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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 24 min 59 sec ago

Kaspersky pledges independent code review to cast off spying suspicions

51 min 50 sec ago

Enlarge / Kaspersky Lab CEO and Chairman Eugene Kaspersky speaks at a conference in Russia on July 10, 2017. (credit: Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

After reports that data collected by the company's anti-malware client was used to target an NSA contractor and various accusations of connections to Russian intelligence, today Kaspersky Lab announced the launch of what company executives call a "Global Transparency Initiative." As part of the effort aimed at regaining the trust of corporate and government customers among others, a Kaspersky spokesperson said that the company would open product code and the company's secure coding practices to independent review by the first quarter of 2018.

Don't just take our word for it - Kaspersky Lab announces comprehensive transparency initiative

— Kaspersky Lab (@kaspersky) October 23, 2017

In a statement released by the company, founder Eugene Kaspersky said, "We want to show how we’re completely open and transparent. We’ve nothing to hide. And I believe that with these actions we’ll be able to overcome mistrust and support our commitment to protecting people in any country on our planet."

As part of the initiative, Kaspersky Lab will open three "Transparency Centers" for code review—one in the US, one in Asia, and one in Europe. This is similar to the practices of Microsoft and other large major software companies that allow code reviews by major government customers in a controlled environment. Kaspersky isn't the first vendor accused of providing espionage backdoors to follow this route—a similar practice was launched by Chinese networking hardware vendor Huawei in 2012 in the United Kingdom. At the time, Huawei offered to do the same for Australia and the US, but the offer was rejected and the company was banned from sensitive network work in the US by Congress.

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Cray supercomputers coming to Azure cloud

1 hour 42 min ago

Enlarge / Cray XC50 supercomputer. (credit: Cray)

Microsoft will add Cray supercomputers to its Azure cloud computing service to handle the needs of those with high performance computing (HPC) workloads.

Cloud computing systems like Azure can be used to build large cluster-like machines for high performance distributed workloads. Combined with FPGAs and GPUs, this makes them competitive, some of the time, with traditional supercomputers.

But sometimes, a workload really does need the high performance, low-latency interconnects and storage that are the hallmark of "real" supercomputers. That's why Microsoft is adding Cray XC and Cray CS supercomputer clusters along with ClusterStor storage to its Azure lineup. The machines are intended for tasks such as analytics, climate modelling, engineering simulations, and scientific and medical research. The companies envisage customers combining Cray HPC with Azure workloads to offer better performance and greater scaling than either Cray or Azure can offer alone.

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Returning to Second Life

2 hours 9 min ago

Seriously, this once happened.

A decade ago, dozens of media outlets and technologists discovered "The Next Internet." An original cyberspace science fiction fantasy had finally come to fruition as the world gained a second digitized reality. In a short period of time, countries established embassies, media companies opened bureaus, one of Earth’s biggest rock bands played a concert, political campaigns took to its streets, and people became real-world millionaires plying their skills in this new arena.

That much hyped "Next Internet?" You may remember it better by its official name—Second Life. For many modern Internet users, the platform has likely faded far, far from memory. But there’s no denying the cultural impact Second Life had during the brief height of its popularity.

Explaining Second Life today as a MMORG or a social media platform undersells things for the unfamiliar; Second Life became an entirely alternative online world for its users. And it wasn’t just the likes of Reuters and U2 and Sweden embracing this platform. Second Life boasted 1.1 million active users at its peak roughly a decade ago. Even cultural behemoth Facebook only boasted 20 million at the time.

Read 38 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Essential Phone gets a $200 price drop, now $499

2 hours 11 min ago


Remember the Essential Phone, which was delayed so much it launched right in the middle of the iPhone (and Pixel 2) hype season? The phone built by Andy Rubin's new company offers an innovative design and a great software loadout, but the subpar camera and lack of water resistance put it solely in the "second-tier" phone category. Essential's second-tier phone still had a top-tier price, though, which made it a tough sell in the ultra-competitive world of smartphones.

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Unreleased Super NES game to come packed with every Analogue Super Nt

3 hours 5 min ago

An over-the-top trailer for the previously unreleased version of Super Turrican, coming to the Analogue Super NT as a "Director's Cut"

The Super NES Classic Edition isn't the only piece of modern hardware sporting an unreleased, decades-old console game. Analogue announced today that its recently revealed FPGA-based Super Nt hardware would come packed with a new expanded and "uncut" version of Super NES run-and-gun classic Super Turrican embedded on every system.

