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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 54 min 14 sec ago

As mega-constellations loom, US seek to manage space debris problem

1 hour 25 min ago

Enlarge / Artist's impression depicting a wide variety of existing and future satellites for communication, surveying Earth resources, and mapping them, circa 1978. (credit: Space Frontiers/Getty Images)

Space is getting ever more crowded. The US Strategic Command’s Space Surveillance Network tracks more than 19,000 objects in orbit around the Earth, and there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands of more objects 1cm or larger in space near the planet. Because they are traveling at tens of thousands of km per hour relative to Earth, even small objects pose a significant danger.

The National Space Council thinks we could do a better job of tracking and mitigating this debris. On Monday morning, the executive secretary of the space council, Scott Pace, outlined some of the space traffic management changes in a call with a handful of space reporters. “This is a new national policy to address the challenges of a congested space environment,” he said. “Unfettered access to space is a vital US interest.”

President Trump is expected to sign this Space Policy Directive-3 later on Monday. The policy directs the US Department of Defense to modernize its approach to tracking space debris and to increasingly rely on commercial debris-detection services to enhance the country’s “space situational awareness.” The Department of Commerce will provide a basic level of space situational awareness for public and private use, based upon the DOD catalog.

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What happened last time it was as warm as it’s going to get later this century?

2 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge / Map of Antarctica today showing rates of retreat (2010-2016) of the “grounding line” where glaciers lose contact with bedrock underwater, along with ocean temperatures. The lone red arrow in East Antarctica is the Totten Glacier, which alone holds ice equivalent to ~3m (10ft) of sea level rise. (credit: Hannes Konrad et al, University of Leeds UK.)

"What's past is prologue"- Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The year 2100 stands like a line of checkered flags at the climate change finish line, as if all our goals expire then. But like the warning etched on a car mirror: it’s closer than it appears. Kids born today will be grandparents when most climate projections end.

And yet, the climate won’t stop changing in 2100. Even if we succeed in limiting warming this century to 2ºC, we’ll have CO2 at around 500 parts per million. That’s a level not seen on this planet since the Middle Miocene, 16 million years ago, when our ancestors were apes. Temperatures then were about 5 to 8ºC warmer not 2º, and sea levels were some 40 meters (130 feet) or more higher, not the 1.5 feet (half a meter) anticipated at the end of this century by the 2013 IPCC report.

Why is there a yawning gap between end-century projections and what happened in Earth’s past? Are past climates telling us we’re missing something?

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Garmin brings music, NFC payments, onboard mapping to Fenix 5 Plus watches

4 hours 8 min ago


On the heels of announcing thoughtful updates to its Vivoactive 3 device, Garmin is bringing some of the same new wearable features to the Fenix line. The new Fenix 5S Plus, Fenix 5 Plus, and Fenix 5X Plus devices finally have Garmin Pay and music storage now, and they include advanced biometric and routing features that serious athletes will appreciate.

The Fenix family represents the upper echelon of Garmin smartwatches, but that doesn't mean they've been the most wearable devices. Over the past couple of years, Garmin has worked hard to keep the integrity of the Fenix design while also slimming it down and making it easier to wear all day long. The Fenix 5 Plus family consists of the most streamlined Fenix devices yet—while some are bigger and bulkier than Vivo devices, they're much lighter and less cumbersome than previous Fenix devices.

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The President Is Missing… a few finer points on how the cyber works in this novel

June 17, 2018 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / LONDON: A President Trump impersonator poses in a mock-up of the Oval Office to promote the global release of James Patterson and Bill Clinton's book, The President is Missing at Waterloo Station. (credit: Eamonn M. McCormack / Getty Images)

If you hadn't heard, former President William Jefferson Clinton and well-established mass-production author James Patterson have collaborated on a novel titled The President Is Missing. The book is a political cyber-thriller of sorts, the second such book from a member of the Clinton family—that is, if you count Hillary Clinton's What Happened as one. And just as with Ms. Clinton's book, The President Is Missing gives shout-outs to Russian hacking groups, mentioning Fancy Bear by name.

