Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 25 min 52 sec ago
Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a deal on Dell's 27" UltraSharp U2717D, which is currently down to $300 at the company's online store. That's about $90 off the device's price elsewhere.
The U2717D is an IPS monitor with a 2560x1440 resolution. It's not the highest-end panel around: sharper 4K monitors have generally come down in price in recent months, and the U2717D itself isn't top-of-the-line when it comes to black uniformity and maximum contrast ratio. With a 60 Hz native refresh rate, it's not built for gaming either.
But its colors, gray uniformity, and viewing angles are all pluses, and the 1440p resolution is still a step up if you're coming from an older 1080p panel. There's a full array of ports on the back, and Dell's design keeps the bezels nice and slim. The monitor comes with a three-year warranty as well. All told, it's good value at this reduced price.
Three US Senate Democrats today asked the four major wireless carriers about allegations they've been throttling video services and—in the case of Sprint—the senators asked about alleged throttling of Skype video calls.
Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent the letters to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, noting that recent research using the Wehe testing platform found indications of throttling by all four carriers.
"All online traffic should be treated equally, and Internet service providers should not discriminate against particular content or applications for competitive advantage purposes or otherwise," the senators wrote.
Exactly a month from today, Formula E starts its fifth season. A lot will have changed compared to the sport we saw at season four's finale in Brooklyn this summer. When the first race of the season—which takes place in Saudi Arabia, proving Formula 1 has no monopoly on holding races in problematic places—gets underway, it will do so with an entirely new race car, one that solves some of the complaints from skeptics of this all-electric series.
The second-generation Formula E car has double the battery capacity, sporting 56kWh versus 28kWh for the first-gen machine. So those mid-race pit stops to change the car are a thing of the past. And the cars have gotten faster, too, as the video above shows. Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi is behind the wheel of the original Formula E Spark-Renault SRT_01, as raced in season one. To his right is BMW factory driver Antonio Felix da Costa, equipped with the new Spark SRT05e. As you can see, the new car is a lot more interesting to look at than the old model's "generic single-seater" styling.
ThousandEyes, a San Francisco-based network intelligence service, helps customers monitor all kinds of mission-critical things, from border gateway protocol leaks to DNS performance. But over the past week or so, the company has struggled with its own networking blunder that allowed scammers to host hundreds of thousands of fraudulent documents on its very own domain.
As the screenshot above shows, vps4-atl1.ag0.thousandeyes.com was hosting PDFs promoting screenplays, books, and how-to guides. By being hosted on a legitimate website operated by a security company, the content was designed to manipulate Google search results in a way that tricked people into clicking on questionable links. Google searches suggest that the documents were hosted on the subdomain since the beginning of the month, before being removed on Tuesday, as this story was being reported.
To park their content, the scammers took advantage of a lapse in the management of the ThousandEyes.com domain. An entry in the domain’s authoritative name servers pointed to the IP address 220.127.116.11. The IP address belongs to Web host Linode. ThousandEyes used the IP in the past, but at some point it stopped doing so. ThousandEyes admins, however, failed to remove the DNS entry from the name servers. The scammers then noticed the lapse, obtained the same IP address from Linode, and used it to host the scammy documents.
A security analysis firm called Gemini Advisory recently posted a report saying that credit card fraud is actually on the rise in the US. That's surprising, because the US is three years out from a big chip-based card rollout. Chip-based cards were supposed to limit card fraud in the US, which was out of control compared to similar fraud in countries that already used EMV (the name of the chip card standard).
Chip cards work by creating a unique code for each transaction, and (ideally) require a customer to enter a PIN to verify that they want to make the purchase. This doesn't make it impossible to steal information from chip-based cards, but it does make it much harder to reuse a stolen card. By contrast, using a magnetic stripe to swipe a card simply offers all the relevant information to the merchant's card reader, which is much easier for a bad actor to steal.
Gemini Advisory now says that 60 million credit and debit card numbers were stolen in the US in the past 12 months, and most of those were chip-based cards.
Facebook has cut ties with a conservative public relations group called Definers hours after a Wednesday New York Times story revealed that the group had circulated a document linking some of Facebook's left-wing critics to liberal billionaire George Soros.
According to the Times, Facebook initially hired Definers to help the tech company monitor media coverage of Facebook. But in October 2017, Definers started to play an active role in defending Facebook.
"A conservative website called NTK Network began publishing stories defending Facebook and criticizing Facebook rivals like Google," the Times reports. "NTK is an affiliate of Definers."
