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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 7 min ago

Valve acquires Firewatch developer Campo Santo

April 22, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / A lookout tower stands over the mountains in Firewatch.

Valve has acquired Campo Santo, known for the outdoor exploration game Firewatch, the developer announced late Saturday. The 12-person team will relocate to Valve's Bellevue, Washington headquarters as it continues work on In the Valley of the Gods, a search for treasure in an Egyptian desert.

"In Valve we found a group of folks who, to their core, feel the same way about the work that they do (this, you may be surprised to learn, doesn’t happen every day)," Campo Santo wrote in its announcement post. "In us, they found a group with unique experience and valuable, diverse perspectives. It quickly became an obvious match."

Campo Santo went on to say that the decision came after "a series of long conversations" about values and "how, when you get right down to it, we, as human beings, are hard-limited by the time we have left when it comes to making the things we care about and believe in."

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA’s new planet finder is in space. Now what?

April 22, 2018 - 3:00pm

Trevor Mahlmann

Most everyone reading this story will probably know that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched on Wednesday carrying a NASA spacecraft into orbit—the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite—that will further the space agency's mission of searching for exoplanets.

Less well known is the TESS spacecraft's clever orbit, which will enable an on-a-budget but robust science mission of searching for planets transiting in front of nearby stars. This "lunar resonant" orbit, which has never been used by a spacecraft, will allow TESS to both observe nearby stars and transmit data back to Earth with a minimal energy expenditure. (The useful lifetime of a spacecraft is often determined by its amount of onboard propellant).

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Experts say Tesla has repeated car industry mistakes from the 1980s

April 22, 2018 - 2:30pm

Tesla Factory in Fremont, California, 2016. (credit: Maurizio Pesce / Flickr)

Production had been halted for much of last week in Tesla's car factory in Fremont, California, and its battery factory near Clark, Nevada. In a Tuesday note to employees, CEO Elon Musk said that the pause was necessary to lay the groundwork for higher production levels in the coming weeks. Musk said he wants all parts of the company ready to prepare 6,000 Model 3 cars per week by the end of June, triple the rate Tesla has achieved in the recent weeks.

The announcement caps a nine-month period of turmoil that Musk has described as "production hell" as Tesla has struggled to ramp up production of the Model 3.

Tesla had high hopes for its Model 3 production efforts. In 2016, Musk hired Audi executive Peter Hochholdinger to plan the manufacturing process, and Business Insider described his plans in late 2016: "Hochholdinger's view is that robots could be a much bigger factor in auto production than they are currently, largely because many components are designed to be assembled by humans, not machines."

Read 35 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AT&T, Verizon face DOJ investigation for allegedly trying to lock eSIMs

April 21, 2018 - 8:13pm

Enlarge / Apple Watch Series 3, with eSIM technology for connecting to cellular networks. (credit: Apple)

AT&T and Verizon are being investigated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) over whether they colluded in order to prevent customers from easily switching carriers.

The antitrust investigation, reported by The New York Times yesterday, relates to the eSIM (embedded SIM) technology that is used instead of regular SIM cards in cellular-capable Apple Watches and other devices such as the Google Pixel 2. eSIMs are supposed to let customers switch carriers without changing to a different SIM card or device, but AT&T and Verizon are accused of "try[ing] to establish standards that would allow them to lock a device to their network even if it had eSIM technology," the Times report said.

The DOJ began investigating about five months ago after complaints from Apple and an unidentified wireless carrier, the article said.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Drool over Marvel Comics’ rarest original art, costumes at new museum exhibit

April 21, 2018 - 7:50pm

SEATTLE—As the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands to every movie theater in the world, the MoPOP Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project) swoops in this week with an exhibit that reminds fans where the heck these costumed heroes came from: the comics pages.

Marvel Universe of Super Heroes, a massive, two-story exhibit, began its world-premiere run in Seattle on Saturday with a mix of incredible historical context and Marvel's strange, narrow focus within the MCU. The very good news, as seen in the first gallery, is that the Marvel (which began life in 1939 as Timely Publications) is represented by way of a ton of original production art.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

White House reportedly exploring wartime rule to help coal, nuclear

April 21, 2018 - 3:00pm

(credit: Kym Farnik)

According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950.

