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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 min 9 sec ago

Researchers are creepily close to predicting when you’re going to die

August 21, 2019 - 10:32pm

Enlarge / Samples of donated blood in Vacutainer test tubes. (credit: Getty | Universal Images Group)

If death is in the cards, it may also be in your blood.

Measurements of 14 metabolic substances in blood were pretty good at predicting whether people were likely to die in the next five to 10 years. The data was published this week in Nature Communications.

A team of researchers led by data scientists in the Netherlands came up with the fateful 14 based on data from 44,168 people, aged 18 to 109. The data included death records and measurements of 226 different substances in blood. Of the 44,168 people, 5,512 died during follow-up periods of nearly 17 years.

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While one Texas county shook off ransomware, small cities took full punch

August 21, 2019 - 8:57pm

Enlarge / They did. (credit: Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)

Few details have emerged about the coordinated ransomware attack that struck 22 local governments in Texas last week. But five local governments affected by the attack have been identified.

On August 20, the Texas Department of Information Resources revised its initial report that 23 "entities" had been affected by the ransomware attack, reducing that count by 1. And a Texas DIR spokesperson said in a statement that about a quarter of the local governments affected have been able to at least partially restore normal operations.

That includes Lubbock County, which apparently escaped major disruptions. Lubbock County judge Curtis Parrish told Magic 106.5 Radio that the county's IT department "was right on top of it… they were able to get that virus isolated, contained and dealt with in a very quick manner so it did not affect any other computers or computer systems here in Lubbock County."

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Google, Apple, and Mozilla block Kazakhstan government’s browser spying

August 21, 2019 - 8:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Thomas Jackson)

Major browser makers are blocking the use of a root certificate that Kazakhstan's government has used to intercept Internet traffic.

Mozilla and Google issued a joint announcement today saying that "the companies deployed technical solutions within Firefox and Chrome to block the Kazakhstan government's ability to intercept Internet traffic within the country." Each company is deploying "a technical solution unique to its browser," they said.

Apple told Ars that it is also blocking the ability to use the certificate to intercept Internet traffic.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

One could fly to Mars in this spacious habitat and not go crazy

August 21, 2019 - 8:14pm

On Wednesday, Sierra Nevada Corporation—the company that makes aerospace equipment, not beer—showed off its proposed in-space habitat for the first time. The inflatable habitat is, first and foremost, large. It measures more than 8 meters long, and with a diameter of 8 meters has an internal volume of 300 cubic meters, which is about one-third the size of the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada developed this full-scale prototype under a NASA program that funded several companies to develop habitats that could be used for a space station in orbit around the Moon, as well as potentially serving as living quarters for a long-duration transit to and from Mars. As part of the program, NASA astronauts have, or will, spend three days living in and evaluating the prototypes built by Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Bigelow Aerospace.

The selling point for Sierra Nevada's habitat is its size, which is possible because the multi-layered fabric material can be compressed for launch, then expanded and outfitted as a habitat once in space. It can fit within a standard payload fairing used for launch vehicles such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan booster, or NASA's Space Launch System. It is light enough for any of those rockets to launch to the Moon.

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Review: Pitch-perfect Ready or Not is a sharp and witty blood-soaked delight

August 21, 2019 - 7:45pm

Enlarge / Samara Weaving delivers a standout performance in the new horror comedy Ready or Not. (credit: Fox Searchlight)

An unsuspecting bride finds herself fighting for her life on her wedding night in Ready or Not, a wickedly funny, blood-soaked thriller that made its world premiere last month at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Toronto. I was on board in principle the moment the first trailer dropped in June, but good trailers don't always indicate a good film. Fortunately, Ready or Not lives up to its trailer.

(Some spoilers below.)

Grace (Samara Weaving, Picnic at Hanging Rock) can't believe her good fortune when she falls in love with Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien, Halt and Catch Fire), a member of a wealthy gaming dynasty—although the family prefers the term "dominion." After a picture-perfect wedding on the family estate, Alex informs Grace that there's just one more formality to be observed: "At midnight, you have to play a game. It's just something we do when someone joins the family." The new family member must draw a card from a mysterious box to learn which game they will be playing.

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Tesla delays Autopilot price hike after missing “smart summon” deadline

August 21, 2019 - 6:44pm

Enlarge / Another Model 3 angle. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Elon Musk admitted Tuesday that Tesla is delaying a planned $1,000 price increase for its full self-driving package. The move comes after Tesla failed to release "smart summon" technology for parking lot navigation in mid-August, as Musk predicted Tesla would do in a July tweet.

Musk now says that he expects smart summon to be released in "about 4 to 8 weeks." But there's ample reason to doubt this new timeline.

"Tesla advanced Summon ready in ~6 weeks," Musk tweeted back on November 1, 2018. "Car will drive to your phone location & follow you like a pet if you hold down summon button on Tesla app," Musk promised. "Also, you’ll be able to drive it from your phone remotely like a big RC car if in line of sight."