Factor 5, which later became well-known for the Rogue Squadron games, originally designed Super Turrican to fit on a 6-megabit cartridge (which was actually a decently large console game back in 1993, believe it or not). According to developer Julian Eggebrecht, though, publisher Seika didn't want to pay for the extra ROM chips needed for those cartridges, so the game had to be cut down to fit in just 4Mbit.

The uncut 6Mbit version, which Factor 5 retained through the years, includes a previously unseen final level for the game, along with new music, new enemies, improved sound effects, improved graphics, and some slight changes in the way weapons work. The uncut version was apparently considered for Virtual Console release back in 2008, but Nintendo reportedly refused to release a game that had not been previously available (Nintendo would later break this precedent with the 2015 Wii U release of Earthbound Beginnings, an unreleased translation for the Japanese Mother on the Famicom).

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Proposed law would regulate online ads to hinder Russian election influence

3 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers wants to make it more difficult for Russia to influence US elections. To that end, the group has drawn up legislation requiring Internet-based companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook to disclose who is buying political advertisements on their platforms and maintain those records after elections.

The Honest Ads Act would heap on the Internet some of the same types of political advertising rules that apply for TV, radio, and print. The legislation is designed to somehow enforce federal election laws that forbid foreign nationals and foreign governments from spending money in the US to influence elections.

"We understand that election security is national security, and we know Russian threats to national security don't always involve traditional weapons of war," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said at a news conference announcing the legislation.

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Two-week-old Pixel 2 XL displays are already showing burn-in

4 hours 24 min ago

Enlarge / The Pixel 2 XL in all its slim-bezel glory. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are the best Android phones you can buy, but boy does the 2 XL have a lot of display issues. In addition to graininess and a weird blue shift at certain viewing angles, the 2 XL is now experiencing burn-in on units that are just a week or two old.

Android Central was the first to report the issue, showing a picture of a Pixel 2 XL with some nasty image retention around the navigation bar. Shortly after, several other reports of burn-in started popping up, and you can add Ars' review unit to the list of affected devices. You can see the permanent navigation bar burn-in below on our two-week-old device.

Here's the burn-in on our two-week-old review unit. You can still see the navigation buttons on this solid gray image. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

In response to the complaints, Google has sent out a statement saying that it's investigating the issue:

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Taikonaut seeks to fly again, pledges “absolute loyalty” as CPC member

4 hours 49 min ago

Enlarge / Combination photo taken on November 9, 2016 shows Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) as he talks with the two astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, in the space lab Tiangong-2. (credit: Xinhua/Ju Peng/Li Tao via Getty Images)

After the Soviet Union flew the Sputnik 1 satellite in 1957, US President Dwight Eisenhower established NASA. There was some question at the time as to whether the US space agency would be militaristic in nature or civil, promoting the peaceful use of space for exploration and science. Eisenhower made clear his preference for the latter, and this proved a wise decision, as NASA has projected US soft power through achievement and apolitical cooperation ever since.

China's space program, on the other hand, is not as independent from the Communist Party of China or the country's military programs. This association has led some members of Congress to forbid NASA from working directly with the Chinese space agency, due to concerns about technology theft and other potential problems.

That being said, the degree to which some taikonauts express their fidelity to the Communist party is still striking. During the 19th National Congress of the CPC this weekend, three-time taikonaut Jing Haipeng expressed his desire to fly in space for a fourth time. "I'm eager to go to space again, be a pioneer in the battle one more time," the 51-year-old major-general said, according to Xinhua.

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Mercedes handles the competition because it knows how to handle data, too

5 hours 43 min ago

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

AUSTIN, Texas—History happened Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas. Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton won for the fifth time in six years at Austin, inching him closer to a fourth world championship this year. And on a macro scale, Hamilton’s victory sealed a fourth straight Formula One constructors’ championship for the Silver Arrows team at Mercedes. According to ESPN, that makes Mercedes the first team to win consecutive championships across a major regulation change.

How does a team achieve such sustained dominance—Mercedes has won a staggering 51 of 59 total races between 2014 and 2016—in an era where the sport has witnessed an infusion of more money, more engineering talent, and more of those aforementioned regulations? If you listen to members of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport tech team tell it, the answer starts in the team’s network stacks.

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Tesla strikes a deal to open a factory in Shanghai, WSJ sources say

October 22, 2017 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / This picture taken on March 17, 2015 shows a Tesla Model S car on display at a showroom in Shanghai. (credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sunday morning the Wall Street Journal reported that Tesla has reached an agreement to open a factory in Shanghai.

