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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 hour 22 min ago

The McLaren 600LT Spider has plenty of brains—plenty of soul, too

1 hour 27 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Although we make every effort to cover our own travel costs, in this case McLaren flew us to Phoenix to drive the 600LT (and the 720S Spider; more on that next week) and provided two nights in a hotel.

I'll admit it: I wasn't sure if I was going to like the McLaren 600LT Spider. I wasn't the biggest fan of the McLaren 570S, the car it's based on—unlike almost everyone else who's driven one, I'd pick an Audi R8 as my daily drivable mid-engined supercar. While the 570S made concessions to practicality, I never gelled with the way it looks, and it had enough electronic foibles that they became one of my overriding memories of my time with the car. But the 600LT makes many fewer compromises in the name of everyday use, and it's all the better for it.

Veteran McLaren watchers will know from just the name that there's something special about this one: in McLaren-speak, LT means "long tail." The first long-tail McLarens—ten F1 GTR race cars and three F1 GT road cars—appeared in 1997, with new bodywork that extended the nose and tail to increase downforce at speed.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

These quarries supplied the stones that built Stonehenge

2 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Parker Pearson et al. 2019)

Excavations at two ancient quarry sites in western Wales suggest how ancient people probably quarried some of the stones now standing at Stonehenge.

The 42 stones in question are some of the smaller parts at Stonehenge, relatively speaking: they still weigh two to four tons each. They're called the bluestones, and they came all the way from western Wales. Chemical analysis has even matched some of them to two particular quarries on the northern slopes of the Preseli Hills.

One, an outcrop called Carn Goedog, seems to have supplied most of the bluish-gray, white-speckled dolerite at Stonehenge. And another outcrop in the valley below, Craig Rhos-y-felin, supplied most of the rhyolite. University College London archaeologist Michael Parker Pearson and his colleagues have spent the last eight years excavating the ancient quarry sites, and that work has revealed some new information about the origins of Stonehenge.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Qualcomm is already announcing next year’s 5G chips: Meet the Snapdragon X55

February 19, 2019 - 11:40pm

Enlarge / Qualcomm's new QTM525 5G mmWave antenna module and Snapdragon X55 5G modem. (credit: Qualcomm)

Two months ago, Qualcomm held the Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii. That's where the company talked for two days about how the Snapdragon X50 modem would usher in the era of 5G mmWave. That was all for this year, and while there still isn't a single product readily for sale with the X50 modem, Qualcomm is already talking about its 5G solution for next year.

Today, Qualcomm announced its "second-generation 5G solution," the Snapdragon X55 5G modem. To go along with the new modem is a new 5G mmWave RF antenna called the QTM525, which obsoletes the QTM052 the company was pairing with the X50 modem. Overall, it's a faster, smaller, and more-compatible version of Qualcomm's 5G chip solution. We tore into Qualcomm's first-generation 5G parts after Qualcomm's big tech show, and while these "second-generation" components don't really address the issues raised in that article, they are a step in the right direction.

Qualcomm says these new chips won't be out until "late 2019." That means the X50 and QTM052 will still be filling smartphones and sucking down batteries for the majority of 2019. With Mobile World Congress happening at the end of February, a bunch of OEMs are going to announce 5G hardware this week and next week, and those devices should run previously announced X50 hardware. The X55 is more like "Next year's 5G hardware," but Qualcomm likes to talk about these things a year in advance.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Blood of the young won’t spare rich old people from sadness and death, FDA says

February 19, 2019 - 10:35pm

Enlarge / Not so fast, says the FDA. (credit: Getty | Silver Screen Collection)

The US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert Tuesday, February 19, warning older consumers against seeking infusions of blood plasma harvested from younger people. Despite being peddled as anti-aging treatments and cures for a range of conditions, the transfusions are unproven and potentially harmful.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Peter Marks, wrote:

Simply put, we're concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies.

Establishments in several states are now selling young blood plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood that contains proteins for clotting. The sellers suggest that doses of young plasma can treat conditions ranging from normal aging and memory loss to dementia, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the FDA.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

EA opts Origin users out of “real-name sharing” after complaints

February 19, 2019 - 10:09pm

Enlarge

Electronic Arts is opting all users out of the "real name sharing" option on its Origin gaming service following complaints that some users may have been entered into the program without their consent.