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Ring asks police not to tell public how its law enforcement backend works

August 21, 2019 - 6:34pm

Enlarge / Your local police might like to interest you in this product. (credit: Amazon)

Amazon's Ring line of consumer home surveillance products enjoys an extensive partnership with local police departments all over the country. Cops receive free product, extensive coaching, and pre-approved marketing lines, and Amazon gets access to your 911 data and gets to spread its network of security cameras all over the nation. According to a trio of new reports, though, the benefits to police go even further than was previously known—as long as they don't use the word "surveillance," that is.

Gizmodo on Monday published an email exchange between the chief of police in one New Jersey town and Ring showing that Ring edited out certain key terms of a draft press release before the town published it, as the company frequently does.

The town of Ewing, New Jersey, in March said it would be using Ring's Neighbors app. Neighbors does not require a Ring device to use; consumers who don't have footage to share can still view certain categories of crime reports in their area and contribute reports of their own, sort of like a Nextdoor on steroids.

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Building a better trivia game with a Jeopardy master and Magic’s creator

August 21, 2019 - 6:09pm

"I think most people's experience playing trivia is just feeling dumb, and that's no way to spend an evening."

That sentence probably doesn't describe Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the longest winning streak on TV quiz show Jeopardy after a 74-game winning streak (though he still lost to IBM's Watson in 2011). But Jennings, who actually shared the quote above in a recent interview with Ars, is smart enough to recognize that most people don't find the same joy in "pure" trivia tests that he does.

"If trivia is just knowledge retrieval, it's only fun if you get it right," Jennings told Ars. "It shouldn't just be middle-aged dads trading baseball statistics... It can involve deduction and lateral thinking, different kinds of cognition other than, 'Do I remember this thing my 9th grade teacher taught me.' One is fun, the other is fun only to a very, very small group of people."

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Dealmaster: Get an Amazon Fire TV Stick for $30, or the 4K model for $40

August 21, 2019 - 5:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with new deals to share today. Topping our list this afternoon are discounted Amazon Fire TV streaming sticks: now you can get the regular Fire TV Stick for $29.99 or the Fire TV Stick 4K for $39.99. Both devices come with an Alexa remote as well.

Fire TV sticks are solid streaming devices for those who want something small and portable, and for those who don't want to spend a ton on a set-top box or a smart TV. We particularly like the Fire TV Stick 4K for its faster, quad-core processor and its support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Dolby Vision HDR, HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Atmos audio.

Fire TV has had its challenges—starting with a software UI that may take some getting used to if you're not familiar with it already. And perhaps most notably, Amazon's ongoing feud with Google meant that YouTube wasn't available on Fire TV devices for a long time. However, those two companies finally settled their feud earlier this year, and now all Fire TV device owners can watch YouTube via the official YouTube app.

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Color-changing metal may provide early sign of illness

August 21, 2019 - 5:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty)

Many of you will know that I mostly write about physics. My knowledge of human biology is limited to being reasonably certain that I have a body. At one point, some of my research could have had a medical application, but it involved diseases, which was knowledge I didn’t have. A recent paper on using quantum effects to improve medical diagnosis has given me flashbacks to those halcyon days, even though I still don't understand diseases.

One thing I am aware of is that it is usually preferable to be diagnosed for a disease early. It might be the difference between taking a pill and having your liver decorate a surgeon’s instruments. That means your doctor needs a cheap and effective way to see whether you have the disease. This is where, hopefully, physicists—and maybe even some physics—can come into play.

Most diseases release proteins or other molecules that signal the problem. If you have sensitive enough detectors, then you can pick up these signals and identify potential problems early. The challenge is that almost all tests of this sort are concentration sensitive: that is, if there aren’t many molecules, the signal will be weak and the test will return a false negative.

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Spider-Man is out of the MCU thanks to Sony/Disney standoff [Updated]

August 21, 2019 - 4:15pm

Enlarge / "Mr. Feige, I don't feel so good." Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige will not be producing the next two Spider-Man films with Sony Pictures. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Marvel / Getty)

Update, August 21,2019, 11:15 AM: Sony Pictures has released an official statement via Twitter, mostly focusing on what happened with regard to Kevin Feige's producer role:

Much of today’s news about Spider-Man has mischaracterized recent discussions about Kevin Feige’s involvement in the franchise. We are disappointed, but respect Disney’s decision not to have him continue as a lead producer of our next live action Spider-Man film. We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him—including all their newly added Marvel properties—do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own. Kevin is terrific and we are grateful for his help and guidance and appreciate the path he has helped put us on, which we will continue.