When Disney first announced a live-action version of its 1941 animated classic, Dumbo, plenty of people were skeptical. The original was well-nigh perfect. Why mess with perfection? Reactions were decidedly more positive when the first teaser dropped earlier this year. Now there's a new trailer that should dispel any lingering doubts. The live-action Dumbo promises to be just as magically transporting as the original.
In the 1941 film, the newborn Dumbo becomes the butt of jokes because of his enormous ears. When some boys taunt him, his enraged mother loses her temper and attacks them. She is declared mad and locked in a cage, leaving Dumbo alone. Too clumsy to be featured in the circus elephant act, he is made into a clown instead. Dumbo's only friend in this miserable existence is a mouse named Timothy, who discovers Dumbo can fly and stages an elaborate stunt at a circus performance one night to prove it. Dumbo becomes the star of the circus and is reunited with his mother.
Director Tim Burton's version appears to follow the same general outline, with a few updates. Here, Dumbo is befriended by two young children, whose father has been hired by the circus to care for the baby elephant. Dumbo's flying ability draws the attention of an evil entrepreneur (played by Michael Keaton), who buys out the circus, the better to exploit its star attraction. The circus moves to Dreamland, a place somewhat reminiscent of Disneyland. This being a Disney film, it's safe to assume that Dumbo and his friends triumph over those who would exploit them for profit, and live happily ever after.
In 2017, SpaceX finally answered critics of the company who said it had not delivered on the promise of a high flight rate for its low-cost launch program.
Prior to last year, the critics were not wrong—SpaceX had never successfully launched more than eight rockets in any given year. Finally, in 2017, it attempted 18 launches, and all made it safely into space. The SpaceX steamroller had arrived.
This year the company has had a lot on its plate. It flew the large Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time in February. It introduced a brand-new, potentially highly reusable variant of the Falcon 9 rocket in May. And all throughout the year, the company's engineers have been scrambling to finalize development of the Dragon spacecraft to meet NASA's needs to get its astronauts to the International Space Station.
RICHMOND, Va.—Earlier this year, I took a long-overdue look at NASCAR. That deep dive into the technology busted stereotypes and preconceptions, but it really was only part of the NASCAR puzzle. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I ignored perhaps the most important aspect of the nation's most popular motorsport. This only really sank in a few weeks ago after I, at long last, went to Richmond Raceway to witness my first NASCAR race. Because the key to understanding NASCAR—at least to this observer—is simple: it's all about the spectacle.
This Sunday is the title-decider at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. After 267 laps—400.5 miles if you're reading this in America, 644.5 km if you aren't—the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (to give it its full name) will have a winner. The championship is now a four-way fight among Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), Joey Logano (Team Penske), and Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing). NASCAR has moved to a playoff structure of late to ensure the championship goes down to the wire. So each of the four drivers enters the weekend with an equal shot: whoever finishes highest in the running order will be crowned champion. (What happens in the event of crashes and so on is explored by Alanis King here in much better depth than I could hope to provide.)
Focusing just on the technology was an omission, but it was no error. I purposefully chose my off-season visit to North Carolina at the beginning of this year as my introduction to NASCAR. Ars is about technology, after all; visiting the sport at home, when things are quiet, meant we could focus on the technology without everything else that comes with being at a race weekend. Less danger of cultural tourism, too.
TOKYO—In early September, the island nation of Japan was doing Japan things. One day, Typhoon Jebi roared ashore near Osaka and Kobe, breaking historical wind records. Early the next morning in Tokyo, as thick clouds from Jebi’s outer bands raced overhead, an offshore earthquake rattled softly but perceptibly through the city.
The capital city’s skies remained a bleak gray a few hours later as we entered the headquarters of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the city’s bustling Shinagawa area. Men in suits gestured us forward, bowing as we passed, down a corridor to an elevator. After riding up 27 floors to the top of the building, more men in suits ushered our group into a long, formal meeting room. Along one wall, a bank of windows looked to the southwest. From here, on a clear day, the iconic Mount Fuji dominates the distant horizon. But not this day.
A handful of reporters had been invited here to meet with MHI's chief executive, Shunichi Miyanaga, or Miyanaga-san as he is known throughout this building and beyond. The firm had paid our not-inconsiderable travel expenses so that we might learn more about the industrial conglomerate’s various businesses and its long-range plans to remain globally competitive.
From the phenomenal success of the Kepler mission and a proliferation of ground-based telescopes, we now know that planets are common in our galaxy. But the methods we've used to detect most of them are biased toward finding large planets that orbit close to their host stars. The farther a planet is, the less its gravity pulls at the star and the less likely it is to align so that its orbit passes between that star and Earth, thus blocking out some starlight. Meanwhile, the focus has shifted to nearby stars, as astronomers have started building a catalog of targets for the next generation of telescopes.
