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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 11 min 34 sec ago

Doctor Who review: Bill and the Timelord must grin and bear it in Smile

3 hours 23 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Simon Ridgway/BBC)

This is a post-UK broadcast review of Doctor Who: Smile. River Song always warned the Doctor against spoilers, so be sure to watch the episode first. Doctor Who broadcasts on Saturdays at 7:20pm UK time on BBC One, and 9pm EDT on BBC America.

Emojis aren't only the future of language for us doomed Earthlings, but we're also the only poor saps throughout the universe who use them. This is one of many things that the Doctor's ace new companion Bill Potts learns from her intergalactic tutor in Smile, the second installment of series 10 of Doctor Who.

While Nardole (Matt Lucas) is left back at base grumpily guarding the mysterious vault in the bowels of the university and making a brew (NB: for our American readers, that's a cup of tea), Bill (Pearl Mackie) tells the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) that she wants to travel to the future. "Why?" he asks. "I wanna see if it's happy," she says.

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Review: Cry Havoc an intriguing sci-fi “dudes on a map” throwdown

April 22, 2017 - 8:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Owen Duffy)

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at—and let us know what you think.

On first inspection, Cry Havoc looks like any number of similarly grim and gritty science fiction board games. It comes with a stash of plastic soldiers, robots, and aliens, and its artwork paints a world in tones of mud, fire, and gun metal. But if you’re expecting a quick fix of hectic, dice-chucking combat, you’re going to be disappointed, because Cry Havoc offers a much more thoughtful take on the concept of planetary conquest.

(credit: Portal Games)

Cry Havoc hands players command of rival factions competing to colonize a newly discovered world. Playing as aggressive and expansionist humans, merciless and powerful machines, or elusive and enigmatic aliens known as the Pilgrims, you attempt to claim victory by seizing control of territories and exploiting them for their resources (in the form of shiny plastic crystals).

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Study claims a link between diet sodas and stroke and dementia

April 22, 2017 - 7:00pm

(credit: Phera Laster / Flickr)

Excessive intake of sugar has been linked to a huge variety of health problems, many of them a consequence of the obesity that's also linked to excessive sugar. That's led many people to switch to drinks with artificial sweeteners that aren't metabolized by the body. A new study is now suggesting that these sweeteners are associated with their own health risks, namely stroke and dementia. But the study doesn't get into causality, and there's enough oddities in the data to suggest that it's not time to purge your fridge just yet.

The study, run by a collaboration of Boston-based researchers, relied on a cohort of individuals that had been recruited starting in 1971. On average, every four years since, the participants have completed follow-up surveys and had their health checked out. Over 5,000 people are in this cohort, and they provide a rich source of epidemiological data.

The authors started out intending to look at whether sugar-rich drinks increased the risk of strokes and dementia. So they eliminated a lot of people from this cohort because they'd previously experienced these or related issues. That reduced the study population considerably: under 3,000 for stroke, and under 1,500 for dementia.

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The 2017 New York International Auto Show: best of the rest

April 22, 2017 - 6:00pm

Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

NEW YORK—There has been much to see at this year's New York International Auto Show. Ford had a new hybrid police car. Cadillac brought its new race car—unbeaten in 2017—and a new semi-autonomous system that uses head-tracking to know if the driver is paying attention. Range Rover added a fourth SUV to its line-up, and Genesis showed us a rather attractive fuel cell concept. And Honda is finally bringing a proper Civic Type R to these shores. Elsewhere in our coverage we chose our picks of the show, but there were a few more vehicles that caught our eye after two days of walking the floors of the Javits Center.

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Audi Sport’s new GT4 race car was star of its NY International Auto Show

April 22, 2017 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / The new Audi R8 LMS GT4 car. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

NEW YORK—Audi Sport is to Audi what M is to BMW or AMG to Mercedes—the tuning arm, the skunk works where cars go to lose weight, gain power, and find extra speed for the track. The US is a big market for Audi Sport, and the brand had several models on display at this year's New York International Auto Show. There was the TT-RS and the brand new RS5 Coupe, but for us the real star of its stand was a new racing car, the R8 LMS GT4.

Audi Sport customer racing is separate from the factory backed efforts in DTM and the now-shuttered World Endurance Championship program, and you can actually buy these cars to run yourself. The new GT4 car fits into a gap between the RS3 LMS—a front-wheel drive touring car—and the R8 LMS GT3.

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A major Nintendo policy change has saved at least one Switch game

April 22, 2017 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / There. All better, Nintendo Switch. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

With the Nintendo Switch's newness starting to fade, interest in the new console has begun to shift toward its upcoming wave of "bigger" games. These include a gussied-up Mario Kart 8, the brand-new fighting series Arms, and a new Splatoon game that is finally looking more like a sequel than a last-gen port. But something interesting is quietly bubbling within the world of Switch games—though, sadly, I don't mean Nintendo's catalog of classic Virtual Console games.