The President Is Missing is, however, a work of fiction. At 513 pages in hardcover, it's slightly slimmer than the recently released Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report on the FBI's conduct during the Clinton email investigation and certainly better paced—with Patterson's trademarked five-to-10 page chapters cutting it up for easy digestion. The prose is largely marked by Patterson's hand as well, but there are places where Clinton's voice pushes through (and not always for the better)—particularly in the passages of first-person narration from the protagonist, President Jon Duncan, which are laden with Democratic talking points and the moral weight of every presidential decision.

The plot, in brief, is this: a Democratic president from a southern state is on the verge of facing an impeachment (sound familiar?) in the midst of a national security crisis. A terrorist mastermind has managed to plant "wiper" malware in every computer in the United States. Racing against time, the president disguises himself, exits the White House through a secret tunnel, and meets in person with the hacker who helped distribute the malware while a crack mercenary hit squad led by a pregnant Bosnian sniper attempts to take the hacker and President Duncan out.

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Rage 2 at E3: Doom’s punk rock sibling feels great to play

June 17, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Bethesda)

LOS ANGELES—The first Rage didn't generate much buzz amongst fans of first-person shooters when it shipped in 2010, but one of id Software's later titles (the 2016 Doom reboot) made a big splash. With Rage 2, publisher Bethesda is hoping that some of the post-Doom goodwill can elevate this low-profile franchise to popularity.

The publisher partnered id's FPS veterans with Avalanche Studios (Just CauseMad Max) to make this sequel open world. The first game had a veneer that made it look open-world, even though it was just as enclosed as Doom.

I played Rage 2 at Bethesda's E3 booth this week, and unfortunately I can only judge the id Software side of that partnership. The demo I played was a linear, corridor-crawling action shooter experience with no open-world aspects. When I asked a Bethesda rep why that was, he told me that the company wanted Rage fans to be sure that the gunplay is still just as good even though the game is going open world. I think it's more likely that the open-world part of the full game (which is slated to launch in spring 2019) just isn't ready to be played yet.

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Today’s veterans are gradually returning to a new civilian-life op—Hollywood

June 17, 2018 - 12:15pm

Tammy Perez / ATX TV Festival

AUSTIN, Texas—If you ask Graham Yost—prolific TV producer with a resume including Band of Brothers, The Pacific, and Justified—accuracy in on-screen military portrayals is a relatively new phenomenon, similar to how tech ranging from the latest hacker tools to futuristic autonomous bots have recently become increasingly grounded in reality. Ground zero for this idea won't surprise any fans of this particular entertainment genre.

"In some historical military films, there have been some training of actors, but I think a lot of this really starts with Dale Dye and [Saving] Private Ryan [1998]," Yost says during ATX TV Festival's panel on modern military television. "That set a template for people, and we wouldn't have done Band without it. In fact, when the cast of Band gets together every year, the day they pick for their reunion is the first day of bootcamp. That's when they felt they came together as a unit."

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Got $360K burning a hole in your pocket? Check out the Range Rover SV Coupe

June 16, 2018 - 3:15pm

Eric Bangeman

CHICAGO—When you think of Land Rover, what comes to mind? For me, it’s two things: ancient off-roaders trekking about the African savannah in the nature documentaries of my youth, and modern, well-appointed luxury SUVs. Nearly 50 years later, Land Rover is trying to meld the two worlds with a large, two-door SUV that can drive through three feet of water. It’s the Range Rover SV Coupe, and it starts at $295,000. A limited edition—only 999 will be sold—the luxury SUV is intended to evoke the early days of Range Rover (think two-door Series I-III), but it comes with several ultra-luxurious twists.

We got our first glimpse of the SV Coupe at the last Geneva Auto Show, but when I found out there was one on display at a Land Rover dealership not far from my house—even with a price tag one digit too large for my tastes—my curiosity was piqued. I spent about a half-hour there being introduced to a pre-production SV Coupe in a look-but-don’t-touch encounter.