The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost US industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

Third time's the charm?

This appears to be the third attempt to use policy to keep coal and nuclear operators afloat. The main focus is coal generators, which Trump promised to rescue during his campaign. Although Trump's campaign rhetoric often blamed environmental regulations, the problem has been economic more than regulatory; cheap natural gas has been the biggest threat to coal and nuclear.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Subaru Crosstrek finds sweet spot between value and drivability

April 21, 2018 - 2:00pm

Subaru

In a world where seemingly every auto manufacturer is making SUVs (hello, Lamborghini!) and crossovers, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Alfa Romeo does it by making an insanely fast and sporty crossover. Range Rover goes for an incredibly sleek look and a separate screen just for climate control. By contrast, Subaru just tries to make quality vehicles. That strategy has served the company well with the Outback, which has been at or near the top of the station wagon sales charts for what seems like forever. But can that strategy work with crossovers? Enter the Crosstrek.

All new for the 2018 model year, the Subaru Crosstrek is a mini crossover built on Subaru's new Global Platform, which Subaru says offers 70-percent more rigidity. The Crosstrek has a raised suspension with Stablex dampers for a smoother ride. The old, familiar Subaru Boxer engine remains—in this case the usual 2.0-liter, direct-injection, four-cylinder suspect capable of cranking out 152hp (113.3kW) and 145lb-ft of torque (196.6nM); if you're thinking that sounds a bit light, keep reading. The all-wheel drive Crosstrek has a seven-speed Lineartronic CVT transmission, but Subaru offers a six-speed manual transmission in the base and Premium trims. If automatic transmission is your thing but you like to take over sometimes, the Crosstrek comes with paddle shifters.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Super Troopers 2 review: Fans get what they paid for in this crowdfunded surprise

April 21, 2018 - 12:15pm

The Internet hype campaign for Super Troopers 2 sneaked in at the tail end of the crowdfunding gold rush in 2015, and that timing might have made all the difference. Crowdfunding fatigue is alive and well, after all, with the practice significantly dropping off since its mid-'10s heyday. Who knows if the Broken Lizard comedy troupe would have raised over $4.6 million if they'd launched the effort even half a year later?

What, then, did fans help create by way of an Indiegogo campaign? Exactly what Broken Lizard promised: "the version of Super Troopers 2 you've been waiting for." Consider that a blessing or a curse, depending on your comedy point of view, but there's just no getting around how spiritually faithful this sequel is to the silly-cops original. More important, however, is that this crowdfunded film does not bend to the simplest catchphrase and old-gag doldrums you might expect. Just because Broken Lizard took fans' money doesn't mean the comics were stuck repeating material from the 2001 film.

The result is an easy call for best crowdfunded film in recent memory. That's a low bar to clear, of course, and Super Troopers 2 is by no means a perfect film. But its ingeniously orchestrated stupidity—like a Jackson Pollock painting made up of cop pranks and hard-R visual gags—is must-see stuff for anybody who liked the first film.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

WikiLeaks, Russia, Trump Jr. named in new DNC hacking lawsuit

April 21, 2018 - 12:07am

Enlarge / Tom Perez, the head of the DNC, helped orchestrate this new lawsuit. (credit: Gage Skidmore)

The Democratic National Committee has sued Russia, WikiLeaks, the Trump campaign, and a number of other individuals and organizations that the political party believes were affiliated with the now-infamous 2016 hack, whose perpetrators managed to spirit away internal research about then-candidate Donald Trump, as well as private e-mail and messages.

The operation to pilfer vast caches of data, much of which was then published by WikiLeaks, was believed to have been orchestrated by the highest levels of the Russian government.

"It’s pretty serious—it’s more than a shot over the bow, it’s a shot into the hull of the ship," David Bowker, a Washington DC, attorney, told Ars.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Capcom reminds us why “games-as-a-service” suck, announces end of Puzzle Fighter

April 20, 2018 - 9:30pm

Enlarge / RIP Puzzle Fighter, 2017-2018. (credit: Capcom)

The games-as-a-service graveyard grew one larger this week, as Capcom's Puzzle Fighter reboot received an official "sunset" announcement on Friday. The iOS and Android port of the '90s puzzle series will have its in-game store shut down on Monday, April 23, and its servers will follow suit on July 31—meaning the game will have been playable for only eight months after its late-November launch.