What's bubbling up is just about as good, however: frequently updated games. And in one case, those updates have transformed at least one major Switch game from "maybe try" to "must buy."


Nintendo spoke at length at a late-February event about how its Nintendo Switch platform will make certain development tasks easier for game makers. The participating "Nindies" game makers on hand echoed that statement. At the time, they mostly spoke about the ease of translating games from other platforms, whether through a major engine like Unity and Unreal or through their own custom-built engines.

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Fenix 5S reviewed: Exactly what you’d expect from a $600 Garmin sport watch

April 22, 2017 - 3:00pm

Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

Not many companies try to do what Garmin does with the Fenix line of fitness watches. While Apple and Google have their own general-purpose smartwatches priced around $300 (neither of which comes close to the Fenix's tracking abilities), Garmin and a handful of other companies make super-expensive fitness watches that are meant for the most active among us.

The new $599 Fenix 5S is one of the models in the new Fenix 5 line that promises premium design and style. It also has the most advanced tracking abilities—with onboard GPS, GLONASS, barometer, altimeter, heart rate monitor, and other sensors—and it delivers a full smartwatch experience with Garmin's own UI, widgets, notifications, and app store. No matter how you look at it, $600 is a lot to spend on a fitness tracker. But if money is no object and you need the most capable tracker you can get, the 5S may be for you.

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We’ve been missing a big part of game industry’s digital revolution

April 22, 2017 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Data! Pew-pew! (credit: Aurich / Getty / Konami)

Last year, the Entertainment Software Association's annual "Essential Facts" report suggested that the US game industry generated $16.5 billion in "content" sales annually (excluding hardware and accessories). In this year's report, that number had grown to a whopping $24.5 billion, a nearly 50-percent increase in a span of 12 months.

No, video games didn't actually become half again as popular with Americans over the course of 2016. Instead, tracking firm NPD simply updated the way it counts the still-shadowy world of digital game sales. This "restatement" of the US game industry's true size helps highlight just how much the game industry at large has transitioned from a business based on physical goods to one dominated by digital downloads and online purchases.

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Russian man gets longest-ever US hacking sentence, 27 years in prison

April 22, 2017 - 1:19am

Images of Seleznev with stacks of cash were found on his laptop following his 2014 arrest in the Maldives. (credit: Department of Justice)

Russian hacker Roman Seleznev was sentenced to 27 years in prison today. He was convicted of causing more than $169 million in damage by hacking into point-of-sale computers.

Seleznev, aka "Track2," would hack into computers belonging to both small businesses and large financial institutions, according to prosecutors. He was arrested in the Maldives in 2014 with a laptop that had more than 1.7 million credit card numbers. After an August 2016 trial, Seleznev was convicted on 38 counts, including wire fraud, intentional damage to a protected computer, and aggravated identity theft.

The sentence is quite close to the 30 years that the government asked for. Prosecutors said Seleznev deserved the harsh sentence because he was "a pioneer" who helped grow the market for stolen credit card data and because he "became one of the most revered point-of-sale hackers in the criminal underworld."

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The X-Files will be back for another 10 episodes in 2017 and 2018

April 21, 2017 - 10:36pm

You can feel Scully’s skepticism here. (credit: Ed Araquel/FOX)

Grab your flashlights: Mulder and Scully will be back for 10 more episodes of The X-Files during the 2017-2018 season. Stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will revive the iconic 1990s-era roles that they briefly resumed during a short 2016 run.

The pair traded fun tweets on Thursday.

You ready for more of this @davidduchovny?

>10,000 Windows computers may be infected by advanced NSA backdoor

April 21, 2017 - 9:12pm

Enlarge / A script scanning the Internet for computers infected by DoublePulsar. On the left, a list of IPs Shodan detected having the backdoor installed. On the right are pings used to manually check if a machine is infected. (credit: Dan Tentler)

Security experts believe that tens of thousands of Windows computers may have been infected by a highly advanced National Security Agency backdoor. The NSA backdoor was included in last week's leak by the mysterious group known as Shadow Brokers.

DoublePulsar, as the NSA implant is code-named, was detected on more than 107,000 computers in one Internet scan. That scan was performed over the past few days by researchers from Binary Edge, a security firm headquartered in Switzerland. Binary Edge has more here. Separate mass scans, one done by Errata Security CEO Rob Graham and another by researchers from Below0day, detected roughly 41,000 and 30,000 infected machines, respectively. To remain stealthy, DoublePulsar doesn't write any files to the computers it infects. This design prevents it from persisting after an infected machine is rebooted. The lack of persistence may be one explanation for the widely differing results.