The option to "show my real name on my profile" (as opposed to just sharing an online handle) is buried in the privacy settings for every EA Origin account, as it is for many other gaming networks. But Randi Lee Harper, the founder of the nonprofit Online Abuse Prevention Initiative, recently noted in a Twitter thread that her real name was being shared via the account without any opt-in.

Harper said anecdotal reports and spot checks of others with Origin accounts showed that the setting "has been seemingly randomly enabled" for a number of other Origin users. Accounts created between 2013 and 2015 seem to have more likelihood of having the option enabled by default, Harper said, but she added that she "can't find any kind of commonality in the data. It seems so random." (New accounts created today default the real name sharing to be off.)

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hollywood tries to cripple several alleged pirate TV services in one lawsuit

February 19, 2019 - 9:09pm

Enlarge / Marketing material for SkyStream TV, which uses video from Omniverse. (credit: SkyStream TV)

Most of the major Hollywood movie studios are trying to cripple multiple alleged pirate TV services with a single lawsuit.

The studios last week filed a copyright infringement suit against Omniverse One World Television Inc., which provides streaming video to several online TV services. Omniverse claims to have legal rights to the content, but the studios say it doesn't.

The complaint was filed Thursday in US District Court for the Central District of California by Columbia Pictures, Disney, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros. The studios previously used lawsuits to shut down the maker of a streaming device called the Dragon Box and another called TickBox. The studios' new lawsuit says that Omniverse supplied content to Dragon Box and to other alleged pirate services that are still operating.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Take $340 off Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon ultrabook

February 19, 2019 - 8:51pm

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, the Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a discount on the current-gen model of Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook, which is down to $1,063 at Lenovo with the code "THINKPRESDAY." And yes, the coupon has to be in ALL CAPS for it to work.

Lenovo's on-site prices tend to fluctuate wildly, but the X1 Carbon typically goes for around $1,400, making this good for a roughly $340 discount. As of this writing, Lenovo is telling users to apply the code "THINKPRESIDENT," but the code above actually cuts the price by another $75 or so. Why? No clue, but the Dealmaster isn't complaining.

As for the X1 Carbon itself, it's great. You can check out our review for a full rundown, but in short, we said it ticked all the necessary boxes for a high-end Ultrabook. It's not a convertible, and there's no 4K option, but it performs well, gets good battery life, and has the necessary Thunderbolt 3 ports without ditching legacy ports like USB-A or HDMI. It's sufficiently thin (0.63 inches), light (2.49 pounds), and well-made, and its keyboard, as is typical of a ThinkPad, is excellent. Its big downside is that it's relatively expensive, but that's obviously negated here.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Anthem review: BioWare’s sky-high gaming ambition crashes back to Earth

February 19, 2019 - 6:30pm

Enlarge (credit: EA / Bioware)

BioWare, the developer responsible for Mass Effect and Dragon Age, has returned with its first new series in over a decade, Anthem. It's a pretty big departure for the RPG-heavy studio: a jetpack-fueled, action-first online "looter-shooter." And after a disastrous demo launched weeks ago, we wondered whether we'd even get a playable game.

The good news is that we did, and at its best, Anthem feels brilliant, beautiful, and thrilling. At its worst, though, this is a stuttering, confusing, heartbreaking mess of an action game.

The good stuff Anthem ultimately offers—artistic design, BioWare-caliber plot, and that freakin' Iron Man feeling—fails to coalesce. Players are expected to log in again and again for missions with friends in true "online shared shooter" style (à la Destiny and Warframe), but the game's inherent structure makes this basic loop difficult to pull off.

Read 55 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Vox lawyers briefly censored YouTubers who mocked The Verge’s bad PC build advice

February 19, 2019 - 6:15pm

Enlarge / We think copyright's fair use doctrine allows us to show you this screenshot from The Verge's video. (credit: The Verge)

Last week, The Verge got a reminder about the power of the Streisand effect after its lawyers issued copyright takedown requests for two YouTube videos that criticized—and heavily excerpted—a video by The Verge. Each takedown came with a copyright "strike." It was a big deal for the creators of the videos, because three "strikes" in a 90-day period are enough to get a YouTuber permanently banned from the platform.

