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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 17 min ago

Nintendo finally catches up to other console makers, allows user game reviews

February 23, 2018 - 10:06pm

While Nintendo has often led the gaming world in innovations and experiments, it has just as often been in a last-place position. This has been a particular issue with its online services, from network connectivity to online shops. As a result, the company's stealth update on Friday came as a bit of a surprise: Nintendo finally rolled out a full-fledged user-review system on

As spotted by Polygon, starting today, anyone who has played a Nintendo Switch or Nintendo 3DS game (verified by play history tracked on a linked MyNintendo account) can post a full game review at the company's official site. This requires browsing Nintendo's "game guide" to find a game you've played, using a desktop or mobile Web browser, and then scrolling down to a "review this game" prompt on its listing page.

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A battle between the sexes in a single gene

February 23, 2018 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / This female fruit fly wants Apollo out of her ovaries. (credit: Katja Schulz)

Evolution is great at driving changes when a species has specific needs. But what happens when different members of the same species need different things?

If those different groups are just different populations, that's a recipe for a split into two new species. But in many cases, the issue comes about because males and females have different needs. That makes speciation a lousy solution (unless you can get rid of the males). What you end up with is a battle between the sexes that plays out in their genes, as changes that are good for females are balanced against the harm they do to males and vice versa. Now, researchers have identified one of these cases in fruit flies, and they figured out how the battle was resolved so that everyone mostly wins.

The Greek gods of fruit flies

In this case, the site of the battle is a small chunk of the genome that contains two genes: Apollo and Artemis. The genes aren't just close to each other—they're closely related as well. Approximately 200,000 years ago, a single ancestral gene was duplicated to produce these two. Closely related species of Drosophila only have a single copy of this gene.

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NRA gives Ajit Pai “courage award” and gun for “saving the Internet”

February 23, 2018 - 9:51pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 23, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. Pai was given the 'Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award' by the National Rifle Association at the conference. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla)

The National Rifle Association (NRA) today gave its Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award to Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Pai was about to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland when the award presentation seemed to catch him by surprise. The award is a handmade long gun that could not be brought on stage, so it will be housed in the NRA museum until Pai can receive it.

"Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the Internet," American Conservative Union (ACU) Executive Director Dan Schneider told the audience. The ACU is the host of CPAC; Schneider made a few more remarks praising Pai before handing the award presentation over to NRA board member Carolyn Meadows.

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FBI warns taxpayers to beware of new scams to steal W-2 info

February 23, 2018 - 9:20pm

Enlarge (credit: IRS)

With fewer than two months before tax returns are due, the FBI is warning of an increase in new scams that try to trick taxpayers and employers into sending employee records, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other sensitive information.

The scams are most often directed at human resources departments in an attempt to trick workers into sending records for large numbers of employees. Often, the people perpetrating these crimes impersonate executives inside a targeted company by compromising or spoofing a trusted email account that asks for all W-2 information on record.

"Individual taxpayers may also be... targeted, but criminals have evolved their tactics to focus on mass data thefts," FBI officials wrote in an advisory published Wednesday. "This scam is just one of several new variations of IRS and tax-related phishing campaigns targeting W-2 information, indicating an increase in the interest of criminals in sensitive tax information."

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Feds have spent 13 years failing to verify whether passport data is legit

February 23, 2018 - 9:14pm

Enlarge / Leonel Cordova (L) and Noris Cordova, who are not plaintiffs in this lawsuit, speak to a CBP officer at Miami International Airport on March 4, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

For over a decade, Customs and Border Protection has failed to properly verify e-passports (which contain biometric data) as "it lacked the software to do so," according to a new letter sent by two top senators.

According to a 2010 report authored by the Government Accountability Office, the problem needed fixing then—and eight years later it still hasn’t been resolved.

An e-passport is essentially a passport that includes machine-readable RFID chips containing a traveler's personal information. These more digitally secure passports, which began to be required by the United States for visitors form visa waiver countries beginning in 2007, are scanned at the border by a CBP agent’s computer. However, without a digital signature, it is impossible to validate that the data contained on the passport is actually authentic.

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Can gaming’s own “academy awards” become a cultural event?

February 23, 2018 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / Do many gamers even recognize this as one of gaming's most prestigious awards?

LAS VEGAS—Every year, when I tell people I'm going to Las Vegas in February for video gaming's version of the academy awards, the response is usually the same: "I didn't even know video games had an academy awards."

Yes, those who follow the industry closely might have read the list of winners at Thursday night's 21st annual DICE Awards (where Nintendo generally—and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild specifically—cleaned up). A few thousand really dedicated fans even watched the livestream on IGN.