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Mobile industry loses its bid to stop Berkeley’s cellphone warning law

April 21, 2017 - 8:50pm

Enlarge / Berkeley, California, as seen in June 2013. (credit: Daniel Parks)

On Friday, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the City of Berkeley, allowing the city to keep its law that requires radiation warning signs in all cellphone stores within the city limits.

The CTIA, the cellphone industry trade group, sued the city to stop the law from taking effect by asking a lower court to impose a preliminary injunction. The group argued that forcing retailers to display the warning (pictured below) constituted compelled speech, which violates the First Amendment. After the district court didn't impose the injunction, the CTIA appealed to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

(credit: Rebecca Farivar)

The 9th Circuit concluded that Berkeley's disclosure "did no more than alert consumers" to FCC safety disclosures.

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Patent-holding company uses ex-Nokia patents to sue Apple, phone carriers

April 21, 2017 - 8:30pm

Enlarge / Headquarters of Finnish telecom equipment group Nokia. (credit: Getty Images / RONI REKOMAA / Stringer)

The largest publicly traded patent-assertion company, Acacia Research, has launched a new lawsuit (PDF) against Apple and all the major cell phone carriers.

Cellular Communications Equipment, LLC, a unit of Acacia, has sued Apple, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The company says that the five industry giants infringe four patents related to basic cell phone technologies. All four patents originated at Nokia, which has been sharing its patents in so-called "patent privateering" arrangements for some years now.

Like so many lawsuits, the CCE v. Apple et al. case is based in the patent hotspot of East Texas, which is still considered favorable ground for patent plaintiffs. Acacia is based in Southern California, but the complaint says CCE's principal place of business is an office in Plano, which is within the Eastern District of Texas.

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Report: Theranos used shell company to secretly buy outside lab equipment

April 21, 2017 - 8:02pm

Enlarge / Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City on September 29, 2015. (credit: CNBC / Getty Images News)

If it’s not one thing, it’s another in the dizzying downward spiral of Theranos, the once-darling of Silicon Valley biotech.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company "allegedly misled company directors" regarding its lab tests and used a shell company to buy commercial lab gear. These are just a few of the new revelations made by the Journal, which also include fake demonstrations for potential investors.

The new information came from unsealed depositions by 22 former Theranos employees or members of its board of directors. They were deposed by Partner Fund Management LP, a hedge fund currently suing Theranos in Delaware state court. Theranos is also facing multiple lawsuits in federal court in California and Arizona, among others.

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Juice wars: Juicero has sued another juicer maker for patent infringement

April 21, 2017 - 7:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Juisir)

A cold-press juicer maker called Juicero found itself at the center of a lot of unwanted attention this week when Bloomberg reporters discovered that they could press juice out of the company’s proprietary juice bags with their bare hands—without the help of the accompanying $400 appliance.

But Juicero apparently still wants to be the only company to offer this type of appliance, as it filed a complaint (PDF) in federal court against another cold-press juice bag squeezer called Juisir earlier this month.

Juicero claims that Juisir, developed by Chinese company iTaste and marketed and imported with the help of Australian company Froothie, infringes on a patent Juicero was granted in November 2016. Juicero said in its April 6 complaint that Juisir also violates the Silicon Valley company’s trade dress and trademark rights.

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107 cancer papers retracted due to peer review fraud

April 21, 2017 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / Pictured: Probably an editor who peer-reviewed stuff for Tumor Biology. (credit: flickr user: 派脆客 Lee)

The journal Tumor Biology is retracting 107 research papers after discovering that the authors faked the peer review process. This isn’t the journal’s first rodeo. Late last year, 58 papers were retracted from seven different journals— 25 came from Tumor Biology for the same reason.

It’s possible to fake peer review because authors are often asked to suggest potential reviewers for their own papers. This is done because research subjects are often blindingly niche; a researcher working in a sub-sub-field may be more aware than the journal editor of who is best-placed to assess the work.

But some journals go further and request, or allow, authors to submit the contact details of these potential reviewers. If the editor isn’t aware of the potential for a scam, they then merrily send the requests for review out to fake e-mail addresses, often using the names of actual researchers. And at the other end of the fake e-mail address is someone who’s in on the game and happy to send in a friendly review.