The electric vehicle (EV) company has had grand ambitions for increasing its market share in China, and in June of this year Tesla said it was in talks with the Shanghai government about opening a manufacturing facility. At the time, the company said it hoped to reach a deal by year’s end.

Ars reached out to Tesla, and spokesperson Kady Cooper said the company wouldn’t make new comments on the WSJ article, but referred Ars to a statement Tesla made in June, which noted:

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You’ll never see a more touching film about a 72-year-old alien experiencer

October 22, 2017 - 5:00pm

Ars talks with Love & Saucers creators Matt Ralston and Brad Abrahams at Fantastic Fest 2017. (video link)

AUSTIN, Texas—Perhaps no film has ever set its tone so clearly within its first line as the new documentary Love & Saucers:

“When I was 17, I lost my virginity to a female extraterrestrial,” begins 72-year-old David Huggins. “That’s all I can say about it.”

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Nintendo Switch’s first portable dock offers freedom, but with new shackles

October 22, 2017 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / The author's Nintendo Switch, inserted into the Nyko Portable Docking Kit. (Cables aren't inserted into its backside for this product shot.) (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Nyko had clearly been watching my Nintendo Switch coverage. The accessory maker invited me to an E3 demo this summer with promises of all kinds of new, third-party Switch accessories, but this wasn't about carrying cases or screen protectors. The invite frontloaded one accessory above them all: the Nyko Portable Docking Kit.

Ever since I first played with a Switch, I've been wanting a reasonably priced, hyper-portable dock to toss into my laptop bag, to better enable an impromptu "let's hook Mario Kart up to a TV" party. Nintendo's official dock, as I found, is designed for nothing of the sort. Nyko demonstrated something that plain-and-simply got the job done. But that was during its flashy E3 demo—how would that translate into a final product?

The answer finally arrived in my mailbox this week, following a quiet rollout to retailers in the States. The result is modest and gets the job done, though its specific issues may very well be dealbreakers for people who want it all in a truly portable Switch dock.

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How Jane Goodall became Jane Goodall

October 22, 2017 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Jane Goodall is an exceptional figure in many ways. Starting with no formal training and using controversial methods, she made astonishing breakthroughs in understanding the social behavior of chimpanzees and thus understanding ourselves. She managed to become an extremely rare species: a scientist who was also a media darling. And, after dedicating many years of her life to her research (at significant personal sacrifice), she left it behind to become a global spokesperson for sustainable development and conservation.

How did that happen? That's the subject of a new National Geographic documentary Jane. The movie is primarily based on recently rediscovered footage filmed by noted wildlife filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, who was assigned by National Geographic to film Goodall's field work. van Lawick was there to capture a key transition in Goodall's research and drove one in her personal life: the two would end up marrying and having a son.

While it was a pivotal time and the original footage is stunning, it provides a limited window into Goodall's history. Other pivotal events pass by in a flash or are skipped entirely. Whether that bothers you is probably a key determinant of how much you'll enjoy Jane.

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Evolution experiment has now followed 68,000 generations of bacteria

October 22, 2017 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli (E. coli), grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip. (credit: NIAID / Flickr)

On February 24, 1988, Richard Lenski seeded 12 flasks with E. coli and set them up to shake overnight at 37ºC. But he seeded them with only enough nutrients to grow until early the next morning. Every single afternoon since then, he (or someone in his lab) has taken 100 microliters of each bacterial solution, put them into a new flask with fresh growth media, and put the new flask in the shaker overnight. Every 75 days—about 500 bacterial generations—some of the culture goes into the freezer.

The starvation conditions are a strong pressure for evolution. And the experiment includes its own time machine to track that evolution.

The pivotal piece of technology enabling this experiment is the -80ºC freezer. It acts essentially, Lenski says, as a time machine. The freezer holds the bacterial cultures in a state of suspended animation; when they are thawed, they are completely viable and their fitness can be compared to that of their more highly evolved descendants shaking in their flasks. As an analogy, imagine if we could challenge a hominin from 50,000 years ago to a hackathon. (Which she would probably win, because the paleo diet.)

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Several women accuse tech pundit Robert Scoble of sexual assault, harassment

October 22, 2017 - 12:05pm

Enlarge / Robert Scoble, as seen in 2013. (credit: JD Lasica)

Robert Scoble, a longtime fixture of the Silicon Valley punditocracy, has been publicly accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women.

In a public Facebook post on Friday, Scoble wrote that he was "deeply sorry to the people I’ve caused pain to. I know I have behaved in ways that were inappropriate."