That's because the new, free-to-play Puzzle Fighter includes an always-online requirement so that players can be subjected to the timers and loot-box systems applied to both its single-player and multiplayer modes. Capcom's announcement did not in any way hint to a patch that would let the game work in a wholly offline mode, nor did it hint to any open-sourcing of its content so that dedicated players could, say, prop the game's bones up via DIY servers.

Friday's announcement also didn't reference the fact that this game's reboot recently received PEGI ratings (Europe's equivalent of the ESRB) for PC and consoles. And the language here doesn't give us much hope for a non-mobile port of the Columns-like, match-gems puzzle update. Instead, the post blames the mobile version's cancellation on Capcom Vancouver "dedicating its focus to our flagship Dead Rising franchise."

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Drupalgeddon2” touches off arms race to mass-exploit powerful Web servers

April 20, 2018 - 8:41pm

Enlarge (credit: Torkild Retvedt)

Attackers are mass-exploiting a recently fixed vulnerability in the Drupal content management system that allows them to take complete control of powerful website servers, researchers from multiple security companies are warning.

At least three different attack groups are exploiting "Drupalgeddon2," the name given to an extremely critical vulnerability Drupal maintainers patched in late March, researchers with Netlab 360 said Friday. Formally indexed as CVE- 2018-7600, Drupalgeddon2 makes it easy for anyone on the Internet to take complete control of vulnerable servers simply by accessing a URL and injecting publicly available exploit code. Exploits allow attackers to run code of their choice without having to have an account of any type on a vulnerable website. The remote-code vulnerability harkens back to a 2014 Drupal vulnerability that also made it easy to commandeer vulnerable servers.

Drupalgeddon2 "is under active attack, and every Drupal site behind our network is being probed constantly from multiple IP addresses," Daniel Cid, CTO and founder of security firm Sucuri, told Ars. "Anyone that has not patched is hacked already at this point. Since the first public exploit was released, we are seeing this arms race between the criminals as they all try to hack as many sites as they can."

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

When you go to a security conference, and its mobile app leaks your data

April 20, 2018 - 6:46pm

Enlarge / Screenshots of the RSA Conference application from the Google Play Store. The app's Web interface leaked attendee data when supplied with a token obtained by registering the app. (credit: Google Play Store )

A mobile application built by a third party for the RSA security conference in San Francisco this week was found to have a few security issues of its own—including hard-coded security keys and passwords that allowed a researcher to extract the conference's attendee list. The conference organizers acknowledged the vulnerability on Twitter, but they say that only the first and last names of 114 attendees were exposed.

pic.twitter.com/QzTjOvMhSi

— RSA Conference (@RSAConference) April 20, 2018

The vulnerability was discovered (at least publicly) by a security engineer who tweeted discoveries during an examination of the RSA conference mobile app, which was developed by Eventbase Technology. Within four hours of the disclosure, Eventbase had fixed the data leak—an API call that allowed anyone to download data with attendee information.

If you attended #RSAC2018 and see your first name there - sorry!

Here are the types of marijuana best for stress and anxiety, according to users

April 20, 2018 - 6:20pm

Enlarge / Inventory including "Merry N'Berry" is on display at a medical marijuana dispensary (credit: Getty | Tom Williams)

By passively monitoring user-generated data from medical cannabis patients, researchers have glimpsed the types and amounts of marijuana that seem effective for relieving symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. The findings could direct more detailed research into the best strains for specific conditions. But the data also hints at a danger of using marijuana to manage depression symptoms in the long term.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Affective Disorders by researchers at Washington State University, is based on data from a medical cannabis app called Strainprint, which lets patients track symptom severity after medical cannabis use. Before that, users enter detailed information about the strain of marijuana used, including selecting specific products from a list of those sold by licensed medical cannabis distributors in Canada. Health Canada has uniquely strict production and quality control guidelines for products sold there. But if a patient is using a product not on the list, they can manually input information about the strain, including cannabinoid content.