T.C. Sottek, the Verge's managing editor, blamed lawyers at the Verge's parent company, Vox Media, for the decision.

"The Verge's editorial structure was involved zero percent in the decision to issue a strike," Sottek said in a direct message. "Vox Media's legal team did this independently and informed us of it after the fact."

Read 35 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mandatory update coming to Windows 7, 2008 to kill off weak update hashes

February 19, 2019 - 6:10pm

Enlarge

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 users will imminently have to deploy a mandatory patch if they want to continue updating their systems, as spotted by Mary Jo Foley.

Currently, Microsoft's Windows updates use two different hashing algorithms to enable Windows to detect tampering or modification of the update files: SHA-1 and SHA-2. Windows 7 and Server 2008 verify the SHA-1 patches; Windows 8 and newer use the SHA-2 hashes instead. March's Patch Tuesday will include a standalone update for Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and WSUS to provide support for patches hashed with SHA-2. April's Patch Tuesday will include an equivalent update for Windows Server 2008.

The SHA-1 algorithm, first published in 1995, takes some input and produces a value known as a hash or a digest that's 20 bytes long. By design, any small change to the input should produce, with high probability, a wildly different hash value. SHA-1 is no longer considered to be secure, as well-funded organizations have managed to generate hash collisions—two different files that nonetheless have the same SHA-1 hash. If a collision could be generated for a Windows update, it would be possible for an attacker to produce a malicious update that nonetheless appeared to the system to have been produced by Microsoft and not subsequently altered.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After nearly $50 billion, NASA’s deep-space plans remain grounded

February 19, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / A booster for NASA’s Space Launch System is successfully fired in 2016. (credit: NASA)

During the last 15 years, the US Congress has authorized budgets totaling $46 billion for various NASA deep-space exploration plans. By late summer, 2020, that total is likely to exceed $50 billion, most of which has been spent on developing a heavy-lift rocket and deep-space capsule that may carry humans into deep space.

In a new analysis that includes NASA's recently approved fiscal year 2019 budget, aerospace analyst Laura Forczyk found that, of this total, NASA has spent $16 billion on the Orion capsule, $14 billion on the Space Launch System rocket, and most of the remainder on ground systems development along with the Ares I and Ares V rockets.

For all of this spending on "exploration programs" since 2005, NASA has demonstrated relatively little spaceflight capability. The Ares I launch vehicle flew one time, in 2009, to an altitude of just 40km. (It had a dummy upper stage and fake capsule). The Ares project, as part of NASA's Constellation Program, would be abandoned the next year, as it was behind schedule and over budget. Later, in 2014, NASA launched an uncrewed version of its Orion spacecraft on a private rocket to an altitude of 3,600km. The first flight of the new SLS rocket, again with an uncrewed Orion vehicle, may occur in 2021.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Gene editing still has a few bugs in the system

February 19, 2019 - 4:47pm

Enlarge / February 7, 2019, Saxony-Anhalt, Halle (Saale): In the genetic engineering monitoring laboratory of the State Office for Environmental Protection of Saxony-Anhalt, Damaris Horn is sipping reaction preparations for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in a special cabin. (credit: Picture Alliance | Getty Images )

Gene editing has been in the news lately due to an ethically reckless experiment in which human embryos were subjected to an inefficient form of gene editing. The subjects, now born, gained uncertain protection from HIV in exchange for a big collection of potential risks. A large number of ethicists and scientists agreed that this isn't the sort of thing we should be using gene editing for.

That response contains an implicit corollary: there are some things that might justify the use of gene editing in humans. Now, a series of papers looks at some reasonable use cases in mice and collectively finds that the technology really isn't ready for use yet.