"I know that apologies are not enough and that they don’t erase the wrongs of the past or the present," he continued. "The only thing I can do to really make a difference now is to prove, through my future behavior, and my willingness to listen, learn and change, that I want to become part of the solution going forward."

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CO₂ benefits of regrowing forests nothing to sniff at

October 21, 2017 - 6:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Patrick Shepherd/CIFOR)

It’s a common suggestion that we should just plant trees to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, but this isn’t quite the solution it may seem. Reforestation would roughly make up for the carbon added to the atmosphere by past deforestation, but our burning of fossil fuels is another matter.

Still, that’s no argument to ignore reforestation. There is no silver bullet solution to climate change, and many things like reforestation add up to make meaningful contributions. And reforestation has a host of other benefits, including improving air quality and providing species with habitats.

So how much of a difference could efforts to save and regrow forests—together with conservation of other ecosystems—really do? That’s the question asked by a group led by Bronson Griscom, an ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. By including a broad set of possible reforestation actions, Griscom and his colleagues found a larger opportunity than we'd previously estimated.

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Here are sci-fi inspired supplies for binging Stranger Things next weekend

October 21, 2017 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

I love October. As an avid baker and Halloween reveler, I usually spend the whole month whipping up my favorite fall desserts and packing in as many gnarly sci-fi and horror flicks as possible. It’s just not October without the smell of spiced apples baking in the oven, knife-wielding serial killers, sage and sausage stuffing, flesh-eating zombies, pumpkin bread, and ferocious aliens.

But this year—this October—is extra special. With the upcoming release of the much anticipated second season of Stranger Things, I, along with some folks at Ars, thought we should go a little bigger. I’ve spliced together my two favorite pastimes to create sci-fi inspired treats that can fuel a lengthy, nostalgia-fueled Netflix binge.

I could pull out a themed recipe or two that would provide adequate sustenance for a binge of the entire new season plus a full re-watching of the first season. But this isn’t amateur hour. There’s just so much amazing sci-fi to celebrate.

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Artificial eye dominance may speed reading for people with dyslexia

October 21, 2017 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Things tend to be a bit out of focus for my kids. (credit: Baruk Feddabonn)

I have to admit that my only experience of dyslexia is via family members. My youngest daughter has just started high school, and she's struggling with all the reading associated with three languages, an issue that bleeds over into all the other subjects. In testing, she scores high on reading comprehension but really low on reading speed. My oldest son reads and reads and reads... but cannot write worth a damn. Both have trouble internalizing spelling rules and multiplication tables.

These all standard symptoms of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder, one that covers many aspects of reading and writing, so when people start touting single causes, my skepticism goes into overdrive. But it turns out that new research on its causes is reasonably solid, and it raises some interesting questions.

Your brain in the mirror

When the brain creates an image, it's faced with a problem. The two eyes report two images that are extremely similar, but shifted with respect to each other. The displacement is awesome, because it provides us with better depth perception. However, in the absence of a large amount of alcohol, the brain still has to decide on a single coherent image so it has something to present to our consciousness. To do that, the two images are melded into one, which is fine for displacement. But for mirror images, the brain must choose a single image.

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Gran Turismo Sport review: A brilliant, but very new, direction for the series

October 21, 2017 - 1:00pm

Gran Turismo Sport is a great racing game. What it's not is a simple PS4 port of the last GT game. Almost everything about this latest release is different from every game that has come before it in the series. There are way fewer selectable cars than the competition (and previous GT games). There aren't many tracks. You won't spend hours buying new parts for your car or taking it for an oil change or a car wash. Gran Turismo Sport might not be the world’s most accurate driving simulation, but it’s fun—a lot of fun, particularly with a steering wheel. And refreshingly, it doesn't try to make you open your wallet to unlock anything.

But if racing against other humans online isn't something you care for, GTS is not the game for you. Unlike GT games of old, GTS is all about racing online, and maybe—just maybe—becoming a real racing driver at the end.

Read 37 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Key e-mail from feds got caught in body-cam maker’s spam filter

October 21, 2017 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / A Los Angeles police officer wears an AXON body camera during the Immigrants Make America Great March to protest actions being taken by the Trump administration on February 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

Axon, the largest manufacturer of body-worn cameras, said Thursday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had missed e-mails from the agency due to "miscommunication issues."

According to Bloomberg, the snafu was due to an e-mail that the SEC sent on August 10 to the company’s new chief financial officer—however those messages were quarantined in a spam filter, and he seemingly did not see them.

The SEC was seeking clarification about the company’s financial disclosures, particularly surrounding its 2016 financial report and its first quarter 2017 report.

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