But gaming's own academy awards can't even come close to the attention and cachet of major industry happenings like the Oscars, the Emmys, or the Grammys. Video gaming's most "official" award show struggles to even get the same kind of attention as The Game Awards, a bombastic, marketing announcement-fueled spectacle that grew out of an embarrassing Spike TV telecast.

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Tesla’s new “workplace charging” program would corner office parking spots

February 23, 2018 - 8:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

Tesla has long required buyers to install a brand-specific adapter in their homes to charge their cars. Now the company wants to help workplaces do the same so that people without access to a garage at night can find 6 to 8 hours of charging on the other end of the clock. On Thursday, Tesla announced that it would work with building managers to install free charging infrastructure—the building would only have to pay for the cost of the electricity.

Tesla already has a similar destination charging program, where hotels and restaurants can have a Tesla charger installed, and the property owner covers electricity cost. One important note about these workplace chargers, however, is that their location won't be made public, so tenants of the building are the primary beneficiaries.

It obviously benefits Tesla to bring potential customers without a garage at home into the fold. If workplace charging can replace garage charging, the electric vehicle (EV) company can make its pitch to more people. But though it sounds very altruistic, Tesla would certainly be getting something out of any "workplace charging" agreement. As autonomous vehicle law consulting firm Safe Self Drive tweeted, installing Tesla charging spots in crowded urban areas amounts to building Tesla-reserved parking spots. (That is, unless you have access to one of the few adapters out there that let non-Tesla EVs draw from Tesla chargers.) From a building manager's perspective, it's probably better to install a generic EV charger and let Tesla owners use their adapters to fill up the tank.

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Dealmaster: Get a Dell desktop PC with an 8th-gen Core i5 and GTX 1060 for $650

February 23, 2018 - 8:05pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today the Dealmaster is bringing you into the weekend with a handful of sales on PCs and laptops, including Dell's Inspiron 5680 desktop down to $650.

This is certainly not the beastliest rig around—you may want to upgrade on this config's 1TB HDD, for one—but bargain hunters could do worse than an 8th-gen, six-core Core i5-8400 chip and Nvidia GeForce 1060 graphics card for the price.

If that's not your bag, we've also got deals on one of TCL's popular Roku TVs, a PlayStation VR bundle, wireless charging pads, monitors, and a handful of other laptops and desktops. Take a look for yourself below.

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Find out if your password has been pwned—without sending it to a server

February 23, 2018 - 6:45pm

Enlarge / Key on digital display (credit: Getty Images | D3Damon)

A new system that securely checks whether your passwords have been made public in known data breaches has been integrated into the widely used password manager, 1Password. This new tool lets customers find out if their passwords have been leaked without ever transmitting full credentials to a server.

Security researcher Troy Hunt this week announced his new version of "Pwned Passwords," a search tool and list of more than 500 million passwords that have been leaked in data breaches. Users can access it online and developers can connect applications to it via an API.

Within a day, the company AgileBits had integrated Hunt's new tool into the 1Password password manager. AgileBits' announcement describes how it works:

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How Manafort’s inability to convert a PDF file to Word helped prosecutors

February 23, 2018 - 6:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Yesterday, federal prosecutors unsealed a new indictment against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The indictment contains new evidence that Manafort hid millions of dollars in overseas income from US authorities, and it charges Manafort and his associate Richard Gates with numerous counts of tax and bank fraud.

The indictment also suggests that Manafort's lack of technology savvy helped prosecutors build a case against Manafort and Gates. The pair allegedly submitted a variety of fraudulent documents to lenders in order to borrow money against properties purchased with overseas funds—funds that were never reported to the IRS. One reason prosecutors were able to build a paper trail against the pair: Manafort needed Gates's help to convert a PDF document to Word format and back again.

In 2016, Manafort allegedly wanted to create a fake profit-and-loss statement for his company, Davis Manafort Partners, in order to inflate his income and qualify for a loan.

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There’s something strange going on amid the satellite Internet rush

February 23, 2018 - 6:11pm

Enlarge / A happy Greg Wyler after a launch in 2013. (credit: JODY AMIET/AFP/Getty Images)

As Thursday's SpaceX launch of two test satellites vividly demonstrated, several companies are moving ahead with ambitious plans to design, build, and fly hardware capable of delivering broadband Internet from space. However, as intense as the battle for broadband may be in orbit, the fight is also heating up on the ground. In particular, there is a controversy quietly simmering at the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC.

In a somewhat bizarre situation, the founder and chairman of one company seeking to deliver broadband services, OneWeb, has founded a second company to compete with himself. In response, other companies proposing satellite constellations have objected, which has added considerable spice to an already heated battle for valuable spectrum.