These issues provide an intriguing backdrop for today's announcement that one of the closest stars to Earth has a super-Earth companion. Barnard's star is a red dwarf that is only six light years from our Solar System; only the three stars of the Centauri system are closer. But the new planet orbits far enough from Barnard's star that it had been missed by earlier attempts. The detailed follow-up that spotted it also hints at the possibility of a separate, more distant planet, and both could help inform our models of planet formation.A new look
Barnard's star has been observed extensively over the years, partly because it's so close, partly because it's a prototypic example of a red dwarf star. These observations have included exoplanet searches, but nothing about the system stood out. But unless you observe a star regularly, there's a chance you won't happen to be looking at critical points in the planet's orbit.
At an academic conference, the question “where are you from?” can have many meanings. “For anybody who’s in science, that’s a complicated question,” says paleontologist P. David Polly. “Where are we now, where did we get our degree, where did we grow up, where did we get the other degree?” For many people in science, the list of answers will span multiple countries.
Because of this international culture, science is feeling the effects of increasing restrictions on international travel. At last week’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in San Diego, a research poster drew a lot of attention: the bulk of the poster was grayed out, covered instead by a message from the author explaining that, as a citizen of Iran, she had been unable to enter the US to take part in the conference. “Science should be about breaking barriers,” she wrote, “not creating new ones.”Tightening barriers
Leili Mortazavi, an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia, ran into the same barrier. When her work was accepted for presentation at SfN, she started the visa application process, but when she arrived at her appointment, she was told she was “ineligible to apply” because of her Iranian citizenship. “I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a visa application or a background check,” she told Ars. But the current situation is one of “excluding everyone based on their place of birth and not caring if the reason for their traveling is legitimate or not.”
Last week, some Harvard University scientists sparked widespread media attention about a possible alien origination for the mysterious interstellar object known as 'Oumuamua. At the end of a paper speculating about the object's observed movement, the authors presented "a more exotic scenario" suggesting that ‘Oumuamua may be "a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization."
As we reported at the time, this outlandish theory may have been catnip for online news editors, but there just wasn't much evidence to take it seriously. Now, thanks to some previously unpublished observations by NASA, we can further discount the idea.
The object now called 'Oumuamua made its closest approach to Earth in September 2017, and astronomers first spotted it in October of that year as it began moving away. In November, when NASA trained its Spitzer Space Telescope on where astronomers expected to find 'Oumuamua, it found nothing over the course of two months of observations in the infrared portion of the spectrum.
Bitcoin's price has fallen more than 12 percent over the last 24 hours to $5,400, the lowest price for the popular cryptocurrency in more than a year.
Bitcoin's plunge is part of a broader cryptocurrency sell-off. Ethereum has fallen more than 15 percent over the last 24 hours, while Bitcoin Cash is down 18 percent.
Cryptocurrency markets are jittery ahead of a high-stakes "hard fork" of Bitcoin Cash. Rival factions are pushing different, mutually incompatible versions of the spinoff cryptocurrency, and the two versions are scheduled to create separate, competing versions of the blockchain starting on Thursday. The schism could create confusion among users and damage the reputation of the cryptocurrency.
While end users have been customizing the color schemes of their computers for decades, we've lately seen operating system developers follow their users' lead with built-in, first-party support for dark themes. The dark theme was a big part of the appeal of macOS Mojave, and dark theme support in applications such as Windows Explorer was no less welcome.
With the next feature update of Windows 10, codenamed 19H1 and likely to ship in April next year, Microsoft is going a step further, with the introduction of a light theme. The light theme also comes with a new wallpaper (an iteration of the default Windows 10 wallpaper), and it will brighten up certain areas of the operating system that have always tended be dark regardless of the theme being used.
If the screenshot is anything to go by, it's going to be a good-looking theme, too.
Microsoft today launched a preview of PlayFab Multiplayer Servers, a new Azure-based service giving game developers dynamic, on-demand scaling of multiplayer servers.
Microsoft bought Seattle-based PlayFab earlier this year with a view to using it to expand Azure's reach in the gaming world. PlayFab is building all the cloud-based infrastructure needed for today's games: matchmaking (using the same algorithms as Xbox Live to try to group players of similar skill together), leaderboards, server hosting, player identity/profile management, commerce, and so on. Broadly speaking, the intent of PlayFab is to let games developers focus on their games, taking care of the server-side work for them. PlayFab's services are platform agnostic, and Microsoft has preserved this aspect: there are SDKs for Xbox, Windows, PlayStation, Switch, iOS, and Android.