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How ARKit 2 works, and why Apple is so focused on AR

June 16, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / A LEGO app using Apple's new ARKit features. (credit: Apple)

Augmented reality (AR) has played prominently in nearly all of Apple's events since iOS 11 was introduced, Tim Cook has said he believes it will be as revolutionary as the smartphone itself, and AR was Apple’s biggest focus in sessions with developers at WWDC this year.

But why? Most users don’t think the killer app for AR has arrived yet—unless you count Pokémon Go. The use cases so far are cool, but they’re not necessary and they’re arguably a lot less cool on an iPhone or iPad screen than they would be if you had glasses or contacts that did the same things.

From this year's WWDC keynote to Apple’s various developer sessions hosted at the San Jose Convention Center and posted online for everyone to view, though, it's clear that Apple is investing heavily in augmented reality for the future.

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In nearly 500 pages of answers, Facebook stonewalls some senators’ questions

June 16, 2018 - 1:15pm

Enlarge / The Facebook logo is displayed at the 2018 CeBIT technology trade fair on June 12, 2018 in Hanover, Germany. (credit: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Facebook submitted nearly 500 pages worth of written responses to dozens of US senators’ questions stemming from CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s April 2018 testimony before two committees.

In the documents, the company attempted to provide clarity to the lingering concerns many lawmakers had. While seemingly trying to be forthright overall, Facebook was also evasive when responding to certain critical questions.

Notably, Facebook declined to promise to share the results of its post-Cambridge Analytica investigation with the public or even Congress. The social media giant also wouldn’t say if it had ever turned off a feature for privacy reasons.

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The Elder Scrolls Blades at E3: It’s not Skyrim, but does it need to be?

June 16, 2018 - 12:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Bethesda)

LOS ANGELES—A true The Elder Scrolls game on mobile? Not exactly. Recently-announced The Elder Scrolls Blades from Bethesda Game Studios is not a massive, free-roaming, systems-based super RPG. Instead, it's a casual dungeon crawler with a gorgeous presentation—and more bells and whistles than your typical mobile RPG.

I'm a passionate fan of the franchise, and I played the new mobile game for about a half an hour at Bethesda's E3 booth this week. In a similar way to spinoffs The Elder Scrolls Online and The Elder Scrolls Legends, I recognized the franchise's DNA but I also recognized that the growing game studio is trying something different here.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The streamlined game has top-notch visuals, the combat draws influences from the right places, and it feels entirely native to the device on which it runs. The game I played intrigued me, but I didn't get a sense of what might keep someone coming back for days or weeks after the initial download. Judging from the modes described in the initial announcement, that could be because the most interesting mode—the one in which you play through a story to build a town with non-player characters (NPCs) in it—wasn't on display at the show.

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Disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes indicted on criminal charges

June 15, 2018 - 11:04pm

Enlarge / Founder & CEO of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes. (credit: Getty | Gilbert Carrasquillo)

Federal prosecutors have indicted Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and the company’s former president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors claim that the pair defrauded investors, doctors, and patients while promoting and running their now disgraced blood-testing startup.

In the new court filing—submitted Thursday, June 14 in federal court in San Jose, and unsealed on Friday—prosecutors allege that Holmes and Balwani engaged in a scheme to mislead investors about the state and capabilities of the company’s blood-testing technology and defrauded them out of more than $100 million. The prosecutors also allege that the pair defrauded doctors and patients by knowingly misleading them with false advertising and marketing that stated that their company could provide accurate and reliable health tests on just drops of blood from a finger-prick with their proprietary technology.

Later investigations, sparked by reporting by the Wall Street Journal, revealed that Theranos' blood testing tech was flawed and faulty. The findings led to a dizzying downward spiral of lawsuits, regulatory sanctions, and tens of thousands of blood tests results being corrected or voided.

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FBI recovers WhatsApp, Signal data stored on Michael Cohen’s BlackBerry

June 15, 2018 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / Michael Cohen leaving the United States District Court Southern District of New York on May 30, 2018 in New York City. A letter today revealed that the FBI had recovered over 700 pages of messages and call logs from encrypted messaging apps on one of two BlackBerry phones belonging to Cohen. (credit: Getty Images)

In a letter to the presiding judge in the case against Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's long-time personal attorney, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York revealed today that it had obtained additional evidence for review—including a trove of messages and call logs from WhatsApp and Signal on one of two BlackBerry phones belonging to Cohen. The messages and call logs together constitute 731 pages of potential evidence. The FBI also recovered 16 pages of documents that had been shredded, but it has not yet been able to complete the extraction of data from the second phone.