Original story:

Deadline Hollywood reports that future blockbuster films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely be missing a key figure: Spider-Man. Apparently, Sony Pictures and Disney/Marvel have failed to reach new terms for the franchise acceptable to both parties. That means Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige will not be a producer on the next two Spider-Man movies reportedly in the works.

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Badge life: The story behind DEFCON’s hackable crystal electronic badge

August 21, 2019 - 3:47pm

Enlarge / The unadorned "human" badge from DEFCON 27: hackable jewelry. (credit: Joe Grand/ DEFCON)

LAS VEGAS—There are many things that make the DEFCON conference stand above all other hacking conferences. It's the largest, of course, with over 30,000 attendees, sprawling over four hotels in Las Vegas this year. And there are the Villages, each of them conferences unto themselves appealing to specific security and hacking communities. But the most visible, unifying part of DEFCON is its badges.

The DEFCON electronic badges—which for a time were used every other year because of the effort and budget that went into them—are typically the delivery vehicle for a unifying game. Last year's badge was a sophisticated puzzle challenge that included a social element and even a built-in text-based adventure. This year's badges, however, were both deceptively simple and cunningly complex, designed to get DEFCON attendees to interact with each other and explore the whole of the conference rather than falling too deeply into a badge rabbit hole.

Joe Grand, (AKA "Kingpin"), the designer of DEFCON's very first electronic, hackable badges (used for DEFCONs 14 through 18) returned to the task for this year's 27th edition of the event at the request of DEFCON founder Jeff Moss ("Dark Tangent"). Just before DEFCON kicked off, Grand spoke with Ars about this year's badge design and the effort required to put together a real-world electronic quest for about 30,000 friends.

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Your heatwave could be worse because of a drought somewhere else

August 21, 2019 - 2:56pm

Enlarge / Temperatures during the third week of July, 2019. (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Long-lived heatwaves in the mid-latitudes are typically the result of an atmospheric pattern known as a “blocking high.” In a blocking high, the jet stream bends in a north-pointing ridge (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), creating an area of high atmospheric pressure as long as it stays bent. High pressure means air tends to sink toward the surface rather than rise, making it hard for any clouds to break up the blue sky. The blocking high also distorts the average wind directions as it brings warmer air from the south up to the north.

That’s the pattern that produced Russia’s incredibly deadly 2010 summer heatwave. Instead of westerly winds, warm air coming from Kazakhstan moved in on Moscow. One reason Russia got so hot during this time is that it was already in a drought. Similar to how the human body cools itself by producing sweat that evaporates off your skin, soil moisture limits how quickly the land surface can heat up. With the soil already dry, Russia lacked this cooling buffer.

A group of researchers led by Dominik Schumacher at Ghent University have now extended this idea upwind, showing that the heatwave was linked to drought in Kazakhstan’s neck of the woods as well.

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After seven roof fires, Walmart sues Tesla over solar panel flaws

August 21, 2019 - 2:15pm

Enlarge / A photo from Walmart's lawsuit shows charred solar panels on top of a Walmart store. (credit: Walmart)

Walmart filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Tesla on Tuesday. The retail giant says Tesla's "negligent installation and maintenance" of solar panels caused fires on the roofs of as many as seven Walmart stores since 2012.

Most people think of Tesla as an electric car manufacturer, but Tesla also sells other products related to renewable energy. Since the 2016 acquisition of SolarCity, Tesla has had a substantial solar panel business. Walmart hired SolarCity to install and manage solar panels on the roofs of more than 240 Walmart stores. Unfortunately, Walmart says, these solar installations had a habit of catching fire.

One fire broke out in March 2018 on the roof of a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio.

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Intel’s line of notebook CPUs gets more confusing with 14nm Comet Lake

August 21, 2019 - 2:00pm

Today, Intel is launching a new series of 14nm notebook CPUs code-named Comet Lake. Going by Intel's numbers, Comet Lake looks like a competent upgrade to its predecessor Whiskey Lake. The interesting question—and one largely left unanswered by Intel—is why the company has decided to launch a new line of 14nm notebook CPUs less than a month after launching Ice Lake, its first 10nm notebook CPUs.

Both the Comet Lake and Ice Lake notebook CPU lines this month consist of a full range of i3, i5, and i7 mobile CPUs in both high-power (U-series) and low-power (Y-series) variants. This adds up to a total of 19 Intel notebook CPU models released in August, and we expect to see a lot of follow-on confusion. During the briefing call, Intel executives did not want to respond to questions about differentiation between the Comet Lake and Ice Lake lines based on either performance or price, but the technical specs lead us to believe that Ice Lake is likely the far more attractive product line for most users.

Intel's U-series CPUs for both Comet Lake and Ice Lake operate at a nominal 15W TDP. Both lines also support a "Config Up" 25W TDP, which can be enabled by OEMs who choose to provide the cooling and battery resources necessary to support it.