At the time of the purchase, PlayFab ran atop Amazon's AWS. Some parts still do, but others have moved to Microsoft's own Azure. The Multiplayer Server feature, released in preview today, is one of the services on Azure. Microsoft has more Azure data centers in more parts of the world than Amazon or Google, which in turn means that Azure servers should generally be closer to where the players are. This should ensure lower latency and a better gaming experience for games on those servers.
How badly do you want a headphone jack on your smartphone? Android creator Andy Rubin's smartphone startup, Essential, is still alive after laying off 30 percent of its staff, and it's still producing products. The latest is a headphone jack attachment called the "Audio Adapter HD" for the company's only standalone product, the ill-fated Essential Phone. The Essential Phone doesn't have a headphone jack built into the device, but it does have a modular accessory system that this headphone jack can click onto. So if you really, really want to use wired audio, you can fork over a $150 for this accessory. That price seems just a bit excessive considering the entire phone has had fire sales for $250 and $224.
The Essential Phone is compatible with the usual headphone jack dongles, so this add-on is being pitched as an artisanally crafted accessory for the discerning audiophile. The company says the "limited edition" accessory is "handcrafted" and made from "100% machined titanium." Inside is the beloved 3.5mm audio jack and a high-quality DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) from ESS Sabre. You'll also get three free months of the Tidal HiFi music service. Besides the higher-quality DAC, the other advantage this attachment offers over the usual USB-C dongle is the ability to charge the device and listen to music at the same time! What a concept.
After soft-announcing a new Command & Conquer project last month, EA has taken the wraps off a plan that will (hopefully) satisfy that '90s real-time strategy series' biggest fans. Production has officially begun on a full remaster of the first two Command & Conquer RTS games—the 1995 original and the 1996 sequel Red Alert—with all the games' expansion packs included as part of the complete package.
What's more, development is being spearheaded by Petroglyph Games, a studio formed from the ashes of original C&C development studio Westwood.
"This is getting the band back together," Petroglyph Audio Director Frank Klepacki said in an announcement video on Wednesday. "This is how it should be. We were all there from the inception of it."
Your gut isn’t the only place that harbors a community of microbes. There are also microbiomes coating your skin and most household, industrial, and commercial surfaces. There's even a community hanging out in the lower atmosphere. Scientists in Spain have monitored this airborne microbiome by taking rain and snow samples every two weeks for seven years at a site in the central Pyrenees. The samples were then run through a DNA sequencer to reveal the airborne microbiome. They found that the bacteria, archaea, protists, and fungi all varied predictably by season.
In the wintertime, microbes frequently had marine origins, coming primarily from the Atlantic, although these were mixed in with bugs from forest and other terrestrial sources. Overall, the winter atmospheric microbiome was the most diverse, and that diversity included the highest levels of pathogens in any season.
In the summer, the microbiome was more regional, coming from the Mediterranean as well as fresh water, cropland, and cities. There was more pollution in the summer; the scientists monitored atmospheric levels of chemicals, including nitrates and sulphates, in addition to microbes. One of the most abundant and recurring taxa over the seven summers was Ramlibacter, related to a bacterium first isolated in 2011 from meteorite fragments buried in the sands near Tatouine, in Tunisia. It is specifically adapted to live in hot, dry, desert climes, so the researchers suggested that it could be used as a forensic signature for “summertime in Europe—African dust in the air.”
Black holes are… um, black. The point of a black hole is that the force of gravity is strong enough to prevent light from escaping its grasp. But the matter that is being sucked into a black hole is not at all happy about its fate. The matter gets hot and bothered and starts to glow very brightly before it reaches the black hole. This produces what are called luminous accreting black holes.
Most black holes are proud of themselves, sucking down matter right before our very eyes. But others are shy and seem to hide their antisocial behavior, raising questions about whether they were actually there. It turns out that these murderous monsters are hiding behind the gas clouds created by galaxy collisions. It took a serious amount of detective work to penetrate the fog.Introducing the eyewitnesses
Astronomers have long recognized that not everything in the Universe happens slowly. Sure, our Sun will be stable for billions of years, but when things start to go wrong, they go downhill quickly (use your remaining eight minutes wisely). Likewise, when something big gets sucked into a black hole, it sends a last desperate SOS in the form of a bright X-ray flash.