Greg Wyler

The person at the center of the controversy is Greg Wyler, a colorful American entrepreneur who is among the most well-known people in the satellite Internet industry. More than 15 years ago, his company, Terracom, sought to bring the Internet to Rwanda through a contract to run fiber optic cables across the country. A few years later, after Terracom's targets to connect schools to the Internet were not met and amid questions about the company's business practices, Rwanda fined Terracom, and Wyler was out as its leader.

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Google’s ARCore hits version 1.0, brings augmented reality to 100 million devices

February 23, 2018 - 5:00pm


Mobile World Congress kicks off this weekend, and to celebrate, Google is launching version 1.0 of its "ARCore" Augmented Reality framework. Just like Apple's ARKit, ARCore allows normal smartphones to run augmented reality apps. ARCore apps will either overlay 3D objects on top of the phone's camera feed or allow you to use the phone as a camera in a 3D world, moving your viewpoint around as you move the phone.

For version 1.0, Google is greatly expanding the compatible devices for ARCore. Since ARCore requires calibration and a custom setup per device model, the minimum requirements aren't based on an Android version but are instead limited to specific models. While the preview only supported the Google Pixels and Samsung Galaxy S8, today ARCore 1.0 is coming to a wide selection of flagship Android phones.

Google's blog post lists the following phones as compatible: "Google’s Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL; Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, Note8, S7 and S7 edge; LGE’s V30 and V30+ (Android O only); ASUS’s Zenfone AR; and OnePlus’s OnePlus 5." All together, that's about 100 million devices that can run augmented reality apps. In the future, Google says, "Samsung, Huawei, LGE, Motorola, ASUS, Xiaomi, HMD/Nokia, ZTE, Sony Mobile, and Vivo" will bring ARCore to their upcoming smartphone releases.

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How a fight over Star Wars download codes could reshape copyright law

February 23, 2018 - 4:15pm

We're as stunned as you are, Rey. (credit: Lucasfilm)

A federal judge in California has rejected Disney's effort to stop Redbox from reselling download codes of popular Disney titles like Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, and the latest Star Wars movies.

Judge Dean Pregerson's Tuesday ruling invoked the little-used doctrine of copyright misuse, which holds that a copyright holder loses the right to enforce a copyright if the copyright is being abused. Pregerson faulted Disney for tying digital download codes to physical ownership of discs, a practice that he argued ran afoul of copyright's first sale doctrine, which guarantees customers the right to resell used DVDs.

If the ruling were upheld on appeal, it would have sweeping implications. It could potentially force Hollywood studios to stop bundling digital download codes with physical DVDs and force video game companies to rethink their own practices.

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Pedaling pictures: The art and science of GPS doodling

February 23, 2018 - 3:55pm

Michael "Wally" Wallace, a Baltimore middle school science teacher, is a practitioner of a peculiar art form. His works, which he spends hours planning and executing, are created with a beat-up mountain bike, an Android smartphone, and the streets and open spaces of his home city as canvas. But the only way his creations can be seen is when he shares them on his Instagram and Twitter feeds, or on the Strava fitness tracking application.

For the past eight years, Wallace—who goes by "WallyGPX" on his chosen platforms—has been a "GPS artist," drawing his creations Etch-A-Sketch-style with tracks of global positioning data left by his bike routes. Wallace is one of a collection of early adopters of fitness tracking apps who discovered that they could turn their runs, bike routes, and other tracking data into a form of geeky, sometimes subversive self-expression.

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Low-carb vs low-fat? Both led to ~12lb loss after a year, regardless of genes

February 23, 2018 - 1:48pm

(credit: Allan Foster / Flickr)

In a 609-person, year-long study, dieters lost an average of about 12 pounds—regardless of whether they were trying to stick to a low-fat or a low-carb diet and regardless of whether they carried genetic variations linked to success on one of those diets.

The lackluster finding, published by Stanford researchers this week in JAMA, knocks back hopes that we’re at the point of harnessing genetic information to tighten our waistlines. Previous studies had whetted dieter’s appetites for the idea, picking out specific blips in metabolic genes that appeared to help explain why some people easily shed poundage on a given diet, while others struggled. Biotech companies have even begun serving up DNA tests that claim to help hungry dieters pair their menus with their biological blueprints.

But according to the new study, that order isn’t up yet.

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Mr. Robot remains the only show delivering cantennas and card readers

February 23, 2018 - 1:10pm

Tech on TV episode 3: Mr. Robot, captions available.

We were always going to be interested in Mr. Robot. After years of l33t TV hackers aimlessly pounding away at keyboards from a parent’s basement on your Law & Order of choice, USA’s unexpected hit series clearly stood out as different from its very first scene. Elliot, a quiet, enigmatic, and savvy IT pro, sits in a cafe talking about gigabit Internet speeds, Tor networking, and the downfalls of onion-routing protocols due to exit nodes. Frankly, it may have become the best television hacker portrayal on the merits of that opening sequence alone.