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Record-breaking 20 qubits entangle to make “Schrödinger’s cat” in the lab

August 21, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / In quantum computing, a cat state is a quantum state composed of two diametrically opposed conditions simultaneously. Physicists have succeeded in placing 20 entangled quantum bits in such a state of superposition. (credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich/Annette Stettien)

Schrödinger's cat is quite possibly the most famous paradox in physics, and rudimentary real-world versions have even been built in the laboratory. Now a team of German physicists has set a new record by building a quantum "cat" out of 20 entangled qubits, as described in a recent paper in Science. A second group of Chinese researchers has successfully done the same with 18 qubits. The prior record, set in 2011, was 14 qubits.

Erwin Schrödinger originally proposed his thought experiment to illustrate the innate absurdity of quantum mechanics. He envisioned putting a hypothetical cat in a box containing a radioactive substance, a detector to sense any emitted radiation, and a lethal vial of poison. If the radioactive substance decays, the detector will trigger the release of the poison and the cat dies. If it doesn't, the cat remains alive. But a strict interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that until someone opens the box to see what happened, the cat exists in a superposition of states, both alive and dead.

It really is possible to build a version of Schrödinger's cat in the laboratory. It's more of a quantum "cat state," whereby two or more particles manage to be in two different states at the same time. In 2005, for instance, National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers created a quantum cat state out of six atoms in simultaneous "spin up" and "spin down" states—rather like spinning clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time. Other groups have done the same with photons.

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The year-long rash of supply chain attacks against open source is getting worse

August 21, 2019 - 12:35pm

(credit: Wired UK/Shuttershock)

A rash of supply chain attacks hitting open source software over the past year shows few signs of abating, following the discovery this week of two separate backdoors slipped into a dozen libraries downloaded by hundreds of thousands of server administrators.

The first backdoor to come to light was in Webmin, a Web-based administration tool with more than 1 million installations. Sometime around April of last year, according to Webmin developer Jamie Cameron, someone compromised the server used to develop new versions of the program. The attacker then used the access to distribute a backdoor that was downloaded more than 900,000 times and may have been actively used by tens of thousands of Internet-facing servers.

The unknown attacker made a subtle change to a Webmin script called password_change.cgi. The change gave attackers the ability to send a command through a special URL that an infected Webmin server would then execute with root privileges. In version 1.890, which had more than 421,000 downloads between June, 2018 and last weekend, the backdoor was turned on by default. On versions 1.90, 1.91, 1.91, and 1.92—which collectively had more than 942,000 downloads—the backdoor was active only when admins changed a default setting that allowed expired passwords to be changed. Backdoored versions were distributed on SourceForge, which is the primary distribution source the Webmin website points to.

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Remembering the best shareware-era DOS games that time forgot

August 21, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / A DOS prompt.

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Anyone who has played games a lot has a favorite era that set their expectations and defined what they would find fun for years to come. But it's difficult to talk about classic computer games without dating yourself—either as younger or older—and whether an era counts as "classic" or formative depends on the individual.

In my case, the formative glory days were the 1980s and early '90s, and the platform was MS-DOS. And while I did play popular commercial releases from publishers like Apogee and Epic, I mostly played shareware releases. Today, we're going to look at some gems of that lost era.

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Guidemaster: The best gaming headsets for your console or gaming rig

August 21, 2019 - 12:20pm

Enlarge / Just an armful of the gaming headsets we tested. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

Most people can meet their gaming audio needs with a good pair of headphones. But if you play lots of multiplayer games or frequently use your console/rig to chat with friends, a good gaming headset and its included microphone will make more sense. Unfortunately, the market for gaming headsets remains riddled with junky hardware.

So for Ars Gaming Week, we're getting you some help. We spent the last three months testing 30 gaming headsets to find the ones most worth buying. Below you can find our current favorites, including options for those on a budget, those with cash to burn, and those who want to go wireless. And, like with all of our Guidemasters, you can consider this a living guide—we’ll be sure to update it as new standouts arrive.

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Guidemaster: The best Nintendo Switch accessories you can buy in 2019

August 21, 2019 - 12:15pm

Enlarge / You can do a lot with this little guy. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

The Nintendo Switch is one of the most inventive pieces of consumer tech in recent memory, but a few good accessories can make it more practical on a daily basis. And to prepare for Ars Gaming Week, we've spent the past couple of months researching and testing various controllers, chargers, adapters, and all sorts of additional gadgets to figure out which of those accessories are most worth buying.

Note that all testing was done on an original Switch console, not the newer model with improved battery life (and a few other significant upgrades) or the forthcoming Switch Lite, which has Joy-Con controllers that are not detachable. We'll upgrade this guide in the future as more standout accessories hit the market (I’m still waiting on a worthwhile Switch headset, for one), but here's how to optimize everyone's favorite handheld right now.

Read 45 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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