The letter to Judge Kimba Wood stated that "the Government was advised that the FBI’s original electronic extraction of data from telephones did not capture content related to encrypted messaging applications, such as WhatsApp and Signal... The FBI has now obtained this material."

This change is likely because of the way the messages are stored by the applications, not because the FBI had to break any sort of encryption on them. WhatsApp and Signal store their messages in encrypted databases on the device, so an initial dump of the phone would have only provided a cryptographic blob. The key is required to decrypt the contents of such a database, and there are tools readily available to access the WhatsApp database on a PC.

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NIH shuts down controversial $100M drinking study backed by Big Alcohol

June 15, 2018 - 9:38pm

You don't have to go home, but you can't stay at the NIH. (credit: Maya83)

The National Institutes of Health has terminated a controversial $100-million study on the health effects of daily drinking that was largely funded by the alcohol industry. The announcement comes after internal NIH investigations found evidence of scientific bias, policy violations, and inappropriate engagement with industry representatives.

The findings—announced by the NIH on Friday, June 15—largely support recent investigations by the press that suggested NIH officials and the study’s lead researchers had inappropriately wooed industry and pitched the study as “necessary if alcohol is to be recommended as part of a healthy diet.”

Five of the world’s largest alcoholic beverage companies, namely Anheuser-Busch InBev, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Heineken, and Carlsberg, subsequently agreed to pitch in $67.7 million for the study. Those funds would be provided indirectly through a nongovernmental foundation that raises funds for the NIH.

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Apple snags Oprah Winfrey in original content deal

June 15, 2018 - 9:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Disney)

Apple announced today that it signed a multi-year content partnership with actress, philanthropist, and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. The partnership is the latest in a series of moves Apple has made to bolster its original programming efforts. Winfrey's content will be released as part of Apple's lineup, but it's still unclear when and where Apple will debut the bulk of its planned original content.

Monetary details of the deal have not be disclosed. According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, the partnership is non-exclusive, as Winfrey will remain chairman and CEO of OWN, her cable network backed by Discovery.

Apple's statement says that Winfrey will create content that embraces "her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world." Reports suggest that Winfrey may not only make a certain type of content for Apple—the deal supposedly covers movies, TV shows, books, applications, and more. Snagging a partnership with Winfrey is one of Apple's biggest gets yet in terms of talent, especially considering Netflix and Amazon were reportedly also in talks with the star.

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Ross Ulbricht’s alleged confidant “Variety Jones” extradited to US

June 15, 2018 - 8:44pm

(credit: Aurich Lawson)

The Department of Justice announced Friday that Ross Ulbricht’s alleged right-hand man—Roger Thomas Clark, also known as "Variety Jones"—has been extradited to the United States after being in custody in Thailand for more than 2.5 years.

Federal prosecutors allege that the 54-year-old Canadian was paid "at least hundreds of thousands of dollars" to work for Ulbricht. Over two years ago, Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison for owning and operating the notorious Silk Road website, an online marketplace for drugs or other illicit materials. The operation is now defunct.

In September 2016, in an exclusive jailhouse interview with Ars, Clark told us that he would not be going to the US. "They don't have shit on me," he added.

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Florida frat bros sued over Facebook revenge porn

June 15, 2018 - 8:30pm

Enlarge (credit: PA Images via Getty Images)

Several members of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at the University of Central Florida, along with that chapter at large, have been sued by a woman who says her former romantic partner published nude photos of her on Facebook without permission.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Orlando on Wednesday, Kathryn Novak said that she had dated lead defendant Brandon Simpson between October 2017 and February 2018.

The two were in a long-distance relationship. Periodically, when Novak would visit Simpson, he would film their "private sexual activities."