Of course, Mr. Robot didn’t stop there. Over its three seasons, the show’s creative team has demonstrated time and again that they follow the infosec community as closely as any respectable tech journalist—there has been PwnPhones and cantennas, Kali Linux and crypto-ransomware. And with the show boasting former FBI agents, IT pros, tech journalists, and infosec analysts among its advisors and writers, we shouldn’t be surprised.

It all makes Mr. Robot a natural fit, whether you’re talking about the halls of Def Con, annual best of TV lists (for S1 and S3, at least), or our ongoing Tech on TV series. So as we continue to look at the tech powering our favorite shows both on screen and off, it’s finally time to don a black hoodie and get wrist deep in a terminal.

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Elon Musk tweets video of SpaceX’s first broadband satellites in space

February 22, 2018 - 10:56pm

Enlarge / SpaceX's first Starlink broadband satellites. (credit: Elon Musk)

SpaceX founder Elon Musk today tweeted an eight-second video of the company's first broadband satellites, saying they are now "deployed and communicating to Earth stations."

First two Starlink demo satellites, called Tintin A & B, deployed and communicating to Earth stations

The demonstration satellites, named Tintin A and Tintin B, are being used to test SpaceX's future Starlink broadband service. Once all the necessary testing has been completed, the launch of operational satellites could begin sometime in 2019.

SpaceX's ultimate goal is to provide gigabit broadband worldwide, but the first tasks for these demo satellites are a bit simpler. Musk also tweeted that the satellites "will attempt to beam 'hello world'... when they pass near LA" on Friday morning.

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8,000-year-old heads on spikes found in Swedish lake

February 22, 2018 - 10:50pm


In east-central Sweden, workers demolishing a railway that crossed the Motala Ström River discovered something bizarre. For roughly 7,500 years, a shallow, swampy lake in the area had hidden a pile of stones that contained the skeletal remains of at least 10 people and weapons made of stone and antler. They also found the bones of bears, deer, boar, and a badger. Two of the human skulls were mounted on pointed stakes.

Thousands of years ago, this semi-submerged burial ground must have been an imposing sight for the small settlements located nearby. A pile of rocks rose above the water, covered in weapons, wooden structures, and the grisly remains of fearsome animals—as well as the skulls of some carefully chosen people. Now dubbed “Kanaljorden,” the archaeological site has finally begun to yield some secrets about the people who created it. In a recent article for Antiquity, Stockholm University archaeologist Sara Gummesson and her colleagues explain what the evidence reveals about how this ritual site was used.

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Neanderthals were artists and thought symbolically, new studies argue

February 22, 2018 - 9:41pm

Enlarge / Can you spot the three hand stencils? (credit: J. Zilhão)

Hominins have lived in Western Spain’s Maltravieso Cave off and on for the last 180,000 years. At some point in those long millennia of habitation, some of them left behind hand stencils, dots and triangles, and animal figures painted in red on the stone walls, often deep in the dark recesses of the cave. The art they left behind offers some of the clearest evidence for a key moment in human evolution: the development of the ability to use symbols, like stick-figure animals on a cave wall or spoken language.

Maltravieso, like La Pasiega in Northern Spain and Ardales Cave in the south, is a living cave, where water still flows, depositing carbonate minerals and shaping new rock formations. In these caves, flowstones and rock curtains have been slowly growing over ancient rock art. By dating those carbonate deposits, scientists can figure out a minimum age for the art without having to take samples from the pigment itself.

Now, two new studies have dated cave art and decorated shell jewelry from sites in Spain to at least 20,000 years before the first Homo sapiens arrived in Europe. That date offers the first clear evidence of Neanderthal art, which means our extinct relatives were also capable of symbolic thought. It’s a surprising discovery, says study coauthor Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton—but not all that surprising.

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The script for Star Wars: Episode IX is finished, J.J. Abrams says

February 22, 2018 - 9:24pm

Enlarge (credit: Walt Disney Co.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night, where he gave an update on the status of Star Wars: Episode IX. "We have a script," he said, "which is a big deal for me." Abrams also confirmed for Colbert that shooting will begin this July.

Abrams co-wrote the script with screenwriter Chris Terrio, best known for writing 2012's well-received Argo and 2016's far-less-well-received Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Abrams himself began his time in the film industry as a screenwriter; Colbert jokingly introduced him as "best known as the co-writer of the 1997 Joe Pesci and Danny Glover blockbuster comedy Gone Fishin'" rather than as the co-creator or executive producer of LostWestworld, and Alias or as the steward at various times of such mega-franchises as Star Wars, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible.

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