The researchers looked at data from nearly 1,400 medical cannabis users, analyzing outcomes from almost 12,000 inhalation sessions. The researchers kept their analysis just to sessions involving inhalation (smoking, vaping, concentrates, dab bubbler, dab portable), to try to control—at least a little—for efficacy and timing of the onset of effects.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NYC blasts broadband competition shortage as it pursues suit against Verizon

April 20, 2018 - 4:56pm

Enlarge / New York, USA - January 14, 2016: A Verizon worker on Worth Street in Lower Manhattan. (credit: Getty Images | 400tmax)

More than two-thirds of New York City's 3.1 million households have just one or two broadband providers offering service to their homes, according to a new "Truth in Broadband" report issued by the city government. The report comes as NYC pursues a lawsuit against Verizon alleging that it hasn't met its broadband deployment obligations.

There's only one ISP offering home broadband service at 13.54 percent of the city's 3,114,826 households, meaning that nearly 422,000 households have just one "choice." Another 55.44 percent of NYC households—nearly 1.73 million in all—have two broadband providers. The remaining 31.02 percent (more than 966,000 households) have at least three broadband providers.

The report defines broadband as Internet service with at least 25Mbps download speeds and 3Mbps upload speeds, the same standard the Federal Communications Commission uses to evaluate broadband deployment progress nationwide. DSL offers some more choice, but the network technology "is not generally capable of delivering a 25Mbps download speed," the report said. The report's broadband deployment statistics are based on federal data as of December 2016.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Four publishers must change in-game loot boxes to avoid Dutch gambling laws

April 20, 2018 - 4:34pm

Enlarge / Is this essentially the same as a kid buying a box of car skins in Rocket League? (credit: Getty)

Four publishers will be forced to make changes to their games in the Netherlands after a landmark report from the Netherlands Gaming Authority found their loot boxes violate laws against gambling.

Study into loot boxes: A treasure or a burden? (PDF) notes that an in-game loot box violates the country's laws if "the content of these loot boxes is determined by chance and... the prizes to be won can be traded outside of the game: the prizes have a market value."

While the report doesn't identify the now-illegal games directly, a report from Dutch news site NOS names them as FIFA 18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, and Rocket League. Six other studied games that do not allow for items to be traded for a "market value" were found not to violate the law.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Electrify America will deploy 2,000 350kW fast chargers by the end of 2019

April 20, 2018 - 4:13pm

Enlarge / ABB, BTC Power, Efacec, and Signet will work with Electrify America on this new network of fast EV chargers. (credit: Electrify America)

As its legion of comment-posting fans love to point out, Tesla's Supercharger network is a major part of that company's success when it comes to selling electric vehicles. For over a century we've lived with cars that can be refueled in minutes, and old habits die hard. Even though the optimal solution is EV owners plugging in each night, the thought of being stranded with a slow-charging EV but hundreds of miles to drive in a day causes enough terror to rule out such cars for many potential drivers. If we want more people to make the switch, the answer then is more chargers and faster chargers. And Electrify America evidently agrees.

An offshoot of the Volkswagen empire created in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal, Electrify America has a quite ambitious plan. This week it announced it had picked suppliers for a new network of fast chargers across the country. Between now and the end of 2019, it's going to deploy 2,000 fast chargers at a total of 484 charging stations. There are still a mix of competing standards when it comes to EV charging, so Electrify America's approach is to offer them all.

That means 50kW CHAdeMO connectors and then dual-handle CCS1 chargers, capable of 50kW as well as either 150kW or 350kW (using liquid-cooled cables). Vehicles capable of charging at that higher rate aren't on sale yet, but by sheer coincidence that matches the specs of forthcoming Battery EVs from... Volkswagen Group.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple may still depend on Samsung for OLED iPhone screens as LG hits snags

April 20, 2018 - 3:59pm

Enlarge (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple may be losing the fight to add another OLED display manufacturer ahead of the next iPhone production cycle. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, LG Display is struggling to make the OLED panels Apple wants for upcoming iPhone models. Apple has been working with LG, hoping it could become its second supplier of OLED smartphone panels. Apple currently sources the OLED panels for the iPhone X from rival Samsung.