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Data Propria, run by Cambridge Analytica alumni, working on Trump 2020 campaign

June 15, 2018 - 7:50pm

Enlarge / Brad Parscale, Donald Trump's campaign digital director, arrives at Trump Tower, December 6, 2016. (credit: y Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Data Propria, a brand-new "data and behavioral science company" run by former staff at Cambridge Analytica, has been "quietly working" for the president’s 2020 re-election campaign, according to the Associated Press.

Two reporters from the news organization overheard Matt Oczkowski, the company’s president, tell someone in a public place that he and Brad Parscale, who is Donald Trump’s re-election campaign manager, were "doing the president’s work for 2020."

Neither Oczkowski nor Parscale immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment on Twitter. Oczkowski "denied a link to the Trump campaign, but acknowledged that his new firm has agreed to do 2018 campaign work for the Republican National Committee," according to the AP.

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The 2018 Honda Accord proves there’s still life in the family sedan

June 15, 2018 - 7:42pm

Enlarge (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Things aren't looking great for the family sedan here in the US. The car-buying public has turned against the traditional three-box silhouette, preferring the crew-cab truck, SUV, and crossover instead. Sedan sales are down for most automakers, and Ford has even taken the drastic step of abandoning it altogether in the very near future. So the 2018 Honda Accord might have a tough road ahead of it when it comes to finding buyers. That's a real shame, as Honda's engineers have done a great job. In fact, I'm not sure any new car has surprised me quite as much this year.

Mindful of my reaction to the fully loaded Toyota Camry XSE I failed to gel with earlier this year, I asked Honda to send me whichever Accord had the lowest sticker price. (I was actually most interested in trying the Accord Hybrid, but that one hasn't made it to the press fleet yet.) So I booked a week with the 2018 Accord Sport. This was the 1.5L version, yours for $25,780, not including the delivery charge. And unlike your average press fleet ride, this one didn't fall out of the options tree and hit every branch on the way down. Every feature from the infotainment system to the adaptive cruise control was standard equipment.

Jonathan Gitlin

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Common drugs have depression as a possible side effect—a third of us take them

June 15, 2018 - 7:11pm

Enlarge / More than 200 medications list depression as a potential adverse effect. (credit: Getty | ullstein bild)

More than a third of Americans are estimated to be taking at least one prescription medication that carries the risk of depression, including suicidal symptoms, as a possible adverse effect—and they may have no idea—according to a study published this week in JAMA.

The study is an observational one, meaning it can only identify associations and not whether common drugs are causing depression or suicide in people. Still, the researchers found some worrying links between the use of common medications and the potential for depression. Most notably, the researchers found that those taking three or more medications with depression risks had a greater chance of self-reporting depressive symptoms on a nine-question survey. Their rate of self-reported depressive symptoms was 15.3 percent, about double the rate reported by those taking just one drug with a risk of depression and about triple the rate of those taking no medications with risk of depression.

This is particularly concerning, the researchers suggest, because patients may not make a connection between their depressive symptoms and the drugs they’re taking. Drugs with risks of depression are very common, they may not have clear warning labels, and some can even be purchased as over-the-counter medications. The most common of them are drugs such as hormonal birth control, beta-blockers (used for conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, and migraines), and proton-pump inhibitors (used for acid reflux).

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Huge Apple Maps outage prevents all users from searching, getting directions [Update]

June 15, 2018 - 6:42pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Those who attempted to use Apple Maps this morning during their commutes were met with a frustrating situation—Apple's navigation app hasn't been working properly for much of the day. Problems appeared around 7am PT/10am ET, resulting in errors when users searched for route directions and for specific locations.

The message "Directions not available—route information is not available at this moment" appears when searching for directions, and searching for specific places like "Penn Station" or "JFK Airport" yields a "No results found" message.

The outages affect all forms of Apple Maps, including those on Apple Watches and in vehicles with CarPlay, for users across the US, Canada, and other countries. Those using an iPhone or iPad can choose to use another navigation app like Google Maps or Waze, but those who rely on CarPlay and other systems that don't offer an alternative mapping service will be out of luck.

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