotic probe that it had survived. Finally, at 2:56am ET on Thursday, Cassini made contact via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert and sent back some preliminary data and images.

It had come through its initial close encounter with Saturn unscathed, flying to within 3,000km of the gas giant's cloud tops, where the air pressure is comparable to that on the surface of Earth. The probe also "grazed" the innermost, visible edge of Saturn's ring system by flying within about 300km. No spacecraft had flown so close to Saturn or these rings, so scientists weren't sure it would survive.

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A vigilante is putting a huge amount of work into infecting IoT devices

19 hours 51 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Gammew)

Last week, Ars introduced readers to Hajime, the vigilante botnet that infects IoT devices before blackhats can hijack them. A technical analysis published Wednesday reveals for the first time just how much technical acumen went into designing and building the renegade network, which just may be the Internet's most advanced IoT botnet.

As previously reported, Hajime uses the same list of user name and password combinations used by Mirai, the IoT botnet that spawned several record-setting denial-of-service attacks last year. Once Hajime infects an Internet-connected camera, DVR, and other Internet-of-things device, the malware blocks access to four ports known to be the most widely used vectors for infecting IoT devices. It also displays a cryptographically signed message on infected device terminals that describes its creator as "just a white hat, securing some systems."

Not your father's IoT botnet

But unlike the bare-bones functionality found in Mirai, Hajime is a full-featured package that gives the botnet reliability, stealth, and reliance that's largely unparalleled in the IoT landscape. Wednesday's technical analysis, which was written by Pascal Geenens, a researcher at security firm Radware, makes clear that the unknown person or people behind Hajime invested plenty of time and talent.

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Early Nintendo programmer worked without a keyboard

20 hours 54 min ago

This was apparently the entirety of the development hardware Masahiro Sakurai used to start programming Kirby's Dream Land. (credit: Source Gaming / Famitsu)

Any programmer of a certain age likely has a horror story about some rinky-dink coding and workflow environment that forced them to hack together a working app under extreme hardware and software constraints. Still, we're pretty sure none of those stories can beat the keyboard-free coding environment that Masahiro Sakurai apparently used to create the first Kirby's Dream Land.

The tidbit comes from a talk Sakurai gave ahead of a Japanese orchestral performance celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original Game Boy release of Kirby's Dream Land in 1992. As reported by Game Watch (and wonderfully translated by the Patreon-supported Source Gaming), Sakurai recalled how HAL Laboratory was using a Twin Famicom as a development kit at the time. Trying to program on the hardware, which combined a cartridge-based Famicom and the disk-based Famicom Disk System, was “like using a lunchbox to make lunch,” Sakurai said.

As if the limited power wasn't bad enough, Sakurai revealed that the Twin Famicom testbed they were using "didn’t even have keyboard support, meaning values had to be input using a trackball and an on-screen keyboard." Those kinds of visual programming languages may be fashionable now, but having a physical keyboard to type in values or edit instructions would have probably still been welcome back in the early '90s.

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Experts: Headline-grabbing editorial on saturated fats “bizarre,” “misleading”

April 26, 2017 - 10:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Controversial UK cardiologist Aseem Malhotra has once again published an editorial disputing decades of research linking diets high in saturated fats with heart disease—much to the annoyance of health experts and researchers.

Aseem Malhotra being interviewed on SkyNews. (credit: SkyNews)

Malhotra, who maintains a high profile on media sites and television, has long advocated for high-fat diets, and he has blamed the rise of obesity and other health problems solely on sugar and processed foods. He has written scores of editorials and recently produced a documentary on the matter. Last year, Malhotra drew intense backlash from health experts after co-writing a report that encouraged people with type II diabetes and obesity to fight their diseases by eating more fat and ditching efforts to keep track of calories.

The report was written secretly and released by the National Obesity Forum, for which Malhotra was also a senior advisor. The Forum is funded by the meat industry and drug companies.

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NASA inspector says agency wasted $80 million on an inferior spacesuit

April 26, 2017 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / NASA's current plans for its next generation of spacesuits. (credit: NASA Inspector General)

When NASA began developing a rocket and spacecraft to return humans to the Moon a decade ago as part of the Constellation Program, the space agency started to think about the kinds of spacesuits astronauts would need in deep space and on the lunar surface. After this consideration, NASA awarded a $148 million contract to Oceaneering International, Inc. in 2009 to develop and produce such a spacesuit.

However, President Obama canceled the Constellation program just a year later, in early 2010. Later that year, senior officials at the Johnson Space Center recommended canceling the Constellation spacesuit contract because the agency had its own engineers working on a new spacesuit and, well, NASA no longer had a clear need for deep-space spacesuits. However, the Houston officials were overruled by agency leaders at NASA's headquarters in Washington, DC.

A new report released Wednesday by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin sharply criticizes this decision. "The continuation of this contract did not serve the best interests of the agency’s spacesuit technology development efforts," the report states. In fact, the report found that NASA essentially squandered $80.6 million on the Oceaneering contract before it was finally ended last year.

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Project Cars 2 is on the way, with much-improved tire physics

April 26, 2017 - 10:30pm

It's going to be a busy year for racing games. At some point, we expect Gran Turismo Sport to finally arrive, Forza Motorsport 7 is on its way, and then there's Project Cars 2. The first Project Cars, which arrived a couple of years ago, was an uncompromising sim racer of the kind hitherto unknown on consoles. It was also fiendishly difficult, something fans seized upon as proof of just how good a simulation it was compared to, say, Forza. But here's the thing: just because a game is very hard to master, that doesn't necessarily mean it's accurate to the real thing. Reassuringly, that's a view shared by Rod Chong, COO at Slightly Mad Studios, the game's developer.

"If you look at sim racing as a whole, there's this misconception that it needs to be really, really difficult, or it's not a sim. This is not simulation, that's not reality," Chong told me. So it's heartening to hear that in the quest to improve the game's physics—particularly the tire model—Project Cars 2 should be both a more accurate simulation of real life but also a much more accessible game.

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