The report claims that South Korea’s LG Display ran into "manufacturing problems" that held up display production, causing LG to fall behind Apple's pre-production timeline. Apple reportedly asked LG to go through a third round of prototype production for the OLED panels, an unusual step for most component manufacturers. Ars has reached out to Apple for further comment.

If LG can't fix the problems it has reportedly been having and satisfy Apple's needs, it's unlikely that the company would be able to provide finished OLED panels for the next iPhones. According to people familiar with the matter, mass-production of fall-scheduled iPhone models typically begins in July.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tiny krill appear to mix up the ocean

April 20, 2018 - 3:04pm

Enlarge / Differences in the density of water show the complex mixing generated by a moving brine shrimp. (credit: Isabel Houghton, image obtained with the assistance and facilities of R. Strickler)

If you've heard of krill at all, it's probably in the context of their role as whale food. Nature programs love to point in amazement to the fact that the largest animals on the planet subsist on some of the smallest, namely the krill. But these tiny animals exist independently of their function as food, and a new study suggests that they and their peers may have a significant role in their ecosystems: mixing up the top layers of the ocean.

Krill are crustaceans, as a careful look at them will indicate (although Wikipedia tells us that the cool-sounding name "krill" is simply Norwegian for "small fry of fish"). They don't tend to grow much larger than a couple centimeters in length, and they feed on even smaller creatures, taking tiny photosynthetic plankton and moving them up the food chain.

But what they lack in size, they make up for with truly astonishing numbers, with some species estimated as having one of the largest total biomasses of anything on Earth. It's these vast numbers that make them a viable food for the world's largest creatures and give them the ability to replace the vast numbers gulped down by whales. It's also at the heart of the new results.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google gives up on Google Allo, hopes carriers will sort out RCS messaging

April 20, 2018 - 2:48pm

Enlarge

It's time for another chapter in the saga of Google's messaging mess. This latest news comes from The Verge, which reports that Google will be abandoning its most recent messaging app failure, Google Allo, in favor of a renewed push for the carrier-controlled RCS (Rich Communication Services) protocol.

Google Allo was Google's attempt at a WhatsApp clone, and it launched just a year-and-a-half ago with a laundry list of deficiencies. It used a phone-centric login system and didn't support using a Google account. It only worked on one device at a time and didn't have an interface for desktop or laptop computers. Distribution wasn't great either, as Allo wasn't one of the mandatory Google apps included in every Android phone. None of this really mattered since Allo didn't support sending SMS messages, so there was no one to talk to anyway. Google's other chat service, Google Hangouts, was better in nearly every way.

With such a half-baked launch, the real unknown for Google Allo was what kind of resources Google would throw at it. Like Android, which also entered a market late in the game, Allo needed a massive amount of resources to catch up to the competition. Instead, we were treated to an absolutely glacial development pace that mostly focused on new sticker packs. It took a full year before Allo addressed one of its biggest flaws—not working on a desktop—and even then, login was handled by a janky QR code pairing system that only worked on one extra device at a time. Google users expect a Google account-based login that works on all devices all the time, just like Hangouts.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Netflix film examines why NASA shunned women astronauts in early days

April 20, 2018 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / An undated file photo of some of the Mercury 13 candidates. (credit: Mercury 13 / Netflix)

This June, the world will mark the 55th anniversary of the first woman flying into space. Valentina Tereshkova, an amateur Russian skydiver, spent nearly three days in orbit inside a spherical Vostok 6 capsule. The first American woman, physicist Sally Ride, would not follow Tereshkova into space for another two decades.

A new documentary on Netflix, Mercury 13, examines the question of why NASA did not fly women in space early on and, in particular, focuses on 13 women who underwent preliminary screening processes in 1960 and 1961 to determine their suitability as astronauts. The film offers a clear verdict for why women were excluded from NASA in the space agency's early days—"good old-fashioned prejudice," as one of the participants said. Mercury 13 will be released Friday.

The film admirably brings some of these women to life, all of whom were accomplished pilots. There is Jerrie Cobb, who scored very highly in the preliminary tests and gave compelling testimony before Congress in an attempt to open NASA's early spaceflight programs to women. Another key figure is pilot Jane B. Hart, married to a US Senator from Michigan, whose experience in the project compelled her to become one of the founders of the National Organization for Women.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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