Use cases

Gene editing will likely always come with a bit of risk; when you're cutting and pasting DNA in millions of cells, extremely rare events can't be avoided. So the ethical questions come down to how we can minimize those risks and what conditions make them worth taking.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New carbon capture solvent is another stab at optimism in a stagnant industry

February 19, 2019 - 4:05pm

Enlarge / CO2 being released by mild heating of the BIG-bicarbonate solid. (credit: Neil J. Williams and Erick Holguin)

Capturing carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere is a white whale for the fossil fuel industry.

In theory, if a power plant or a factory could easily eliminate carbon emissions by filtering them out of flue gas, the plant would be able to pursue business as usual with some simple retrofits—no threat of future regulations mandating lower emissions, no push to switch to completely new technologies.

The problem is that carbon capture is energy-intensive and expensive, it doesn't capture all the carbon dioxide being released, and it's not always clear what to do with the gas after it's captured. (The current best option is to find underground caverns in which the carbon can be stored, or sell the CO2 to older oil fields for enhanced oil recovery.)

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Retina resolution headset puts the “reality” into “virtual reality”

February 19, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / The Varjo VR-1 headset. It looks unassuming from the outside. (credit: Varjo)

Current virtual reality headsets are pretty good at the "virtual" bit but tend to fall down on the "reality" side of things. It's all too obvious that you're looking at a screen, albeit a screen held very close to your face, and a lot of screens just aren't meant to be looked at that close. The "screen door" effect that breaks the display up into a grid of individual pixels is distracting, and resolutions are low enough that curved lines are noticeably jagged, and fine detail gets lost. Second-generation headsets like the Vive Pro certainly do better than their first-generation counterparts, but they haven't eliminated these shortcomings. Even with eyes as appalling as mine, the human optical systems are clearly higher quality than the VR headsets can satisfy.

But the Varjo VR-1, available to buy today, is the first headset I've used that convincingly provides an image that looks real. The VR-1 puts a 1920×1080 micro-OLED display with some 3,000 pixels per inch (or 60 pixels per degree) slap-bang in the middle of your field of view. It looks like nothing you've ever seen from a headset before: no pixel grid, no jagged lines (nor the anti-aliasing usually used to hide the jaggies), no screen-door effect. The images it displays look every bit as detailed as real life. Varjo calls it the Bionic Display and claims its resolution is about that of the eye, giving it a level of fidelity like nothing else on the market.

Surrounding this screen is a conventional 1440×1600 AMOLED display providing an 87 degree field of view. This showed an image that's much like any other headset. I found the experience of using the VR-1 a little like that of using Microsoft's HoloLens. In the HoloLens, the display has a relatively narrow field of view, so you have to look straight forward to see the images. When looking around, you have to turn your whole head and keep your eyes looking more or less straight ahead if you want to look at something. Otherwise, as soon as you look off to the side, the 3D images disappear.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

High-tech toilet seat monitors your heart as you sit on the can

February 19, 2019 - 3:00pm

If developing heart disease scares the poo out of you, this new monitor may be just the thing.

Engineers at Rochester Institute of Technology have designed a high-tech toilet seat that effortlessly flushes out data on the state of your cardiovascular system. The tricked-out porcelain throne measures your blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and the volume of blood your heart pumps per beat (stroke volume)—taking readings every time you sit down to catch up on some reading of your own. The engineers, led by David Borkholder, recently published a prototype of the seat in the open-access journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

According to the inventors, the seat’s daily data dump could make patients and their doctors privy to early warning signs of heart failure, potentially helping to prevent further deterioration and avoid costly hospital stays. Moreover, the seat could ease in-home monitoring for heart patients, who often strain to consistently track their tickers with other, non-toilet-based monitors.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Another blow to Blu-ray: Samsung will no longer make Blu-ray players for the US

February 18, 2019 - 11:37pm

If you didn’t notice any Blu-ray player announcements from Samsung at CES this year, there’s a reason for that: the company has told both Forbes and CNET that it is getting out of the Blu-ray player business in the United States.

The large chaebol conglomerate will introduce no new Blu-ray players anywhere, it seems, and will stop making existing players for the US market. This comes as a confirmation of what many observers expected, given that the company last released a new player in 2017. Samsung was reportedly working on a high-end Blu-ray player for release in 2019, according to Forbes, but those plans have been scrapped.