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Once more with feeling: Climate models don’t exaggerate warming

April 21, 2017 - 6:38pm

Enlarge (credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio and NASA Center for Climate Simulation)

If you follow climate science news, you know that one of the hotter topics is “climate sensitivity”—the precise amount of warming you get for a given increase of greenhouse gases. A few years ago, a couple papers caused a stir by trying to estimate this sensitivity based on simple equations for the recent past, coming up with a lower warming sensitivity than numerous other studies based on climate models or paleoclimate records. The last IPCC report even widened its estimated range slightly to encompass these studies, which proved controversial.

Researchers have already found reasons to think those low sensitivity estimates were problematic, including the fact that the simplistic, global representations of warming and cooling factors missed some important spatial patterns that change things. A new study from the University of Washington’s Kyle Armour comes at the question from a different angle.

There are several different timeframes we can use to describe climate sensitivity. The one you most commonly hear about is called “equilibrium climate sensitivity." Technically, this is the amount of warming you’d get if you instantaneously doubled atmospheric CO2 and waited a couple centuries or so for the climate to adjust. But there is also something called the “transient climate response," defined as the warming you get at the time a gradually increasing level of CO2 reaches the doubling point. This is a smaller number, because the climate doesn’t have time to fully reach equilibrium.

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310-mile range and 320kW: 2019’s Audi e-tron Sportback

April 21, 2017 - 6:27pm

After single-handedly tarnishing the diesel engines it had spent so long championing, Volkswagen Group's corporate redemption strategy involves a commitment to building a lot more electric vehicles. There's an all-new modular architecture for EVs—called MEB—that will be the basis for new models throughout the brands in VW's portfolio, but that won't be ready until 2020. In the meantime, Porsche and Audi have been working on long-range battery EVs that should start appearing next year. And at the Shanghai Auto Show on Friday, Audi announced a second long-range EV will go on sale in 2019: the e-tron Sportback.

The e-tron Sportback is built around the vehicle's 95kWh battery pack, giving it a range of 310 miles (500km). The battery pack is bookended by a pair of electric motors that provide a total of 430hp (320kW), although with a boost function that gives up to 500hp (370kW) for short periods. Atop this skateboard chassis is a sleeker body than the more upright e-tron SUV first seen in 2015. But as BMW's X6 has ably proved, the "four door coupé" effect is rather undermined by the huge wheels and lofty ride height.

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As US prepares to gut net neutrality rules, Canada strengthens them

April 21, 2017 - 5:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

Canada is taking a much stronger stand against data cap exemptions than the United States.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission's new Republican leadership signaled that it won't enforce net neutrality rules against zero-rating, the practice of favoring certain Internet content by exempting it from customers' data caps. The FCC made that clear when it rescinded a determination that AT&T and Verizon Wireless violated net neutrality rules by letting their own video services stream without counting against customers' data caps while charging other video providers for the same data cap exemptions.

Canada is also taking a case-by-case approach to zero-rating instead of banning it outright. But yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ordered changes to one carrier's zero-rating program and announced that it will enforce stricter guidelines for determining whether zero-rating programs are discriminatory.

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Researchers claim China trying to hack South Korea missile defense efforts

April 21, 2017 - 4:33pm

Enlarge / South Korea is deploying Lockheed Martin's THAAD missile defense system, and that's sparked the ire of the Chinese government, as well as military and "hacktivist" hacking groups, according to FireEye. (credit: US Army)

Chinese government officials have been very vocal in their opposition to the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, raising concerns that the anti-ballistic missile system's sensitive radar sensors could be used for espionage. And according to researchers at the information security firm FireEye, Chinese hackers have transformed objection to action by targeting South Korean military, government, and defense industry networks with an increasing number of cyberattacks. Those attacks included a denial of service attack against the website of South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which the South Korean government says originated from China.

FireEye's director of cyber-espionage analysis John Hultquist told the Wall Street Journal that FireEye had detected a surge in attacks against South Korean targets from China since February, when South Korea announced it would deploy THAAD in response to North Korean missile tests. The espionage attempts have focused on organizations associated with the THAAD deployment. They have included "spear-phishing" e-mails carrying attachments loaded with malware along with "watering hole" attacks that put exploit code to download malware onto websites frequented by military, government, and defense industry officials.

FireEye claims to have found evidence that the attacks were staged by two groups connected to the Chinese military. One, dubbed Tonto Team by FireEye, operates from the same region of China as previous North Korean hacking operations. The other is known among threat researchers as APT10, or "Stone Panda"—the same group believed to be behind recent espionage efforts against US companies lobbying the Trump administration on global trade. These groups have also been joined in attacks by two "patriotic hacking" groups not directly tied to the Chinese government, Hultquist told the Journal—including one calling itself "Denounce Lotte Group" targeting the South Korean conglomerate Lotte. Lotte made the THAAD deployment possible through a land swap with the South Korean government.

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