Samsung didn't tell either publication why it decided to exit the business, and there is probably no big, single reason for this shift. But there are a lot of small ones.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Inside the DNSpionage hacks that hijack domains at an unprecedented scale

February 18, 2019 - 10:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Lion Kimbro)

Since the beginning of the year, the US government and private security companies have been warning of a sophisticated wave of attacks that’s hijacking domains belonging to multiple governments and private companies at an unprecedented scale. On Monday, a detailed report provided new details that helped explain how and why the widespread DNS hijackings allowed the attackers to siphon huge numbers of email and other login credentials.

The article, published by KrebsOnSecurity reporter Brian Krebs, said that, over the past few months, the attackers behind the so-called DNSpionage campaign have compromised key components of DNS infrastructure for more than 50 Middle Eastern companies and government agencies. Monday’s article goes on to report that the attackers, who are believed to be based in Iran, also took control of domains belonging to two highly influential Western services—the Netnod Internet Exchange in Sweden and the Packet Clearing House in Northern California. With control of the domains, the hackers were able to generate valid TLS certificates that allowed them to launch man-in-the-middle attacks that intercepted sensitive credentials and other data.

Short for domain name system, DNS acts as one of the Internet’s most fundamental services by translating human-readable domain names into the IP addresses one computer needs to locate other computers over the global network. DNS hijacking works by falsifying the DNS records to cause a domain to point to an IP address controlled by a hacker rather than the domain’s rightful owner. DNSpionage has taken DNS hijacking to new heights, in large part by compromising key services that companies and governments rely on to provide domain lookups for their sites and email servers.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The wrath of grapes: A tale of 12 dead microwaves and plasma-spewing grapes

February 18, 2019 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / Not just for grapes: plasma formed between a pair of hydrogel beads irradiated in a household microwave oven. (credit: Hamza K. Khattak)

DIY science enthusiasts know that, if you put a halved grape into a microwave with just a bit of skin connecting the halves, it'll produce sparks and a fiery plume of ionized gas known as a plasma. There are thousands of YouTube videos documenting the effect. But the standard explanation offered for why this occurs isn't quite right, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And its authors only needed to destroy a dozen microwaves to prove it.

"Many microwaves were in fact harmed during the experiments," admitted co-author Hamza Khattak of Trent University in Canada. "At one point, we had a microwave graveyard in the lab before disposing of the many early iterations in electronic waste."

Co-author Aaron Slepkov first became interested in the phenomenon when, as an undergraduate in 1995, he noticed there was no formal (i.e., scientifically rigorous and peer-reviewed) explanation for how the plasma was being generated. Once he'd finished his PhD and established his own research group at Trent University, he started doing his own experiments (microwaving grapes for science) with one of his undergraduate students. They used thermal imaging and computer simulations of both grapes and hydrogel beads in their experiments.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Niantic poised to settle Pokémon Go trespassing complaints

February 18, 2019 - 9:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A proposed settlement filed last week could give homeowners some control over whether or not Pokémon Go's augmented-reality attractions show up in and around their property.

Shortly after its launch in the summer of 2016, Pokémon Go developer Niantic started fielding numerous complaints about players trespassing on private property to access location-dependent Gyms and Pokéstops in the augmented-reality game. Those complaints eventually developed into numerous lawsuits alleging that Niantic was essentially encouraging trespassing by placing its digital attractions on their property.

Those lawsuits were consolidated into a class action by August, and after winding through the courts for years (and surviving a motion to dismiss), that class-action suit now seems on the verge of a settlement. A proposal filed by the plaintiffs in district court last week (as noted by The Hollywood Reporter) outlines a number of ways Niantic apparently plans to solve this problem.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook is a law-breaking “digital gangster,” UK government report says

February 18, 2019 - 8:14pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Facebook yesterday said it is willing to face "meaningful regulation" after UK lawmakers accused the company of acting like a "digital gangster" that has knowingly violated laws and helped spread Russian misinformation during elections.

A House of Commons committee that oversees media policy chastised Facebook in a report on "disinformation and 'fake news.'"

"Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the report said.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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